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We live in a world where we are constantly rushing, trying to multitask, and ticking off errands from our long list of priorities. Balancing professional and personal life with little spare time may often be challenging, leaving us wishing for more hours in a day.
You may have noticed this busy lifestyle can often leave you feeling worn out, but have you ever wondered why this might be? Could it be because you are low in B vitamins?
Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) are the main B vitamins, which work as cofactors supporting various processes such as energy production, synthesis and breakdown of hormones and neurotransmitters, detoxification, and cardiovascular health.
Therefore, our daily supply should be optimal, however various factors can reduce the dietary content of B vitamins, making us more prone to deficiencies. The excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides in intensive farming can deplete microelements in soil, and thus in foods. Additionally, cooking methods like boiling can leach out nutrients. For example, it has been shown to decrease folate by up to 50%.1 The inflamed or damaged intestinal lining in conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Coeliac Disease can have a negative impact on the absorption of nutrients by lowering the production of brush border enzymes, crucial for food digestion.
Here are the 5 key reasons you might need extra B vitamins:
1. If you are feeling tired and less productive
B vitamins play a crucial role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), our main energy molecule, by supporting different stages of the citric acid (Krebs) cycle, through which we utilise dietary carbohydrates, protein and fats for energy. For instance, B3, B6 and B12 are needed for the first step of metabolising macronutrients, whereas the latter phases are more dependent on B2, B5, among other nutrients.2 This is why if you are lacking in these vitamins, you may struggle to make ATP efficiently, and so suffer from fatigue.
2. If you are stressed, anxious, and/or depressed
When our body is faced with potential stressors (e.g. emotional, physiological, environmental factors), our adrenal glands make stress hormones such as cortisol. This process requires vitamin B5, so the more stressed we are, the more B5 we use, increasing the likelihood of deficiency.3
On the other hand, vitamins B1, B2 and B3 support the enzymes involved in the clearance of adrenaline and noradreline through detoxification (catechol-O-methyltransferase [COMT] and monoamine oxidase [MAO]).4
So during periods of stress, we need to supply our bodies with adequate amounts of these water-soluble nutrients, via dietary sources or supplementation, as they are needed not only to mount a stress response but also to help us calm down.
Interestingly, optimal production of brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine needed for mood and motivation, also depends on adequate levels of folate, B12, and B6.5 Therefore, lack of any B vitamins may contribute to symptoms such as reduced mood, prolonged feelings of unhappiness, low self-esteem, anxiety or panic attacks.
3. If you have hormonal problems
In order to maintain healthy and balanced levels, reproductive hormones need to be metabolised by our liver through methylation, sulphation and glucuronidation - important detoxification pathways which rely on many B vitamins, especially folate, B12, B6, and B3.6 Deficiencies in these nutrients may result in inefficiently eliminated hormones and a subsequent build-up in the bloodstream. This can lead to ‘oestrogen dominance’, an underlying factor in premenstrual syndrome (PMS),7 fibroids,8 polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis,9 and infertility.
Research shows that a higher dose of B6 (up to 100mg a day) can help to reduce PMS symptoms by decreasing excessive binding of oestrogen to our cells.10
Methylation is also involved in DNA synthesis, and thus the production of sperm and ova, as well as healthy foetal growth, by supplying folate in its most bioavailable form - methylfolate (5-MTHF). Some people have a genetic mutation in the MTHFR gene (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), which is responsible for methylfolate production. Having this mutation increases the predisposition to miscarriages.11 Supplementation of 800mcg of methylfolate can bypass the MTHFR mutation, making this nutritional intervention suitable for those struggling to conceive.12
4. If you have a high toxic load
Do you live, work or cycle in a city? Is your job exposing you to various chemicals (e.g. hairdressers, builders, or factory workers)? Are you on lifelong medication or take painkillers on a regular basis? Do you drink alcohol or smoke?
If you resonate with any of this, it is likely that your body is busy metabolising multiple toxins on a second to second basis. Our detoxification processes are dependent on B vitamins. A deficiency in B3 or B6 for instance, can result in suboptimal functioning of glucuronidation (one of the detoxification pathways), affecting the eliminating of various substances such as medication (e.g. paracetamol,13 NSAIDs, and warfarin), harmful by-products from cigarette smoke and toxins from charred, fried and smoked foods.14
Poor detoxification can lead to various symptoms such as headaches, chronic fatigue, nausea and bad body odour. To improve those, we need to implement a two-angled approach which includes both detoxification support with crucial B vitamins as well as simultaneous reduction of exposure to harmful substances.
5. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease
In the last a few years, methylation has become a buzz word in nutritional medicine and this is mainly due to its fundamental functions and demand of various nutrients. It supports cardiovascular health too by supplying methylfolate for the synthesis of nitric oxide – a molecule that helps to relax our blood vessels (vasodilation), promoting healthy circulation and blood pressure.15 It also regulates and protects the function of endothelial cells that line blood vessels.
We can improve cardiovascular health and reduce high blood pressure by enhancing our methylation capacity with a good intake of B vitamins, especially folate, B12, and B6. Research also shows that a small daily dose of B2 (1.6mg) for 16 weeks could further help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in individuals with methylation polymorphisms (homozygous MTHFR C677T).16
Poor methylators may also be more susceptible to atherosclerosis17 due to their inability to provide sufficient amounts of methylfolate for clearing homocysteine - an amino acid with inflammatory and blood vessel damaging effects. Providing these individuals with 400 mcg of methylfolate can help to lower homocysteine levels, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.18
So how can you ensure you are getting enough B vitamins?
Whether you are stressed and tired or suffering from a specific health complaint, it is clear that increasing your intake of B vitamins can help!
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13 Mehboob H et al. Genetic polymorphism of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT2B15) and glucuronidation of paracetamol in healthy population. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2016; 29 (3 Suppl): 1037-41.
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15 Stanhewicz, A. E., & Kenney, W. L. (2016). Role of folic acid in nitric oxide bioavailability and vascular endothelial function. Nutrition reviews, 75(1), 61–70. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw053.
16 Wilson CP et al. Riboflavin offers a targeted strategy for managing hypertension in patients with the MTHFR 677TT genotype: a 4-y follow-up. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(3):766-72.
17 Zaina S et al. Nutrition and aberrant DNA methylation patterns in atherosclerosis: more than just hyperhomocysteinemia. J Nutr. 2005;135(1):5-8.
18 Mazza A et al. Nutraceutical approaches to homocysteine lowering in hypertensive subjects at low cardiovascular risk: a multicenter, randomized clinical trial.J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2016;30(3):921-927.