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The B Vitamins

 

B1 - Vitamin
How to spot a deficiency

A serious B1deficiency is a thing of the past in the UK nowadays, although still common in third world countries. However, a mild deficiency may go unnoticed and can cause tiredness, irritability, and weight loss and particularly affects the elderly.

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Food Sources

Brewer's yeast, brown rice, wheatgerm, nuts, pork, liver and wholemeal bread are all good sources of B1, although much of it is lost when food is processed. Watch out if you drink a lot of tea or coffee as they can deplete your stores of this vitamin.


Supplements

Too much B1 will not cause a problem as the body eliminates any excess through the urine. 50mg is a sufficient dose, but it's better to take a B complex supplement.
B2 - Riboflavin
What it does

B2 helps the body convert food into fuel. It plays a vital role in the production of the thyroid hormone that speeds up metabolism and ensures we have plenty of energy. It also aids the body's production of infection-fighting immune cells. Plus it’s been found effective in maintaining healthy eyes and reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.

How to spot a deficiency

Symptoms include cracks at the corners of the mouth, increased sensitivity to sunlight, itchy, burning eyes, peeling skin and a rash in the groin area.


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Food sources

Found naturally in milk, cheese, yoghurt, liver, beef, fish, eggs and mushrooms. Riboflavin is also added to fortify many breads and breakfast cereals.

Supplements

Again take in a B complex.
B3 - Niacin
What it does

As with other B vitamins, it’s needed to convert food into energy. It’s also important in controlling blood sugar, aiding the digestive system, maintaining healthy nerves and keeping the skin in good condition Some studies have found it useful in treating people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

How to spot a deficiency

A deficiency results in appetite loss, indigestion, weakness and patches of irritated skin.

Food sources

Protein-rich foods such as chicken, beef, fish and nuts plus fortified cereals and breads.

B6 - Pyridoxine
What it does

Known as the 'workhorse' of the B vitamins, B6 performs over 100 functions in the body, including forming red blood cells, making proteins, manufacturing chemicals in the brain and releasing stored energy. Studies also suggest it is important in preventing certain illnesses, such as heart disease and premenstrual syndrome.

How to spot a deficiency

Women, particularly those taking the contraceptive pill often have low levels of B6. Even mild deficiencies can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. A serious deficiency is rare, but symptoms include sores around the mouth, skin rashes, insomnia and depression.

Food sources

Good sources of vitamin B6 are chicken, fish, potatoes and bananas.

Supplements

Take in a B complex. Never take any more than 100mg at one time as high doses of B6 can cause nerve damage, resulting in numbness and tingling. The good news is that the damage is reversible once supplements are stopped.
Folic Acid
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What it does

This water soluble B vitamin helps to make blood cells, build muscle and heal wounds. A sufficient amount of folic acid at conception and for the first half of pregnancy, greatly reduces the risk of serious birth defects. It is also thought to protect against cancers of the cervix and colon.


How to spot a deficiency

A severe deficiency can cause anaemia, chronic diarrhoea and stunted growth. This is very rare, but can affect people with illnesses such as Crohn's or coeliac disease, alcoholics and people on medication for cancer or epilepsy. It's more common to suffer from a mild lack of folic acid which raises the risk of heart disease and birth defects.

Food sources

Good sources of folic acid are fortified cereals, wholegrains, orange juice, dark-green leafy vegetables, lentils and beans.

Supplements

It's a good idea to take B complex, especially because too much folic acid on its own can result in a B12 deficiency.
B12 - Cobalamin
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What it does

B12 is the only B vitamin the body stores in large amounts. It's crucial for cell replication, the production of red blood cells and providing us with energy. It has a beneficial effect on those with neurological disorders and can help prevent heart disease. Research is currently underway to test its involvement in Alzheimer's disease, as studies have found that people suffering from this illness often have low levels of B12.
How to spot a deficiency

Symptoms that indicate a serious deficiency are depression, fatigue, numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and memory loss. The level of B12 in the body falls as we get older. Dementia and anaemia can be the result, but are reversible if caught in time.

Food sources

The best sources of this vitamin are animal products like, fish, meat, eggs and cheese. Some cereals are fortified with B12.

Supplements

Must always be taken with folic acid, or better still in a B complex.


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