A vitamin B complex is a dietary supplement that contains all eight of the B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), B12. Also found naturally in a number foods, B vitamins help the body to produce energy and form red blood cells. Proponents suggest that taking a vitamin B complex may help treat or prevent certain health problems.
Why Do People Take B Complex Supplements?
Proponents claim that vitamin B complex supplements can help with a variety of health conditions, including:
Benefits of B Complex Supplements
Each B vitamin is essential to certain bodily functions: B1 and B2 are important for healthy functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart; B3 helps regulate the nervous and digestive systems; B5 and B12 are required for normal growth and development; B6 supports the immune system and aids the body in breaking down protein; B7 is involved in the production of hormones; and B9 helps cells make and maintain DNA.
Studies show that taking supplements containing certain B vitamins may benefit your health. For instance, B1 may help prevent kidney disease in people with type 2 diabetes and reduce risk of cataracts; B2 may prevent migraines; B3 may lower cholesterol levels; B6 may protect against heart disease, relieve PMS symptoms, and alleviate pregnancy-related nausea; B9 may help prevent breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer, as well as decrease risk of birth defects when taken by pregnant women; and B12 may lower cervical cancer risk and reduce levels of homocysteine (an amino acid thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels).
Although few studies have tested the effects of taking a B complex supplement, preliminary research shows that B complex supplements may reduce inflammation in hemodialysis patients and promote periodontal wound healing. However, other research indicates that taking B complex supplements may not reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Food Sources of B Vitamins
To increase your intake of B complex vitamins, include the following foods in your diet:
- cereals and whole grains (a source of B1, B2, and B3)
- green leafy vegetables (a source of B2 and B9)
- eggs (a source of B7 and B12)
- chicken (a source of B3, B6, and B12)
- citrus fruits (a source of B9)
- nuts (a source of B3 and B9)
- kidney beans (a source of B1 and B2)
- bananas (a source of B6 and B7)
Vitamin B5 is found in almost all foods.
Although B complex supplements are generally considered safe, they may cause certain side effects, such as skin problems and an increase in blood sugar levels.
When Should You Take a B Complex Supplement?
If you're not getting enough B vitamins from your diet, taking a B complex supplement may be beneficial. Deficiency in B vitamins can cause a number of symptoms, including tiredness, anemia, loss of appetite, depression, abdominal pain, muscle cramps, hair loss, and eczema. Consult your health care provider to find out whether a B complex supplement is right for you.
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Neiva RF, Al-Shammari K, Nociti FH Jr, Soehren S, Wang HL. "Effects of vitamin-B complex supplementation on periodontal wound healing." J Periodontol. 2005 Jul;76(7):1084-91.