What do the B vitamins do? | The ABCs of Vitamins

You know by now if you have been following this series on The ABCs of the Vitamins that vitamins come in different forms and that is especially true of the B vitamins.
B complex made simple

There are several of them…

It started with Thiamine

There was a widespread disease amongst sailors and prisoners – that is amongst people with a poor diet. The main symptoms were muscle wasting, irregular heart beat and mental confusion.

The disease was called Beriberi and was first noticed in China as early as 2600 BC but it was only explained as a vitamin deficiency and its actual identity found in the years from 1901 to the 1930s in a series of experiments.

The two most central scientists awarded a Nobel Prize for their achievements.

Thiamine, also written as thiamine, was the first of the B vitamins to be found and was called vitamin “B” because it cured Beriberi.

This was a disease that was widespread amongst people who eat white rice and was cured by eating brown rice or by continuing to eat white rice and take some thiamine.


What is so Wrong with White Rice?

Grains of rice have an outer husk which is removed in milling to get whole rice or whole meal rice. If this brown rice is milled any further the rice germ and the bran are removed and the most important nutrients are lost.

The white rice that is produced is a nutritionally deficient non food or semi food broadly comparable to white bread.


Governments have recognised this by requiring that a small amount of the missing vitamins is returned as a powder and this partially repaired food is then called “fortified” or “enriched”. In truth it is still a deficient food and my advice is to avoid any food that is labelled “enriched” or “fortified”.


The wholemeal version of rice is far better. An occasional use of white rice in a particular recipe is OK but habitual use is not recommended.

One by one further members of the B vitamins were found and so as well as a unique chemical name such as thiamine or riboflavin they are also called B1 and B2 and so on.

At present we have B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 plus some other vitamins who are unofficial members of the B vitamin family. Let’s take a look at them one by one…

Vitamin B2, Riboflavin


Vitamin B2 was first found as a yellow pigment in milk. Now it is known to power a handful of important enzymes that help release and generate energy at a cellular level and to avoid deficiency diseases and symptoms.

  • Migraines – trials have shown that high doses of Riboflavin very effective at preventing migraine headaches. Lower doses may well be sufficient when used in intelligent combination with other vitamins and minerals such as magnesium citrate and CoQ10.


  • Cataracts – the evidence is mixed with some studies finding a connection between cataracts and others not finding a connection. Perhaps cataract formation depends on the absence of several anti-oxidants and enzymes and Riboflavin alone is not usually the key deficiency? I would expect diet to play a major role in the management of cataract and would advise a whole food plant based diet as well supplements of anti-oxidants and a B complex supplement containing of course riboflavin.


  • Cancer – not a disease one normally associates with Riboflavin, but studies in China show that low levels of Riboflavin are associated not just with breast cancer but with Cervical cancer too.

    Riboflavin deficiency can cause a variety of metabolic problems that lead to skin and mucosal disorders. Limited evidence suggests that high intake of riboflavin may reduce overall risks of cancer. However, association of this deficiency with cervical cancer and precancerous lesions are still not definitively known.
    More at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832395/

And this quote from a research paper caught my eye, “overt clinical signs of riboflavin deficiency are rarely seen among inhabitants of the developed countries. However, about 28 million Americans exhibit a common ‘sub-clinical’ stage “ according to by Professor Wolfgang Herrmann and Dr Rima Obeid in their book Vitamins in the Prevention of Human Diseases.


The evidence base of big studies is growing but for you and me there is no need to wait – we can take safe and effective levels of these B vitamins now.

B3 Next “Niacin”

Now we get to Vitamin B3. It’s chemical name is nicotinic acid, but it was quickly renamed as “niacin” because Doctors were scared that people would think that nicotine was good for them!


B3 was discovered during the search for a cure of the disease of Pellagra which was common in the 18th Century. Pellagra produces dermatitis and many other serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, confusion and even dementia.

Like many other B vitamins niacin works to help the body release energy from the food we eat. It also functions in detoxification pathways in the liver and in the regulation of blood sugar.


High doses of niacin produce a flushing sensation in the skin for some people which can last for several minutes. Other forms of B3 which do not produce this “niacin flush” are available – or you could just use lower doses or divided doses.


