Vitamins: Water Soluble B-Complex

By Cat, June 2007; updated 2016 and May 2019

There are 8 essential (cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from diet/supplements), and 4 “non-essential” B-vitamins (can be made by the body, but this ability decreases with age). Most of the B-vitamins are either coenzymes or coenzyme precursors, meaning that the specific enzyme functions cannot happen without the coenzyme.

Most of the B vitamins can be obtained from animal and plant sources; one exception is B12, which can only be obtained from animal sources. Supplements are another source, but some supplements may not use the most active form; for example synthetic folic acid is not as active as natural folate, so be sure to read the label. Another issue has to do with methylation needed to activate folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) in the body; to be on the safe side, it is best to choose supplements that are already methylated (as methyl-folate and methyl-cobalamin).

NOTE:  Consult with your health practitioner before taking any supplements.   Overuse of supplements, just as overuse of drugs, can lead to other health problems, and some supplements can interact negatively with other supplements or drugs.

Remember that the best way to get your vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is from fresh whole foods.

See Vitamins: Intro for

  • Introduction: Vitamins
  • Vitamin Supplementation vs Whole Foods

Essential and Non-Essential B-Vitamins 

Vitamins are substances that are required for good health, whether they are “essential” or “non-essential” vitamins. To be an “essential vitamin,” it has to be one the body cannot make, so must be obtained in our diet or made by a healthy microbiome.  Several of the original vitamins were later discovered to be made by our bodies, so they were declared “non-essential” and removed from the list; several new ones have been added, as they were discovered.

However, as we age, we lose the ability to make some of the “non-essential” vitamins, or we cannot make enough of them. To me, that makes them “essential,” so I discuss both in this article.

Essential B-vitamins

The chart of Essential B-Vitamins, below, is copied from Mercola (7A). There are also four non-essential B-vitamins, which are discussed in Non-Essential B-Vitamins, below.

Notes: 

  1. Many supplement brands use folic acid (synthetic and mostly inactive version) instead of folate (natural, active version). Dr. Mercola writes that folic acid and folate are metabolized differently (7B). See also his sales pitch for the importance of folate for “Sweeping away glyphosate [Roundup toxin] and heavy metals.” (7E)
  2. The best forms of folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) are methylated versions (methyl-folate and methyl-cobalamine), respectively, especially if your body has trouble with methylation. Food sources of folate include: beef liver, eggs, beans, lentils, asparagus, beets, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, sweet corn, avocado, banana, mangoes, oranges (and other citrus), papaya, nuts and seeds (preferably sprouted), wheat germ and whole wheat bread (18A,19A). Food sources of cobalamin include: clams, fish (mackerel, sardines, trout, salmon), crab, liver, kidneys, beef (skirt steak), fortified cereal, fortified tofu, low-fat dairy, cheese, and eggs (18B, 19B).
  3. Vitamin B1 (thiamine):
    1. Recommended dosage: Izabella Wentz (Hashimoto’s Protocol) recommends daily dose of 600 mg thiamine (B1) for 3 – 6 months, for those with thyroid/adrenal problems. This is almost 600 times the recommended daily intake (1.2 mg/day).
    2. Improves autoimmune disease and autonomic dysfunction (17).
  4. Vitamin B12: This important vitamin for nerve and brain health and DNA synthesis is only available from animal sources. Consequently, vegans and vegetarians are deficient unless they supplement.B12 comes in several forms: cyanocobalamin is synthetic and the most common supplemental form; methylcobalamin is easier to absorb and regulates homocysteine levels to prevent stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s and kidney disease (from Julian Michaels website (2)). Hydroxycobalamin is also easier to absorb, but not available in the US. All forms are best taken sublingually, or absorbed through the skin.Many people cannot absorb B12 from the digestive tract because of lack of sufficient ‘intrinsic factor’ secreted by the stomach, which is necessary to assist the absorption of B12’s large molecule through the intestinal wall. (Mercola, 7C).B12 deficiency: Mercola states, “your body requires [B12] for a number of vital functions. Among them: energy production, blood formation, DNA synthesis, and myelin formation. Myelin is insulation that protects your nerve endings and allows them to communicate with one another.” (7D)

How can this deficiency happen? The following  list is from Dr Hagenmeyer (16):

      • Those who are vegetarian or vegan have a high chance of being deficient in B12 because it is only present (in its natural form) in animal foods;
      • You many not be able to absorb dietary B12 effectively, possibly due to low stomach acid (HCl). If this is true for you, take under-the-tongue B12 mist spray, or ask your doctor for Vitamin B12 infections (methylated form);
      • Your body may have trouble with methylation (due to MTHFR gene mutation, or being turned off);

If you take a vitamin supplement that includes B12, be sure it is methyl-cobalamin, which is the methylated natural form (avoid non-methylated cobalamin and the synthetic form, cyanocobalamin). My reference is a whole food multi, because the natural nutrient complexes are present, maximizing effectiveness. I take Mercola’s whole food multi plus minerals – see iHerb code MCL-01035 (for men) and MCL-01939 (for women); for these, your daily dose is divided among 8 tablets so your gut don’t get overwhelmed from this supplement.

