Balance in the body of the various nutrients is key. Some conditions cause or aggravate certain deficiencies and some deficiencies cause or aggravate certain health and vision conditions. The problem is multi-directional, hence the importance of a balanced diet containing a wide variety of foods, and attention to basic essential points of good health, such as adequate exercise.
Vitamin B1 - Thiamin
Vitamin B1 appears in all cells and its deficiency causes a wide ranging set of problems. It plays an important role in nerve message transmission and health of the nervous system, maintenance of mucous membranes, the cardiovascular system, and muscle-skeletal system.1 It affects some parts of the brain more than others. It is essential for vision and cognitive functioning. Bacteria and fungi can manufacture their own vitamin B1, but for us it is an essential nutrient only available through our food.
Vitamin B1 deficiency can be caused or aggravated by a diet high in raw fish and shellfish, a diet high in coffee or tea, and general malnutrition. Grains are a valuable source of B1, but removing the hulls in white rice and white flour also removes B1. In industrialized countries, B1 and other nutrients are added back to the processed flour. Good sources of B1 are all whole grains, sunflower seeds, leafy greens, beet root, carrots and asparagus, oranges, potatoes, eggs, and liver.
- It is thought that vitamin B complex deficiencies, including vitamin B1, contribute to cognitive decline, memory loss and mental imbalance. Vitamin B1 plays a role in nerve transmission in parts of the brain (called cholinergic neurons) that deteriorate in Alzheimer's disease. The activity of vitamin B1-dependent enzymes has been found to be lower in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. A known brain abnormality condition resulting from vitamin B1 deficiency is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome2 (see our article on Is It Alzheimer's or Something Else?)
- People with type 1 (juvenile) diabetes often exhibit vitamin B1 deficiency.3
- Alcoholics tend to exhibit vitamin B1 deficiency.4
- Serious vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to metabolic coma and death.
- For the most part eliminated by additives to modern processed foods, beriberi is a disease affecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
- Diuretics and low-dose water pills prescribed for high blood pressure can contribute to vitamin B1 deficiency5
- It supports cardiovascular functions and is therefore found in many formulations designed to support heart health.
- B1 deficiency in breastfeeding women may cause partial voice loss in infants.
- It is important for energy metabolism supporting heart functioning6
Vitamin B2 - Riboflavin
Vitamin B2 behaves like an antioxidant combating free radicals that cause oxidation in the body which results in damage to the integrity of red blood cells, tissues in the eyes and other parts of the body. B2 is essential for proper functioning of many different cell processes and the body's production of energy. It bears special importance for vision because it helps the retina receive light and is used in glutathione creation.
Deficiencies in Vitamin B2 can:
- Contribute to eye conditions such as cataracts
- Can contribute to migraine headaches
- Possibly contribute to a number of other conditions including light sensitivity, and sore eyes.
- Possibly contribute to or cause conditions such as acne, burning feet syndrome, cervical cancer, carpal tunney, and muscle cramps.
- Lessen support for hair, skin and nails quality, as well as reduce support for the reproductive system, liver health, the immune system and brain functioning.
- Reduce normal functioning and creation of red blood cells which carry oxygen to all parts of the body.
When taken in large doses vitamin B2 may cause diarrhea and increased urine amounts. You should check with your doctor before taking extra B2 if you are taking medications for acne (anticholinergic), depression, phenobarbital, and probenecid (or any other prescription medications). These and other medications can increase or decrease the amount of B2 in your body. 7
Vitamin B3 is one of the essential nutrients that we need in our diet and is included in many vision health formulations.There are several forms of vitamin B3. Niacin is a supplement that is often prescribed to help lower cholesterol, raise HDL and lower lipoprotein and triglycerides, while another form, niacinamide (nicotinamide), does not lower cholesterol. However, too large doses of B3 can cause flushing, headaches, liver damage and problems with diabetes, so you should always check with your health care provider.
- Not enough niacin in the diet may bring about problems with lesions on the skin and in the mouth, upset stomach, anemia, and headaches.
- Fatigue, poor concentration ability, nervousness, apathy and depression are also associated with niacin deficiency.
- Chronic niacin deficiency causes a condition known as pellagra which is common in parts of the world where poverty is widespread resulting in chronically poor nutrition.
Vitamin B5 - Pantothenate
Vitamin B5 is a water-soluble essential nutrient included in many formulations supporting macular health. It is generally used in combination with other B vitamins and among many other uses, supports cardiovascular health, nerve pain, cognitive functioning, normal blood sugar levels, arthritis, protection against stress, and healing in the body. With respect to vision health vitamin B5 supports nerve health, the metabolism of fatty acids, and is part of the synthesis of vitamin A.
- One role of Vitamin B5 in vision health is its support of the metabolism of essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
- Vitamin B5 is important for synthesis of vitamin A, whose deficiency contributes to night blindness.
- Clinical findings suggest that B5 deficiency is implicated in diabetic neuropathy.
- Patients with blood clotting disorders such as hemophilia should not take B5 without consulting their doctor.
- Found in fresh vegetables, meat, whole grains and egg yolk.
Vitamin B6 - Pyridoxine
Most macular degeneration patients are deficient in vitamin B6 and so it is generally included in vision health formulations. It assists in a number of enzyme activities in the body, especially in amino acid synthesis, glucose and fat metabolism.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5'-phosphate or PLP) supports the functioning of metabolic enzymes in synthesizing essential amino acids.
- PLP (along with folic acid & B12) is responsible for the conversion of homocysteine into cysteine. Homocysteine, a byproduct of protein metabolism. High homocysteine levels are associated with many health conditions, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, optic neuropathy and brain functioning. Learn more about homocysteine.
- PLP also supports the creation of hemoglobin in the body, again as a co-enzyme.
- Found in many foods; vegetables contain the most stable form, pyridoxine. Good sources include avocado, wheat bran, organ meats, molasses, milk and eggs.
Vitamin B7 - Biotin
Biotin is included in B complex formulations and supports vision health, skin and hair health, normal blood sugar levels, healthy heart functioning, nervous system support, digestive metabolism, and cell growth.
- Biotin supports the synthesis of fatty acids and is an important part of the metabolism of glucose.
- Research suggests that biotin helps with type 2 diabetes (in combination with chromium), decreases insulin resistance - and therefore may be helpful for diabetic neuropathy.
- Vitamin B7, also known as vitamin H, deficiency is actually quite rare because the bacteria in your digestive tract produce it in quantities greater than normally needed. Although it is water soluble and leaves the body quickly, it is found in many foods, but especially whole grains, eggs and dairy, nuts, chard, chicken and salmon.
- Deficiencies result in hair loss, conjunctivitis, skin conditions, nerve damage and depression.
- Pregnant women have a high risk of biotin deficiency - and embryos are more sensitive to a mild deficiency.
- If you take prescription drugs, check with your health practitioner before biotin supplementation. It may weaken some drugs, such as those for lowering cholesterol.
- Antibiotics and other drugs can lower biotin levels in your body, along with regular consumption of raw egg whites.
Vitamin B9 - Folate, Folic Acid
For more information see nutrients in food page.
For more information see nutrients in food page.
3. H.N. Haugen, et al The blood concentration of thiamine in diabetes. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 1964;16:260-6.
4. The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease, Peter R. Martin, M.D. et al, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2004
5. Health Outcomes Policy 19: 430-35, 2003
6. Schweizerische Rundschau fur Medizin Praxis 93: 857-63, 2004