Dr Linia Patel dives into the world of B vitamins.
“Take your vitamins” is something we have been told to do since we were kids. And for good reason. In an ideal world, we would be able to get all the vitamins and minerals we need from food. However, the reality is that the 21st century lifestyle poses challenges that, in turn, increase the likelihood of falling short on nutrients. So, with that in mind, supplements do have their place in helping to support and optimise our health and wellbeing.
Supplements – not substitutes
First things first.
You cannot supplement your way out of a poor diet and lifestyle. As the name implies, supplements are just that. A supplement. Not a substitute. Adopt and consistently follow a healthy and balanced diet and make some key lifestyle changes first, as that will have a much bigger impact on wellbeing. Then the icing on the cake can be supplements. Especially the right ones.
B vitamins – why are they important?
There are eight different B vitamins that all have unique roles in the body but, collectively, work together to support and regulate energy and mood levels and cognitive function. Our requirements of B vitamins increase with stress and with alcohol consumption. B12 is found predominantly in animal products and that is why non-meat eaters are recommended to take 10mcg B12 supplement daily. B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, which means they are not stored and should be consumed regularly. B vitamins can be found in food as below:
|Thiamine (B1)||Pork, liver, fortified breakfast cereals, wholegrains, nuts, bananas, oranges, peas|
|Riboflavin (B2)||Milk, plain yoghurt, lean meat, wholegrains, eggs, mushrooms|
|Niacin (B3)||Poultry, fish, meat, eggs|
|Pathothenic acid (B5)||Chicken, liver and kidney, beef, eggs, avocado, mushrooms|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||Legumes, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds, oats, wheatgerm, bananas|
|Folate (B9)||Fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans
|Cobalamin (B12)||Oysters, shellfish, milk, cheese, brewer’s yeast|
Within my clinical practice, I sometimes advise B vitamin supplementation for a couple of weeks if my client is under a lot of pressure/stress to support their adrenal health or if they need a boost in mood. While there is limited research looking specifically at B vitamins and menopause, there is some interesting research suggesting that B vitamins may also possibly help with hot flushes. Low levels of B6 have also been found to impact on progesterone production and have a negative impact on the immune and nervous system.
Methylated B vitamin supplements
When I advise my clients to take a B complex supplement, I often will recommend that it is methylated. In essence, what I am recommending is that my clients take the active form of the vitamin. Methylation is a simple biochemical process where one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms (CH3) are taken from one substance to another. Adding the methyl group can affect how molecules act in the body. Methyl groups have a hand in nearly every bodily function, from the production of DNA to brain chemistry, to heart health, to immune health and energy levels.
When we consume vitamins in the food we eat or in a supplement, they are in the inactive state. The body then takes them through the methylation process to change the vitamins to their methylated or active state, which is the form the body can use.
There is an important enzyme called MTHFR that is needed to carry out the critical final stage of methylation. However, around 40-60% of the population have what is called MTHFR deficiency, causing the body to struggle with the methylation process. The MTHFR deficiency is most prominent among Caucasian and Hispanic individuals. This means that, for this population group, taking an unmethylated vitamin won’t do much good.
Genetic tests will help you find out if you have a problem with your methylation cycle. However, high levels of homocysteine (an inflammatory molecule) as well as red cell folate, serum folate and serum B12 levels in your bloods are an indirect indicator you may have a deficiency of the enzyme MTHFR as well.
Not only can people with the MTHFR mutation benefit from the active state of methylated vitamins, but everyone can benefit from the active state of methylated B vitamins.
Benefits of methylated vitamins
To help bring the power of active vitamins to life, I want to give you a practical example.
I have recently been furnishing my apartment. I had two options. Either purchasing the furniture in pieces and put it together myself or buying pre-assembled furniture that is ready to go. Taking a methylation supplement is kinda the same as buying the furniture that is ready for use today. When you take a dietary supplement that is already activated, the body can fortify its functions without having to methylate on its own.
Taking an active form of the vitamin will help; however, you still need to eat a healthy and balanced diet that supports a healthy gut microbiota, as this will improve the absorption of the B vitamins. Controlling your levels of stress and alcohol consumption as well and spending enough time in bed are all important aspects of an overall holistic approach for optimal wellness.
Have you checked out Linia’s best-selling online educations?
- Nutrition for Menopause
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- Low Carb: the evidence & application
- Sports Nutrition Basics
- Plant-Based Eating: The Essentials
- Food as Medicine? Food and inflammation
- Longevity through Nutrition
About the author
Dr Linia Patel has a BSc degree in biochemistry and physiology and has recently achieved a PhD in public health. Linia is a leading dietitian and sports nutritionist. Her passion is translating nutritional science into easy-to-digest and practical advice.
- Froese D et al (2019), Vitamin B12, folate and the methionine remethylation cycle-biochemistry, pathways and regulation, J Inherit Metab Dis., 42(4): 673-85.
- Young et al (2019), A systematic review and meta-analysis of B vitamin supplementation on depressive symptoms, anxiety and stress. Effects on healthy and ‘at-risk’ individuals, Nutrients.
- Hanna et al (2022), B vitamins: Functions and uses in medicine, Perm J., 26(2): 89-97.
- Lyon et al (2020), B vitamins and one-carbon metabolism: Implications in Human health and disease, Nutrients, 12(9): 2,867.