The B complex, a group of eight B vitamins, is essential for survival, playing a role in metabolism, the nervous system, organs, muscles and hair. Our bodies do not make B complex; it is instead taken in through foods such as animal products, lentils, brewer's yeast, potatoes and molasses.
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Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B7 produce energy, vitamin B6 is necessary for metabolism and vitamins B12 and B9 are important in the process of cellular division.
Numerous studies tie supplementation with B vitamins to reduced risk of various illnesses that strike women. In the long-term Nurses Health Study, published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" in 1999, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston collected data on almost 90,000 women, 442 of whom developed colon cancer. Women consuming at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day from any source had 31 percent less incidence of colon cancer than those who consumed less than 200 micrograms. In the same study, it was reported that women who took multivitamins, which included vitamin B6, had 30 percent less risk of heart disease.
Several B vitamins have been shown to reduce markers for heart disease. High levels of homocysteine are linked to cardiovascular disease. One 1999 Norwegian study led by M.A. Mansoor and colleagues demonstrated that vitamin B6, when combined with folate, reduced homocysteine levels by 32 percent. A 2003 study of elderly German women published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found a relationship between B vitamin deficiency and elevated homocysteine levels.
Protection During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
In 1998, due to findings that folic acid deficiency was a contributing factor in some types of birth defects, the Institute of Medicine recommended that all women in their childbearing years take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. B vitamin deficiency can lead to abnormal growth and development in children, so adequate intake is crucial.
A 2002 National Institute of Health press release referenced a Swedish-American study published in "JAMA" that found that folic acid supplementation lowered the risk of early miscarriage. Vitamin B12 crosses the placenta during pregnancy and is expressed in breast milk. Therefore, breastfed babies of vegan mothers can develop vitamin B12 deficiency within a short time if supplementation is not provided. The American Dietetic Association recommends supplementation for vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians during pregnancy and lactation to ensure that enough vitamin B12 is transferred to the baby.
Help with Symptoms of PMS and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Researchers at North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, U.K., analyzed nine studies statistically by looking at vitamin B6 supplements and their effects on premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. The analysis showed that vitamin B6 supplementation diminishes PMS symptoms including depression, breast tenderness and bloating. A more severe form of PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, may also respond to B6 supplementation, according to MayoClinic.com.