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The Role of the B-Vitamins

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

Did you know that B-vitamin deficiency can cause anxiety, depression and 'mood disorders'?

B vitamins are crucial for nervous system function and play a key role in making neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in B vitamins can cause symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, suicidal thoughts and in rare cases, psychosis. Other symptoms can include exhaustion, insomnia, loss of appetite, memory issues, inability to control emotions, getting sick easily and dzziness.

I am NOT saying a vitamin deficiency is responsible for mental illness. Part of feeling empowered in your own body is knowing the relevant and associated information and research, but there is never any substitute for getting the proper medical assistance.

Knowing how your mind and body health are intimately connected allows a deeper appreciation of how what we do affects how we feel (and vice versa!).

So what are the roles of some of the B vitamins in brain health?

B1 (thiamin)

Converts carbohydrates to provide energy to cells throughout the body and in the brain. Thiamin is also needed for synthesis of neurotransmitters. B1 deficiency isn't common today as many foods are fortified e.g. cereals, bread etc, but B1 deficiency is common with malnutrition and alcoholism.

B2 (riboflavin)

Helps to regulate levels of other B vitamins, and some medications such as oral contraceptives can interfere with B2 uptake. It's involved in energy transfer, metabolizing drugs and toxins in the liver and maintaining health of skin. nervous system and GI tract. Deficiencies, again, tend to be rare as many foods are fortified today.

B3 (niacin)

Deficiencies are rare, unless with a very limited diet, but it can be toxic is supplemented excessively. It's involved in cellular signalling and maintaining skin, digestive system and nerve health.

B6 (pyridoxine)

Plays a key role in making neurotransmitters, and is specifically important in creating GABA, which is part of the chemical messaging that allows us to feel calm and at peace. It is needed in nervous and immune system function, as well as protein metabolism. Excess supplementation can result in painful neurological symptoms (carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow included!).

B9 (folate)

Deficiences in B9 are much more common than in some of the other B vitamins. Some people have a genetic polymorphism (MTFHR) which doesn't allow them to convert folate. B9 controls homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that we synthesize in our bodies from the amino acid cysteine (found in food). Without treatment, elevated homocysteine increases your risks for dementia, heart disease and stroke, as well as causing inflammation and damaging blood vessels.

B12 (cobalamin)

Play a key role as a coenzyme in the biochemical process that maintains the nervous system. Deficiency in B12 damages the myelin sheath that protects nerves and can impact brain function (including the long list of symptoms I described above in the introduction!).

We can store decades worth of B12 in our liver; hugely useful as we are we tend to absorb less B12. Those on antacids or protein pump inhibitors will likely have problems absorbing B12 in the gut, and may benefit from a sublingual supplement). Only bacteria can produce B12, so it's only really found in animal product. Plant based eaters will need to supplement!

If you are concerned about your B vitamin levels, then you can get a blood test to see if you have low levels.

Remember, you don't need a vast list of expensive supplements. It's about being aware of the role these have in your body, and the impact that they can have on the way you feel. Often, focusing on adding more minimally processed foods across a diverse, varied diet is the best way to get these incredible compounds.

Be flexible. Experiment. Add, rather than restrict.

There's no good, or perfect way to eat, rather with a deeper understanding of the B vitamins, we can appreciate the deep impact of what we eat can transform our internal, emotional environment.

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