While each B vitamin can be used alone for therapeutic purposes (i.e. B3 at high levels will lower cholesterol), a B Complex is most commonly used to support general health and well-being.
There are a few things to be aware of when buying a B Complex:
If you are using high amounts of only one B vitamin, for therapeutic purposes, it is important that you also take a B Complex. This is because the B vitamins are related and depend on each other for proper assimilation. Therefore one B vitamin, in isolation, can rob the body of other B vitamins.
B vitamins need minerals in order to be fully absorbed. So if you are not using a separate mineral complex, or buying your minerals individually (chromium, zinc, magnesium, iodine, etc.), then the best approach is to get your B vitamins within a multivitamin. This way the B vitamins are already combined with minerals (and some of the other important vitamins like A, C, D, E, etc.)
If you have a nutritional need for vitamin B12 it will not be absorbed from your B Complex or multivitamin. This is because as we age, or if one has gastrointestinal ailments (like Crohn’s disease, IBS, or colitis), we lose the ability to absorb B12 through the intestines. That is why health professionals commonly give B12 as an injection. So if you feel the need for B12, you will want to purchase that one B vitamin alone, in a sublingual form (which means that it is absorbed under the tongue.
Some of the more common B vitamins and their uses
B1 (Thiamin) – Essential for energy production, carbohydrate metabolism, nerve cell function, and treat impaired mental function. Brewers yeast in an excellent food source of B1.
B2 (Riboflavin) – Crucial for energy production, & involved in regenerating glutathione to help protect against free-radical damage.
B3 (Niacin) – Essential for energy production, regulation of blood sugar, reduction of cholesterol, antioxidant mechanisms, & detoxification reactions.
B5 (Pantothenic Acid / Pantethine) – Pantothenic acid helps to support adrenal function & rheumatoid arthritis, while pantethine helps to lower blood cholesterol & triglyceride levels.
B6 (Pyridoxine) – Required for proper functioning of more than 60 different enzymes, proper functioning immune system, mucous membrane, skin, red blood cells, and involved in the manufacture of all amino acid neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, etc.).
Biotin – Helps with strong nails & healthy hair.
Folic Acid – Critical to the development of the nervous system of the fetus. Deficiency in folic acid is also linked to depression, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis. When taken with B6 & B12, folic acid can help with reducing body concentrations of homocysteine.
B12 (Cobalamin) – Found in liver, clams, and kidneys, B12 functions as a methyl donor and is involved in homocysteine metabolism and plays a critical role in proper energy metabolism, immune function, and nerve function. Available in cyanocobalamin, and the active form methylcobalamin.