Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Animal-based products are a source of B vitamins.

Animal-based products are a source of B vitamins.
beginning of content

Vitamin B

2-minute read

The B vitamins are a group of vitamins needed for good health. Your body can’t store B vitamins for long, so you must obtain them each day through what you eat and drink.

What do B vitamins do?

The B vitamins are:

  • thiamin (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • biotin (vitamin B7)
  • folic acid (vitamin B9)
  • cobalamin (vitamin B12)

They all have different roles in the body. But overall, they help:

  • release energy from food
  • keep the nervous system healthy
  • make red blood cells
  • keep your skin and eyes healthy

What foods have B vitamins?

B vitamins are found in a variety of foods such as:

  • animal-based foods, including fish, meat, eggs and dairy products
  • leafy green vegetables, beans and peas
  • cereals and breads that have B vitamins added to them

Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-based foods, so vegans and vegetarians might find it hard to get enough.

Vitamin B deficiency symptoms

People with low levels of B vitamins might have:

  • anaemia (low red blood cell count)
  • skin problems
  • hair problems
  • tiredness (fatigue) and irritability
  • digestive problems
  • balance problems
  • cognitive problems (thinking)
  • dementia
  • memory loss
  • psychosis
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet

Vitamin B12 deficiency can build up slowly. People can go without enough B12 for years before they notice any symptoms.

Who might get B vitamin deficiencies?

Certain groups of people are more at risk of B vitamin deficiencies, such as those who:

  • are on vegetarian or vegan diets
  • elderly people
  • have diets that include large amounts of high-sugar and processed foods
  • drink too much alcohol

Vitamin B deficiency diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have a B vitamin deficiency because of your diet or symptoms, they may ask you to have some blood tests to check your B vitamin levels.

Do I need vitamin B supplements?

Lots of people take vitamin supplements, but there is no good evidence that they help unless you have a vitamin deficiency, which is very unlikely in a healthy person. Australia’s best guide to how to eat healthily – the Australian Dietary Guidelines – doesn’t recommend them.

Vitamin supplements are expensive. They are best taken only on a doctor’s advice.

Most people get the vitamins they need from a healthy diet, which has a wide variety of foods, including:

  • plenty of vegetables, of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, and/or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat

Vitamin B deficiency treatment

If you are found to have a B vitamin deficiency, you might be able to change your diet to eat more foods rich in B vitamins. Your doctor might suggest you take B vitamin supplements.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Vitamin B - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Pernicious anaemia -

Find out about the causes, symptoms and treatment for pernicious anaemia, also called vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia.

Read more on myDr website

Vitamins B6, B9 (Folate), B12 - BluePages

Find out if Vitamins B6, B9 (Folate), B12 are likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Multivitamins - BluePages

Find out if vitamins are likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Vitamins & supplements | Jean Hailes

For many people, at many times throughout their lives, eating a well-balanced diet - one that provides you with all the vitamins and minerals that you…

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Vegetarian diets: children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Children and teens who choose vegetarian diets need to eat a wide variety of fresh foods to get enough protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin B12.

Read more on website

Breastfeeding diet, exercise & lifestyle | Raising Children Network

A healthy breastfeeding diet has a wide variety of foods from the five main food groups. Physical activity is also important for your health and wellbeing.

Read more on website

Vitamin B12 and folate - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to get tested for vitamin B12 and folate

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Vitamin B12 & Folate Deficiency - Lab Tests Online AU

Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency is a condition of having insufficient amount of B complex vitamins necessary for red blood cell formation, tissue and cell repair.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Vegetarian and vegan eating - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo