Are B vitamins really a source of energy?

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Energy drinks and supplements are stamped with the claim that they will boost your energy because of B vitamins. Is what we are reading true? Well, you surely felt energized when you consumed that energy drink. Of course, it must be true! Buyers beware. There are many ingredients in energy drinks such as caffeine that are most likely boosting your energy.

Here is what you need to know about B vitamins and how they work in your body. It is true that B vitamins aid in energy production, but they do not work alone as energy producers. Our bodies function off six basic nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water; however, the only energy sources are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Vitamins and minerals are necessary to support body functions. Specifically, B vitamins are required to be present to enable the breakdown of energy from food consumed. So … the nitty gritty — B vitamins are not energy sources; however, without them our bodies cannot convert food to energy.

Now that you know the truth about B vitamins, let’s break it down further into the different types of B vitamins and their roles in our health. Unlike vitamins A, C, D, E, and K that are each one of a kind, there are multiple types of B vitamins. In addition to converting food to energy, each B vitamin has its unique role in supporting a healthy body.

Thiamine (B1) — supports the function of the heart and cardiovascular system, and the brain and nervous system; necessary for the breakdown of carbohydrates

Riboflavin (B2) — aids in the breakdown of protein for energy; needed for proper body growth and red blood cell production

Niacin (B3) — helps skin, nerves, and digestive system to function properly

Pantothenic acid (B5) — along with biotin, supports growth and development by aiding in the production fatty acids; also aids in hormone and cholesterol production

B6 (pyridoxine) — maintains normal nerve function, produces antibodies to support immune system, formation of red blood cells, breaks down protein, and regulates blood sugar

Biotin (B7) — along with pantothenic acid, supports growth and development by aiding in the production fatty acids

B12 (cobalamin) — supports brain and blood cell health

Folic Acid (B9) — makes DNA, necessary for the division of our cells, prevents neural tube defects in infants (in utero)

Overall, B vitamins are vital to our bodies’ function and health. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water and cannot be stored in the body so we must consume foods containing these vitamins daily. Vitamins are best absorbed through consumption of foods; however, health care providers may suggest supplementation when other medical issues inhibit the absorption. Deficiencies of B12 can cause symptoms such as fatigue, numbness and tingling in fingers and toes, and severe deficiencies can lead to a certain type anemia and cause nerve damage. B12 deficiencies are more common in older adults, people with gastrointestinal problems, and vegans (B12 is only naturally present in animal products, including dairy and eggs; but can also be found in some cereals and other food products in which B12 has been added).

To make sure you get a variety of B vitamins in your diet include lean proteins, beans, leafy green vegetables and cereals/milk alternatives in which B vitamins have been added. Consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. Replenishing your B vitamins every day through a healthful diet with a variety of foods will help you stay energized!

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Kimberly Young, MS, RDN, LD, is the WIC Coordinator at Panhandle Health District and a graduate of the University of Idaho Dietetic program.

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