The Importance of Vitamin B

A decade ago words like phytochemical or phosphatidylserine either didn't exist or were unfamiliar outside of the scientific community. One of the pitfalls of taking an active interest in nutrition is the tendency to forget the basics. You use Pure Red and Pure Green Power every day, but are a multivitamin and B complex part of your daily regimen? Recent research indicates that vitamins and minerals play a much larger role than simply providing a solid foundation for overall good health. Just consider these findings on the relatively inexpensive B vitamins:

  • A solid study done in Hungary in 1992 which demonstrated that folic acid (called folate when present in foods) could prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly (the brain does not develop) was one of the reasons the FDA mandated enriching cereals and grains with folate last year.
  • B-12 deficiency can cause anemia resulting in nerve damage. Folate can mask B-12 deficiency in older people which is one of the reasons the FDA waited so long before mandating folate in cereals. Some seniors with B-12 deficiency exhibit dementia which could be confused with irreversible conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
  • Older people typically have low B-12 levels not because they don't eat enough foods rich in B-12, but because they produce too little stomach acid to free the B-12 from their food. People over 65 should supplement with 500 mcg of B-12 every day.
  • In the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, those who reported eating more folate-rich foods were less likely to develop colon cancer.
  • The Nurses' Health Study has been following 88,000 healthy women for almost 20 years. Every two years since 1980, the nurses have filled out questionnaires about the food and multivitamins they consumed. Those who had been taking a multivitamin containing folic acid for at least 15 years were 75% less likely to develop colon cancer than those who didn't take multivitamins.
  • In the ongoing Framingham study, one out of three people 67 or older has high homocysteine (an amino acid that's used to make protein) levels. In more than 20 studies people with elevated homocysteine levels were three times more likely to suffer a heart attack. The body needs folic acid, vitamins B-6 and B-12 to convert homocysteine to other substances.
  • A University of Minnesota School of Public Health study reported that people with the highest levels of vitamin B-6 were about a third less likely to develop heart disease.
  • A preliminary hypotheses in a British study is that folate and vitamin B-12 can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. The investigators found that the patients with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia had higher levels of homocysteine and lower blood levels of folate and vitamin B-12.
  • In a joint study between Tufts School of Medicine and the University of Toronto, researchers measured the amount of folate in the tissue lining of the colons of patients undergoing the removal of polyps - growths in the colon that have the potential to turn into cancerous tumors. Those people whose polyps were in fact precancerous had 34% less folate in their colon walls than those whose polyps were not the type that can turn into malignant growths.

As you might expect, every study concludes with a caution that there is no positive proof and further study is necessary. Only a fool would say, "We don't need more research money."! Considering how inexpensive high quality B complex is, we would be fools not to take them. Taking a B complex supplement is also a good idea because the vitamins are more biologically available than those in food which must go through more metabolic steps before the body can utilize them. With the exception of a B-12 supplement for seniors, taking a B complex is preferable to supplementing with specific B vitamins. You'll save money and B vitamins probably work synergistically.

The B vitamins are an excellent antidote for stress because they seem to calm nerves. If you work in a stressful environment or find yourself snapping, keep a bottle of B complex nearby. If your teenager seems to get touchy for no reason, hand him/her a B complex every day.

There is little danger of overdose because B vitamins are water soluble. Your body excretes what it doesn't need, but this also means that B vitamins have to be constantly replenished. There is an easy, no cost way to see if you are getting enough B - note the color of your urine. If it is almost colorless, you need B. When your body is saturated with B, your urine will almost be a fluorescent yellow.

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