Until recent years diet-related approaches to health have cropped up but were usually dismissed due to poor understanding of how food nourishes our bodies. The discovery of individual nutrients and a deeper knowledge of their chemical purposes within the body opened the door to a different approach and more acceptance for supplementation.

Nutritional supplementation is one of the many tools fitness professionals and health practitioners can now use to address many overall general health issues. Although its practice is not yet widely used among physicians, or even fully accepted as ?necessary,? even though numerous affirming studies continue to support supplementation. One important area of focus has been the role of the B Vitamins to overall general health. These important nutrients are vital to our total well-being.


The B Vitamins are a common component in the structures of coenzymes. Coenzymes are small molecules that are closely associated with enzyme activity. The metabolic processes dependent on enzymes are critical to our survival. A failure of metabolic enzymes would be catastrophic to our health and ultimately lead to death. The brain and nervous system also rely on B Vitamins for proper functioning. They help synthesize and maintain many segments. Neurotransmitters, for example, are chemicals that affect or modify the transmission of messages across the nerves and muscles. The myelin sheath that covers the nerves and helps to conduct these messages is also dependent on B Vitamins. Without these very important components, the nervous system would not be able to function. That is why chronic deficiencies may manifest themselves as mental or neural disturbances long before more physical signs occur.

Although B Vitamins are chemically distinct from one another, their actions within the body are very closely interrelated. It is rare for a severe deficiency of only one B Vitamin to occur without evidence of additional B deficiencies (B12 is the exception--explained later). Because they are so interrelated, it is quite easy to disrupt the balance essential for optimum metabolism. Many of the B Vitamins will not complete their enzymatic functions without the aid of one or more additional B?s. Food sources generally contain more than one B Vitamin and a natural balance is always present. When supplementing it is essential that THE COMPLETE B COMPLEX BE PROVIDED EVEN IF IT IS SUSPECTED THAT ONLY ONE IS LACKING.


Need for B Vitamins increases during illness, stress, surgery, and depression (including schizophrenia). B Vitamins are generally considered ?morale vitamins? because of their beneficial effects on the nervous system and mental attitude. Therapeutic use of Vitamin B supplementation has been acknowledged since the 1950's when it was employed in the treatment of schizophrenia. We have come to recognize this type of treatment as orthomolecular psychiatry. Orthomolecular medicine recognizes ?biological individuality,? meaning each one of us has unique needs and requirements for nutrients. It is this individuality that should be addressed. An orthomolecular approach involves administering appropriate dosages of nutrients. This may mean a dose adequate enough to correct a present deficiency or a higher dose, otherwise known as ?megadose,? to provide the body with sufficient metabolic energy.

Thiamin (B1)

Thiamin was the first of the B Vitamins to be discovered. Its coenzyme form is critical to many metabolic functions. Among these is the synthesis of acetylcholine, which is essential for electrical conduction of nerve impulses. When there is a lack of acetylcholine, the nerves may become inflamed, affecting mental functioning and nerve sensitivity. A thiamin deficiency has also been linked to the degeneration of myelin, the insulating sheath that covers and protects nerve cells. Some symptoms of deficiency may be the result of a build up of substances that require thiamin for metabolization. Early symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, loss of appetite, and emotional instability. When the nerve functioning becomes impaired, there may be numbness or increased sensitivity, tingling in the extremities, loss of reflexes, or peripheral paralysis. Personality changes may also result including irritability, depression, confusion, and short attention span. Permanent damage to the nervous system may occur if the deficiency is not treated in its early stages. Thiamin is also necessary for the metabolization of alcohol. Alcoholics may have an inadequate dietary thiamin intake in addition to reduced absorption. A deficiency in alcoholics may lead to permanent memory impairment and inaccuracies in reality perception.

Riboflavin (B2)

Riboflavin is involved in fatty acid and amino acid synthesis. It works with enzymes in the utilization of cell oxygen and is critical for cellular growth. It is also needed by the adrenal glands to produce anti-stress hormones. In the absence of riboflavin, nerve tissue damage may occur leading to depression, increased tension, insomnia, and mental sluggishness.

