(NaturalHealth365) As you probably know by now, heart disease – responsible for over 610,000 fatalities every year – is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. Yet, it’s still rare to see a conventionally trained physician talk about the role of vitamin B or any other nutrient for disease prevention. (their training is just not adequate – yet.)
For example, Research shows that vitamin B2, part of the complex of nutrients needed for normal body function, has the ability to lower levels of an inflammatory amino acid linked with heart disease, thereby reducing its risk. In addition, this amazing group of essential vitamins can relieve anxiety, lift mood, help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease, reduce age-related brain shrinkage and protect vision.
Unfortunately, deficiencies in the B vitamins – vitamin B12, in particular – are widespread in the United States, with individuals of mature years particularly vulnerable. But, let’s focus on avoiding this fate.
Who is at risk for vitamin B deficiencies?
The ‘vitamin B complex’ consists of eight separate nutrients: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Your body needs B vitamins to assist in the conversion of food to energy, maintain a healthy nervous system, and help produce red blood cells and DNA. Keep in mind, proper levels of B vitamins are particularly important in pregnancy, as shortages of vitamin B12 and folate can result in severe neurological damage to the infant or fetus.
Unfortunately, a variety of conditions and factors can threaten adequate vitamin B status.
Hypothyroidism, anorexia, alcoholism, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and certain genetic mutations can all increase susceptibility to B-vitamin deficiencies.
Elderly people are at particular risk for shortages of vitamin B12, due to age-related shortages of the stomach acid required to absorb the nutrient.
In addition, diabetes drugs (such as metformin), birth control pills and proton pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole) can decrease the absorption of B vitamins.
Finally, you may be at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency if you are a vegan or strict vegetarian. Like any other condition, we must be careful to eat appropriately – based on individual health concerns.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include depression, weakness, digestive disturbances, tingling sensations in the limbs and cognitive problems. Cracking at the corners of the mouth can also be a tip-off.
A quartet of B vitamins can protect against elevated homocysteine
Four B vitamins in particular – B2, B6, B9 and B12 – can help reduce the accumulation of the amino acid homocysteine – elevated levels of which are associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
When these four B vitamins are present in adequate levels, they help to convert homocysteine to the amino acid methionine. If any are lacking, however, homocysteine levels can begin to climb.
In a study published in Circulation, the participants had a specific genetic mutation that causes B-complex vitamin deficiencies – particularly of vitamin B2 – and elevated homocysteine levels.
However, the team found that supplementation with vitamin B2 (riboflavin) lowered homocysteine levels by almost 25 percent. They noted that lowering homocysteine by this amount could reduce stroke risk by 24 percent – and heart disease by 16 percent.
Other research has highlighted the link between B vitamins and heart health.
For example, in a study published in Nutrition, researchers found that even “borderline” deficiencies of vitamin B6 were linked with an increased risk of coronary artery disease.
B vitamins help to treat depression and prevent neurodegenerative disorders
Low levels of B vitamins can exert a grave toll on physical and mental health.
Shortages of vitamin B1, or thiamine, can cause oxidative stress, damage and inflammation in the brain – setting the stage for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
In addition, low levels of vitamin B12 are linked with accelerated rates of brain shrinkage – the loss of brain cells associated with many brain diseases.
Folate is also crucial for brain function, and studies have linked shortages of this nutrient with atrophy of the hippocampus – a section of the brain associated with memory.
Moreover, low levels of B vitamins – particulary folate – are associated with anxiety and depression.
Encouragingly, restoring levels of B vitamins is yielding promising results in clinical studies.
Studies have shown that supplementation with the active form of folate (5-MTHF) can not only relieve depression – but work in tandem with pharmaceutical antidepressants to increase their effectiveness and bring about more rapid relief.
In one influential study published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, patients with depression who were given 5-MTHF along with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) experienced improvements in 85 days – as opposed to 150 days for those on antidepressants only.
Researchers concluded that the combination was more effective in improving depressive symptoms than SSRI antidepresants alone – and was better tolerated.
Finally, folate supplementation can inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which many scientists believe are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s official: B vitamins combat vision problems
We’ve already explored some of the grave problems that can result from vitamin B-complex deficiencies.
But did you know that shortages of folate (vitamin B9) can greatly increase your risk of age-related macular degeneration – a leading cause of blindness in people over 65, and one which already affects 48 million Americans?
One epidemiological study showed that folate deficiency was associated with an 89 percent higher risk of age-related macular degeneration – while shortfalls in vitamin B12 were found to be associated with a 2.56-fold greater risk of developing the condition.
In one placebo-controlled clinical trial published in Archives of Internal Medicine, women who took 2,500 mcg of folic acid (the synthetic version of folate), 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12 daily for an average of 7 years reduced their risk of macular degeneration by a hefty 34 percent.
Clearly, the benefits of vitamin B supplementation are easy to see (pardon the pun).
Protect your health with vitamin B complex supplementation
You can increase your dietary intake of B vitamins with organic beans, whole grains, potatoes, sunflower seeds, lentils and leafy greens.
Vitamin B12, however, is found only in animal products. To raise levels, opt for grass-fed beef liver, poultry, wild-caught salmon and cage-free eggs.
Because water-soluble B vitamins are rapidly flushed from the body, daily supplementation may be necessary to maintain healthy levels – especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
Experts advise taking vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, and vitamin B6 in the form of pyridoxal-5-phosphate.
Bonus tip: Inositol, a naturally-occurring carbohydrate, has been shown to act against anxiety.
While not technically a B vitamin, inositol is often found as an ingredient in some of the higher-quality B complex formulations. In one study, inositol’s ability to relieve anxiety, panic and OCD symptoms equaled that of fluvoxamine, a popular pharmaceutical antidepressant.
Naturally, you shouldn’t attempt to use B vitamins to treat anxiety – or any other psychological or physical condition – unless you are under the guidance of a trusted and knowledgeable integrative physician.
For protection against cardiovascular disease, depression, neurodegenerative disease and loss of precious vision, research suggests that maintaining healthy levels of life-sustaining B vitamins really is the “ticket.”
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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