Vitamin B Complex; The 8 types of Vitamin B and what they do

Did you know that there are 8 types of Vitamin B? There’s 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 12. Don’t ask me what happened to 4, 8, 10 and 11 because I have absolutely no idea! 

On a serious note, the Vitamin B complex is important for anyone with an interest in nutrition to understand. All of the B vitamins have different names, chemical structures and do different things in the body. They are mainly responsible for looking after the ways in which we convert energy within our body and look after our nervous system, but some can do even more! 

Overall the Vitamin B complex is responsible for cell health, eye health, energy levels, improving digestion and nerve function, but each vitamin plays a vital role in your overall wellbeing. This guide sets out to give you a little more information on the ways in which each of the B Vitamins helps us stay healthy, where to get them, and how much you need. We’ll start at the very beginning, as I once heard that’s a very good place to start…

Vitamin B1: Thiamine

Thiamine is the first (numerically) of the B vitamins that we’re going to look at. It’s found in a number of different plant-based foods, including oranges, bananas, peas, and nuts, along with certain fortified foods. It cannot be stored in the body, so you need to make sure that you are eating Thiamine rich foods every day. Men need 1mg of Thiamine per day, with women requiring slightly less, around 0.8mg in order to help the body break down food and convert it into the energy we need. It also plays a role in keeping our nervous system healthy and functioning properly. 

Vitamin B2: Riboflavin

Riboflavin is beneficial for the health of our skin and eyes. Like Thiamine before it, B2 keeps the nervous system healthy and helps to convert what we eat into energy. It is mainly found in animal ingredients, but mushrooms are a good example of plant-based B2. These need to be kept in a dark environment, as UV light can break Riboflavin down before we get a chance to eat it! Similar to Thiamine, we cannot store B2, so a healthy daily dose of 1.1-1.3mg is needed every day. Whilst you should be able to get all the B2 you need on a plant-based diet, taking a daily supplement can help to keep you healthy and vital. 

Vitamin B3: Niacin

There are two different forms of Niacin; nicotinic acid and nicotinamide, both of which are readily available in food. However, many sources are animal based, although wheat flour is a good source for anyone who isn’t gluten intolerant! It’s also found in bananas, legumes and seeds, so getting it into your diet shouldn’t be too tricky. Like the other vitamins in the B Complex, Niacin is part of the group which aids in the release of energy and keeping our skin and nerves healthy. We need a lot more Niacin daily than B1 and B2, with men requiring around 16.5mg per day, and women needing a little less at 13.2mg. In very high quantities, niacin supplements can cause skin flushes, so be sure to seek medical advice if you have a reaction to a supplement.

Vitamin B5: Pantothenic Acid

Okay, B5. Pantothenic Acid. One of the most mysterious of the B vitamins, if such a thing can be said about a vitamin. I’m mainly saying that because, in the UK, no recommended daily amount has been set for how much the human body needs. The great thing about Pantothenic Acid is that it is found in almost every vegetable, so as long as you’re eating your veg every day (and let’s face it, vegetables are amazing!) you shouldn’t have an issue with B5 in your diet. It performs a number of functions in the body, the most important being the conversion of energy.

Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine

Pyridoxine not only helps us to convert energy from proteins, it also helps with the conversion of energy from carbs. Even more impressively, B6 aids in the production of haemoglobin, the compound which carries oxygen around the body within red blood cells, and plays a huge part in healthy brain function. Peanuts, soya beans, and oats are all excellent plant-based sources of Pyridoxine, although it can also be made in your gut!

Certain illnesses, such as kidney disease, can prevent the body from absorbing enough B6, which can cause a reduction in the number of red blood cells in our system. Recommended daily amounts of Pyridoxine vary from 1.2 - 1.4mg per day, although consistently taking more than 200mg per day can cause peripheral neuropathy, which is a loss of feeling in your extremities. Whilst this can usually be reversed by stopping excessive supplementation, some effects can be permanent. Vivo Life’s THRIVE greens and multivitamin powder contains 1.83mg of B6, which is well within safe limits. 

Vitamin B7: Biotin

Biotin, like Pantothenic Acid, has no upper limit in the UK, but it is known that we only need very small amounts for it to be beneficial. Biotin helps to make fatty acids, and the bacteria in our bowels can make biotin, so it’s not essential to include it every day. There is a lot of belief that biotin can help strengthen your nails and hair and improve your skin. It is naturally occurring in many different foods. 

Vitamin B9: Folic Acid / Folate

Folic acid is the man-made form of B9, which is called folate when occurring naturally. It is believed to be particularly useful for the body during pregnancy as it helps to reduce the risk of certain birth defects, such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects, in unborn babies. It also helps the body form red blood cells. Folate is found in leafy green and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. If these aren’t for you, then chickpeas, peas and kidney beans also contain small amounts of folate. Unfortunately, the body cannot store B9, so it is necessary to eat foods containing it on a regular basis with adults needing around 200 micrograms per day. Higher folate levels are especially beneficial during conception and pregnancy, so you might want to discuss the possibility of taking stronger supplements with your doctor if you’re trying!

Taking more than 1mg of folic acid per day can mask the symptoms of a B12 deficiency, which can have some serious effects if left unnoticed and untreated.

Vitamin B12: Cobalamin

This is the one I reckon most of you have already heard of in some detail - and not because I keep writing about what it is, what it does and how to get it! Vitamin B12 is the bugbear of the plant-based world, with everyone being concerned about how we get it when we don’t consume animal products. B12 is an essential vitamin as humans don’t produce it naturally so we need to get it from our diet. Firstly, it helps the body use folate properly, and is used in the production of DNA! B12 also gives us the ability to make healthy red blood cells and convert food into energy. Adults need about 1.5 micrograms every day in order to remain healthy. While you may have difficulty getting enough B12 naturally, you can add it in supplement form - our vegan vitamin B12 blend comes in liquid form, so it’s really easy to add into your daily routine.  

How do we sum this up? Vitamin B in all its forms is vital for the continued health of the body. It is incredibly important that everyone gets what they need, and supplementing is a quick and convenient way to ensure that you’re getting what you need. This is an especially good idea for anyone over 50, people with digestive issues, and anyone who might have difficulty in absorbing B12. Take our THRIVE challenge, and see if you can feel the difference in your energy and outlook within 30 days!