The A to Z about Vitamin B

Famous Australian food rich in B vitaminsIt’s not that Vitamin B is complicated but you’ll often hear it called B-Complex. You see in the initial research scientists found that vitamin B seemed to have several forms or identities.

Just like you get to know someone then find they have a twin. Or triplets…

In the case of vitamin B there’s not just a B1 and B2 there is a whole spectrum of these superb essential vitamins. An when we want to refer to all the B vitamins or to buy a vitamin B supplement the phrase, “B Complex” is used.

And we can buy them separately too

So we find B1, B2 and B3 on the shelf at our local health store and B5 and B6 too…but not B4 or B8 or B11.

And this is not because the shop has run out but because some of the important and useful substances found in the initial research were later found not to be vitamins, so they were chased out of the vitamins Hall of Fame!

The numbers are confusing too. So scientists usually use their proper names

B1 is Thiamine

B2 is Riboflavin

B3 is Niacin

B5 is Pantothenate

B6 is Pyridoxine

B7  is Biotin

B9  is Folate or Folic acid


B12 Cobalmin


When is a vitamin not a vitamin? When it is a “B vitamin”!

Mostly B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12 are always counted as B vitamins and others like inositol and choline make it to some lists of B vitamins and not others.

And B17 is no doubt the most controversial. It’s proper name is amygdalin and unlike recognised vitamins which when missing from your diet cause a disease – think scurvy caused by insufficient vitamin C, there is no deficiency disease caused by not eating enough B17.

It is found in almonds and apricots and has a tightly bound up form of cyanide. Since we can eat apricots and almonds quite happily and healthily without dying from cyanide poisoning then either the amount is vanishingly small or the chemical bonding is so tight that no normal digestive process will release it.

So some of the controversy around amygdalin, sometimes wrongly called laetrile is about whether it is toxic and the rest of the fight concerns whether taking it can poison cancer cells.

My position is that there are many good and healthy strategies that can be used in the event of a cancer diagnosis and the decision to help the person with Natural Medicine. Mega dosing on vitamin C is one, Gerson therapy is another and Joanna Budwig’s ideas yet another.

There is so much good that you can do without ever going near somewhat flaky notions about amygdalin.

I hope this short account of so called B17 shows some of the complexity of vitamin research and some of the controversy too.

Let’s end this A to Z with a quick round up of each of the B vitamins and some of their close “cousins” and then cover the vexed question of dosage – how much to take!

B Vitamin Name What is does and why it is taken
B1 Thiamin First B vitamin to be discovered. Like vitamin C, it was undernourished sailors who first showed symptoms. This time it was the disease beriberi. Symptoms were muscle wasting or fluid retention along with high blood pressure and heart disturbances. There was something in brown rice and not white rice that cured beriberi and that something was B1 or Thiamin
B2 Riboflavin Riboflavin was first found in milk. It is crucial in releasing the energy from food and in recycling a powerful protective anti-oxidant called glutathione. A deficiency results in the cracking of the lips and the corner of the mouth as well as an oversensitivity to bright light, to anaemia and dermatitis.


It is Riboflavin in your urine that makes it bright yellow. All perfectly normal – “flavus” means yellow in Latin.

B3 Niacin When you learn that the Italian word “Pellagra” means “skin that is rough” you’ll know part of what Niacin does – it cures the disease Pellagra.


Deficiency of Niacin also leads to dementia and diarrhoea. The “skin” inside the body – the mucous membranes right through the gut also deteriorates in Pellagra.


Much more to come on Niacin!

B5 Pantothenic acid Often called the stress vitamin, deficiency of  Pantothenic acid leads to exhaustion and low blood sugar. It speeds up digestion ie transit time of food in the gut and is found in the liver, kidneys and adrenals. It is found to be very low in folks who suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis.
B6 Pyridoxine Dr Michael Sharon calls B6, “One of the busiest of the Bs” because it does so much and is useful in the treatment of so many health problems. And like all the B vitamins it is “Water soluble” which means that it does not build up in the body, so we need B6 every day.

Practical Nutritionists will know of its’ value in treating PMS and Pregnancy Sickness but may not be aware how useful it is in treating asthma or autism. And it’s use in cardiovascular problems needs real space to do it justice – coming soon.

B7 Biotin Biotin deficiency causes inflammation of the skin and nausea. It is behind a lot of metabolic processes. Taking it improves the strength of finger nails and healthy hair. More important is that it increases insulin sensitivity and may lead to a lowering of one’s fasting blood sugar level.
B9 Folic acid This is one of the most common vitamins and yet many people are tragically short of it. Nutritionists and naturopaths have advised taking B vitamins for years in the face of indifference and hostility from many Physicians.

In particular taking folic acid can prevent spina bifida and neural tube defects in a baby.


Found in green leafy vegetables – most of which are shunned by most people there is a lot more on folic acid to be said. Coming soon!

B12 Cobalamin Like folic acid and B6 vitamin B12 is involved with cardiovascular health. A deficiency may lead to fatigue and pernicious anaemia.
  Choline Found in lecithin, choline has many functions. Without choline fat becomes trapped in the liver and with it the body better regulates your cholesterol level. May be of use in treating Alzheimer’s and Bipolar Depression
“B8” Inositol It is interesting that inositol like choline helps the liver get rid of fatty deposits. Apart from use in treating liver disorders and diabetes it plays a role in treating panic disorders and depression.


How much do I take

The official dose is a measly 1 or 2 milligrams but Nutritionists and Naturopaths generally advise taking a B50 tablet. These usually consist of 50 mg of most of the major B vitamins. Sometimes a B100 product is used.

Have you taken any of the B vitamins as part of some natural treatment?

Feel free to share and comment…

AuthorAlex Newell ND

I love learning and being healthy so as soon as I came across Yoga, read and practised to get the health benefits. When I was approaching middle age my health declined under the onslaught o stress and possibly poor diet, I had a perfect opportunity to learn more and I qualified in both Osteopathy and Naturopathy. Our health really is in our own hands and not in the hands of "The Doctor" or our Genes :-)

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