Welcome to Part 3 – the final part of The Ultimate Vitamin Guide! Here you can find a list of water soluble vitamins along with their functions in the body and food sources.

Vitamins are necessary for the body to thrive. Without them, important biochemical reactions could not occur, hindering numerous metabolic events and the production of energy – all necessary to sustain life. Although a few vitamins are produced by the intestinal bacteria, a wholesome, natural diet ensures that we obtain all of these important nutrients.

This guide was put together as a handy reference outlining the main food sources and biological functions of the 13 different vitamins.

In this last instalment, I go into the details of the nine water-soluble vitamins, where you can learn all about the functions, food sources, and synthetic names to avoid for each of these essential nutrients.

The list of water-soluble vitamins includes:

  • ➙ Eight B complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12)
  • ➙ Vitamin C

 
For a general overview on vitamins and supplements, make sure to read Part 1 of this guide.

If you want to learn more about the other four (fat-soluble) vitamins – A, D, E, and K – check out Part 2 of the Ultimate Vitamin Guide.

What are Water-Soluble Vitamins?

These vitamins are mainly found in the water component of foods. As such, there are a few key points that differentiate them from fat-soluble vitamins:

  • A portion of vitamins are lost when foods are cooked
  • The amount of vitamins available in harvested produce starts to decrease over time

Given these two points, the richest source of vitamins is from produce that is fresh and uncooked. This is not to say, however, that non-local or cooked foods do not provide any value – there is just a lesser amount of nutrients due to the unstable nature of water-soluble vitamins. This means they are easily destroyed by temperature and/or light.

Another differentiating factor of water-soluble vitamins compared to their counterpart is their minimal storage in the body. For the most part, the body only uses the amount of water-soluble vitamins that it needs for the day and discards what is unused. This means that they must be acquired regularly from the diet. This also signifies that water-soluble vitamins have less potential to be toxic, since the body eliminates what it doesn’t use.

The B Complex Vitamins

This group of vitamins consists of eight compounds that have similar coenzyme functions and are often found in the same foods. Many of these also require other fellow B vitamins for optimal performance in the body.

The eight B-Complex vitamins are:

Click each name to skip ahead to the relevant section.

  • B1 (Thiamine)
  • B2 (Riboflavin)
  • B3 (Niacin)
  • B5 (Pantothenic acid)
  • B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • B7 (Biotin)
  • B9 (Folic acid)
  • B12 (Cobalamin)

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine or Thiamin)

Functions

Vitamin B1 plays a key role in energy production through glucose metabolism. It also facilitates energy storage by aiding in the conversion of carbohydrates to fat.

The ability to effectively produce and store energy is not only important for daily physical activity and cognition, but also for basic physiological functioning. This includes:
(1) Everyday tasks that involve:
➙ Moving your body (e.g., standing, going to work or school, exercise, etc)
➙ Thinking and information processing
(2) Basic survival needs such as breathing and the beating of the heart

Currently, it is hypothesized that thiamine deficiency may contribute to myocardial weakness by limiting how much energy is available for contraction.

Mitochondria (mitochondrion in singular form) are the energy-producing components inside a cell. Thiamine deficiency has also been shown to disrupt the membrane potential of mitochondria, thus impeding the cell’s ability to produce energy.

Vitamin B1 is also involved in maintaining the health of nerves and the nervous system. One of its roles is the synthesis of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that transmit signals across the nervous system and regulate various functions and actions of the body.

Another important responsibility of B1 is its involvement in producing the myelin sheath – the outer, protective layer of neurons. This important covering not only insulates and protects the nerve fibers, but it also increases the transmission rate of nerve impulses.

