B vitamin sources

What’s vitamin B and why do I need it?

Donia Hilal, Holland & Barrett’s Senior Nutritionist, on the health supporting properties of vitamin B

The little vit that you need for just about everything!

Vitamin B is one of the most important vitamin groups in your diet but it can seem overwhelming to get your head around at first as it has so many variations! Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the essential 8.

B12, B9 and B6 are the most important


B12 is vital for both the nervous system and proper brain function, aiding your ability to focus and supporting your emotional balance. A deficiency of B12 leaves your body vulnerable to the effects of stress and the deterioration associated with ageing. Vitamin B12  is often missing from the diets of vegetarians and vegans as its most commonly found in meat and fish, so it’s worth considering taking a supplement.

B9 (also known as folate) helps protect against irritability, as well as physical and emotional stress. It helps rebuild DNA, fights the ageing process and is essential for pregnant women to protect against birth defects like spina bifida forming in the foetus. Both vitamin B12 and folate work together to create red blood cells and the building blocks of DNA, and B6 is needed for more than 100 cellular reactions in the body.

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And here’s the rest


The other B vitamins you need in your diet are thiamine (B1) for appetite regulation and normal energy function, riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3), to breakdown fat, carbs and protein and convert them into energy, choline (B4) for brain function, pantothenic acid (also B4) for hormone regulation and biotin (B7) for healthy hair, skin and nails. All pretty essential, as you can see!

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Are you getting enough?


Deficiencies in vitamin B can result in all sorts of problems, from headaches and irritability to anaemia and fatigue. Rashes, regular bruising, slow-healing wounds, muscle weakness and tingling extremities are also signs that you’re lacking in vitamin B. It’s most common to be deficient in vitamin B12, with side effects including physical weakness, memory loss and more serious neurological issues like vision problems.

How to get more?


There are plenty of plant-based sources and B vitamin foods, including whole grains, legumes, potatoes, bananas, chillies and brewer’s yeast. Boosting your gut bacteria will also help you extract vitamin B from your food.

Vitamin B12 is often missing from the diets of vegetarians and vegans as it’s most commonly found in meat and fish, so it’s worth considering taking a supplement.

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Can you OD on vitamin B?


Apart from vitamin B12 and folic acid, your body has a very limited ability to store B vitamins, so you need to replace them each day through food or supplements. B vitamins are water-soluble, so your body can excrete any surplus. However, there can be a risk of toxicity if you consume very large amounts in one go. For example, B6 dosages above 100mg can cause nerve damage or tingling in the extremities. Similarly, niacin (B3) dosages above 250mg can cause skin flushing or nausea

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