The collective group of B vitamins (known as the B complex vitamins) is essential for the body to perform vital functions. B complex vitamins are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, grains and fortified foods. Most developed countries have such a good diet that significant vitamin B deficiency symptoms are not common. Vitamin B deficiency symptoms will vary depending on which vitamin(s) the body is lacking. Most cases of vitamin B deficiency are due to problems absorbing the vitamins. Several conditions such as alcoholism, intestinal problems and pernicious anemia can cause B vitamin absorption to be compromised.
The B Vitamins, Their Function and Deficiency Symptoms
Commonly known as thiamin, B1 helps with the metabolism of carbohydrates and keeps the heart and nervous system functioning properly. Vitamin B1 deficiency symptoms will cause nervous system damage and possibly death. Beriberi is the medical term for vitamin B1 deficiency symptoms and is prevalent in poor countries where malnutrition is common.
Commonly known as riboflavin, this vitamin helps the body utilize and absorb the other B vitamins and help with cell growth. Vitamin B2 deficiency symptoms may cause cracked lips, swelling of the tongue and mouth, dermatitis (skin inflammation) and sensitivity to sunlight.
Commonly known as niacin, vitamin B3 helps regulate cholesterol and aids in nerve and skin cell growth. A deficiency can cause mental confusion, aggression, insomnia and diarrhea.
Commonly called pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is responsible for regeneration of hair, skin and nails. Vitamin B5 deficiency symptoms are virtually non-existent because it is found in trace quantities in almost all foods. Since the body only requires a very small amount, what is obtained from food is usually sufficient.
Commonly known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 helps in the breakdown of proteins and fats and transmission of nerve impulses. Vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms include depression, high blood pressure, water retention, fatigue and anemia.
Commonly known as biotin, vitamin B7 is used for cell growth. Vitamin B7 deficiency symptoms in adults are usually not present; however deficiency in children can impede growth and cause neurological dysfunction in infants. The infant may not grow and develop both physically and mentally as they should.
Commonly referred to as folic acid, vitamin B9 is a key factor in pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Women who are pregnant or who intend to become pregnant should take a folic acid supplement.
Commonly known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is vital for cellular use of food as fuel and in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen. It also helps the brain and spinal cord to function properly. Deficiency is most likely to occur in the elderly due to poor absorption of vitamin B12 by the intestine.
It can also be caused by pernicious anemia, a disorder in which the intestines lack the intrinsic factor required for absorption of ingested vitamin B12. Without vitamin B12 the body produces immature, irregular shaped red blood cells that cannot carry oxygen. Common symptoms are fatigue and mental confusion.
Other B Vitamins
Many other B vitamins are used by the body in very trace amounts. Generally the small amounts the body needs are taken care of with the consumption of a regular diet and no vitamin B deficiency symptoms are encountered.
Treatment of vitamin B deficiency symptoms is dietary supplement or injection of B complex vitamins. If pernicious anemia is the cause, replacement intrinsic factor may be given.