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What Are Vitamins-B?

What Are Vitamins-B?
From HEALTHLINE    Oct. 30,2023

Vitamins are a group of organic compounds which are essential for normal physiological functioning but which are not synthesised endogenously by the body and therefore have to be sequestered in small quantities from the diet. In total, humans require adequate amounts of 13 vitamins: four fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and nine water soluble vitamins, which comprise vitamin C and the eight B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folate (B9) and vitamin B12. The B vitamins themselves are not grouped on the basis of any chemical structural similarity, but rather with regards to their water solubility and the inter-related, cellular coenzyme functions that they play.

In terms of their origins, the B vitamins are typically synthesised by plants, with their synthesis in plant chloroplasts, mitochondria and the cytosol carefully regulated to the plant’s fluctuating requirements. In the plant they perform the same cellular functions as the roles that they will go on to play in the animals that consume them, The exception to this is vitamin B12, which is synthesised by bacteria, and is typically sequestered from animal derived foods, with synthesis having taken place, for instance, in the foregut of ruminant animals.

This vitamin is a substrate for the synthesis of the ubiquitous coenzyme A (CoA). Beyond its role in oxidative metabolism, CoA contributes to the structure and function of brain cells via its involvement in the synthesis of cholesterol, amino acids, phospholipids, and fatty acids. Of particular relevance, pantothenic acid, via CoA, is also involved in the synthesis of multiple neurotransmitters and steroid hormones. 

A general assumption tends to be made that the populations of developed countries have adequate nutrition, and are therefore free from deficiencies in essential micronutrients. In order to encourage adequate nutrition, governments typically define a set of “dietary reference intakes” or similar for individual nutrients. These always include something akin to the “recommended dietary allowance”, or RDA. These government figures describe the minimum daily intake of the specific nutrient that is considered to be sufficient to meet the nutritional requirement of the majority of the healthy population. However, “meeting the requirements” in this context typically refers to simply preventing chronic, nutrition related diseases or a disease state related to a specific deficiency of that nutrient.

Given that B vitamins are essential for every aspect of brain function, and that large proportions of the population of developed societies have less than optimal levels of vitamins, it would be expected that a relationship would be evident between vitamin consumption and mental function both in terms of epidemiological studies and controlled intervention trials. The driver for much of the research conducted to date in both of these domains has been the “homocysteine hypothesis” described above. Concentrating on this one unproven hypothesis has resulted in both observational and controlled trial research being focussed disproportionately on just three of the vitamins—folate and vitamins B6 and B12. However, the observational and the controlled trial research concentrating on these three vitamins could be seen as generating somewhat different conclusions.

The B vitamins represent a group of eight essential dietary micronutrients that work closely in concert at a cellular level and which are absolutely essential for every aspect of brain function. As water soluble nutrients, they are generally safe at levels of consumption well in excess of the recommended minimum consumption levels. Indeed, bioavailability and functional data suggest that consumption of most B vitamins at levels well above dietary recommendations would be warranted.

Naturally, the B vitamins, as a group and individually, also work intricately in concert with other vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Whilst this topic is outside of the scope of the current review, it is noteworthy that a concerted research effort aimed at elucidating the full range of micronutrient interactions is warranted. For the moment, the foregoing suggests that research should, at a minimum, be redirected towards elucidating the potential benefits for brain function of both the acute and chronic administration of a full range of B vitamins rather than concentrating solely on the chronic effects of a small sub-group of three vitamins.

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