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)
- memory loss
- 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
- 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.
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Last reviewed: March 2020