In Part I, we explored the role and dietary sources of the B vitamins. We now conclude with a look at deficiencies, and diseaseprevention.
Vitamin B (B) deficiencies can easily disrupt normal bodily functions. Often misdiagnosed due to similarities to other conditions, the chief symptoms are eczema, anemia, tingling in extremities, muscle cramps, hair loss, and/or respiratory infections. A thorough medical history and complete blood work are necessary to achieve a proper diagnosis. Unfortunately, many individuals choose to self-diagnose which often delays proper diagnosis and treatment. In general, poor diet and alcohol contribute to most B deficiencies. The two most common B deficiencies are Pyridoxine (B6) and cobalamin (B12). B6 deficiency causes diminished immune function related to impaired lymphocyte ability, while a B12 deficiency causes pernicious anemia. In both cases, delays in treatment can hold serious consequences.
Although biotin (B7) deficiency is rare, a genetic version of the deficiency manifests itself within the first few months of life. Less commonly observed symptoms of riboflavin (ariboflavinosis) deficiency are inflamed mouth and tongue, and skin cracking in the corners of the mouth. Lastly, because pantothenic acid is so widely found in foods deficiencies are rare. Beriberi is one of the classic B deficiency disorders and is found predominately in countries where the main staple is polished rice. In the U.S. and Canada, the disorder is called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and is caused by excessive alcohol consumption; and is due to the physical manifestations of alcohol-induced deficiency. Pellagra is a niacin (B6) deficiency, although rare, is still found in pockets around the world. Because both forms of B6 are practically utilized in every metabolic pathway in the body, prolonged deficiencies will result in death.
Folate deficiency is the mitigating cause of newborn neural tube defects. However, the adult version of this deficiency, megaloblastic anemia results in a defect of the oxygen-carrying ability of normal red blood cells. Lastly, pernicious anemia, which means leading to death, is a B12 deficiency. Simply speaking, enzymes found in gastric juices release B12 in the stomach, and then intrinsic factor binds to it facilitating its absorption. Initially B12 symptoms are vague and often confused with other conditions. It is a progressive disorder but treatment can reverse the damage.
B-toxicity is rare, as the body will excrete what it does not need via the urine. However, in recent decades medicinal usage of higher than normal doses have resulted in adverse side effects. Medicinal doses must be monitored carefully as it can potential result in nerve damage. There have also been studies that found supplementation with certain B’s could reduce the potential for adverse side effects in some prescription medications. Because the B vitamins have a major role in cellular energy, growth, and repair, researchers have found that it can circumvent many disorders in the body. To prevent birth defects, folic acid is prescribed in higher doses during pregnancy. To combat pernicious anemia, B12 injections are given. There have been additional findings that B12 will help combat stress, fatigue, and generalized weakness, and some women have sworn that it also helps with weight loss. In conclusions, B vitamins are a critical part of the daily overall functioning of the body. One-a-day is all you need to combat fatigue and stress and keep your body strong.
Dr. Mundorff is a Board Certified Naturopath. The information in this column is for educational purposes only.