From blood tests, I know that I have ELEVATED vitamin B12. This is a very unusual condition, and I suspect I have a resistance to B12. I have all the symptoms of B12 deficiency, yet my serum levels are elevated! The only explanation I can think to explain this anomaly, is that my system is resistant to B12, just as it is resistant to insulin. But I’ve not been able to find anything on the web about this possibility.

From Mercola’s article (7D): “If you fall into one of the following categories, you should investigate whether you are B12 deficient:

      • You are a vegan or vegetarian
      • You are over 50
      • You take antacids or anti-ulcer medication
      • You take Metformin© for diabetes
      • You take other prescription drugs known to deplete your B12 stores (see list above)
      • You drink four or more cups a coffee a day
      • You have or had an H. pylori bacterial infection
      • You’ve had weight loss surgery
      • You’ve been exposed to nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
      • You suffer from indigestion, heartburn or GERD
    • Symptoms or warning signs of a possible B12 deficiency include:
      1. Mental fogginess or problems with your memory
      2. Mood swings, a feeling of apathy or lack of motivation
      3. Fatigue, a lack of energy, muscle weakness, tingling in your arms or legs.”

Non-Essential B-Vitamins:

See WonderLabs article: Whatever Happened to Vitamins B4, B8, B10, and B11? (15) for more about what it means to be a non-essential vitamin.

The following chart is by Cat, based on the more detailed information, below.

Essential B-Complex Vitamins

Vitamin B4 (choline or adenine or carnitine): 

From my article, Supplements for Insulin Resistance:

B4 is confusing; some call it choline, others call it adenine or carnitine, but these are not the same molecules. Online Holistic Health (8A) states:

“Sometimes referred to as “Vitamin B4”, choline (and also known as adenine or carnitine), is a distant member of the B-complex family and is known as one of the “lipotropic” factors.”  Lipotropic means that choline possesses properties that prevent the excessive accumulation of fat in the liver. Although not officially deemed a Vitamin per the FDA definition, make no mistake about it, choline is an essential and vital nutrient for our health. … Average dosage for choline is between 300 – 3500 mg, although it has been noted that dosages close to 5000 mg show more pronounced improvements in memory and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Considered as a “non-essential” vitamin, choline is the precursor to acetyl-choline – a primary excitatory neurotransmitter involved in a number of cognitive and mental processes such as memory formation and attention. It is one of the components of lecithin (along with inositol – see Vitamin B8, below). See also my article: Choline & Lecithin.”

Good dietary sources include (10, 11):

  • Animal source: meats, liver, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products [but not ultra-pasteurized], and eggs (especially the yolks).
  • Vegetable source: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, etc.), certain beans, nuts, seeds, whole grain and brewer’s yeast.

Dosage:

  • Examine (9) recommends starting at 50-100 mg/day, and gradually increase in accordance with your tolerance; typically a dose of 250 – 500 mg/day is used for general health purposes.
  • Higher dosages may be needed to support memory formation and attention. Alpha GPC or Citicoline are stronger versions of choline; dosages for these range from 300 mg to 1,200 mg per day. The Food and Nutrition Board has established a tolerable upper limit (from foods and supplements) for choline at 3.5 g (3,500 mg) for adults, but this may cause unpleasant side effects. (10,12A)
  • It is best to split the higher daily doses between 2 – 4 times daily; for example, 250 mg 4-times daily for total daily dose of 1,000 mg.

Common side-effects that indicate you should step back your daily dose:

  • For lower dosages (less than 500 mg), the most common is diarrhea.
  • For higher dosages, you may experience a slight fishy body-odor, increased sweating and salivation, upset stomach, and decreased appetite.

