Vitamin B complex sources and deficiencies

Thiamin (B1)

Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It helps to convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function.

Good sources of thiamin

  • wholemeal cereal grains
  • seeds (especially sesame seeds)
  • legumes
  • wheatgerm 
  • nuts
  • yeast 
  • pork.

In Australia, it’s mandatory that white and wholemeal flour used for bread is fortified with thiamin. 

Thiamin deficiency 

Thiamin deficiency is generally found in countries where the dietary staple is white rice. Deficiencies in the Western world are generally caused by excessive alcohol intake and/or a very poor diet. Symptoms include – confusion, irritability, poor arm or leg (or both) coordination, lethargy, fatigue and muscle weakness.

Beriberi is a condition caused by thiamin deficiency and affects the cardiovascular, muscular, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It can be classified as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ beriberi. ‘Dry’ beriberi affects the nervous symptom while ‘wet’ beriberi affects the cardiovascular system. 

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (also called ‘wet brain’) is another thiamin-deficiency disease linked to alcohol excess and a thiamin-deficient diet. Alcohol reduces thiamin absorption in the gut and increases its excretion from the kidneys. 

Riboflavin (B2)

Riboflavin is primarily involved in energy production and helps vision and skin health.

Good sources of riboflavin

  • milk
  • yoghurt
  • cottage cheese
  • wholegrain breads and cereals
  • egg white
  • leafy green vegetables
  • meat
  • yeast
  • liver
  • kidney.


Niacin (B3)

Niacin is essential for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat and alcohol into energy. It helps maintain skin health and supports the nervous and digestive systems. Unlike other B-group vitamins, niacin is very heat stable and little is lost in cooking.

Good sources of niacin

  • meats
  • fish
  • poultry
  • milk
  • eggs
  • wholegrain breads and cereals
  • nuts
  • mushrooms 
  • all protein-containing foods.

Niacin deficiency (pellagra)

People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or live on a diet almost exclusively based on corn are most at risk of pellagra. Others causes are associated with digestive problems where the body does not absorb niacin efficiently.

The main symptoms of pellagra are commonly referred to as the three Ds – dementia, diarrhoea and dermatitis. This disease can lead to death if not treated.

Excessive niacin intake

Large doses of niacin produce a drug-like effect on the nervous system and on blood fats. While favourable changes in blood fats are seen, side effects include – flushing, itching, nausea and potential liver damage.

Pantothenic acid (B5)

Pantothenic acid is needed to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol as well as produce red blood cells and steroid hormones.

Good sources of pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid is widespread and found in a range of foods, but some good sources include liver, meats, milk, kidneys, eggs, yeast, peanuts and legumes.

Pantothenic acid deficiency

Because pantothenic acid is found in such a wide variety of foods, deficiency is extremely rare. 

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Pyridoxine is needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity.


Good sources of pyridoxine

  • cereal grains 
  • legumes
  • green and leafy vegetables
  • fish and shellfish
  • meat and poultry
  • nuts
  • liver 
  • fruit.
    

Pyridoxine deficiency

Pyridoxine deficiency is rare. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, women (especially those on the contraceptive pill), the elderly and people with thyroid disease the most at risk. 

Excessive pyridoxine intake

Pyridoxine toxicity is mostly due to supplementation and can lead to harmful levels in the body that can damage the nerves. 

Biotin (B7)

Biotin (B7) is needed for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis. High biotin intake can contribute to raised blood cholesterol levels.

Good sources of biotin

  • liver
  • cauliflower
  • egg yolks
  • peanuts
  • chicken
  • yeast 
  • mushrooms.

Biotin deficiency

Biotin deficiency is very rare – it’s widely distributed in foods and only required in small amounts. Over-consumption of raw egg whites over periods of several months (by bodybuilders, for example) can induce deficiency because a protein in the egg white inhibits biotin absorption. 

Folate or folic acid (B9)

Folate, or folic acid (the synthetic form of folate which is used extensively in dietary supplements and food fortification) is needed to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It helps the development of the foetal nervous system, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth. Women of child-bearing age need a diet rich in folate for this reason. 


If planning a pregnancy or in the first trimester of pregnancy, you should visit your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough folate. This is important to reduce the risks of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the baby. 

Good sources of folate

  • green leafy vegetables
  • legumes
  • seeds
  • liver
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • cereals
  • citrus fruits. 

Since 2009, all bread sold in Australia (except organic) has been fortified with folic acid.

Excessive folic acid intake


Although folic acid is generally considered non-toxic, excessive intakes above 1,000 mg per day over a period of time can lead to malaise, irritability and intestinal dysfunction. The main risk with excessive folate intake is that it can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, so it’s best to consume these two vitamins within the recommended amounts.

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Health benefits of Vitamin B complex

What is vitamin B complex?

Vitamin B complex is composed of eight B vitamins:

  • B-1 (thiamine)
  • B-2 (riboflavin)
  • B-3 (niacin)
  • B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B-6 (pyridoxine)
  • B-7 (biotin)
  • B-9 (folic acid)
  • B-12 (cobalamin)

Each of these essential vitamins contributes to your overall bodily function. Read on to learn more about how these nutrients benefit you, how much you need, whether you should take supplements, and more.

What are the benefits?

B vitamins play a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being. As the building blocks of a healthy body, B vitamins have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism.

Vitamin B complex helps prevent infections and helps support or promote:

  • cell health
  • growth of red blood cells
  • energy levels
  • good eyesight
  • healthy brain function
  • good digestion
  • healthy appetite
  • proper nerve function
  • hormones and cholesterol production
  • cardiovascular health
  • muscle tone

In women

B vitamins are especially important for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. These vitamins aid in fetal brain development as well as reduce the risk of birth defects.

