How to Avoid the Health Impacts of Vitamin B Deficiency

  • By Rachel Perlmutter
  • May 26
Fatigued man

We all go through times when we just feel sluggish and rundown with trouble concentrating or even staying awake past 8:00 o’clock. This over-tiredness may be accompanied by a certain level of anxiety or depression, or just general irritation and nervousness. It may not be worrisome if it only lasts a few days, but string several weeks together of having these symptoms and it’s time to figure out why you are feeling this way.

There are numerous reasons why a vitamin B complex deficiency could be causing all these symptoms. Getting the proper amount of B vitamins into your body can be hampered if you have problems with your digestive system. Impairments with the lining of the stomach, conditions that affect your small intestines such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, immune disorders, and gut dysbiosis can all lead to low tissue levels of B vitamins.

Many people take medications for heartburn, such as Nexium and Prevacid, or medication to control their blood sugar (metformin). These are a few of the medications that can also interfere with the absorption of B vitamins, particularly B12. Too much stress for a long period of time will deplete you B vitamins as well a diet that does not include meat or fish protein.

Increasing your intake of vitamin B complex either through a change in nutrition or supplementation may help increase your energy levels and support mental clarity while helping to reduce agitation and anxiety. Let’s take a look at all the components of the vitamin B complex and why they are necessary for your body to function at an optimal level.

The Components of the Vitamin B Complex

Most vitamins are single compounds but the vitamin B complex is different because it is made up of 8 water-soluble compounds. Although the B vitamins share similar properties, they each have unique functions. B vitamins are considered essential nutrients because the body is not able to make them on its own. You have probably heard about why you need Vitamin B12, but all these B vitamins are necessary for the body to convert protein and sugar to energy, allow neurotransmitters to work properly, repair cells and muscles, and regulate metabolism. Here is a list of the vitamins that make up the vitamin B complex:

  • Vitamin B-1 or Thiamine
  • Vitamin B-2 or Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B-3 or Niacin
  • Vitamin B-5 or Pantothenic Acid
  • Vitamin B-6 or Pyridoxine
  • Vitamin B-7 or Biotin
  • Vitamin B-9 or Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B-12 or Cobalamin

That may seem like a lot of vitamins to take in one day but each of these powerful compounds are found in the foods you eat. Let’s take a look at all the healthy foods that contain the individual B vitamins:

  • Vitamin B-1 or Thiamine found in good concentrations in commercial breakfast cereals, enriched grains such as rich, black beans, salmon, tuna, and pork.
  • Vitamin B-2 or Riboflavin: a natural component of eggs, lean cuts of meat, organ meats, green vegetables, dairy, and enriched cereals and grains products.
  • Vitamin B-3 or Niacin: the best sources of getting niacin is through meats such as chicken, pork, beef, organ meats, fish, eggs, dairy, and nutritional yeast.
  • Vitamin B-5 or Pantothenic Acid: salmon and organ meat are a great source for pantothenic acid and lower levels are found in eggs, dairy, avocados, broccoli, sunflower seeds, and chickpeas.
  • Vitamin B-6 or Pyridoxine: fruits (but not citrus), starchy vegetables like potatoes, poultry, organ meat, fish, and nutritional yeast are good choices to get this critical vitamin.
  • Vitamin B-7 or Biotin: this B vitamin is more limited in food, but eggs are a great source as is meats, wheat germ, sweet potatoes, almonds, whole grains, spinach and broccoli.
  • Vitamin B-9 or Folic Acid: an abundance of this vitamin is found in dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, asparagus, and in fortified cereals and grains.


  • Vitamin B-12 or Cobalamin: plant-based foods do not contain vitamin B12 and it must be eaten in foods such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and fortified cereals.

There are so many healthy foods available to get all the necessary B vitamins the body needs, but a poor diet can lead to B vitamin deficiency.

Why the Vitamin B Complex is Essential

All the components of the vitamin B complex are water soluble, which means your body doesn’t store these compounds and they are flushed out of the body each day in your urine. This is why it is so important to get your daily dose of B vitamins either through your diet or in supplements.  Each of the 8 B vitamins play a critical part in the regulation and functioning of your body, such as driving a multitude of chemical reactions, supporting brain function, maintaining your energy levels, DNA, and protein synthesis. Here is a list of some of the many ways the vitamin B complex is necessary for optimal health:

As you can see, the vitamin B complex has a lot of weight on its “shoulders” to make sure your body is in top shape. But what happens when even one of these essential nutrients is missing or in low levels?

What Happens in Vitamin B Deficiency?

Vitamin B deficiency occurs when your body does not get the required amounts of each of the compounds in the vitamin B Complex, either because of an unbalanced diet or because the body is unable to absorb them. When a vitamin B deficiency occurs, there is an increased chance of not only various diseases but creating conditions that affect your heart, brain health, emotional wellbeing and level of energy.  If you are consuming a balanced diet, you will get enough B Vitamins to fulfill your daily intake. However, if your diet is poor, you will most likely develop Vitamin B Deficiency.

Following are some of the symptoms that occur during Vitamin B deficiency:

  • Confusion, anxiety, and depression.
  • Gut problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain
  • Dryness and scaly skin.
  • Pins and needles feeling around the arms, hands, legs or feet.
  • Tiredness and lethargy.
  • Peripheral neuropathy that causes a burning pain in the extremities.
  • Anemia
  • Heightened risk of heart attack or stroke.