The reason that so many are interested in taking large doses of niacin is that some arterial problems – often called heart problems – respond to niacin therapy.


Niacin lowers high cholesterol and raises HDL – the so called good cholesterol. More to the point it reduces mortality – the chances of dying from heart disease.


And there is a form of niacin that works without the flushing effect. It is called Inositol Hexaniacinate. This increases blood flow and is used to reduce leg cramps caused while walking, intermittent claudication, and in the cold hands and feet disease, Raynauds.


After vitamin B3 you might expect B4 but in the history of vitamins some of the natural chemicals found in foods which were thought to be vitamins and given a number were later identified as other nutrients instead.

So we skip along to B6


Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine

All of the various members of the B vitamin family work together but if there is one star performer then it has to be B6. It helps more than 60 enzyme reactions in the body including the metabolism of amino acids – the building blocks of proteins and works with the Essential Fatty Acids – the Omega 3 and 6 acids.

Where to begin With B?

Several of the B vitamins help preserve the health of the skin and B6 does too. Without an adequate amount we may suffer eczema or dermatitis around the eyes, ears, mouth and even cracking of the lips and tongue.

Other disorders that may respond well to B6 therapy are PMS, carpel tunnel syndrome and some types of depression.

Like the other members of the “B team” vitamin B6 is water soluble and its level may vary a lot during a day making it useful for us to eat several foods rich in pyridoxine routinely.


Speaking of which…

brewer’s yeast, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, soy beans and Walnuts are good food sources of B6.

Asthma is a chronic disease that is at epidemic levels especially amongst children. I suffered a lot from asthma during my childhood and even had some bouts of bronchospasm and wheezing as an adult.


Asthma studies vary. Here (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8430923) is a small study of steroid dependent asthma where high dose pyridoxine had no effect and here (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1096686) is a larger study in children where there was significant improvement. In my view it is best to work with an health care practitioner who is experienced in the use of nutritional therapies and can help you optimise your diet, pyridoxine and other lifestyle factors.


Autism is an exciting area of research. It is a wide term and there are probably many different types and causes of autism and using B6 may not benefit all those affected – in fact it may only help some 20% of autistic individuals. Nonetheless the ability of B6 to alter neurotransmitters and in particular serotonin does have benefits for some autistic kids, especially when used in combination with magnesium and riboflavin.

It’s worth quoting the last sentence of this study, “The data suggest that these children with severe bronchial asthma had a metabolic block in tryptophan metabolism, which was benefited by long-term treatment with large doses of pyridoxine. ”


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Most people working with computers are familiar with this. A wave of awareness of this problem of overuse or wrong use of the wrist together with low intake of B6 combine to give pain in the wrist, tingling and numbness. Those who do not know of vitamin B6 go for surgery and those do know of nutritional therapy just take B6 at gradually increasing doses to see what works for them.


We’ll end our tour of this versatile vitamin by looking at its role in the circulation and in heart disease.


First let’s look at prevention which is always the best way to cure any disease! Those with low levels of B6 in their blood were found to have 5 times the chances of having a heart attack.


We need to mention a toxin next; it is called homocysteine and occurs in the body when the amino acid methionine is recycled unsuccessfully because it does not have enough B6 to do the job properly.


So the homocysteine is not removed from the blood and remains there and as it circulates it damages the artery walls.


As a result of this damage cholesterol is used to repair the damage because it is like putty. As the cholesterol piles up on the wound it restricts the flow of blood and sets up a higher pressure.


This damage is not necessary and cholesterol is not an enemy. If there is an enemy it is homocysteine, but actually we can handle that by using B6 and probably a few of its B team buddies too.


The whole battle against cholesterol and all the blah blah about LDL and HDL is a result of lacking clear knowledge of the ABCs of Vitamins and especially the B complex vitamins – the B team.


We’ll discuss homocysteine again fully in its own article but let’s just end this discussion by saying that monitoring it and your C-Reactive Protein level is much more effective and important than keeping track of cholesterol data.

Finally we turn to PMS, which is something else that B6 is good with!


There are different types of PMS so it is a little complex. Nevertheless it is true that B6 alone will help most patients in the sense of reducing the symptoms and discomfort, pressure and pain involved.

In cases where extra help is needed a B complex supplement often helps and a substantial dose of magnesium too.

