The B-complex is a group of vitamins which when first discovered were all thought to be the same nutrient, but later it was found that although they are often present in the same foods, each one had varied functions in the body.
Generally the B vitamins are involved in digestion, obtaining energy from food, maintaining the nervous system and keeping the hair, skin and nails healthy. B6 is one of the best known, and supplements of this vitamin are often taken by women to ease premenstrual tension, since B6 is involved in stabilizing hormone levels. One of the functions of B12 is keeping the blood cells healthy, which is why a lack of this particular B vitamin can lead to a form of anaemia.
Older people sometimes have difficulty in absorbing this B vitamin from food. Although they are different nutrients, they do work together, and a balance between them is essential. Normally in your diet you will receive a balance of all the B vitamins, but when taking supplements of individual Bs over a long time it might be best to take a B-complex tablet as well.
Except for B12, all the B vitamins are present in a range of foods of vegetable origin. Brewers yeast, bran, oats and whole wheat are rich sources, as are spinach, nuts and legumes. Animal sources include varied meats, liver and eggs. Vegans, some vegetarians and those on a raw food diet may need to take a supplement of B12, although if you like Marmite, it is a suitable source of B12 made from yeast, and therefore suitable for vegans.
See the rest of our series on vitamins here
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