If health-essential vitamins took part in a popularity contest, B and its many components probably wouldn’t make it to the final round.
Other vitamins and supplements – think C, D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids – tend to attract the industry spotlight and help account for the $88.3 billion (U.S.) Euromonitor International says we spend globally on vitamins and supplements each year.
But without the eight different and individually important elements of the Vitamin B family, we’d have far less energy. We’d feel more anxious and irritable. And we’d find it much harder to maintain healthy hair and skin.
“B vitamins can affect your whole body, from the top of your head to your mood, to intestinal constipation to tingling in your extremities in more severe cases,” says Kerstin Koenig, M.D., associate medical director for Abbott’s diagnostics business based in Wiesbaden-Delkenheim, Germany. Also a nutritional therapist, Koenig is on a team of scientists and doctors who work with immunoassays that run on Abbott’s ARCHITECT system in medical laboratories used by hospitals and outpatient facilities. These assays determine the presence of and measure substances in people’s blood.
In this case, the Abbott-tested Active-B12 test measures the amount of this vitamin that can readily be used and absorbed by our bodies – and can detect early if we’re deficient. Because Vitamin B tests aren’t always included in routine blood screenings – and because deficiency symptoms aren’t always obvious – people often don’t know their levels are low, says Abby C. Sauer, a registered dietitian in Abbott’s Columbus, Ohio-based adult nutrition business.
“B vitamins are not top of mind, which is unfortunate because they help all the other functions in our bodies work,” says Sauer. “They’re in the background, and are not exciting or sexy. Because there are so many of them, it’s harder to connect to what they do. Many adults 65 and older are low in B12 because of their bodies’ (reduced) ability to process and use the vitamin.” While Sauer says most people get the Vitamin B12 they need from a well-balanced diet – or can supplement their intake with balanced nutritional drinks such as Ensure – she says people with gastrointestinal or digestive conditions, strict vegetarians and vegans (because B12 nutrients come from meats, eggs, and dairy products) also need to make sure they get enough.
Here are seven reasons why the different forms of this wonder vitamin really do help you live a healthier life.
They help our bodies process energy from foods we eat. Essentially, says Abbott registered dietitian Abby C. Sauer, B vitamins “help the body to burn fuel” from carbohydrates, fat and protein, “working with enzymes that help make energy.” Vitamins B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), and B3 (Niacin) are the superstars here. You’ll find Thiamine in everything from lentils to red meats to sunflower seeds; Riboflavin in nuts, green veggies, meats, and dairy products; and Niacin in foods including beans, nuts, and fish. Without them, we may feel run-down and fatigued.
They keep our brains and nerves functioning well. B vitamins – and especially B-12 (Cobalamin) – are essential “for repairing your DNA and for the function of nerves,” says Abbott’s Kerstin Koenig, M.D. If we don’t get enough, the deficiency can lead to increased mental anxiety and tension, fatigue, poor memory, and even depression.
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