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.
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
- 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 deficiency. 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
- 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. A mixed supplement is often recommended as B vitamins work better in combination.
Last reviewed: February 2016