Nutrition

The Stress and Vitamin B Connection (+ 5 Incredible Vitamin B Health Benefits!) 

If you’ve ever experienced fatigue, mood changes, or stress, it’s likely that you’ve been told that you need to take more vitamin B. In fact, this is something I typically advise my patients in the same situation. But why? Well, simply put, when you’re experiencing more stress, your body burns through more B vitamins. As a result, you end up deficient in some of the most beneficial vitamins your body needs both to function properly and to combat future stressful events. You’re missing out on all the vitamin B health benefits your body needs.

As you likely know, stress does not simply disappear. Instead, it continues to come at you. Having low levels of these amazing vitamins will only worsen the way your body reacts to future stress. Being deficient in B vitamins can also impact other aspects of your health, such as your blood pressure, hormone regulation, energy production, and mood!

In fact, did you know that every metabolic process in your body, from your ability to break down your food to your energy production to even your mood, requires vitamin B? Your body needs vitamin B to produce hormones, release cortisol, and combat adrenal fatigue. But that’s not all of the vitamin B health benefits. From fighting insomnia to boosting cognitive performance to decreasing stress, there are so many benefits to supplementing with vitamin B. Let’s take a closer look at vitamin B, why it’s important, and its many surprising health benefits.

 

What Is Vitamin B?

Vitamin B isn’t just one vitamin—it actually refers to a group of nine nutrients known as the B vitamins or B-complex vitamins. And these nutrients play a pivotal role in your adrenal and general health, so it’s key for your body to not only be sufficient in them but also to have the right balance.

Because all B vitamins are water-soluble (meaning they dissolve in water and aren’t heavily stored in your body), they need to be replenished each day.

Why Are B Vitamins Important?

Here’s a list of all of the B vitamins and their roles in optimal adrenal function.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin):

This vitamin helps protect your adrenal glands and lowers stress-induced cortisol output. It is also highly involved in cellular growth and function.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin):

Vitamin B2 converts your food into energy, aids as an antioxidant, and is involved with your body’s uptake and use of iron and other B vitamins.

Vitamin B3 (niacin/nicotinamide):

Vitamin B3 is a key component of your primary cellular energy source, NAD. Because of this, it is involved in breaking down everything you eat into energy for your body. Just like gas in a car, NAD is your fuel. Trust me, you cannot function without it! Also known to help improve your sleep quality and quantity, vitamin B3 is involved in producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is known to help promote feelings of well-being and happiness.

Vitamin B5 (pantethine/pantothenic acid):

Vitamin B5 helps protect your adrenal glands and lowers stress-induced cortisol output. It creates an enzyme in your body that assists multiple physical processes, such as producing healthy fats for your cell membranes as well as energy. Vitamin B5 is a “helper” vitamin, meaning you need its help to function properly.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5′-phosphate):

This vitamin is a cofactor for manufacturing the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, making it crucial for brain development in infants and children. Vitamin B6 also allows your body to absorb vitamin B12 and folate. Often, I find that vitamin B6 is one of the first B vitamins to deplete when you’re faced with chronic stress. This starts a catalyst of other deficiencies due to its involvement as a cofactor in many other areas of your body, resulting in some chronic symptoms.

Vitamin B7 (biotin):

Vitamin B7 is involved in metabolic breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It also plays a strong role in hair, skin, and nail health.

Vitamin B9 (folate/5-methyltetrahydrofolate):

Essential for neurotransmitter formation, vitamin B9 is needed for proper cell growth and division. Due to its ability to act as a methyl donor, folate is involved in detoxification, cellular repair, DNA, hormone metabolism, and more.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin/methylcobalamin):

Known to help reset your circadian rhythm, vitamin B12 helps improve your sleep and normalize cortisol levels. It is also involved in blood cell and DNA production. Interestingly, your gut bacteria also play a significant role in producing vitamin B12.

 

Also, B vitamins have relationships with one another—specifically vitamin B6, B12, and B9 (or folate). How so? Well, if each of these levels aren’t properly balanced and sufficient, it can result in a myriad of health concerns, such as anemia, hypertension, infertility, hormone irregularities, fatigue, and much more.

Now, you may be surprised to learn that 40 percent of Americans are actually deficient in vitamin B12 alone. [1] And studies have found that chronic stress depletes the body of vitamin B6. [2] But with the rising rates of stress, should we really be that shocked? In fact, almost half of all Americans report that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. [3] And 55 percent of Americans report feeling stress on a daily basis. [4] When you consider the statistics, it all makes sense. Remember, when your body is under constant stress, you use up more B vitamins.

And it’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be the result of a major life event. Something as simple as your phone constantly pinging that keeps you “on alert” can cause your body to be experiencing constant stress.

So now the question becomes: How can I make sure I’m getting enough vitamin B to properly support my adrenal—and overall—health, even in the face of constant stress and stimuli? Let’s discuss how you can replenish your supply before you become deficient.

