One of the most common problems we see with our new patients is nutritional bankruptcy, with a B vitamin deficiency being common and often the cause of several symptoms. B vitamins are not stored very well in the body because they are water-soluble. While a healthy body can produce some of the B vitamins, diet and supplementation are mission critical to good health. Deficiencies can occur fairly easily as a result of dieting, fasting, or a diet of substantially refined and processed food, sugar, or alcohol. Another very common reason for B vitamin deficiencies today is an unhealthy gut. Many of our B vitamins are produced by intestinal bacteria; however, antibiotic use, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, Splenda, stress and a toxic environment have all contributed to the destruction of these favorable bacteria, resulting in vitamin B deficiencies.
B vitamins are often referred to as a complex of vitamins because they usually show up in food and nature together and in many cases need each other to perform the functions they serve in the body. The complex includes thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxal, biotin, folic acid, and B-12 (the cobalamins). B Vitamins serve the following purposes in the human body:
- Like a spark plug in a car, they help to start or determine the speed of biochemical reactions in the body such as converting carbohydrates to glucose as well as metabolizing fats and proteins.
- They are essential to the normal functioning of the nervous system and help to bring relaxation or energy when stressed or fatigued.
- The health of our skin, hair, eyes, liver and mucosal linings are especially dependent on the B vitamins.
- Proper levels of B vitamins also enhance the muscle tone of the gastrointestinal tract, allowing the bowels to function most efficiently.
Common symptoms of vitamin B deficiencies include fatigue, irritability, nervousness, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, sore mouth or tongue, and cracks in the corners of the mouth. Deficiencies of some of the B vitamins may also impair immune function and estrogen metabolism, while deficiencies in B-12 and folic acid specifically can result in constipation, numbness in hands and feet, skin problems, acne, hair loss, early graying of hair, increased serum cholesterol and weakness of the legs.
Essential to avoiding vitamin B deficiencies, two steps must be taken. First, be sure that your gut is healthy and has optimal favorable bacteria. This is one of the reasons we focus on gut health with every patient and recommend that most patients take a quality probiotic every day and/or eat cultured foods. Second, be sure to consume a wide variety of whole foods. Some of the best sources of B Vitamins include organ meats, especially liver (ideally from a grass fed animal), nutritional yeast (ask your nutritionist how this is used and whether it is right for you), most beans, peas, lentils, dark green vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables, avocado, oats, millet, eggs, oily fish such as trout, mackerel, herring, shellfish, tuna, salmon, halibut, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, seeds, meat and poultry.