B Complex Benefits and Beyond
By Zoltan P. Rona, M.D., M.Sc.
The B complex vitamins are the most underrated of all the nutritional supplements you will find on the shelves of your local health food store. They are far more important for the optimal functioning of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system than any other nutrient or herbal remedy. While glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate and shark’s cartilage are grabbing the headlines in osteoarthritis reversal, we often forget that equally exciting (and less expensive) results can be achieved in osteoarthritis with high doses of several B vitamins, including niacinamide and vitamin B12. And did you know that the often overlooked B vitamin, biotin, can not only help prevent hair loss, fragile nails, and certain types of dermatitis but that it can also fight yeast or fungal infections?
The B-complex vitamins are a group of similarly structured water-soluble compounds that are not stored in the body and must be supplied on a daily basis from the diet or through supplementation. They consist of B1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin, niacinamide), B-5 (pantothenic acid), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-7 (biotin), B-12 (cobalamin), and folic acid (B-9, folate or folacin). Inositol and choline are often included as part of the B complex. The B-complex of vitamins is used in the proper formation of every cell in your body – particularly the heart, liver and nerve cells.
B-complex vitamin deficiencies occur far more easily and frequently than has been generally assumed, especially in people on weight loss diets, fasts, high daily intakes of sugar, refined and processed foods, as well as caffeine, saccharine and alcohol. People under stress or on a long list of medications, especially antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy, the birth control pill, hormone replacement therapy, etc, may be at high risk to develop B vitamin deficiencies.
B-complex vitamins are commonly found together in foods and have similar coenzyme (catalysts for enzyme reactions) functions, often needing each other to perform specific metabolic tasks. Some of the B vitamins (B-12 and biotin) can also be made in the body by friendly microbes (bacteria, yeast, fungi, molds) in the large intestine. The majority of B vitamins, however, are obtained from food and then absorbed into the blood, mainly from the small intestine. If we consume too many B vitamins, the excess is excreted through the urine and the skin (perspiration). These excesses, with rare exceptions like B-3 (niacin), are harmless and often helpful, especially for those suffering from various suboptimal mental processes.
B vitamins are vital for:
The B vitamins are found in many foods, occurring together, never in isolation. While the richest natural source of B vitamins is brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast, this is not an ideal food for many hypersensitive people. Other good sources of the B vitamins are the germ and bran of cereal grains, green vegetables, beans, peas, liver, most animal foods and nuts.
The B vitamins function primarily as coenzymes that catalyze many biochemical reactions in just about every cell in the body. They create energy by converting carbohydrates to glucose and also are important in fat and protein/amino acid metabolism. The B complex vitamins are very important for the normal functioning of the nervous system, via their anti-stress effects and energy boosting properties. The B vitamins are also vital for the general muscle tone of the gastrointestinal tract, which allows the bowels to function at their best.
Single B vitamin supplementation is not recommended because the functions of the B vitamins are so interrelated. In therapeutic dosages, they are best taken as a B-complex to relieve stress, fatigue, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, and hyperactivity. Isolated B vitamin supplements may be therapeutically useful for conditions such as PMS (premenstrual syndrome), which can be helped by higher dosages of vitamin B6 (1000 mg. or more daily) in addition to a balanced B-complex supplement. Similarly, high doses of B-5 for adrenal stress and B-1 for alcohol-induced organ damage are therapeutically helpful.
B VITAMINS FOR ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Practically all the B-complex vitamins are involved in treatment of anxiety and depression. The most important of these are B1, B3, B6, B12 and inositol. When using high doses of individual B vitamins, they must always be in conjunction with all the other B vitamins in relatively high doses to prevent or reduce side effects as well as deficiencies in those B vitamins not supplemented. For example, if using vitamin B1 in doses of 1000 mg. daily, take a B complex of at least 100 mg of most of the other Bs at the same time.
Adverse Effects and Toxicity:
hepatitis has been observed with the time released form of niacin; Inositol hexa-nicotinate (contains 6 molecules of niacin and 1 molecule of inositol) does not cause flushing or hepatitis. Use caution when taking more than 1000 mg. of niacin per day as it may elevate liver enzymes, which should be monitored during niacin therapy – if elevated, cut back on dosage.
Nausea is first sign of toxicity with both niacin and niacinamide. Flushing occurs with niacin, so it’s best taken with food. Other adverse effects of high dose niacin are gastritis, elevated uric acid levels and reactivated peptic ulcers, the latter of which can be prevented by taking L-glutamine (4000 mg. with each dose) to repair any gastrointestinal damage.