Sources

Vitamin B1 can be obtained from the consumption of:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Spinach
  • Meat
  • Seafood

Synthetic Names to Avoid

Synthetic vitamin B1 has the chemical names of thiamine hydrochloride and thiamine mononitrate, both of which are processed with coal tar, ammonia, acetone, and hydrochloric acid.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Functions

Similar to thiamine, vitamin B2 – or riboflavin – plays an important role in energy production. It is the precursor for two coenzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Riboflavin also aids energy production by ensuring proper functioning of the mitochondria, and thus enabling cells to produce energy more efficiently.

This vitamin is also required for the production of glutathione, an important molecule for preventing oxidative damage by free radicals.

These functions are what make vitamin B2 a vital part in maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails, as well as good vision.

Sources

Vitamin B2 is found in:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Oily fish (such as mackerel, trout, salmon, etc)
  • Organ meats

The intestinal bacteria are also capable of producing this vitamin.

Synthetic Names to Avoid

No available information.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Functions

Vitamin B3 is also commonly known as nicotinic acid, niacinamine, or simply niacin. This important vitamin is thought to be protective against cardiovascular disease by aiding in:

 
The anti-inflammatory properties further extend to niacin’s ability to decrease the levels of inflammation-related chemical signals such as interleukin-6 and TNF-α.

Other functions of vitamin B3 include:

  • Acting as a precursor for two important coenzymes (NAD and NADP) that are involved in over 50 different metabolic reactions, ranging from glucose and protein breakdown to the formation of red blood cells
  • The synthesis of sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, etc) and DNA

Sources

Vitamin B3 can be obtained from the diet from the consumption of a variety of meat, including poultry and fish.

Eggs are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body can use to manufacture vitamin B3 as well.

Excessive consumption of alcohol and coffee can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb niacin.

Synthetic Names to Avoid

No information available

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Functions

Pantothenic acid – or vitamin B5 – has an important role as being a part of coenzyme A (also called CoA). This coenzyme is closely involved in adrenal cortex function, giving its nickname as the “anti-stress” vitamin. In fact, a study has shown that vitamin B5 helps individuals better resist the damaging effects of stress – a feature also known as adaptive response.

Pantothenic acid acts by supporting the production of important hormones that counteract stress, such as cortisone and other adrenal hormones. These hormones also enhance metabolism, which helps reduce the toxic effects of antibiotics and radiation.

Another study showed the ability of vitamin B5 to accelerate healing after an injury by increasing the rate of cellular division and growth.

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Sources

Pantothenic acid can be found in a wide variety of foods, however the best sources come from:

  • Avocado
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Cruciferous vegetables
    (e.g., broccoli and cauliflower)

 
This vitamin is also produced by the intestinal bacteria.
 

Synthetic Names to Avoid

The synthetic version of pantothenic acid is called calcium D-pantothenate.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Functions

This versatile vitamin has many uses in the body. One of the roles of vitamin B6 – or pyridoxine – is aiding in the synthesis of antibodies, red blood cells, and DNA. It is also an important factor in protecting against heart disease, by helping prevent the walls of the arteries from degrading.

Additionally, pyridoxine exhibits antioxidant effects, by preventing lipid peroxidation (i.e., damage by free radicals) and injury to the mitochondrial membrane (recall that the mitochondria are the cellular power houses of energy production).

This vitamin also plays a role in the breakdown of proteins into amino acids, and transporting them across the intestinal mucosa into the blood and cells.

Sources

Good sources of pyridoxine include:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Egg
  • Walnuts
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas

The intestinal bacteria also produce vitamin B6.

Synthetic Names to Avoid

Pyridoxine hydrochloride is the synthetic product of vitamin B6 using petroleum ester, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde, and is best avoided.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Functions

Commonly referred to as biotin, vitamin B7 has a few important roles in health maintenance. As a coenzyme it participates in the metabolism and synthesis of fat, for energy storage and release. It also facilitates the production of protein and helps in the formation of DNA.

These vital responsibilities are what make B7 an important vitamin in skin regeneration, since these cells die and are replaced at a very rapid rate.