Vitamin B8 (inositol):

NOTE: Together, choline and inositol “make what’s known as lecithin. Lecithin assists in the absorption of essential Vitamins A and B1 (thiamin), indirectly making inositol and choline crucial vitamins. (8D)

Inositol has been removed from list of essential vitamins because it was discovered our bodies could make it. However, many of us (including me) have lost the ability as we age, so we can benefit from taking it supplementally (as myo-inositol). See also: Notes on Natural Health and Healing Topics, H – P, for “Myo and Chiro Inositol,” and articles: Choline & Lecithin; Inositol, Choline and Insulin Resistance; and Supplements for Insulin Resistance, for more about inositol. From the later:

Along with choline, inositol is an important part of lecithin; both are important parts of the cell membranes.  Inositol can have a profound effect on people with:

      • Insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes, by waking-up the insulin receptors on the cell membranes, so that the cells can receive the glucose they need, thus lowering blood sugar, and may result in weight loss;
      • Depression and depressive disorders, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, ADDH, autism or ECT-induced cognitive impairment (8C), by playing a key role in neurotransmission. Studies show that it can increase GABA-A receptor function and enhance serotonin receptor sensitivity, working similarly to anti-anxiety (benzodiazepines) and antidepressant (SSRIs) medications (3B).
      • Anxiety and OCD behavior (3C,D,E,F,G).
      • Used for treatment of insulin resistance and type-2 Diabetes (by waking up/restoring insulin receptors); depression and and depressive-disorders, by playing a key role in neuro-transmission; and anxiety and OCD behavior

Food sources of inositol: (8D,13A)

  • Animal sources: Organ meats of grass-fed animals (liver, heart, brain), eggs;
  • Plant sources:  leafy greens, potassium-rich fruits such as bananas, citrus (except lemon), cantaloupe, whole grains (preferably sprouted) (but not white flour), nuts and seeds (preferably sprouted).

Dosage:

As for choline, it is best to start with a lower dose and gradually work your way up. My naturopath had me start with daily dose of 1/16 tsp (125 mg), and work up to ¼ tsp (250 mg) or more of Pure Encapsulations inositol powder, mixed with water to treat my insulin resistance (see my article Inositol, Choline and Insulin Resistance).

From Online Holistic Health (8D):

  • Typical standard dosages range from 100 mg – 1000 mg, with therapeutic dosages ranging from 10 – 20 grams.
  • A dosage of 1000 mg – 3000 mg 1-2/day has been found to be helpful in the treatment of depression. Powdered inositol is preferred and makes supplementation very simple as it can be mixed in a glass of purified or filtered water. Inositol can be taken with or without food, though it is recommended that it be taken on an empty stomach.

Vitamin B10 (para amino benzoic acid or PABA):

PABA is a component of Vitamin B9 (folic acid) and is required for the body to absorb Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) (8E). Because B5 and B9 are essential vitamins, PABA is included in the B complex family, even if it can be made in our bodies.

Uses (8E):

  • It is effective in reducing inflammation associated with arthritis;
  • Aids in erythrocyte (red blood cell) formation;
  • Protects from ozone damage;
  • Aids in metabolism of amino acids; and
  • Is a coenzyme in the utilization of protein.
  • It is important for skin and hair pigmentation; graying of the hair and wrinkling of the skin are indicators of insufficient PABA in the diet.
  • Helps with eczema and other skin conditions.
  • It is well-known as a protectant against sun damage; when applied topically it has shown to protect against ultra-violet light exposure. However, some people have allergic reactions to topical applications.

Food sources:

PABA is found in Brewer’s yeast, beef liver and other meat, eggs, milk, mushrooms, spinach, whole grains and molasses. (13B)

Dosage: 

CAUTION: Consult with a qualified health care provider before taking PABA supplement, because taking large doses can cause harmful side effects, including liver damage, skin abnormalities and allergic reactions. (13B,14)

Typical dosages are 50 mcg – 1000 mg, with the higher range more typically used for therapeutic purposes (8E) . The most common therapeutic dosage of oral PABA is 300 to 400 mg per day (13B). Doses higher than that should only be done under medical supervision.

The most common side effects are loss of appetite and skin rash (13B).

Vitamin B11 (Pteryl-hepta-glutamic acid):

Most references say B11 is Pteryl-hepta-glutamic acid. However, a few say it is salicylic acid (natural pain reliever from which aspirin is made), such as reference (15). I believe the former is the correct version, which is a form of vitamin B9 (folate), and one of five folates necessary for humans, and now known as ‘chick growth factor’. However, not much is known about this form. (8F)

It is important for: DNA and RNA syntheses, cell division, and development of the fetus nervous system (8F).