And for expectant mothers, B vitamins may boost energy levels, ease nausea, and lower the risk of developing preeclampsia.

In men

B vitamins are thought to increase testosterone levels in men, which naturally decrease with age. They may also help men build muscle and increase strength. However, human studies confirming these claims are lacking.

How much vitamin B complex do you need?

The recommended daily amount of each B vitamin varies.

For women, the recommended daily intake is:

For men, the recommended daily intake is:

Older adultsTrusted Source and women who are pregnant require higher amounts of B vitamins. Your doctor can provide dosage information tailored to your individual needs.

Certain underlying health conditions can prevent your body from properly absorbing vitamin B. You should also talk to your doctor about your vitamin B intake if you have:

  • celiac disease
  • HIV
  • Crohn’s disease
  • alcohol dependence
  • kidney conditions
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • ulcerative colitis
  • inflammatory bowel disease

How can you tell if you’re deficient?

Most people get enough B vitamins by eating a balanced diet. However, it’s still possible to be deficient.

The following symptoms may be a sign that you’re not getting enough B vitamins:

  • skin rashes
  • cracks around the mouth
  • scaly skin on the lips
  • swollen tongue
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • anemia
  • confusion
  • irritability or depression
  • nausea
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • numbness or tingling in the feet and hands

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and aren’t sure why, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Although it’s possible that you’re experiencing a vitamin B deficiency, these symptoms also overlap with many other underlying conditions. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and advise you on any next steps.

Can being deficient increase your risk of certain conditions?

If you’re deficient in B vitamins you may experience a range of symptoms depending on which B vitamins you’re lacking.

If left untreated, deficiency could increase your risk of developing:

  • anemia
  • digestive issues
  • skin conditions
  • infections
  • peripheral neuropathy

Vitamin B-12 deficiency, in particular, may increase your risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. Researchers are also investigating its role in hyperhomocysteinemia and atherosclerosis.

Babies born to women who were deficient in folic acid during pregnancy are more likely to have birth defects.

What foods is it found in?

Lots of foods contain B vitamins, which makes it easy to get enough from your diet. It’s best to get your B vitamins from a wide variety of food sources. This helps to ensure you’re getting enough of each type.

You can find vitamin B in:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • liver and kidney
  • meat, such as chicken and red meat
  • fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • shellfish, such as oysters and clams
  • dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • vegetables, such as beets, avocados, and potatoes
  • whole grains and cereals
  • beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas
  • nuts and seeds
  • fruits, such as citrus, banana, and watermelon
  • soy products, such as soy milk and tempeh
  • blackstrap molasses
  • wheat germ
  • yeast and nutritional yeast

What happens if you get too much vitamin B complex?

You’re unlikely to get too much vitamin B complex from your diet. That’s because B complex vitamins are water soluble. That means they aren’t stored in your body but are excreted in your urine daily.

You’re also unlikely to get too much vitamin B if you’re taking any supplementation as directed.

That said, overdose is possible — especially if you’re taking a supplement without receiving a deficiency diagnosis from your doctor.

Symptoms of a vitamin B complex overdose include:

  • excessive thirst
  • skin conditions
  • blurry vision
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased urination
  • diarrhea
  • skin flushing

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of a vitamin B complex overdose.

You should also check in with your doctor if you’ve been taking supplements without having a diagnosed deficiency. Taking too much vitamin B complex long-term can lead to nerve damage. This could result in losing control of your bodily movements.

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Best Food Sources of Vitamin B and signs of its deficiency

B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism. Though these vitamins share similar names, they are chemically distinct compounds that often coexist in the same foods. In general, dietary supplements containing all eight are referred to as a vitamin B complex. Here are 15 best sources of Vitamin B. Vitamin B is found in a variety of foods such as meat, wholegrains, and fruits. Here are Best Food Sources of Vitamin B and signs of its deficiency.

Best sources of Vitamin B

Get all eight B vitamins ​from a variety of foods:

  1. Whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet)
  2. Meat (red meat, poultry, fish)
  3. Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese)
  4. Legumes (beans, lentils)
  5. ​Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds)
  6. Dark, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kai lan)
  7. Fruits (citrus fruits, avocados, bananas)

Signs of vitamin B deficiency

The most common signs of vitamin B deficiency, specific to individual B vitamins, are given below:

Vitamin B6 deficiency:

  1. Anaemia
  2. Skin disorders such as seborrheic dermatitis
  3. Inflammation of the mouth (oral ulcers)
  4. Soreness and cracks at the corners of the mouth, chapped lips
  5. Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  6. Irritability, confusion and depression

Vitamin B9 deficiency (folate or folic acid):

  1. Anaemia
  2. Increased risk of birth defect (in pregnancy)
  3. Mood changes (irritability, forgetfulness)
  4. Sore mouth and diarrhoea

Vitamin B12 deficiency

  1. Anaemia
  2. Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  3. Memory lapses
  4. Mood changes (mental confusion, agitation)
  5. Unsteadiness and poor muscle coordination

Vitamin B2

The signs and symptoms of riboflavin deficiency (also known as ariboflavinosis) include

  1. Skin disorders
  2. Hyperemia (excess blood) and edema of the mouth and throat
  3. Angular stomatitis (lesions at the corners of the mouth)
  4. Cheilosis (swollen, cracked lips)
  5. Hair loss,
  6. Reproductive problems
  7. Sore throat
  8. Itchy and red eyes, and degeneration of the liver and nervous system

While a vitamin B supplement may be beneficial in certain cases, it’s always best to seek dietary sources first and to discuss any supplements you want to take with your healthcare professional.

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