Niacin (B3)

Over 50 enzymatic reactions rely on niacin. All body cells are dependent on the energy it releases from carbohydrates. Within each cell the niacin coenzymes NAD and NADP are responsible for many metabolic reactions. When a deficiency in niacin occurs there is reduced energy production at the cellular level. All cells in our body (e.g. brain, nerve, and muscle) can potentially be compromised. This reduced energy production may result in many of niacin?s deficiency symptoms.

Early stages of niacin deficiency may include muscular weakness, general fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability, headaches, tension, and deep depression. A more severe deficiency may appear as dementia, tremors, and nervous disorders. Niacin has been used in conjunction with other nutrients to treat schizophrenic patients. Supplementation has also helped patients (under the guidance of their doctor) reduce the amount of tranquilizers needed. Protein foods that contain the amino acid l?tryptophan are considered to have a ?niacin equivalent? content. This is because tryptophan, in the presence of B6, can be converted into niacin in the liver.

Pantothenic Acid (B5)

Pantothenic acid is commonly known as the anti-stress vitamin. It plays a critical role in the manufacture of adrenal hormones (e.g. cortisol) that are important for a healthy nervous system. These hormones are also responsible for blood sugar regulation, water balance, anti-inflammatory activity, calcium and magnesium metabolism, libido, and immune function. Damage to the adrenal glands caused by stress can be reversed with pantothenic acid. Adequate amounts provided by diet or supplementation may improve the body?s ability to withstand future stressful conditions.

Pantothenic acid is found in most foods, so dietary deficiencies are rare. It is when the body is under excessive or prolonged stress that we see an increased need. Because the brain contains the highest concentration, a deficiency may first show signs with insomnia, fatigue, and depression as indicators. Inability to cope with stress is also a key indicator of an increased need. In conditions such as peripheral neuritis, nerve disorders, and epilepsy, pantothenic acid may help prevent nerve degeneration.

Pyridoxine (B6)

B6 is essential to the manufacture of numerous brain chemical messengers and over 60 different enzymes. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and others are dependent on ample quantities of B6. This vitamin is also responsible for the release of glycogen from the liver and muscles to give the body its energy. B6 regulates the body?s fluids and promotes the normal functioning of the nervous and muscular skeletal systems by maintaining the sodium potassium balance in the cells. It must also be present for the production of antibodies and red blood cells.

Signs of deficiency are rather common in the population. Deficiencies can be linked to the intake of oral contraceptives, excessive protein, food dyes, aspirin, cortisone, antibiotics, and numerous other common assaults on the body. Early symptoms include low blood sugar, depression, irritability, nervousness, muscular weakness, tingling hands, hand-wrist and hand shoulder syndromes (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome), and slow learning. Deficiencies have also been associated with peripheral nerve disorders such as sciatica, diabetic neuropathy, and paraesthesia. Autism may be linked to a decrease in several of the neurotransmitters that require B6 for synthesis.

Cyanocobalamin (B12)

B12 is another B Vitamin that assists in the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine and in fatty acid synthesis. It is important for the release of energy used by the brain, and the activation of amino acids during protein formation. Deficiency can result in an impairment of fatty acid synthesis leading to brain and nerve tissue damage. Faulty nerve transmissions may also result from the malformation of the myelin sheath.

B12 is unique in its ability to be stored in the liver for up to five years. This makes it difficult to identify a deficiency because the onset can be very slow. It is only found in animal products or foods that are the result of microbial fermentation (tofu, miso, etc.). It is important that individuals who abstain from all animal products (vegans) ensure that they are getting ample quantities from another source, such as a supplement. Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, depression, impaired memory, apathy, nervousness, mood swings, confusion, and neuritis. During a severe deficiency a type of brain damage may occur that resembles schizophrenia.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is involved in the growth and reproduction of all body cells. It is concentrated in the spinal and extracellular fluids and ensures proper brain function. Folic acid is also important for the formation of red blood cells. Signs of a folic acid deficiency are very similar to B12 deficiency, but the nerve damage is not irreversible. B12 must be available in ample quantities in order for folic acid to complete its functions. Because the two are so interrelated and symptoms so similar, it is important to not overlook a B12 deficiency while treating a suspected folic acid deficiency.

Oral contraceptives, alcohol, and certain prescription drugs can impair absorption. Early deficiency symptoms include irritability, forgetfulness, mental sluggishness, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Some nutritionists believe it is one of the most common deficiencies in the world, and North American officials have recently identified the need to fortify nutrient-poor refined grains with folic acid. Women in their childbearing years, and especially pregnant women, should supplement with folic acid as studies show that even a good diet may not protect fully against folic acid deficiency, and that the optimum amount required can be best obtained through supplementation.

Choline and Inositol (Muscle Sugar)

Choline and inositol make up the basic components of lecithin. These vitamin substances are present in all living cells and are essential for the manufacture of numerous neurotransmitters (acetylcholine, serotonin, etc.). They play an important role in the transmission of nerve impulses and the maintenance of the myelin sheath. Memory loss is one of the primary reasons why supplementation has gained popularity. Some studies have indicated a positive response in Alzheimer?s patients, as well as in memory loss due to aging. Choline and inositol are also helpful in cases of manic depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid)

PABA is one of the newer members of B-Complex Vitamins. It helps form folic acid and is important in the utilization of protein, has important sun-screening properties (when used externally), helps in the assimilation -- and therefore the effectiveness -- of pantothenic acid, and helps keep skin healthy and smooth. Deficiency signs include fatigue and nervousness. NOTE: In experiments with animals, PABA has worked with pantothenic acid to restore gray hair to its natural colour. So it is certainly worth a try for anyone looking for an alternative to hair dye. For this purpose an additional 900 mg (time released) daily for six days a week is a viable regimen.


The B Complex Vitamins are all water soluble and are not stored in the body for very long. This makes it important to obtain adequate amounts in the daily diet, or provide insurance using a balanced supplement. Although only small amounts are needed by the body, these amounts are surprisingly hard to get from the typical North American diet. Food sources high in B Vitamins are not usually consumed in great enough quantities. The best sources include brewers yeast, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Refined grain (white four, rice) and sugar make up a large proportion of the average diet. These foods have been stripped of their original Vitamin B content and inadvertently do more harm than good. They create a deficit within the body by drawing on stores of B Vitamins for metabolism and digestion. This ultimately leaves little left over for other metabolic functions, including nervous system maintenance.

Several conditions may benefit from the supplementation of B Vitamins. The following is a list of therapeutic supplementation dosage for adults. It should be reiterated that ALL OF THE B VITAMINS MUST BE TAKEN TOGETHER TO PREVENT AN IMBALANCE and, they MUST BE TAKEN IN A BALANCED DOSAGE. It is crucial that the advice of a qualified practitioner is sought before beginning any self-treatment of mental illness. Some conditions are not necessarily caused by nutrient imbalances or may involve a more complex approach to healing. Thyroid problems, diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure are but a few of the possible physical causes. Without proper diagnosis, many underlying conditions may go untreated. This information is not meant to replace proper diagnosis and medical care.

Recommended Daily Supplementation for Adults *
Thiamin B1.............................100 mg
Riboflavin B2..........................100 mg
Niacin/Niacinimide B3.. .............100 mg
Pantothenic Acid B5.................100 mg
Pyridoxine B6..........................100 mg
Biotin.................................... 100 mcg
Cyanocobalamin B12.................100 mcg
Folic Acid................................400 mcg
Choline...................................100 mg
Inositol...................................100 mg
PABA p-aminobenzoic acid..........100 mg

* This balanced daily supplement can be found in almost any drug store or health food store as B-100 Complex, Balanced.  Consumer WARNING:  It is imperative that the formula is BALANCED and in the proportions indicated.

Jenni Ross-Wilkinson, author of
"NUTRITION - THE MISSING LINK:   Personalizing Optimum Performance"

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