Not much is known about this form, other than it is important for DNA and RNA syntheses, cell division, and development of the fetus nervous system.

Food sources: Organ meats (liver, heart, and kidney) red meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, and eggs.

Dosage: no recommended dosage has been established, because it is not available in supplemental form.

References

  1. well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/despite-risks-vitamins-popular-with-cancer-patients/
  2. (6) dailyyonder.com/four-food-groups/2010/03/04/2623
  3. ncbi abstracts (3B – 3G originally cited in Supplements for Insulin Resistance, as numbers 21A – 21F)
    1. (new) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23183291
    2. (21A in Supplements for IR) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7622343
    3. (21B) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6278902
    4. (21C) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22986984
    5. (21D) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9169302
    6. (21E) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3017301
    7. (21F) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8131066
  4. Selene River Press, by and about Dr Royal Lee, regarding Dr W. A. Price’s XFactor:
    1. Dr Royal Lee’s original article on Dr Weston A. Price’s XFactor: seleneriverpress.com/historical/dr-royal-lee-on-the-x-factor-of-dr-weston-a-price/; or see the original article: 6sd6hj41ya-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/images/pdfs/40_weston_price_vitamin_f.pdf (I’ve also saved it as a pdf: CATSFORK > PDF FILES / Price-VitaminF-XFactor_Dr RoyalLee.pdf)
    2. Butter, Vitamin E, and the X-Factor (historical archive of Dr Lee’s article) (seleneriverpress.com/historical/butter-vitamin-e-and-the-x-factor-of-weston-a-price/)
    3. Lectures of Dr. Royal Lee, Vitamin News (seleneriverpress.com/shop/lectures-of-dr-royal-lee-volume-i-pdf-ebook/
    4. Vitamin News, a collection of all the biannual issues in one book: (seleneriverpress.com/shop/vitamin-news/
  5. Article on The X-Factor of Dr. Weston A. Price: realmilk.com/health/x-factor-vitamin-k2/
  6. blog.radiantlifecatalog.com/bid/59999/The-Mystery-of-X-Factor-Butter-Oil-and-Vitamin-K2-Solved
  7. Mercola:
    1. B-family chart from: products.mercola.com/vitamin-b
    2. (8) Mercola on how folate supplementation may mitigate pesticide-related autism, and the differences in how folic acid and folate are metabolized: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/09/25/folate-may-mitigate-pesticide-related-autism.aspx
    3. (1H) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/15/Common-Hidden-Cause-of-Low-Energy-Brain-Fog-and-Blindness.aspx.
    4. (new 1I) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/05/19/Warning-Potentially-Life-Threatening-Vitamin-Deficiency-Affects-25-Percent-of-Adults.aspx
    5. (new) products.mercola.com/folate-supplement
  8. (new) Online Holistic Health:
    1. onlineholistichealth.com/choline-too-crucial-to-ignore/
    2. onlineholistichealth.com/vitamins-2/2765-2.html (about vitamin B4)
    3. onlineholistichealth.com/inositol-deficiency-linked-to-depression/
    4. onlineholistichealth.com/vitamins-2/vitamin-b8-inositol.html
    5. onlineholistichealth.com/vitamins-2/vitamin-b10-paba.html
    6. onlineholistichealth.com/vitamins-2/supplements-2vitaminsvitamin-b11.html
  9. examine.com/supplements/choline/
  10. healthfully.com/455605-the-right-dosage-of-choline.html
  11. NIH: ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/
  12. Nootriment
    1. nootriment.com/choline-dosage/
    2. nootriment.com/vitamin-b8-foods/
  13. Livestrong:
    1. livestrong.com/article/506226-foods-high-in-inositol/
    2. livestrong.com/article/226395-what-is-paba-vitamin/
  14. oureverydaylife.com/303974-negative-side-effects-of-paba.html
  15. wonderlabs.com/blog/whatever-happened-to-vitamins-b4-b8-b10-and-b11
  16. drhagmeyer.com/b12-deficiencythyroid-disease-and-the-mthfr-connection/
  17. GreenMedInfo greenmedinfo.com/blog/overlooked-vitamin-improves-autoimmune-disease-and-autonomic-dysfunction
  18. My Food Data:
    1. B9, Folate: myfooddata.com/articles/foods-high-in-folate-vitamin-B9.php
    2. B12, Cobalamin: myfooddata.com/articles/foods-high-in-vitamin-B12.php
  19. Healthline:
    1. Folate: healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-folate-folic-acid
    2. B12, Cobalamin: healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-foods

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