The Science Behind… Vitamin B

Vitamin B… is more complex than it seems! Did you know there are multiple B vitamins that constitute a “Vitamin B complex”?! Lets take a look at Vitamin B, the science behind it and what science says it can actually help you with (and what it might not).

Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, information only. Please seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.

Photo by Supplements On Demand on

What is a Vitamin B?

You’ve probably heard of a few of the B vitamins, like B12, which is a commonly discussed B vitamin.. but there are 7 others too. Let’s take a quick look at each one and then we will get into the claims and evidence behind them.

First – a Vitamin B complex simply means that multiple B vitamins are within the supplement (as opposed to when a bottle just says B12). Like a multivitamin, except it’s only vitamins from the “B” group.

Of important note: vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin, which is important to know for dosing (which we will touch on below). Before adding any vitamin to your regimen, you should consult your provider or pharmacist (who is familiar with any other medications you take), or better yet – both! Although vitamins are not a “prescribed medicine”, they can be and they can still interact with other prescriptions or cause issues with certain conditions.

The 8 B Vitamins are:

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin):
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate/folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin)

What does it do, what do deficiencies/toxicities look like and where can I get it?

Since we’re talking abut 8 different B vitamins here, I’m sure you can imagine they support, do and contribute to a few things. Lets break them down…

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): thiamine is involved in some of the basic functions of our cells, as well as the breakdown of nutrients. A deficiency in thiamine can present several ways – such as with heart or cognitive issues but it’s rarely seen in developed countries. If it is, it is generally in older people or those on diuretics for congestive heart failure. Thiamine can be found in pork, fish, beans and lentils, green peas, enriched cereals and rice, sunflower seeds and yogurts – however the cooking process often destroys it, so many products have it added back in (“enriched” products).

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Riboflavin or B2 is involved in cellular growth, production of energy, and the breakdown of things like fat and even medications. We produce a little bit of ribloflavin ourselves (in our gut) but it’s not enough. We must also consume it – it can be found in meats and foods that are fortified with it (cereal, bread) but also in some veggies like spinch and nuts such as almonds, so deficiency is generally rare. Riboflavin is sometimes recommended for migraine prevention. A deficiency would be rare in developed countries.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Niacin (and its constituents) main function as a coenzyme to over 400 enzymes in the body! This means it assists in certain cellular reactions, like the conversion of nutrients to energy, creation and repair of DNA and more. It is plentiful in food such as red meat, poultry, fish, brown rice, fortified cereals and breads, nuts and seeds, legumes and bananas. Because it is so easily available in most diets, deficiency is rare. It used to be used to treat dyslipidemia, a risk factor for CVD, but after evidence reviews are no longer recommended due to the risks and side effects. Supplements of niacin sometimes contain too much niacin (in its various forms) – we’ll talk about recommendations below for dosages. Niacin toxicity can occur when high supplementation is used long term. Symptoms of toxicity include: flush skin; itching or tingling on the arms, chest or face; low blood pressure and more.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): The main function of vitamin B5 is to make coenzyme A, which helps other enzymes build or breakdown fatty acids, and acyl carrier protein, which builds fats. Our gut produces a little, but we mostly get it from our diets and its present in many foods such as organ meats, beef and chicken breast, mushrooms, avocado, nuts and seeds, dairy milk, potatoes, eggs and more. It is being studied for a potential role in the treatment of dyslipidemia, since it breaks down fats. Deficiency would be very rare except in cases of severe malnutrition.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): the coenzyme form of B6, also known as PLP, assists over 100 enzymes with things like breaking down proteins, carbs and fats; maintaining levels of homocysteine (high levels contribute to heart problems); and in the support of immune and brain health. You may recognize B6 as a pregnancy nausea treatment – when prescribed or recommended by a physician. It is a highly studied B vitamin and may have other potential roles – however the use of a standalone B6 supplement is not currently recommended. B6 can be consumed in our diet through tuna and salmon; fortified cereals; chickpeas; poultry; and some fruits and veggies like dark leafy greens, bananas, and oranges. Although unlikely, B6 can cause toxicity when supplementing at high doses over a long period of time (generally, >1000 mg per day!). Symptoms include: neuropathy of hands/feet; loss of control of movements of the body (ataxia) and nausea. Vitamin B6 can also be low or deficient. It tends to occur when other B vitamins are low, like B12 or folic acid. If it’s mild, it may be asymptomatic however a more severe case may display symptoms such as anemia, skin conditions, depression, confusion or decreased immunity. B6 deficiency may also occur with other existing conditions like kidney disease, certain autoimmune diseases of the intestines and alcoholism.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Biotin helps with the breakdown of fats, carbs and protein, in addition to helping to regulate signals sent by cells and gene activity. You will often seen biotin mentioned in hair loss products or shampoos, nail products, etc. Notably, the evidence towards its roles in healthy hair and nails is inconclusive at current. High levels of biotin can skew lab results for other things like thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) so it’s important to know the dosing and let your physician know when you’re taking supplements. Biotin is naturally found in cooked eggs, salmon, avocado pork, sweet potato and nuts and seeds. Mild biotin deficiency may occur in pregnancy, even if they intake a sufficient amount of the vitamin. Symptoms are ones that you may have heard postpartum women complain of like thinning hair, but also brittle nails and sometimes a scaly rash around the face.

Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic Acid): if you’re TTC or have been pregnant, you know the role of vitamin B9. It is one of the B vitamins that is actually better absorbed in supplement form than from the diet. Folate is involved in the formation of DNA and RNA, producing healthy red blood cells, and is especially important during rapid growth such as in pregnancy. It also helps to metabolize proteins and breakdown homocysteine. Too little folate is linked to neural tube defects – in pregnancy, it should be taken as early as possible. Many breads and cereals are now also fortified with folic acid. Generally, an actual deficiency is rare – pregnancy has a need for increased amounts (400 mcg per day, and some people may require more – speak to your physician!). Toxicity is unlikely, by over the upper limit can mask a B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin): B12 is a key component in the formation of red blood cells and DNA, as well as the development of other integral cells like brain and nerve cells. It is also involved in the breakdown of homocysteine, which is also associated with cardiovascular disease and dementia, however the link between B12 and dementia or cardiovascular disease has not yet been determined to be significant. B12 must be consumed from food sources such as fish, red meat, eggs and poultry; dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt; and fortified products like cereals and nutritional yeast. Some soy milks are also enriched with vitamin B12. Having a B12 deficiency is common affecting about 15% of the population – it is usually best indicated by high levels of homocysteine and a breakdown product of B12. Deficiency can be caused by vegetarian or vegan diets without fortified or enriched food options or supplementation; pernicious anemia (lacking intrinsic factor, which is needed for B12 to be absorbed); decreased or inadequate stomach acid (due to medications or medical conditions); malabsorption disorders or issues due to surgical procedures. Signs and symptoms of a deficiency include low red blood cell count (and larger size); pernicious anemia; fatigue; weakness; nerve related symptoms like numbness and tingling; confusion or memory problems; depression and in some cases, seizures. Toxicity has not bene established – however any high doses should be reviewed with a doctor or pharmacist.

Recommended Dosage and Upper Limits

Because B vitamins are water-soluble, toxicity is unlikely because our body is able to flush out excess amounts of the vitamin in our urine! This is not the case for all vitamins (or all supplements) but is a “benefit” to water soluble vitamins.

Some B vitamins in excess may cause your urine to be brighter yellow – such as vitamin B2.

Please see the chart below for MAXIMUM amounts for vitamins per day – as in you should not take more than this. However, you should follow the guidance of your healthcare provider.

**I am providing the amount for non-pregnant adults – please see this Health Canada page for more information and talk to your provider**

For dietary intake: Dietary Reference Intakes charts from Health Canadaother age group information is available on this page!

VitaminMax amounts for vitamins (adults 19+ *please note if you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should speak to your provider, or for any special conditions)
B1Up to 100 mg/day
B2Up to 100 mg/day
B3Up to 500 mg/day (please note the amount is much lower under 19 years of age)
*On any vitamins with >35 mg of niacin or niacinamide (the recommended daily intake as per this chart) need to have a purpose statement or specific use statement
B5Up to 500 mg/day
B6Up to 100 mg/day
B7Up to 500 mg/day
B9Up to 1000 mg/day
*Prenatals should have at least 400 mcg of folate.
B12Up to 1000 mg/day
*If cobalt is also being taken, the maximum combined dose remains 1000 mg since B12 is the source for cobalt*

Do I need a supplement?

