B vitamins help your body generate energy from the foods you eat and assist with the formation of red blood cells. A lack of certain B vitamins, specifically B-12 and B-6, can lead to diseases such as anemia, respiratory infections and eczema. B vitamins are found in a variety of foods naturally but are also available in supplement form. If you choose to add supplements of any kind to your routine, it is important to know how much to take and when to take them.
Natural Sources of B Vitamins
There are eight different B vitamins: folate, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and biotin. Natural sources of B vitamins include leafy greens such as kale and spinach, beans, peas, eggs, dairy products and proteins like fish and lean meats. A variety of food products, such as cereals, breads and packaged items, are fortified with vitamin B.
Only a fraction of adults get the B vitamins they need through diet alone. Daily multivitamins contain a variety of B vitamins in varying doses depending on the brand, so chances are you are already supplementing with B vitamins without realizing it. B vitamins are also available in a B-complex form containing multiple B vitamins in one pill and as individual vitamins such as B-6 or B-12. If you notice exceptional fatigue, confusion or development of a skin rash, you may be deficient in one or more B vitamins. A vitamin B supplement may also be warranted if your physician diagnoses you as anemic. Visit your doctor to discuss any symptoms you may have prior to beginning a supplementation regimen.
Dosage and Timing
Try to take your B vitamins with your breakfast or lunch meal. Because B vitamins help convert the foods you eat into energy, consuming them with a meal earlier in the day will help you get the most out of your supplements. If you have side effects such as nausea when taking your vitamins early on, it is acceptable to take them later in the day. Everyone responds differently to vitamins, and it should be an individualized regimen that meets your specific needs. The Institute of Medicine has established recommended dietary allowances for B vitamins. These are based on gender and age and should be used only as a basic guideline. Individual needs may vary depending on your vitamin levels and specific medical conditions. Your doctor can help you determine the dosage that is right for you.
If your doctor suggests supplementation, choose a vitamin supplement that is reputable and safe. Remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness. So ask your pharmacist to recommend a brand. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning your body will excrete any amount above what you actually need. Therefore, there isn't a real danger of taking in too many B vitamins.
- MedlinePlus: B Vitamins
- American Cancer Society: Vitamin B Complex
- Harvard School of Public Health: Three of the B Vitamins: Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12
- Nature Made: Timing Your Vitamins
- Harvard Health Publications: Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky, Harmful
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Dietary Allowance and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins