B Vitamin Deficiency and Natural Dietary Sources

Updated on December 26, 2017
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Varsha is an enthusiastic writer who likes to research topics related to health and wellness.

Dark, leafy greens offer a natural dietary source of vitamin B.
Dark, leafy greens offer a natural dietary source of vitamin B. | Source

The Biological Function of B Vitamins

Although the eight B vitamins have independent functions, they work synergistically, acting as co-enzymes to help the body function biologically. B vitamins are water-soluble, that is, they dissolve in water. Water-soluble vitamins are stored poorly in the body, so it is important to obtain a regular supply through one's diet or from supplements. In addition, a deficiency in beneficial bacteria can reduce the body’s own production of B vitamins.

Water-solubility also means that B vitamins are easily destroyed during food storage or preparation. To minimise vitamin loss, refrigerate fresh produce, keep milk and grains away from strong light, and prepare soup with leftover vegetable water.

We will explore naturally occurring sources of B vitamins, the symptoms of a deficiency, and indications of vitamin overload/toxicity.

The B-Complex Vitamin Group

Thiamin (B1)
Pyridoxine (B6)
Riboflavin (B2)
Biotin (B7)
Niacin (B3)
Folate (B9)
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Cobalamin (B12)
The B-complex vitamin group is made up of eight vitamins.
Whole grains are a good source of Thiamin (B1).
Whole grains are a good source of Thiamin (B1). | Source

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

Thiamin helps to release energy from food, promotes muscle function (especially in the heart), aids red blood cell and amino acid production, maintains the nervous system, and supports digestion. Thiamin is easily lost through food processing.

Dietary sources include:

  • whole grains
  • oats
  • red meat
  • seafood
  • nuts
  • yeast
  • seaweed
  • pulses
  • sunflower seeds
  • beans
  • green peas
  • asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • liver

Symptoms of a B1 Deficiency:

Deficiencies of B1 present as weight loss, fatigue, digestive problems, weakness, irritability, nerve damage, and inflammation. Medication and alcohol consumption can both increase the demand for or cause the excessive excretion of thiamin.

Cobalamin (B12) is found in dairy and dairy products.
Cobalamin (B12) is found in dairy and dairy products. | Source

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Like thiamin, B2 helps to release energy from food, supports mucous membrane health (including the eyes), maintains neurological function, promotes skin and hair strength (acts as an antioxidant), and supports the immune system.

Dietary sources include:

  • whole grains
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • green, leafy vegetables
  • pulses
  • yeast extracts

Symptoms of a B2 Deficiency:

Signs of riboflavin deficiency include bloodshot, tired, or gritty eyes, cracks or sores in the corner of the mouth, a red or inflamed tongue and lips, recurrent mouth ulcers, and dermatitis (especially on the face).

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

B3 helps to release energy from food, supports the production of key enzymes, maintains the nervous system, regulates healthy cholesterol levels, and recruits chromium for blood sugar stability. The body can produce small amounts of niacin from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Eggs and cheese are rich sources of tryptophan.

Dietary sources include:

  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • meat (poultry, oily fish)
  • dairy products
  • dried fruit
  • yeast extract

Symptoms of a B3 Deficiency:

Signs of B3 deficiency include cramps, nausea, confusion, and skin conditions. The disease, pellagra, results from severe niacin deficiency. Some medications may also lower levels of niacin. High carbohydrate and low protein diets can lead to B3 deficiency.

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)

Pantothenic acid is involved in energy production, the formation of adrenal gland hormones, and the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates found in food. B5 is also needed to stimulate cell growth and the healing of tissues. It serves to increase the number and speed of cells transported to a wound, thus promoting cell division. Pantothenic acid is also synthesized by beneficial intestinal bacteria.

Dietary sources include:

  • whole grains
  • egg yolks
  • meats
  • pulses
  • liver
  • kidney

Symptoms of a B5 Deficiency:

B5 deficiency is less common because it is widely available in many foods. Periods of stress, whether emotional, psychological, or physical, can significantly increase the demand for B5.

Green, leafy vegetables contain several B vitamins.
Green, leafy vegetables contain several B vitamins. | Source

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Vitamin B6, otherwise known as pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine (all of which are converted into the more active form, pyridoxine, in the body), aids in protein metabolism and red blood cell formation. B6 is also involved in the body’s production of insulin, hemoglobin, and neurotransmitter synthesis (brain chemicals) such as serotonin. It also aids in the production of collagen. B6 is needed to metabolize oestrogen effectively and produce stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) for the absorption of minerals such as zinc and calcium. B6 breakdowns homocysteine, which is attributed to a higher risk of heart disease when levels are raised.

Dietary sources include:

  • pork
  • whole grains
  • pulses
  • green, leafy vegetables
  • bananas
  • avocados
  • walnuts

Symptoms of a B6 Deficiency:

Signs of B6 deficiency include carpal tunnel syndrome, recurrent mouth ulcers, headaches (especially when linked to the menstrual cycle), and PMS symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and mild depression. Some studies have suggested that as many as 1 in 5 women are deficient in B6.

B Vitamin Sources and RDA Quick Reference

RDA (mg)
Thiamin (B1)
Asparagus, spinach, Brussels sprout, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, green peas, pistachios, mushroom, flaxseeds
Male-1.2; Female-1.1
Riboflavin (B2)
Beef liver, lamb, milk, yogurt, mushroom, spinach, almonds
Male-1.3; Female-1.1
Niacin (B3)
Turkey, chicken, peanuts, mushroom, liver, beef, tuna, sunflower seeds, avocados
Male-16; Female-14
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado, liver, corn, broccoli, mushroom, yogurt, cauliflower
Pyridoxine (B6)
Avocado, tuna, pinto beans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, turkey, chicken
Biotin (B7)
Liver, eggs, yeast, salmon, whole grain bread, avocado, cauliflower, cheese
Folate (B9)
Garbanzo beans, pinto beans, spinach, lentils, liver, asparagus, avocado, beets, broccoli
Cobalamin (B12)
Milk, yogurt, liver, sardines, tuna, trout, salmon

Biotin (Vitamin B7)

Biotin is required for the production of energy, fatty acids, amino acids, genetic material (DNA), and the management of stress hormones. Biotin is also needed for maintaining healthy skin, hair, nails, sweat glands, and nerve cells.

Dietary sources include:

  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • cauliflower
  • egg yolk
  • oily fish
  • liver
  • yeast extracts

Symptoms of a B7 Deficiency:

Deficiency is unusual, except in low-calorie diets or those with a high intake of raw egg white such as a body-building diet. Egg white contains avidin, which binds to biotin in the gut and prevents its absorption (this does not occur with cooked egg white).

Eggs are an excellent source of several B vitamins.
Eggs are an excellent source of several B vitamins. | Source

B Vitamin Deficiency and Overdose/Toxicity Quick Reference

Deficiency Effects
Thiamin (B1)
BeriBeri, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue.
High blood pressure, skin eruptions, insomnia
Riboflavin (B2)
Ariboflavinosis, cracks/inflammation of lips, tongue, corners of mouth, dizziness, insomnia
Low blood pressure, fatigue
Niacin (B3)
Pellagra, fatigue, dermatitis
Vomiting, headaches, high blood sugar, high uric acid
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Acne, paresthesia
Gastrointestinal problems, depression, weakness
Pyridoxine (B6)
Dermatitis, mental disorders, insomnia, depression
Numbness, headaches, fatigue
Biotin (B7)
Skin disorders, hair loss, brittle nails, weakness, depression
High blood sugar, skin eruptions
Folate (B9)
Hemolytic and megaloblastic anemia, mental disorders
Kidney damage, nausea, loss of appetite, respiratory tract infections
Cobalamin (B12)
Pernicious anemia, memory loss, weakness, depression, weight loss, headaches
Liver and kidney diseases, skin rashes

Folate/Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)

Folate aids in protein metabolism, promotes red blood cell formation, and lowers the risk of neural tube defects. Folate may also play a role in controlling homocysteine levels and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Research has shown that B9 supports healthy cell division and protects against certain cancers, including colon and breast cancer. Folic acid is the synthetic monoglutamate form of the naturally occurring folate (polyglutamate form) found in food. Recent research on genetics has shown that some people may not be able to process folic acid effectively and, therefore, natural folate consumption is advised.

Dietary sources include:

  • green, leafy vegetables
  • meats
  • fish
  • pulses
  • citrus fruits
  • liver
  • kidney

Symptoms of a B9 Deficiency:

Folate is involved in cell growth and protein production, and a deficiency can lead to impaired growth and a higher risk of heart disease. Additional B9 deficiency symptoms include anemia, lethargy, muscular cramps, weakness, a sore, red tongue, and cognitive issues such as forgetfulness, confusion, irritability, and depression.

Meat provides 5 of 8 essential B vitamins.
Meat provides 5 of 8 essential B vitamins. | Source

Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Unlike most water-soluble vitamins, vitamin B12 can actually be stored in the liver with enough stock to last for several years! Vitamin B12 works synergistically with folic acid for the production of new genetic material (DNA), and is required by cells with a rapid turnover, such as those found lining the gut, surrounding the hair follicles, and red blood cells. It is also needed for the development of protective sheaths (myelin) around nerves and the breakdown of excess homocysteine. B12 is required to produce antibodies after vaccinations.

Dietary sources include:

  • liver
  • kidney
  • meat
  • eggs
  • milk and milk products

Symptoms of a B12 Deficiency:

B12 deficiency includes anemia, fatigue, a sore tongue, numbness, tingling, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, and depression. Medications for epilepsy and diabetes can increase the excretion of B12, and age can affect its absorption due to declining levels of stomach acid and intrinsic factor. Supplementation is recommended. A lack of vitamin B12 has also been associated with Helicobacter pylori infection in the stomach which triggers inflammation.

Questions & Answers


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      • varsha bang profile imageAUTHOR


        11 months ago from India


      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        11 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Great in depth article about vitamin B.


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