As you can see, most B vitamins are available from the food we eat naturally or enriched or fortified options.

However, we know that accessible food and food security is not a possibility for everyone. Some people may also be at more risk for deficiencies for various reasons (discussed above). If you have a concern about your vitamin intake or nutrition, contact your care provider or see someone like a Registered Dietitian or a reliable nutritionist to discuss your intake.

An example is in pregnancy when we know a prenatal multivitamin is beneficial (and should contain that recommended amount of folic acid, as well as B12). You’ll notice that many values are slightly increased for pregnancy and breastfeeding/chestfeeding/lactation on the Health Canada Recommended Daily Intake chart. So you’ll want to consider that as well.

  • Consult your healthcare provider – especially when you are on other medications! A pharmacist is also a good resource.
  • Vitamins with only one component (ie. not a multivitamin) have a higher risk of adverse reaction – consult a doctor, pharmacist or registered dietitian
  • Know your recommendations or adequate intake levels, and upper limits – check your bottles!
  • Vitamins should not be used as a replacement for food intake – consult a dietitian if you have dietary limitations
  • Check for an NPN (Natural Product Number) on your vitamin (or a DIN); this demonstrates Health Canada approval!!
  • Check your expiry dates – do not take expired products.
  • Read labels carefully for recommended doses and ingredients

Review: Vitapas B Complex by Pascoe {Sponsored}

Note: I am not suggesting that you take this B vitamin product over another product, simply providing a review of this product as I have used it. Please talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding any new supplements to your regimen. This is NOT medical advice, just information. Please note that this portion of the post is sponsored however it does not impact my opinion.

So Vitapas B Complex is a Pascoe Canada product that does have Health Canada approval as you can see by the NPN number clearly stated on the box and the website.

The complex promotes:

  • a healthy immune system,
  • healthy skin/hair/nails (a reference to the biotin),
  • contributes to the formation of red blood cells (we can see several B vitamins are involved in this process),
  • maintains iron metabolism (again, same thing)
  • and supports energy production (many B vitamins are related to energy, often B12).

The brand breaks down the role of each of the vitamins quite clearly on the product page.

One thing that I’d say though is not to self diagnose with a vitamin B deficiency. As you can see from our review, some vitamin B deficiencies are possible but others are not often associated with a deficiency in developed countries or across all populations. See a doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms before adding a vitamin to your regimen – the product page does also note to see a doctor with symptoms. The symptoms listed on the product page do align with the symptoms we reviewed above for different B vitamin deficiencies that can occur. Generally, deficiencies are most common in developed countries with vitamins B6, B7 (generally in postpartum or pregnant women) and B12. Others may occur in special populations.

The niacin (B3) recommended dosage ranges from minimum 1 mg/day to maximum 500/mg day, as per the Health Canada table I linked above (and here, for your convenience). I did ask about this to clarify (because that’s my promise to you!) and this was from Pascoe in response:

Now you might actually see, that our supplement is actually nearer to what is supposed to be received from food than what is to be in the supplement.

The reason is that at Pascoe we believe in a healthy diet and life style.  We recommend supplements but at the same want to ensure people change their life style as well. Our Vitapas B, as well as any other of our supplements, is for the time when you are lacking the healthy level, or for some reason are losing your vitamins faster; as is the case with water soluble vitamins, such as B complex when you are stressed.

At the same time: we ensured that the one dose gives the optimal level of folate which is 600mcg.  Enough for even during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  This is a plus as some pregnancies are accompanied with dizziness and nausea.  Which can be an ordeal when you need to ensure a healthy fetal development.  Hence, one small vegan capsule giving you the healthy dose.

Vitapas B gives you the healthy dose to supplement while eating healthy and being sure you are not b deficient- and that without any chance of Hypervitaminosis.  This is actually a big discussion for many when you look at the amount of high vitamins people take.

The box comes with 60 capsules and is lactose free, gluten free and vegan. It is for ages 19+.

Additional Resources

B Vitamins: Functions and Uses in Medicine

B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy – A Review

B Vitamins – Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Daily Reference Intakes – Health Canada


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