Nutrients work in teams and often research ends with no result precisely because the study is badly designed and is testing one nutrient against particular symptoms in order to be clear.

This is perfectly understandable from a research perspective but we want solid help here and not data so we use nutrients along with dietary reform and lifestyle changes such as relaxation and breathing exercises to get the best results.


Another big issue is dosage. Often a study uses a dosage that is too small or else uses a synthetic version of a nutrient that knowledgeable Practitioners simply would not use.


To get the health changes you want it’s vital to take the right dosage of the right version of the vitamin so let’s close after we discuss that a little.


Dosage of Vitamin B6


I have taken 100 mg daily of pyridoxine along with the other B complex vitamins daily for more years than I care to remember and not experienced anything other than more energy.


The B vitamins are water soluble and are used by the body on the day you take the supplement. The doses we take in nutritional use are such that the vast majority of people experience only benefit and if any tingling or flushing is experienced then we simply stop for a wee while and try again.

Normal range of dosage is usually taken to be 50 to 100 mg daily from a high quality company – see below for a few suggestions.

Next we hop along to B7, B8, B9, B10, B11 B12 !

Vitamin B12

Most vitamins are small in size and simple in structure but this one is a biggie – it is based on a metal or mineral, called cobalt and so is called cobalamin.

B12 works along with B6 and Folate to detox homocysteine and so prevent it from damaging your arteries. As written above the B vitamins work together so you can see that just taking ONE vitamin by itself is not going to be enough to help us in most cases.

A deficiency of B12 results in a kind of anaemia, called pernicious anaemia. Mostly we think of Iron when we hear of anaemia but often it is the B complex vitamins that matter more. We may even have a high level of iron and be anaemic and in need of B vitamin therapy.

Cobalamin is only needed in trace amounts and is only made by bacteria. Most people will get tiny amounts from their diet but if you want an insurance policy that you are getting enough or want to use all the B vitamins as part of an anti homocysteine therapy then you’ll need to get a B12 supplement which is derived from bacteria – neither plants nor animals can make B12.

B12 Supplements

Jarrow is a  good brand, although I would recommend that everyone check labels before buying since we are all unique and need to avoid whatever we are allergic to. This is a vegan supplement so apart from allergies it should suit most people.

3 forms of vitamin B12 in one bottle from Now Foods
3 forms of vitamin B12 in one bottle

And here is a very clever B12 from Now Foods. What caught my eye was that they have included 3 different forms of B12 so if your body does not quite like one form they have you covered. Again, read labels folks but this looks good.


And please bear in mind that Nature designed vitamins to work together so a B12 supplement is great but we also need a good B Complex supplement rather than taking a separate B1s and B2s and all the rest of the B team. It does make good sense to take more of a particular B vitamin when you find that you need more of it.

Here are some good B Complex supplements that may be worth using in your routine.


Here is a best selling B Complex from Divine Bounty giving you 100 mg of the main B vits.

red bottle of B complex supplements by Divine Bounty
Divine Bounty B complex

There is a caution you need to know about when buying B vitamins and some other supplements and it is that  they may also have some alpha lipoic acid, ALA in the ingredients and ALA is not just a super antioxidant but is also a powerful chelator and needs to be taken according to a special timing and dosage protocol or you may face significant harm!

Please don’t mix this chelator ALA with the Fatty acid ALA! They are not related!

Kosher B complex with vitamin C
Good B Complex with added vitamin C. Kosher product

OK, you want a capsule because you don’t like tablets? Try this

it is a Kosher accredited vegetarian and vegan capsule which impressed me a lot by including a whole gram of vitamin C as well as healthy B complex vitamins and a non flush version of B3.

You can find it at Amazon here .

Any questions?

Ask them either in the Comment section below or on my Facebook page.

Alex Newell ND

I'm Alex Newell and I am a Physicist who retrained as an Osteopath and Naturopath when my own health began to decline in my 30's. In fact I kept training and asking questions and began writing books and blogging over the last few years. The purpose of this blog, naturaldetoxblog.com is to help those with an interest in Natural Health Care to improve their health and detox and chelate industrial chemicals out of the brain and body in a safe and effective way. Please feel free to ask questions and contact me

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