Sources

Alongside the intestinal microflora, other good sources of vitamin B7 are:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Carrots
  • Tomato
  • Cabbage

Synthetic Names to Avoid

Synthetic biotin supplements are labelled as d-Biotin.

Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)

Functions

Folic acid (also called folacin, folate, or vitamin B9) is a coenzyme to a multitude of biochemical reactions that are crucial to survival and wellbeing. The active, coenzymatic form of folic acid is called tetrahydrofolic acid, or THFA for short.

Out of the several functions of folic acid, the two most important roles are:

 

These responsibilities make folic acid extremely important during cell division and times of rapid growth (such as pregnancy). Deficiencies of folic acid can lead to low birth weight and/or growth problems in children, as well as higher risk for defects in the nervous system development in newborn babies.

Folate’s role in nervous system development involves the proper formation of an embryo’s neural tube, a structure that eventually leads to the development of the brain and spinal cord. Additionally, this vitamin supports the nervous system through its role in ensuring the proper synthesis of a number of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Folic acid also works in conjuction with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to break down and utilize protein. Since it enzymatically works so closely with vitamin B12, additional functions of folic acid are discussed below under the vitamin B12 section.
 

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Sources

Obtaining adequate levels of folic acid is quite easy through a healthy, wholesome diet. The extensive list of food sources of this vitamin includes:

  • Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and beet greens, chard, asparagus, and broccoli
  • Organ meats, such as liver and kidney
  • Many fruits, including oranges, cantaloupe, pineapple, banana, and strawberries

 
In addition to this, we can also utilize the folic acid that is provided by our natural intestinal microflora.

Synthetic Names to Avoid

The synthetic form of folic acid is called pteroylglutamic acid.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Functions

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, works closely with folate in its fundamental role of ensuring the proper functioning of the central nervous system. This duo of vitamins also help to prevent mood disorders and dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.

A few other important roles of vitamin B12 are:

  • Ensuring the proper formation of the myelin sheath (discussed under vitamin B1)
  • Stimulating the body’s utilization of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to increase energy levels
  • Aiding in the synthesis of DNA
  • Helping in the formation of normal red blood cells

 

Sources

Although some B12 is manufactured by intestinal bacteria, the best sources are primarily animal-derived and includes:

  • Meat
  • Fish (especially oily ones)
  • Shrimp
  • Egg
  • Yogurt

 

Synthetic Names to Avoid

The synthetic version of vitamin B12 is called cyanocobalamin – in reference to the cyanide molecule to which it is bonded – and therefore is best avoided. The natural form of vitamin B12 is labelled as cobalamin or methylcobalamin.

The Bottom Line: B Complex Vitamins

The eight individual vitamins that collectively form the B Complex have many unique and mutual functions in the body. Moreover, some of these functions are only optimally executed when all necessary vitamins are present.

A number of these vitamins are endogenously produced by the bacteria naturally present in the intestines:

  • B2 (Riboflavin)
  • B5 (Pantothenic acid)
  • B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • B7 (Biotin)
  • B9 (Folic acid)
  • B12 (Cobalamin)

 

These vitamins, along with B1 and B3, can also be found in a diversity of foods including most animal-derived products (meats, eggs, and yogurt), nuts and seeds, and many vegetables – especially leafy greens.

A balanced diet filled with lots of fresh produce will ensure that you meet your body’s needs for these important vitamins.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)

Functions

The body’s phenomenal ability at producing and repairing skin, tendons, ligaments, teeth, bones, and blood vessels is thanks to vitamin C’s role as a cofactor in collagen formation. For this reason it plays an important role in wound healing.

Vitamin C – or ascorbic acid – also acts as an antioxidant in the body and plays a role in protecting cells against damage by free radicals.

Other important functions include:

 

The body’s needs for vitamin C greatly increase during certain situations, such as: fever, viral illness, antibiotic usage, and exposure to environmental toxins.

Sources

The greatest amount of vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables when they are uncooked and eaten fresh. These foods include: