Have you ever wondered how many B vitamins there are? And what’s with all those numbers? I did and here is the answer.
First of all, let’s start with the definition of a vitamin and a brief introduction to vitamins.
Vitamins are organic components in food that are needed in very small amounts for growth and for maintaining good health.
The word vitamin was coined in 1912 by Polish chemist Casimir Funk as a combination of the Latin word vita for life and amine because vitamins were thought initially to contain nitrogen-containing components known as amino acids. By 1920 the -e- was removed from the end to reflect the new science of the day that recognised that not all vitamins contained nitrogen and that they were not in fact related to amino acids.
Today only 13 vitamins are recognised: Vitamins A, B1, C, B2, D, E, B12, K1, B5, B7, B6, B3, B9.
Most vitamins generally cannot be synthesized by animals or humans, and if synthesized, the amounts are insufficient to meet body needs and must be obtained from the diet or from some synthetic source. For this reason alone, vitamins are called essential nutrients because they are essential for life and optimum well-being.
Vitamins are classified by their solubility, or, in other words, the vitamin’s ability to dissolve into another substance. For instance, fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins that dissolve in fat. Because fat is easily stored on your body, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored within your fat. This means they can accumulate and be saved for later use. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.
If a vitamin is not fat-soluble, then it is classified as one of the water-soluble vitamins, which are vitamins that dissolve in water. Because your body is a watery environment, these vitamins can move through your body pretty easily, and they can also be flushed out in your urine with ease. So, your body does not store water-soluble vitamins, and you need to replenish them daily. Water-soluble vitamins include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C.
Most vitamins have official scientific names, such as thiamine (vit.B1), but letters and numbers began to be used in the early 1900’s for classification purposes. Scientists then knew of only two factors that needed to be present in a diet for an animal to survive in a lab; these were deemed: fat-soluble A and water-soluble B. As more vitamins were discovered, they were classified by a letter – either alphabetically in order of discovery, or by a letter suggesting its role in nutrition. For example, vitamin K came from scientists who identified its role in blood clotting – koagulazion in Danish or Koagulation, because the initial discovery was reported in a German journal.
Now let’s get back to the B-complex vitamins.
These B vitamins play an important role in cell metabolism. These essential nutrients help convert our food into fuel, allowing us to stay energized throughout the day. While many of the following vitamins work in tandem, each has its own specific benefits, from promoting healthy skin and hair to preventing memory loss or migraines.
So, here we go:
- Vit.B1 (Thiamin): thiamin is needed to help produce cellular energy from the foods you eat, and also supports normal nervous system function.
- Vit.B2 (Riboflavin): riboflavin supports cellular energy production; good for eyes and migraines.
- Vit.B3 (Niacin): niacin, or nicotinic acid, supports cellular energy production. Niacin, in the form of nicotinic acid and not nicotinamide (or niacinamide), helps support cardiovascular health. Good for mental health too. None of the forms are related to the nicotine found in tobacco, although their names are similar.
- Vit.B5 (Pantothenic Acid): pantothenic acid is widely available in plant and animal food sources and helps support cellular energy production in the body. Promotes wound healing.
- Vit.B6 (Pyridoxine): pyridoxine is critical to all rapidly dividing cells. It is needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen (the body’s storage form of glucose), and is also necessary for normal nervous system function and red blood cell formation.
- Vit.B7 (Biotin): biotin, or vitamin H, may help support healthy hair, skin and nails. Biotin also supports carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. Good for diabetic neuropathy also.
- Vit.B9 (Folic Acid): folic acid is most commonly known for its role in fetal health and development as it plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system. Also good for gout.
- Vit.B12 (Cobalamin): cobalamin plays a critical role in the pathways of the body that produce cellular energy. It is also needed for DNA synthesis, proper red blood cell formation and for normal nervous system function. Good for depression. Individuals who follow vegan or vegetarian diets may benefit from a B12 supplement since B12 is predominantly found in foods of animal origin such as chicken, beef, fish, milk and eggs.
But now the question begs: where did all the missing numbers go?
Many of the following substances have been referred to as vitamins as they were once believed to be vitamins. They are no longer considered as such, and the numbers that were assigned to them now form the “gaps” in the true series of B-complex vitamins described above (e.g., there is no vitamin B8). Some of them, though not essential to humans, are essential in the diets of other organisms; others have no known nutritional value and may even be toxic under certain conditions. This might change in the future.
Vitamin B4: can refer to the distinct chemicals choline, adenine, or carnitine.
Vitamin B8: adenosine monophosphate (AMP), also known as adenylic acid. Vitamin B8 may also refer to inositol.
Vitamin B10: para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), a chemical component of the folate molecule produced by plants and bacteria, and found in many foods. It is best known as a UV-blocking sunscreen applied to the skin, and is sometimes taken orally for certain medical conditions.
Vitamin B11: pteryl-hepta-glutamic acid (PHGA; chick growth factor).
Vitamin B13: orotic acid.
Vitamin B14: cell proliferant, anti-anemia, rat growth factor, and antitumor compound.
Vitamin B15: pangamic acid, also known as pangamate or DMG; may play a role in glucose oxidation and cell respiration. Promoted in various forms as a dietary supplement for various conditions, including cancer; considered unsafe and subject to seizure by the US Food and Drug Administration. Banned in Canada too.
Vitamin B16: dimethylglycine (DMG) is synthesized by the human body from choline.
Vitamin B17: pseudoscientific name for the poisonous compound amygdalin, also known as the equally pseudoscientific name “nitrilosides” despite the fact that it is a single compound. Trade name: Laetrile. Amygdalin can be found in various plants, but is most commonly extracted from apricot pits and other similar fruit kernels. Amygdalin is hydrolyzed by various intestinal enzymes to form, among other things, hydrogen cyanide, which is toxic to human beings when exposed to a high enough dosage. Some proponents claim that amygdalin is effective in cancer treatment and prevention, despite its toxicity and a severe lack of scientific evidence. The actor Steve McQueen was treated with Laetrile for his terminal mesothelioma (a rare form of lung cancer) in 1980 but without success. Banned in Canada and USA.
Vitamin B20: L-carnitine.
There they are. Too many of them? Too complicated? Maybe.