Vitamin B12 vs B Complex: Which Supplement Is Right for You?
There are eight B vitamins that form the so-called ‘B Complex’ and together they fulfil a range of metabolic processes and ensure we are in top health.
All are vital for our wellbeing, but Vitamin B12 is often highlighted – and taken as a single supplement – as any deficiency will contribute to fatigue, poor appetite, depression and numbness/tingling in the hands and/or feet. Over time, a lack of B12 could cause nervous system damage. This is a serious situation, best addressed by a doctor.
What Is the Difference Between Vitamin B12 and B Complex?
The difference between Vitamin B12 and B complex is that Vitamin B12 is just one of the eight B vitamins that form the B complex.
Together, the set of eight B vitamins that make up the B complex are presented in the optimum balance to provide the recommended daily amount.
All B vitamins are water-soluble and cannot be stored by the body. The good news is you can’t ‘overdose’ on the B vitamins as your body will simply excrete what you don’t need or use. The bad news is that you need to have a good intake of them all every day.
What Vitamins Are in the B Complex?
These are the B complex vitamins, including Vitamin B12:
- Vitamin B1 or thiamine
- Vitamin B2 or riboflavin
- Vitamin B3 or niacin or nicotinic acid
- Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, pyridoxal or pyridoxamine
- Vitamin B7 or biotin
- Vitamin B9 or folic acid
- Vitamin B12 or cobalamins such as cyanocobalamin or methyl-cobalamin
While all the B complex vitamins are chemically different, several can be found together in food sources.
How Common Is a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Deficiency in Vitamin B12 is the most common as it’s not found in plant sources. This means vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of not getting enough each day. To help, cereals, bread products and energy bars are often fortified with Vitamin B12 so it’s worth seeking those out.
What Happens If You Are Deficient in Vitamin B12?
If you’re deficient in B12 you will feel fatigued, have a poor appetite and may experience low mood and depression. Your nervous system will also suffer – you may feel numbness or tingling in your hands or feet. It can be a serious problem and will need a GP to diagnose and recommend treatment.
Deficiencies in B complex vitamins are unusual on their own and low levels usually occur across them all. A Vitamin B complex can help put that right – as can eating a range of foods that typically contain several B vitamins.
What Causes Vitamin B Levels to Fall?
- A vegetarian or vegan diet can see Vitamin B12 levels drop
- Long-term use of antibiotics, peptic ulcer treatments and some diabetes medication can reduce levels of B2, B9, and B12.
- Digestive issues including celiac disease can decrease the amount of Vitamin B12 your body can absorb
- Pernicious anaemia will result from your body not absorbing Vitamin B12 from your food
- Kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis will see B6 or B9 levels fall
- Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly associated with Vitamin B6 deficiency and the disease can worsen this
- Cancer or chronic inflammation can degrade Vitamin B6 and heighten demand for B9
How Can I Get More Vitamin B?
The best way to boost your B vitamin intake is through eating a healthy diet.
You’ll find seven of the eight B complex vitamins (but not Vitamin B12):
- Fresh fruit
- Root vegetables
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
Beware! Overly processed grain cereals and bread products have a lower level of B vitamins. Opting for fortified flour that is enriched with folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine can help offset this risk.
Animal sources of the B vitamins include:
- Red meat
Beware Beer and Other Alcoholic Drinks
Some would have you believe that beer contains B complex vitamins, but they are not bioavailable. In fact, ethanol – found in alcoholic drinks – inhibits the absorption of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B7 and folic acid with alcoholics deficient in all of these.
Do Vitamin B Supplements Work?
If you are low in energy or mood, ‘catch everything going’ or suffer from digestive disorders, you could benefit from taking a daily B complex or Vitamin B12 supplement. It’s best to get checked out by a medical expert and not self-diagnose though.
If your symptoms are mild, taking a good quality daily supplement could certainly help.
If your levels are very low, an IV drip or intramuscular shot of B12 or B complex can boost your levels quickly. Vitamin B12 is a prescription-only medicine that can only be administered by a GMC-registered doctor. Insist on a face-to-face consultation and blood test to first establish if this treatment is necessary and suitable.
A Vitamin B Complex Shot can be administered more easily but, again, should still be done under medical supervision and only after a blood test has established your level of deficiency.