Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why Do You Need B-Vitamins?

All of the B-vitamins play a role in facilitating the metabolic processes of all forms of animal life, and most have been termed coenzymes (small molecules (not proteins but sometimes vitamins) essential for the activity of some enzymes). Although B-vitamins act individually, in specific ways, the interaction of all B-vitamins ensure that one is kept healthy to grow and reproduce properly.

So although the B-vitamins are a complex, it is important to know them individually to identify any specific health needs. Additional functions of B-vitamins include the conversion of food to fuel for energy production purposes and the maintenance of healthy nervous system function. Certain B-vitamins also help to keep the cardiovascular system healthy.

Research into B-vitamins has shown that:

  1. Folic acid (B-9) reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering homocystein levels (Russell, 1996). Homocysteine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that is closely related to the essential amino acid methionine and to cysteine. Many studies have also found an association between elevated homocysteine levels and impaired cognitive performance and dementia.

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  2. Choline (may help with the treatment of bipolar disorder. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School found that, in combination with lithium, choline helps treat the devastating mental illness bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) (Stoll, 1996).

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  3. Vitamin B-6 (Pyroxidine) can alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women (Vutyavanich,1995).

  4. Supplementation with B-vitamin riboflavin has been shown to repair DNA damage thus serving to enhance cognition in older populations (Chen, 1996).

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  5. Vitamin B-12 has also been shown to enhance cognition (particularly in older populations). In fact, as many as 42% of elderly people have a deficiency in B-12, which is often mistaken as a natural sign of aging.

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As shown, the main benefits of vitamin-B intake include cardiovascular and nervous system health, energy production and mental well-being. However, to fully appreciate the many functions the entire B-complex helps to govern, a review of all 12 B-vitamins is in order.

  1. Thiamin (B-1): Thiamin helps with the conversion of nutrients to energy and, in particular, enhances mental function and mood. Grains, wheat-germ, nuts and seeds are high in thiamine.

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  2. Riboflavin (B-2): Riboflavin is another key B-vitamin responsible for helping with nutrient conversion to energy. It also plays a major role in red blood cell manufacturing. Higher energy, as a result of B-2 intake, leads to improved hmmune system integrity, respiratory and digestive system health. Milk and cheese are high riboflavin foods.

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  3. Niacin (B-3): Niacin contributes in over 50 metabolic processes and therefore is one of the most important of the B-vitamins. The main functions of niacin are hormone manufacturing, detoxification, cholesterol regulation and energy production. Niacin can be obtained in two ways: directly from foods or through protein break-down. Tryptophan is one key amino acid responsible for niacin production. If one eats enough protein they will get enough tryptophan and will produce half of the niacin they need. The rest will be obtained directly through niacin-rich food intake. Niacin-rich foods include, beef liver, chicken tuna and milk.

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  4. Pantothenic acid (B-5): One of the less auspicious B-vitamins, pantothenic acid plays a supporting role in energy and hormone production, and red-blood-cell manufacturing. It can be obtained easily through the a well-balanced diet.

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  5. Pyroxidine (B-6): A very important amino acid in terms of protein building and therefore particularly important for bodybuilders. Pyroxidine works to transform amino acids into more than 5,000 proteins, and, in addition helps to make 60 different enzymes which assist our bodies biologic functions. Additional functions of pyroxidine include the assisting of a strong immune system and a healthy heart, and the management of depression. A pyridoxine deficiency can cause certain skin disorders, neuropathy (abnormal nervous system function), confusion, poor coordination and insomnia. Pyroxidine is abundant in many of the foods we eat. Major sources include liver, brown rice, fish and whole-grain cereals.

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  6. Biotin (B-7): Biotin also helps with nutrient conversion to energy and protein conversion. A biotin deficiency might be found in one who eats a large quantity of raw egg whites. The whites contain a substance called avidin which has a biotin binding function. A lack of biotin may also cause hair loss. The addition of biotin may enhance hair growth if the hair loss is a result of a biotin deficiency, not a genetic trait. Biotin is found in significant quantities in beef liver, egg yolks, nuts, and whole grains.

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  7. Folic acid (B-9): Folic acid is important for reproductive health (it can prevent birth defects) in addition to energy production and appetite, mood and sleep. It also assists cell replacement and cardiovascular health. Major sources of folic acid are beef and chicken liver, lentils, kidney beans and chick-peas.

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  8. Cobalamin (B-12): As with the other B-vitamins cobalamin helps to ensure nutrient conversion to energy. Cobalamin also assists with energy production in the sense that it helps to keep red-blood-cells healthy, thus enhancing their ability to carry oxygen and nutrients around the body. All of the cells of the immune system require cobalamin to function optimally. A deficiency of cobalamin will cause pernicious amenia, which results in weakness, numbness of the extremities, and fever. Unless cobalamin combines with what is termed intrinsic factor (a mucoprotein contained in the stomach) it cannot be absorbed or used properly. This problem is sometimes observed in strict vegetarians. Major sources include liver, beef, egg yolk, poultry and milk.