All B vitamins are water-soluble substances that can be cultivated from bacteria, yeasts, fungi, or molds. The known B-complex vitamins are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin), B15 (pangamic acid), biotin, choline, folic acid, inositol, and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid). The grouping of these water-soluble compounds under the term "B complex" is based upon their common source distribution, their close relationship in vegetable and animal tissues, and their functional relationships.
The B-complex vitamins are active in providing the body with energy, basically by converting carbohydrates into glucose, which the body "burns" to produce energy. They are vital in the metabolism of fats and protein. In addition, the B vitamins are necessary for normal functioning of the nervous system and may be the single most important factor for health of the nerves. They are essential for maintenance of muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract and for the health of skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver.
All the B vitamins are natural constituents of brewer's yeast, liver, and whole-grain cereals. Brewer's yeast is the richest natural source of some of the B-complex group. Another important source of some of the B vitamins is production by the intestinal bacteria. These bacteria grow best on milk sugar and small amounts of fat in the diet. Maintaining milk-free diets or taking sulfonamides and other antibiotics may destroy these valuable bacteria.
Because of the water-solubility of the B-complex vitamins, any excess is excreted and not stored. Therefore they must be continually replaced. All B vitamins mixed with salve absorb readily.
Sulfa drugs, sleeping pills, insecticides, and estrogen create a condition in the digestive tract which can destroy the B vitamins. Certain B vitamins are lost through perspiration.
The most important thing to remember is that all the B vitamins should be taken together. They are so interrelated in function that large doses of any one of them may be therapeutically valueless or may cause a deficiency of others. For example, if extra B6 is taken in 50-milligram potencies, it is important that a complete B complex accompany it, not all in 50-milligram potencies, but each B vitamin increased proportionately according to the amounts established by the National Academy of Sciences for normal maintenance. For instance, the adult RDA for vitamin B6 is 2 milligrams. Fifty milligrams is 25 times the RDA. The B vitamins accompanying B6 should then all be increased 25 times. Using folic acid as an example, the adult RDA for this B vitamin being 400 micrograms, multiplying by 25 would give an amount of 10,000 micrograms, or 10 milligrams. In nature, we find the B-complex vitamins in yeast, green vegetables, etc., but nowhere do we find a single B vitamin isolated from the rest. Most preparations of single B vitamins are synthetic or at least no longer in their natural form. These synthetic B vitamins are used primarily to overcome severe deficiencies or serious physical conditions in which rapid results are needed. When taking supplements, it is very important to remember that the B vitamins exert many different effects upon each other; therefore excesses and insufficiencies may be harmful.
Deficiency Effects and Symptoms
The thirteen or more B vitamins are so meagerly supplied in the American diet that almost every American lacks some of them. If a person is tired, irritable, nervous, depressed, or even suicidal, suspect a vitamin B deficiency. Gray hair, falling hair, baldness, acne, or other skin troubles indicate a lack of B vitamins. A poor appetite, insomnia, neuritis, anemia, constipation, or high cholesterol level may be an indicator of a vitamin B deficiency. Having an enlarged tongue (including the buds on each side) that is shiny, bright red, and full of grooves means B vitamins are needed.
One reason there is so much B-vitamin deficiency in the American population is that Americans eat so many processed foods from which the B vitamins have often been removed. Some times some, but not all, of the B vitamins are replaced by the manufacturer.
Another reason for widespread deficiency is the high amount of sugar consumed. Sugar produces an abnormal intestinal flora from which some of the B vitamins are manufactured. Sugar also is pure carbohydrate with no vitamins or minerals or enzymes to aid in its digestion. Therefore it takes nutrient supplies, including the B vitamins, from other parts of the body, depleting those storage areas.
Alcoholics and individuals who consume excessive amounts of carbohydrates require a higher intake of B vitamins for proper metabolism. Alcohol has a tendency to destroy some of the B vitamins such as thiamine and folic acid. Like sugar, alcohol contains large amounts of carbohydrates but no vitamins or minerals, making it very difficult for the body to utilize the carbohydrates found in alcohol.
The caffeine in coffee is known to destroy the B vitamin thiamine, which is, among other things, essential for the health of the nervous system.
The need for the B-complex vitamins increases during infection or stress. Children and pregnant women need extra B vitamins for normal growth.
Beneficial Effect on Ailments
The B vitamins have been used in the treatment of barbiturate overdosage, alcoholic psychoses, and drug-induced delirium. An adequate dose has been found to control migraine headaches and attacks of Meniere's syndrome. Some heart abnormalities have responded to use of B complex because the nerves affecting the heart need the B-complex vitamins for smooth, quiet functioning. Massive dosages of the B-complex vitamins have been helpful in polio, to improve the condition of hypersensitive children who fail to respond favorably to drugs such as Ritalin, and to improve cases, of shingles. Nervous individuals and persons working under tension can greatly benefit from taking larger than normal doses of B vitamins.
Postoperative nausea and vomiting, resulting from aesthesia, can be successfully treated with B vitamins. The amount of B vitamins needed seems to be related to the amount of female sex hormones available. Menstrual difficulty is often relieved with small doses. The B vitamins may also help these ailments: beriberi, pellagra, constipation, burning feet, tender gums, burning and drying eyes, fatigue, lack of appetite, skin disorders, cracks at the corner of the mouth, and anemia.