The Trouble with Vitamin B Supplements
Despite being one of the most common and popular nutritional supplements, the Vitamin B complex is one of the least understood. These synergistic compounds are essential in maintaining a high quality of life, health, and vitality.
We’ve all heard the common advice:
“Biotin will make your hair and nails stronger”
“B12 will give you energy”
While these statements are not necessarily wrong, they are missing key pieces of information. This often leads to money wasted on inactive forms, absent essential cofactors, and doses that are so high they fall dangerously close to toxic levels.
The synergistic relationships between the B-vitamins mean supplementing with just one will not likely provide the desired result. Therefore, the best way to supplement them is with the entire B-complex.
More often than not, when we are deficient in one B-vitamin, we are also deficient in at least one other. You’ll notice further into this article that many B-vitamins share deficiency symptoms as well as benefits. More so, you’ll see that there are different forms of the same vitamin, that each has its own unique purpose within the body, and that some forms can be more toxic than beneficial.
Synthetic Vitamin = Double Trouble
Most B vitamin supplements sold today are synthetic. Synthetic forms such as folic acid and cyanocobalamin are cheap to produce and can be sold at lower prices that appeal to most supplement buyers. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people do not realize there is a difference and figure one vitamin is as good as any other, but we must consider the fact that our bodies are not designed to use synthetic vitamins.
There are two main flaws in synthetic vitamin supplementation:
- An estimated 45-50% of the population now have MTHFR genetic mutations. These mutations reduce the efficacy of vitamin supplementation when using synthetic forms.
- For those that can convert these forms into biologically active and viable forms, there is still a major pitfall in “saving” money by purchasing inexpensive synthetic forms.
Assuming it is possible to convert synthetic vitamins into their natural active counterparts, this conversion actually uses existing nutritional resources within the body giving a net-negative result. Consider the phrase “you have to spend money to make money” except in this case “our money” refers to our existing vitamin and mineral resources.
Using this metaphor, the money we need to spend to “make money” must be pulled from other budgets (diverted from other biological processes). These processes then have to make do with an insufficient budget making them less effective. In the end, we are left with a net-negative and that certainly doesn’t make much sense to our actual budget let alone our nutrition “budget”. All of that just to convert a synthetic vitamin to a biologically useful form to save a couple of dollars. It’s no wonder so many people say “supplements don’t work”.
Now, for those that have MTHFR genetic mutations or other issues, the conversion of these synthetic forms are difficult and often impossible. Simply put, the body doesn’t know what to do with them. The immune system then marks them as toxins and systematically removes them from the body. The unfortunate side of this, aside from wasting money on useless supplements, is that this clogs up our natural detoxification causing us to feel sluggish.
Biologically active vitamins may cost a little more, but they are in forms the body can recognize and use right away. No conversions, no toxic buildup, no stolen or wasted resources. Only pure, effective supplementation. Just as you intended.
Today, there are many reasons a person may become deficient in B-vitamins and are most often seen in athletes, those with chronic stress, the elderly, vegetarians and vegans, those with poor absorption and chronic digestive conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, Leaky Gut, and Celiac Disease, as well as individuals with MTHFR gene mutations.
In Mother Earth Labs’ Bioactive B-Complex, you’ll receive a balanced profile that includes dual forms of Folate and Cobalamin, name-brand ingredients with scientific backing, and important cofactors to support absorption and cellular utilization.
Deficiencies express themselves differently for each person, but there are some that tend to pop up more frequently than others and that may be attributed to several B-vitamins.
Common Deficiency Symptoms
Reduced Brain Function & Memory
Brittle Nails or Thinning Hair
Numbness, Tingling, & Muscle Weakness
Changes in Cardiac Rhythm
B1 Thiamine / Benfotiamine
B1 is essential in energy metabolism and the growth and function of cells by helping the body to metabolize glucose, amino acids, and lipids.
Our Bioactive B-Complex features BenfoPure® Benfotiamine that has been extensively studied and prescribed as a pharmaceutical by doctors in Europe to treat diabetes, inflammation and the management of diabetic damage such as peripheral neuropathy by activating an enzyme responsible for protecting blood vessels and nerve cells from glucose-derived compounds.
This form has also shown to reduce advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) by 40%. AGEs contribute to the development and worsening of several degenerative diseases including diabetes, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. This reduction has further been shown to help prevent vascular endothelial dysfunction in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
The use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, certain medications, high carbohydrate consumption, and heavy alcohol or caffeine use all contribute to an increased need for thiamine. Common deficiency symptoms include fatigue, irritability, poor coordination, general weakness, and digestive disturbances.
B2 Riboflavin 5'-Phosphate
Riboflavin is vital in maintaining the body's energy (ATP) supply, and necessary for the body to be able to activate vitamin B6.* Riboflavin is also necessary for the body's conversion of tryptophan to niacin, and the conversion of folate to folate's various active forms.
In addition, riboflavin plays a crucial role in the metabolism of fats and glucose, the synthesis of red blood cells, healthy methylation, and the production and regulation of certain hormones.
To be utilized by the body, however, riboflavin must be in its active coenzyme form of vitamin B2 – riboflavin 5'-phosphate (R5P).
Vitamin B2 along with Vitamin A help to maintain and improve digestive mucous membranes that protect intestinal tissues. Finally, B2 assists with iron absorption and facilitates oxygen use throughout the body.
Poor absorption, antibiotics, certain medications, alcohol, strenuous exercise, and oral contraceptives all contribute to an increased need for Riboflavin. Common deficiency symptoms include eye disorders, poor digestion, hair loss, mouth sores and inflammation of the tongue.
B3 NADH (bioactive niacin)
Niacin is a water-soluble B-vitamin that all bodily tissues convert into the coenzyme Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), the common metabolically active form that is used in over 400 enzyme reactions. Adequate niacin intake supports healthy circulation, stomach acid levels, mental stability and function, and the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It has also shown to help balance cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and in the prevention of heart disease by helping to reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation involved in atherosclerosis.
Our Bioactive B-Complex incorporates the reduced form of niacin called NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide + hydrogen) under the branded name PANMOL®. PANMOL® NADH has a protective property made from chlorophyll, beeswax, and plant fats that safeguards the extremely light-sensitive niacin from breaking down when exposed to light and oxygen. This allows it to be included in blended supplements while maintaining its potency and effectiveness.
Common deficiency symptoms include depression, fatigue, headaches, canker sores, and diarrhea.
Pyridoxine is used for over 150 functions and enzyme processes throughout the body. The most common form of supplemental B6 is Pyridoxine Hydrochloride - a synthetic form that must be converted by the liver into the naturally bioactive form, Pyridoxal 5’-Phosphate (P5P). Using P5P in our formula allows the body to skip the conversion step and go to work right away.
Vitamin B6 helps increase both physical and mental energy by participating in cellular energy metabolism, hemoglobin production, and supporting improved neuron communication. P5P’s ability to support neurons may help increase focus, motivation, memory, and positive moods with reduced stress. Further, P5P helps reduce homocysteine levels by facilitating the conversion of homocysteine to taurine and cysteine. High homocysteine levels have been linked to the development of heart and renal disease.
Additional benefits of vitamin B6 may include normal hydrochloric acid production, electrolyte balance, antibody production, and RNA/DNA synthesis.
Those most at risk for vitamin B6 deficiency are individuals with liver, kidney, or digestive diseases, the use of tobacco and/or alcohol, and pregnant women. Common deficiency symptoms include anemia, headaches, nausea, depression and other mood disturbances, difficulty learning and forming memories, and fatigue.
Also known as vitamin B9, folate is vitally important for health and wellbeing. It has shown to be involved in protein metabolism as well as helping with depression and anxiety. In addition to vitamin B6 and B12, folate also helps manage homocysteine levels and supports the RNA/DNA synthesis needed for healthy cell division and replication. Most commonly known are folate’s benefits for fetal health and development. In this role, folate helps regulate fetal nerve cell function and prevent premature birth.
The most used form of Folate in supplements and fortified foods is Folic Acid. Folic Acid is an inexpensive synthetic form that is not processed as easily by the body as bioactive forms such as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF). The majority of dietary and supplemental folic acid must travel to the liver to be converted into L-5-MTHF before it can be used by the body making it a perfect example of the resource-budget analogy mentioned earlier.
The other downside to folic acid is the amount of time this conversion process takes. As we consume supplements and foods with folic acid, this conversion process can create a toxic buildup of unmetabolized folic acid. This is a concern because the detection of unmetabolized folic acid in blood has been associated with increased cancer risk and hidden B12 deficiencies that can lead to nerve damage and neurological disorders.
All of this is assuming the body can perform the necessary conversion process. Those with MTHFR gene mutations (estimated between 35-60% of people) or those taking certain medications such as valproic acid and DHFR inhibitors often have trouble completing this process and some may not be able to convert at all.
L-5-MTHF is a bioactive (cell-ready) form of folate used by the body and when taken in supplemental form, can bypass the conversion process entirely and be readily used in over 200 enzymatic reactions. Folinic acid is another bioactive form of folate commonly seen under the prescription name “leucovorin”. Folinic acid is often preferred in clinical settings over folic acid because it has shown to result in higher blood plasma concentrations and is effective in individuals with MTHFR mutations. Folinic acid is responsible for supporting the DNA/RNA synthesis required for repairing and replacing cells throughout the body.
Our Bioactive B-Complex includes both L-5-MTHF and folinic acid. L-5-MTHF is provided under the branded name Metafolin®. Metafolin® is the only form of folate shown to cross the elusive blood-brain barrier to support the central nervous system and does not mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Aside from conversion and absorption issues, common causes of deficiency include malnutrition, oral contraceptives, and alcohol use. The most notable deficiency symptoms are anemia, digestive disturbances, fatigue, memory problems, birth defects, and emotional imbalance.
Vitamin B12 is the one people tend to be most familiar with, but even still, it is often subject to misconceptions. Cobalamins are a group of similar compounds that include cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin to name a few. B12 is an essential vitamin that promotes red blood cell formation and a reduced risk of anemia and mental decline, supports emotional wellbeing, and encourages natural energy production. Additionally, heart health and reduced homocysteine levels have been attributed to vitamin B12 sufficiency.
The form most often encountered in fortified foods and supplements is the synthetic form cyanocobalamin. As a synthetic, this form must be converted into one of 2 cell-ready, bioactive forms: Methylcobalamin or Adenosylcobalamin. Once again, this leads us to the issue of wasting existing nutritional resources and energy as well as the reduced ability to complete the conversion process due to genetic or outside factors.
Methylcobalamin is the second most common form of B12 found in supplements. This natural, bioactive form is ready to use as quickly as it is absorbed. While often touted for energy support, this form is used in the methylation cycle to support various areas of health including DNA/RNA production, liver health and detoxification, neurotransmitter production and regulation, cellular energy, and the metabolism of fats, estrogen, and histamine.
Adenosylcobalamin is the lesser-known cell-ready form of B12 but its importance should not be overlooked. This form of B12 is used in cellular mitochondria during the Krebs Cycle that produces Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the carbs, proteins, and fats we consume. ATP is the cellular energy our bodies run on.
Those most at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency are individuals with known or unknown MTHFR, poor absorption or malnutrition, special diets such as vegetarian and vegan, high levels of stress, and those taking certain medications such as anticoagulants, antigout, and potassium supplements. Common deficiency symptoms are chronic fatigue, irritability and mood disorders, migraines, memory loss and other neurological problems, and digestive disorders.
B5 Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic Acid, also known as pantothenate, is essential in the conversion of food into energy as well as numerous other biochemical processes including the production of red blood cells, stress, and sex hormones, and may help accelerate wound healing and have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.
Our Bioactive B-Complex features Pantesin® Pantethine - a pharmaceutical-grade, active form of pantothenic acid. This form was chosen for its bioavailability and extensive scientific backing in helping to improve cholesterol and triglyceride.
Pantethine is an essential component of Coenzyme A (CoA). CoA is used to make fatty acids and ATP (energy) from macronutrients - carbs, fats, and proteins. Further, pantethine supports cortisone and acetylcholine production. Not to be confused with cortisol, cortisone is an adrenal hormone that helps control inflammation responses throughout the body including the digestive tract. Acetylcholine is important for nerve function and healthy muscle contractions as well as memory and learning. These factors combined show how important CoA is during times of stress and has thus earned Pantethine the designation of the “Anti-Stress B Vitamin”.
Deficiencies in Pathethine, although rare, are known to cause adrenal gland atrophy, fatigue, headaches, and sleep disturbances. Those most at risk of a B5 deficiency include alcoholics and the malnourished Impaired digestion and oral contraceptives can also reduce the amount of B5 absorbed from foods and supplements.
Biotin is commonly used in supplemental form to strengthen hair and promote smooth, glowing skin and rightly so. Named for “Haar und Haut”, German for “hair and skin”, Biotin was originally called vitamin “H” when hair loss and inflamed skin were recognized as deficiency symptoms for a previously unknown vitamin. Biotin is also used in the creation of energy from fats and carbohydrates, cell growth and repair, and protein synthesis.
Biotin is often produced by beneficial organisms (probiotics) within the GI tract, however, today’s modern diets and lifestyles have altered the microflora balance often reducing the amount of biotin produced. This leaves our biotin status to our food sources and while many common foods are a source of biotin, the nutritional content and concentration of these foods have been declining over the last several decades due to poor agricultural practices (read our post on Humic & Fulvic for more information).
Those most at risk of a Biotin deficiency include individuals with poor absorption, certain drugs such as antibiotics and anti-seizure medications, and genetic mutations that lead to Biotinidase deficiency (BTD). Deficiency symptoms include brittle or thinning hair, dry skin and eyes, depression, nausea, and insomnia.