A Primer On B Vitamins
Patricia Zifferblatt | July 29, 2008

There’s a lot of hype about B vitamins in the media, especially vitamin B12, probably because of the high amounts of B vitamins in some energy drinks. So here’s your primer--let’s call it B Vitamins 101.

The B vitamins are water soluble. That means they’re not stored in the body but are used and then eliminated. The Bs are found mainly in brewer’s yeast, soy beans, organ meats, vegetables, some dairy products, fish, and poultry. The Bs could be called the absolute Bs because they’re necessary for so many functions in the body. Here’s a brief list of the B vitamins and what they do in the body:

B1: Thiamine
Supports a healthy heart and helps with normal enzyme function.

B2: Riboflavin
Helps break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

B3: Niacin
Helps in breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In large doses, it may help to lower serum cholesterol, but it can cause flushing of the skin. If you already have hot flashes, they may become atomic--at least until your body adapts.

B6: Pyridoxine
Helps the nervous and digestive systems and the production of red blood cells.

Helps with the digestive system, benefits hair, skin, and nails, and aids in making bone marrow.

Folic Acid
Most necessary in preventing some birth defects and in the nervous system; may also help reduce inflammation by helping process homocysteine.

Pantothenic Acid
Necessary in the digestive system and in making sex hormones.

And now to answer the main question: vitamin B 12 is an important part of the B-complex family. However it’s important to remember that all the Bs work together.

Many people think of vitamin B12 as the anti-stress vitamin as well as the energy vitamin. The important issue about B12 is this: vitamin B12 cannot be produced by your body--it must come from your diet. In addition, B12 is not easily absorbed or broken down within the body because the molecules are too large and complex for easy absorption.

Now, let’s get into what all the hubbub is about. First, there are different types of B12: methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, cyanocobalamin, and hydroxycobalamin. Whew!!! For an easier explanation, let’s define the different type of B12s as “M”, “A”, “C”, and “H”. According to the dictionary, MACH stands for a measure of relative speed, much like the B-complex vitamins act in the body. To continue:

M is for methylocobalamin; M is not a complete form of B12, but rather acts as a co-enzyme of B12. It resides in the liver and the kidneys. M is activated in the body for specific purposes, primarily for detoxification of metals such as lead and mercury. M is also very effective for removing high levels of homocysteine, a substance found in the blood of people with specific inherited diseases and also in an individual likely to have serious heart disease.

A is for adenosylcobalamin. A is another co-enzyme form of B12 that is found in the muscles. It helps the body move and stretch without tearing the tissue.

C is for cyanocobalamin, the main form of vitamin B12. C is found in the nervous system and the nerves. It helps heal the scars created by stress, trauma, and aging. C helps a person feel better, with more stamina and energy. This form of vitamin B is probably what you’re hearing about with all the energy drinks being promoted. People are quoted as saying, “Whenever I take cyanocobalamin, I feel better all over!”

H is for Hydroxycobalamin. H is the form of B12 that is usually given to children who are deficient in the vitamin. H is found in the nervous system and in the bloodstream; it does not give a fast boost of energy.

So what should you do? Better Life suggests that everyone take a supplement rich in B-complex vitamins and especially in B12 for lots of health reasons. However, people of retirement age, vegetarians, and especially vegans should be tested regularly for B12 deficiencies, since absorption declines as a person ages, and vegetarian foods are not a good source of vitamin B12. Remember, eating a healthy diet that contains a broad spectrum of foods is the smart thing to do.

As for the new energy drinks, they’re somewhat the same. Most contain some of the B vitamins, different levels of caffeine, and a various mixture of herbs such as ginseng, as well as other amino acids. We suggest you drink these drinks as an occasional beverage and not sip them all day long. In addition, senior citizens should talk with their doctors about B12 deficiencies at a yearly physical and supplement as the doctor recommends.
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