B vitamins are one of the key components of optimal health. They serve many functions within our metabolism, like helping to break down nutrients and creating important compounds in the body like serotonin. A deficiency in any of the B vitamins can lead to serious long-term problems, and although the establishment narrative is that one can obtain their B vitamin needs from diet alone - the truth is actually much more complex than that.
Why You Need to Supplement B Vitamins
I discuss over 9 research based reasons why supplementation in general is needed in this article, but a few of those reasons are the following: food quality, toxins, genetics and RDI. Let's break each of them down briefly below:
Food quality refers to the overall quality of our food, especially in the last 100 years. Today food simply isn't as nutritious as it was and the difference is very significant. Reasons include farming practices, GMO foods, industrial fertilizers, pesticides and many others.
Toxins refers to the countless toxins that have been introduced into our food and water supply in the last 100 years. Fluoride, bromide, microplastics, pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics and countless other horrible things are a reality of the world we live in and nothing is immune.
Genetics is important because everyone processes nutrients differently. This means that what it takes for your body to have optimal reserves of a nutrient may be less or more than what it takes the next person. Because of this it is impossible to recommend an optimal amount for everyone.
RDI relates to the previous points. RDI, or "recommended daily intake" is a standardized number that was created to be the minimal possible intake for the general population to avoid a particular condition. With Vitamin C, for example, the RDI was based on avoiding goiter. But what is the RDI for optimal sports performance? Or healing from surgery? Or when you have the flu? The reality is that these numbers do not really mean anything for someone who understands nutrition and how nutrients work in the body.
These are just a few things to consider that are working against you every single day, and what it all adds up to is that our overall demand for quality nutrition is much higher - both because of our toxic environment and because our sources for nutrition (food) are less nutritious. It's a double whammy and it is why it is impossible to obtain optimal nutrient levels long-term without supplementation.
Do B Vitamins Give You Cancer?
Another point I want to touch on briefly is the stigma of B vitamins and cancer. I go into great depth on the research in this article, but let's examine the claims quickly here.
The idea is that since certain B vitamins, like B6, B9 and B12, are energy for your cells, and cancer cells love fuel, taking high doses of B vitamins can increase your risk of cancer. While there is some truth to this, the important point is to remember that everything is conditional. In other words, what conditions is this true in?
According to the research what seems to be the case is that those who have weak immune systems and are exposing themselves to toxic damage, like smoking, and who are also supplementing very high doses of these vitamins will create the conditions for cancer to proliferate. In other words, for the average person this does not apply.
Nevertheless it is important to always discuss things with your health team and, if you are compromised immunologically in some way that you understand what the research says and how your body is set up. This is why health is a journey and that journey is different for each of us.
Not All B's Are Created Equal
With all of this out of the way, it's now important to talk about form. The form your nutrients are in is one of the most important considerations. This is because bioavailability, or the ability of your body to use said supplement, is greatly affected by which form it is in. Especially if your genes aren't the best in a given area, form is of utmost importance. Because every B vitamin has its optimal form, I will outline each of them separately below:
Thiamin (B1) is often sold as thiamin hydrochloride, which is the least absorbable form. If you have trouble utilizing this vitamin the best form is either Benfotiamine (a synthetic form developed in Japan, but don't let that freak you out as it's actually far better than natural in this case) or Sulbutiamine. The former increases thiamine levels in the blood and liver while the latter is more focused on the brain. Most people do not have issues with thiamine, and another great form is Allithiamine.
Riboflavin (B2) is sold as is but sometimes marketed in the R5P (riboflavin-5-phosphate) form. This is not necessary and does not increase absorption.
Niacin (B3) has several forms it can be taken in. Nicotinic acid will cause a flushing syndrome (not dangerous, but uncomfortable) so people avoid it and take niacinamide. However if you have sirtuin gene issues then it may be more beneficial to take nicotinic acid and deal with the flush, as niacinamide might slow down these genes further. Sirtuins are your aging genes and many have been researching their role in slowing aging down. More expensive options are NMN or NAD, but these can pack a heavy price tag for most people.
Pantothenic Acid (B5) is usually sold in a calcium salt form of calcium pantothenate. For some this may not be adequate and you may need the metabolically active form of Pantethine. Pantethine is much more bioavailable and has been used to reduce cholesterol levels naturally (300-600mg per day).
Pyridoxine (B6) is part of the methylated B vitamins (B6, B9, B12) and should always be obtained in the P5P form (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) for optimal bioavailability.
Biotin (B7) is an important vitamin for metabolizing nutrients and for skin and hair, and is sold as is. Most people have no issue with biotin.
Folate (B9) needs to be in its methylated form (processed) because many people have issues with methylation. Always opt for methylfolate.
Cyanocobalamin (B12) needs to be in its methylated form, which is methylcobalamin. However another form that has shown promise is hydroxocobalamin.
How Do I Know How Much I Need?
The good news with B vitamins is that they are water soluble. The synthetic forms of Thiamin listed above are not water soluble, but nonetheless it is extremely unlikely you will take too much and, if you do, the symptoms are not life-threatening. Nevertheless it is important to understand how to use supplements because they are a tool, and with any tool you can hurt yourself.
The best way to understand how your body is responding to nutrition is through a SpectraCell test. This is a test that uses your lymphocytes (white blood cells) and measures their growth response in a medium. By withholding everything needed for their growth except the nutrient being tested, you can get an accurate idea of how your body is doing overall at a cellular level. It is an ingenious test and it is the best we have as far as measuring nutrients in the body. There are many flaws with other ways of evaluating your nutrient status - like hair tests, blood tests, urine tests and so on - because these tests do not evaluate what is actually going into your cells.
A SpectraCell test should be done about every 6 months for maintenance.
Another important thing to consider are genetic tests. I go into detail on why they are important in this article and I also discuss what specific genes to reference for B Vitamin uptake in this article. These are only done once in your life and they will give you a map of the genetic terrain you are dealing with. Combined with a SpectraCell to confirm your findings, and consistent supplementation, you will understand what your body is doing with the nutrition you are giving it.
For example, in my case I have (like many people) issues with my MTHFR gene. This is the gene that deals with methylation and makes using B6, B9 and B12 much harder. Therefore I need to take more of these vitamins for the body to have optimal reserves. I also have many genes that affect B12 metabolism and as a result my B12 is always suffering, but if I take too much it accumulates because certain genes that recycle B12 are also poor. So I take a moderate amount (500mcg) per day. I've learned these things over years of testing and observation, and it's something I invite you to do as well because optimal health is a practice not a band-aid.
Should You Take a B Complex or Separate Products?
The answer to this question relies primarily on your need for convenience and goals. IF you are willing to implement regular testing as mentioned above and really understand what your body is doing, then taking individual supplements for each nutrient is optimal. The reason for this is because you can control the dosages and avoid certain interactions between competing vitamins, such as B6 competing with B9 and B12 for absorption. This is what I do, but it isn't for everyone.
If you're looking for just a place to start and see how you feel, then a quality B complex product (all-inclusive) is the choice to go with. Evaluate how you feel and remember that as long as you keep yourself healthy with diet, exercise and avoiding toxic things like drugs and smoking - using a B vitamin supplement is nothing to worry about. In that regard, a good product I recommend is Opti-Methyl-B. This product has all of the B vitamins in good amounts, methylated forms of B9 and B12 and a whole food blend of fruits and vegetables as an added bonus for bioavailability.
Because it doesn't have the methylated form of B6, I also recommend Essential P5P as additional support.
Lastly, if you want a liquid form of B12 as hydroxocobalamin, Essential B12 Drops are a great sublingual formula that is both convenient and effective at raising B12 levels. The Opti-Methyl-B above has a decent amount of B12 per serving (420mcg), but for some who have certain genetic issues this may not be enough. This is why a sublingual can be very effective.
B vitamins are a necessary part of optimal health for countless reasons, and today we are under more stress than ever between our toxic environment and the crazy world we live in. It is important to understand your body and to understand health at least on a basic level so that you can take responsibility over the beautiful gift of life you have been given. Many factors can influence B vitamin status and that is why consistent supplementation, especially during periods of stress, is so important.