As you may have already learned from either your high school health class or the relentless public service of highly respected academic and nutrition scientist Gwyneth Paltrow, the human body needs a wide variety of nutrients in order to function efficiently. However, it is extremely easy to fall into a dietary rut, and that rut can lead to a deficiency in B complex vitamins, which can have long-lasting effects on your health. If you feel as though you're not as spry as you should be, your eating habits—and maybe a lack of vitamin B—might be the culprit.
Please answer the following questions:
- When I wake up in the morning, I typically…
a) Leap out of bed instantly, feeling refreshed and anxious to take on the day.
b) Hit the snooze button on the alarm, then get up five minutes later and make myself the strongest cup of coffee imaginable.
c) Have to be dragged out of bed like the wife from “Paranormal Activity.”
- For breakfast, I'll usually…
a) Have a protein-packed smoothie and some fresh fruit.
b) Have a cup of coffee, then maybe a muffin when I get to work.
c) Find some stray Corn Nuts in my car seat.
- At lunchtime, I…
a) Eat the quinoa, roasted vegetable, and halloumi salad I brought from home.
b) Don't really get hungry, so I grab some chips from the vending machine and another cup of coffee.
c) Buy the first round of martinis.
- At the end of the day, I…
a) Go to the gym for an hour of strength training, cardio, and "me" time, then back home to spend the evening with my family.
b) Collapse on the sofa with a pizza and Netflix.
c) Try to convince the officer that I was making a legitimate U-turn.
- How would you describe your physical conditioning/appearance?
a) I work out several times a week and maintain a consistent, healthy weight.
b) Pretty poor—I put on a few pounds since I started working behind a desk 12 hours per day, and I get out of breath once in a while.
If you answered "b" or "c" to the majority of the questions, it's likely that your diet is lacking essential B vitamins and probably a host of other nutrients. A lack of vitamin B can lead to serious and sometimes chronic health problems. Typical symptoms of vitamin B deficiency and vitamin B deficiency-related anemia include sluggishness, confusion, dizziness, lack of appetite, susceptibility to illness, rashes, cracking skin/lips, tingling of the extremities, and hair loss. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is critical that you see your doctor and have your blood screened. (If you answered "c" to all of the questions, you might be fun at a party, but vitamin deficiency is probably the least of your worries.)
The B Complex Family
The suite of B complex vitamins include the following:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal phosphate)
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin) Vitamin B9 (Folate, or folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
- *Vitamin B52s (Love Shackinin)
*Promotes campiness, bouffant hair styles, and shakin' that cosmic thang. Also, doesn't actually exist.
With the exception of the fictional vitamin B52, these make up a network of water-soluble vitamins that either metabolize various cells in the body or are precursors that allow metabolic reactions. Although they are distinct chemically, many of them are found in the same foods, so they are all classified together.
Here are the richest food sources for all of the B vitamins:
- Vitamin B1: Meat, fish, poultry, milk products, whole grains, green, leafy vegetables, legumes, orange juice, and tomato juice
- Vitamin B2: Milk, eggs, almonds, green vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry
- Vitamin B3: Poultry, fish, beef, fortified cereals, and peanuts
- Vitamin B5: Shiitake and Portobello mushrooms, fish, poultry, meat, avocado, eggs, legumes, leafy green vegetables, and sweet potatoes
- Vitamin B6: Nuts, seeds, bell peppers, fish, poultry, meat, bananas, avocados, and leafy green vegetables
- Vitamin B7: Whole grains, peanuts, cheese, egg yolks, organ meats, and brewers' yeast
- Vitamin B9: Legumes, leafy green vegetables, and oranges
- Vitamin B12: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk products
- Vitamin B52: Rock Lobster
People most susceptible to vitamin B deficiencies
Unlike other nutritional deficits, vitamin B (particularly vitamins B9 and B12) can be extremely hard for some people to get in appropriate amounts. It isn't a matter of not having the time to focus on the diet—it's a matter of having actual physical barriers to nutrient absorption. The people most likely to suffer from vitamin B deficiencies are:
- People who consume large quantities of alcohol
- People who consume large quantities of processed foods
- People with a history of eating disorders
- People with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn's disease
- People who have had a gastric bypass or duodenal switch surgical procedure for weight loss
- People who have regularly used antacid drugs over a long period of time
- Raw foodists
- Mono meal fruitarians
- Anyone who follows an Instagram diet challenge of any kind
So, vitamin B deficiency is an equal-opportunity pain in the tuchas.
Vitamin B Complex Supplements
Although it is tempting to pick up a Vitaminwater Zero and call it a day, you really should have a clear idea of which vitamins you happen to be lacking and what quantities are best for your health. There is no need to overcompensate by slamming down the vitamin pills indiscriminately. If you are in any of the above categories, you'll want to speak to your doctor about the right vitamin supplement program for your lifestyle. (This is especially true if you are exhibiting any physical symptoms of vitamin deficiency.) Whether your food choices are based upon your health, your philosophy, or what's on the dollar menu, it is important that you do your best to incorporate a wide but moderate amount of nutrients and/or nutrient supplements into your daily routine.