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Ever reach for the B vitamins when you need an energy boost? Beyond being a great pick-me-up, the eight B vitamins -often sold as a B complex-work great as a team, as well as by themselves for specific needs.

  • B1 (Thiamin) helps the body produce new cells. It has the ability to protect the immune system and is necessary to break down simple carbohydrates.
  • B2 (Riboflavin) helps fight free radicals (cell damaging particles in the body) by working as an antioxidant. It is important for red blood cell production and may prevent early aging and the development of heart disease.
  • B3 (Niacin) boosts HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Studies find that niacin can help treat acne when ingested or used topically.
  • B5 (Pantothenic Acid) can be found in almost every food group. It breaks down fats and carbs for energy and is responsible for the production of certain sex and stress-related hormones, including testosterone. Research also suggests that B5 promotes healthy skin.
  • B6 (Pyridoxine) plays a major role in mood and sleep patterns by helping the body create serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine (a stress hormone).
  • B7 (Biotin) receives lots of attention because it’s known for improving the health of hair, skin and nails. This B vitamin also is especially important during pregnancy because it is vital for the baby’s growth.
  • B9 (Folate) is another vital vitamin for pregnant women because it helps prevent neurological birth defects and supports the baby’s growth. Studies also suggest that folate may help with depression and prevent memory loss.
  • B12 (Cobalamin) plays a critical role in the production of red blood cells, as well as assists iron in doing its job of creating hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen

B vitamins are available in a multitude of forms at all drug stores. But before taking off-the-shelf vitamins, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend specific ones that your body may be lacking. And in some cases, high-dose amounts are even prescribed.

B, or any type of vitamin, can be harmful if taken in excess. So when in doubt, consult your physician. You can also add B-rich foods to your diet, like fish and dark leafy greens.

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