B VITAMINS AND CANCER PREVENTION
Nov 18, 2011) A recent study  of the effect of B vitamins on a large group of participants reported an inverse relationship between blood serum levels of vitamin B6, methionine, and folate and the risk of lung cancer. High serum levels of vitamin B6, methionine and folate were associated with a 50% or greater reduction in lung cancer risk. This exciting finding has not been widely reported in the media, but it confirms a growing body of evidence gathered over the last 40 years that B vitamins are important for preventing diseases such as cancer.
The study gathered information about the lifestyle and diet of 385,000 people in several European countries. The average age was 64 years, and most had a history of drinking alcohol daily. Blood samples were then taken from these participants, and some of those (889) that developed lung cancer were analyzed for the level of several B vitamins and related biochemicals such as methionine, an essential amino acid. These nutrients were studied because they are known to be important in the metabolism of single carbon compounds, which is necessary for the synthesis and repair of DNA in the body's tissues . Thus, B vitamins are helpful in preventing defects in DNA which can cause cancer [2-4].
Specifically, a high level of either vitamin B6, or methionine, or folate reduced the risk for lung cancer. High levels of all these nutrients together produced an even lower risk.The effects were large, so the results are highly significant.
The study divided the participants into three categories, depending on whether they currently smoked, had previously smoked, or had never smoked. While smoking is the most important lifestyle factor in the risk for lung cancer, interestingly, the effects of vitamin B6, methionine, and folate were fairly constant among the three categories. That is, those with higher levels of these B vitamins had a significantly lower risk of lung cancer no matter whether they smoked or not. The report emphasizes that this result strongly suggests that the effect of these essential nutrients in lowering the risk for cancer is real and not purely a statistical correlation. And, the report reiterates that smoking is dangerous, greatly increasing the risk for lung cancer in older people after decades of insult to the lungs.
Some widely-reported health studies have suggested that B vitamins can increase the risk of cancer. The theory is that these vitamins can help to prevent cancer from their effects in strengthening DNA synthesis and repair, but that when cancer is present, the vitamins supposedly help the cancer to grow . However, there is a long history of health studies, including the above mentioned study, reporting that B vitamins including folate and vitamin B6 can help to prevent many types of cancer, such as breast, prostate and colorectal cancer [1-6].
It is just amazing how the news media could have missed this, but they pretty much did. In one much-publicized study  it was widely claimed that "Multivitamins increase deaths in older women!" Actually, the study found that B complex vitamins were associated with a 7 percent decrease in mortality, vitamin C was associated with a 4 percent decrease in mortality, vitamin D was associated with an 8 percent decrease in mortality, and several minerals were associated with a decrease in mortality.
Essential nutrients in a well-balanced diet, including B-complex, C, D, and E vitamins, are crucial to maintaining good health into old age for a variety of reasons. Persons taking adequate levels of vitamins will live longer, with fewer heart attacks  and other serious diseases such as diabetes , multiple sclerosis , and dementia .
The question begged by the report is, what role did vitamin supplements play in the blood levels reported for these essential nutrients? Taking a multivitamin that includes B-complex vitamins will obviously increase the blood levels of these essential nutrients. However, the value of supplements was not emphasized in the report.
So we will emphasize it here. Vitamins dramatically lower lung cancer risk. Supplements provide these nutrients in abundance. Modern diets do not.
TURBO BOOST YOUR B COMPLEX WITH ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
A good B complex should contain something called alpha lipoic acid. R (+) is the most natural form of alpha lipoic acid, a potent antioxidant vitamin used by the mitochondria, the energy producing organelle of all cells in the body. Not only is alpha lipoic acid important for high energy but also it is a nutrient that helps control blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity, support cognitive function, optimize neurological function and prevent aging. An optimal dose for most people would be between 100 and 300 mg daily. Much higher doses could be used for treatment of diabetes, hepatitis and other liver disorders.
Your natural health care practitioner can recommend the right amounts of B complex and alpha lipoic acid for you to supplement but for most individuals, one or two capsules taken with each meal should be fine.
Dr. Zoltan P. Rona practices Complementary Medicine in Toronto and is the medical editor of “The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing.” He has also published several Canadian best-selling books, including “Return to The Joy of Health.”
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