Monday Medical: Hooray for the 'B Team'

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Eight B vitamins take to the field daily to perform essential tasks in a healthy body. As a team, they provide energy and functions that allow the body to do what it wants to do.

Originally thought of as one vitamin, vitamin B actually is a complex of eight chemically distinct vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. They work jointly to help the body perform several important tasks.

"The B vitamins are multi-taskers," said Pam Wooster, registered dietician at Yampa Valley Medical Center. "They are involved in many processes in the body."

One of the primary jobs of the "B Team" is breaking down the nutrients in food. Some work together to break down carbohydrates, which are converted into energy. Others take on fats and protein, which aid in the functioning of the nervous system.

B vitamins promote cell growth, including the production of red blood cells. They also help maintain healthy eyes, skin, lips and hair.

"No B vitamin stands out above the rest," Wooster said. "We need all the B vitamins for efficient metabolism and can get them by eating a well-balanced diet. Sources are spread out among all the food groups; so eating from all four food groups is important."

For example, B1, or thiamine, is found in whole-grain cereals, breads, rice, yeast, corn and nuts. B12 is found primarily in meats. Dairy is a good source for B2, or riboflavin. And B9, also known as folate or folic acid, can be obtained from green, leafy vegetables.

B vitamins can co-exist within one source of food; whole-grain cereals also contain B9, and milk also provides B12.

As many B vitamins come from animal sources, they are not part of a vegan's diet. Individuals who do not eat meat or dairy and some strict vegetarians may require a supplement. Additionally, consumption of alcohol can interfere with the body's ability to harness the power of B vitamins and may lead to deficiency.

Adults older than age 60 are at risk for B12 deficiency. This condition also is common among those who have a digestive condition such as Crohn's or sprue (celiac), whether or not they have had surgery to remove part of the digestive system.

Decreased ability to absorb B12 from food can lead to tiredness, decreased concentration and memory, irritability and depression. Sleep disturbances also may develop. Serious cases of B12 deficiency can cause anemia.

Mild B12 deficiency often can be resolved by taking a supplement. A health care provider may recommend B12 shots for more serious cases.

Vitamin B9 is prescribed for pregnant women to assist in the healthy development of the fetus. Because folate is most helpful just after conception, some physicians recommend that all women in their childbearing years take a daily dose of 400 micrograms of folate.

It is important to get all the B vitamins every day. The old adage, "You win some, you lose some," applies to B vitamins.

Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and E are stored in body fat and can be recovered when needed. B vitamins are water-soluble, which means they are lost through our urine. Therefore, they must be replenished every day.

Think of B vitamins as your personal all-star team. They are important players who come together from a well-balanced diet to help the body with essential everyday functions. The B Team keeps your body in the game.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at riley.polumbus@yvmc.org

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