How Do I Get Enough B Vitamins?

To make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins in your diet and taking advantage of all the vitamin B health benefits, it’s best to fill your diet with lots of plant-based sources of vitamin B-rich foods.

As many of you may know, I eat a plant-based diet. With many B vitamin food sources being meat-based, you may think it is not possible to get B vitamins from your food. But that simply isn’t the case. A well-balanced plant-based diet does include sources of B vitamins, which I’ve detailed below. I find that the best way to incorporate these as a whole is to add a variety of nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, and avocado to everything I eat.

Vitamin B1: Nutritional yeast, pine nuts, soy/tofu, brown rice, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, tahini (sesame), acorn squash, and green peas

Vitamin B2: Tofu, mushrooms, spinach, almonds, and avocados

Vitamin B3: Mushrooms, brown rice, green peas, avocados, and sweet potatoes

Vitamin B5: Shitake mushrooms, avocados, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, and lentils

Vitamin B6: Tofu, sweet potatoes, bananas, white potatoes, avocados, and pistachios

Vitamin B9: Edamame, lentils, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, avocados, mangoes, oranges, sweet corn, walnuts, and tahini

Vitamin B12: Tofu, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and nutritional yeast

If you find that you’re constantly under stress, or just looking for a boost in health benefits, you should also consider supplementing with a methylated B-complex vitamin, which contains all nine of the B vitamins in their active forms. This also holds true if you’re taking medications that may affect your ability to absorb the B vitamins from your food, pregnant or breastfeeding, vegan or vegetarian, or over the age of 50. [5]

Top 5 Vitamin B Health Benefits

Now that we’ve covered what vitamin B is and why it’s so crucial for your body, let’s take a closer look at the top five vitamin B health benefits.

1. Helps decrease stress

While chronic stress is known to deplete your levels of vitamin B, amazingly, supplementing with vitamin B actually has been shown to fight stress! In a 2010 study on 215 healthy men, supplementing with a B-complex vitamin was shown to decrease levels of stress. [6] And a 2014 study showed that workers who supplemented with B vitamins reported a 20 percent reduction in workplace stress. [7]

2. Boosts cognitive performance 

B vitamin health benefits also extend to supporting focus and memory. Numerous studies have shown that a deficiency in vitamin B12 is associated with cognitive impairment. [8] Interestingly, in the same 2010 study referenced above on 215 men, researchers found that supplementing with a B-complex vitamin actually improved the men’s cognitive performance. The men taking the supplements had “significantly more” correct answers and performed cognitive tests longer than a group taking a placebo. [9]

3. Promotes cellular health

Vitamin B promotes cellular health by helping to form red blood cells. When your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells, you’re typically diagnosed with a condition known as anemia. Vitamin B health benefits also include helping your cells generate energy and create and maintain their DNA. [10]

 4. Boosts mood

In addition to fighting stress and supporting your brain health, vitamin B health benefits also include elevating your mood! In fact, a 2015 study on 58 adults revealed that supplementing with a multivitamin containing high amounts of vitamin B for four weeks resulted in lower levels of homocysteine (high levels are commonly associated with depressed mood) and significantly improved mood. [11]

In fact, did you know that depleted levels of vitamins B6, B12, and B9 (or folate) cause elevations in homocysteine, which can also cause high blood pressure? As a result, I’ve found that in addition to boosting their moods, many of my patients have been able to come off of their blood pressure medicine once they start taking B vitamins! How amazing is that?

5. Supports hormone and cholesterol production

Finally, vitamin B health benefits also extend to supporting hormone and cholesterol production within your body. And this is especially true in relation to cortisol, the “stress hormone.” Remember that when you’re experiencing stress, your adrenal glands respond by releasing more cortisol. Interestingly, a 2016 review found that B vitamins help to manage cortisol levels by supporting GABA production. [12] (GABA is the neurotransmitter your brain releases to calm your body in times of stress.) It’s also been shown to support healthy cholesterol production by raising your HCL. [13]

 

Vitamin B health benefits - Dr. Pingel

 

Key Takeaways

  • When you’re experiencing stress, your body burns through more B vitamins. As a result, you end up deficient and miss out on all the vitamin b health benefits your body needs.
  • Vitamin B isn’t just one vitamin but instead refers to a group of nine nutrients known as the B vitamins or B-complex vitamins. These vitamins play a pivotal role in your adrenal and general health.
  • It’s crucial to make sure you’re not only getting a sufficient amount of B vitamins but also that you’re getting them in the right balance.
  • There are many plant-based food sources of B vitamins, but you may also require a vitamin B-complex supplement during times of stress.
  • The top vitamin B health benefits include: decreasing stress, supporting cognitive performance, promoting cellular health, supporting improved mood, and assisting in hormone and cholesterol production.

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