Vitamin B isn’t a single vitamin, but consists of eight different vitamins that all work together to do far more than fuel shots of 5-Hour Energy. This group of vitamins is essential for an efficient metabolism, strong immune system and the steady production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. The problem is, all it takes is an imbalance in one to throw off the other seven completely. And as the letter B would imply, not getting the right amount of these vitamins is a bitch for your overall health.
Luckily, compared to nutrients like proteins, we typically need vitamins in relatively small doses (in fact, the daily recommended amount is measured in micrograms and milligrams). Since most B vitamins are found in meat, poultry, eggs, leafy greens, legumes, seeds and fortified processed foods like cereals and bread, it’s usually pretty easy to get them from our diets. The issue is that stress depletes us of these essential micronutrients.
“When one gets anxious, the body goes for a stress response. During this process, all the B vitamins are drained toward the heart, lungs and muscles to ensure survival,” nutritionist and dietician Anam Umair explains, which of course, leaves none left for healthy functioning and can cause rashes, mouth sores, hair loss, diarrhea, constipation, insomnia, depression and many other problems.
Worse yet, “when there isn’t enough of these natural vitamin forms all other modulations — exercise, sleep hygiene, other vitamins, prescribed medications — for improving mental and physical health will be inadequate,” psychiatrist Sheldon Zablow warns.
Of all eight B vitamins, Zablow believes that B-9 (otherwise known as folate) and B-12 are the most crucial for healthy functioning, because they help curb inflammation, or the source of many stress-related health problems. “Chronic inflammation causes or worsens nine out of the ten leading causes of death,” Zablow explains, stressing that folate and B-12 are “critical anti-inflammatory nutrients.” “Again, if you’re deficient in these two, all the other interventions won’t be balanced and beneficial.”
In other words, do whatever you can not to be deficient in them — or any of their B vitamin brethren for that matter. Here’s where you can find enough of each…
B-1 (aka Thiamine)
B-1 is key for breaking down sugars that support metabolism and memory. People with B-1 deficiencies can experience irritability, blurred vision, loss of appetite, poor reflexes, nausea, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms and legs. Shortages of B-1 from alcohol abuse can be even more extreme, causing chronic memory loss and a condition known as Korsakoff syndrome.
A half a cup of black beans accounts for about 27 percent of the B-1 we need in a given day. But if you don’t want to be the guy that eats two cups of beans a day, salmon, liver and fortified breads and cereals are comparable options. Meanwhile, a 6-ounce pork chop almost covers your B-1 intake completely.
B-2 (aka Riboflavin)
B-2 is instrumental in converting food into energy, and deficiencies in it can cause skin problems, mouth lesions, cracked lips, hair loss and reproductive issues. About a cup of spinach covers a third of your daily recommended amount, whereas a 6-ounce skirt steak or three-quarters cup of fortified cereal satisfies your B-2 needs for the entire day.
B-3 (aka Niacin)
B-3 helps support a healthy metabolism and digestive system by assimilating carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But niacin has also gained a reputation for being a vasodilator that helps increase blood flow in order to give dudes boners. Not having enough B-3 can lead to headaches, rashes, fatigue, stomach problems and depression. You can get about a third of your daily recommended B-3 from a cup of rice, half of it from a cup of portobello mushrooms or all of it from a 6-ounce chicken breast.
B-5 (aka Pantothenic Acid)
B-5 aids the body in creating red blood cells and further metabolizes fats, proteins and coenzymes. Signs of a B-5 deficiency include irritability, fatigue, muscle cramps and sleep disturbances, but a cup of shiitake mushrooms is all you really need to keep your B-5 tank full.
B-6 (aka Pyridoxine)
B-6 supports a healthy brain and nervous system by turning food into energy and creating new neurotransmitters to send messages to neurons throughout the body. When we don’t have enough B-6, it can weaken our immune systems, tank our moods, and in extreme cases, lead to seizures. Either a 6-ounce chicken breast or salmon filet is the most efficient way to ensure this doesn’t happen with a single serving, but a banana or avocado count for roughly a third of your daily intake.
B-7 (aka Biotin)
Typically marketed to women to inspire healthy skin, hair and nails, B-7 helps the production of important enzymes for digestion and metabolism. Having a B-7 deficiency can cause pink eye, hair loss, lethargy, depression, and occasionally, hallucinations. An egg has about a third of the daily recommended amount, while just an ounce of peanuts takes care of about 17 percent of it.
B-9 (aka Folate)
B-9 plays a significant part in red blood cell production, cell division and the replication and synthesis of DNA, which is why parents may be familiar with folic acid — it’s prescribed during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Outside of pregnancy, failing to get enough B-9 can lead to headaches, tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath. This can be prevented by eating a cup of edamame or lentils a day, and pretty much any green vegetable will get you at least halfway there with a single serving.
B-12 (aka Cobalamin)
Finally, B-12 is best known for energy drinks and being shot in the butts of wealthy people to avoid cold season, but it similarly aids in DNA production, as well as supporting overall energy metabolism and brain function. Some symptoms of a B-12 deficiency include pale and yellow skin, mouth ulcers, disturbed vision, irritability, and again, more depression. To stave off the B-12 blues, seafood like salmon, clams and crab will put you well over your daily recommended amount.
The last challenge is remaining chill enough so that stress doesn’t drain you of all the Vitamin B you’ve just thrown down.