These are just some of the symptoms that are an outcome of vitamin B deficiency. Low levels of each of the specific vitamins in the B complex have their own health outcomes.

Thiamine or B-1 Deficiency

Thiamine or B-1 is required to produce energy. Thiamine deficiency is common in people with poor diet and those who are chronic alcoholics. It can also occur when you are losing too much thiamine from your body, such as during diarrhea, severe vomiting, and the use of diuretic medications.

Thiamine deficiency can lead to beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Studies have shown that thiamine deficiency is most common in people who have a lot of polished rice and processed cereals in their diet.

Riboflavin or B-2 Deficiency

Riboflavin or B-2 helps your cells to produce energy by metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Low levels of tissue riboflavin show up as skin conditions, mouth sores, cracked lips, hair loss, and potential problems with the reproductive and nervous systems.

Niacin or B-3 Deficiency

Niacin or B-3 vitamin exists in two different forms, including nicotinic acid and niacinamide. This vitamin has a crucial role in lowering cholesterol and supporting your brain health. It also has a role in supporting heart health and in controlling Type I diabetes and may also show up in the form of confusion and mental impairment.

Pantothenic acid or B-5

A deficiency in pantothenic acid is rare but it has a key role for your body to blood cells. It is also important to prevent numb or burning hands and feet, headaches, extreme fatigue, sleeping problems, and emotional problems such as irritability and restlessness.

Pyridoxine or B-6

It is rare to have a significant deficiency of vitamin B6 because it is so prevalent in healthy foods, but low tissues levels of vitamin B6 can lead to significant mental issues. Vitamin B6 is needed to support neurotransmitters and emotional regulation. Without a proper level of vitamin B6, you can become anxious or depressed, confused, experience “brain fog” and have a suppressed immune system.

Biotin or B-7

Biotin is one of the most popular vitamins in the beauty world because it promotes health skin, hair, and nails. Without biotin, the body has a hard time metabolizing food for energy, can develop skin rashes and can affect eye health.

Folic Acid or B-9

Folic acid is another highly vital nutrient that supports cell growth and DNA formation. People with intestinal disease such celiac of inflammatory bowel disease may not absorb sufficient levels of folic acid. A deficiency of vitamin B9 can lead to issues with the skin, hair, and nails, anemia, risk of heart disease, and poor gums.

Cobalamin or B-12

The most common vitamin B deficiency is B12 because vegan and vegetarian diets do not get sufficient levels of vitamin B12 in their food. There are also certain genetic disorders that make it difficult for the body to absorb B12. People over the age of 50 often do not get enough vitamin B12 in their diet due to absorption problems. Signs of inadequate vitamin B12 in the body include muscle weakness, fatigue, neuropathy in the hands and feet, emotional issues such as depression and mood swings, problems with memory and cognition, and digestive problems.

How much B Vitamins does your body need?

Recommended Daily Allowances, or RDA, are issued by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. RDA is the amount of each essential vitamin your body needs on a daily basis. Typically, RDA recommends the average amount of nutrients required by 98% of healthy people. 

The RDA of each of the B vitamins varies for men and women. Scientists have discovered that older adults and pregnant women require higher amounts of B vitamins, especially B12, to meet their needs. We’ll make it easy for you to know how much of each of the B vitamins you need by giving you the RDA of each for men and women.


  • Vitamin B1 – 1.1mg
  • Vitamin B2 – 1.1mg
  • Vitamin B3 – 14mg
  • Vitamin B5 – 5mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 1.3mg
  • Vitamin B7 – 30mcg
  • Vitamin B9 – 400mcg
  • Vitamin B12 – 2.4mcg


  • Vitamin B1 – 1.2mg
  • Vitamin B2 – 1.3mg
  • Vitamin B3 – 16mg
  • Vitamin B5 – 5mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 1.3mg
  • Vitamin B7 – 30mcg
  • Vitamin B9 – 400mcg
  • Vitamin B12 – 2.4mcg

Choosing the Right Vitamin B Complex Supplement

A well-chosen diet rich in protein, fruits, vegetable, nuts and grains should provide you adequate levels of all the B vitamins. But let’s be honest, the Standard American Diet (SAD) relies too much on processed food, drive-through restaurants, and “grab-n-go” meals from the local deli of quick market. A vitamin B complex supplement is considered to be one of the seven essential supplements everyone should take. Particularly if you practice a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle that is low in meat and fish protein.

When choosing a vitamin B complex supplement, you can get one that has ALL the B vitamins contained in either a liquid or capsule form, or you can choose to just take a supplement that has a single B vitamin. This Vitamin B from Thorne is a great option for most people. And remember, you should always consult your physician before starting a new supplement program, especially if you are on medications, pregnant or nursing, or have or had a medical condition.

Be Ready to Take Your B’s

Deficiency in vitamin B’s is relatively common and some have even declared it a “worldwide problem”. A Mediterranean-style diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, rice, beans, nuts, seeds, and fortified whole grain products will give you the best vitamin B bang for your grocery buck. There is not a high percentage of Americans that can stick to a Mediterranean diet every day, and since B vitamins need to be replenished very day, supplementation is usually essential to the meet the RDA. Give your body some love every day by including some form of a B vitamin through your daily diet, or if that is a struggle through a supplement to keep you in optimal wellness!

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.