B12 vs. B-Complex: The Differences and Benefits of B Vitamin Supplements

 

There’s little doubt you haven’t heard of B12 supplements or B-complex supplements. If you’ve ever walked into the vitamin department at a grocery store, you’ve likely seen bottles of both lining the shelves - but do you REALLY know what they are and what they do for your body? I remember my mother telling me about her childhood B12 shots when she was weak or under the weather; clearly B12 puts some pep in your step! What about B-complex? The name says it all – it’s complex! But fear not, we’re going to do a deep dive into these important nutrients (and the heart of bia BLENDS’ gentle pre-workout) breaking down the differences and benefits of B12 and B-complex for you!).

Table of Contents:

  • Understanding the Basics of B12 and B-Complex Vitamins
  • What are the Differences Between B12 and B-Complex?
  • Why do I Need Vitamin B12?
  • Why do I Need B-Complex Vitamins?
  • The Importance of a Balanced Diet for Getting Adequate Amounts of B-Vitamins
  • Should I Supplement with B12 or a B-Complex Supplement?

 

 

Understanding the Basics of B12 and B-Complex Vitamins:

Before we delve into the benefits and functions of B12 and B-complex, let's first understand what B vitamins are: B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that are needed for many important processes in the body. Since they are water-soluble, they are not able to be stored in the body for long, meaning you need to consistently be replenishing your intake. Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough of these crucial nutrients in their diet, making supplementation often necessary.

 

 

What are the Differences Between B12 and B-Complex?

 

B12 (Cobalamin): Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in numerous bodily functions. It is known for its involvement in red blood cell formation, neurological health, and DNA synthesis. And while B12 deficiency isn’t a major problem for most people, according to the National Institute of Health, getting adequate intake can be a struggle for certain groups including older adults, vegetarians and vegans, people with gastrointestinal issues,  and those with pernicious anemia, so it is important to ensure you’re getting enough in your diet or supplementation, especially  if you fall into one of these categories.

 

B-Complex: B-Complex vitamins, equally as important as the aforementioned b12 but easier to obtain through diet, are also water-soluble. They, the other hand, are not a single vitamin, but a group of eight B vitamins which include:

B1 (Thiamine) - Our bodies need thiamine for:

  • Converting nutrients into energy
  • Creating certain neurotransmitters
  • Synthesizing certain hormones
  • Food sources of thiamine include legumes, sunflower seeds, and whole grains

 

 B2 (Riboflavin) – Our bodies need riboflavin for:

  • Energy production
  • Breaking down fats, drugs, and steroid
  • As an antioxidant source
  • Food sources of riboflavin include oatmeal, mushrooms, and almonds (small amounts are created in the body as well)

 

B3 (Niacin) – Our bodies need niacin for:

  • Converting nutrients into energy
  • Cellular communication
  • Creating and repairing DNA
  • Nervous system function
  • Regulating cholesterol
  • Food sources of niacin include brown rice, avocado, and nutritional yeast

 

B5 (Pantothenic Acid) - Our bodies need pantothenic acid for:

  • Hormone production
  • Cholesterol production
  • Obtaining energy from food
  • Food sources of pantothenic acid include mushrooms, avocados and sunflower seeds

 

B6 (Pyridoxine) - Our bodies need pyridoxine for:

  • Amino acid metabolism
  • Red blood cell production
  • Brain development
  • Immune function/disease prevention
  • Food sources include chickpeas, potatoes, and, dark leafy greens

 

B7 (Biotin) - Our bodies need biotin for:

  • Hair, skin, nail health
  • Breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and protein
  • Regulation of DNA
  • Food sources include cauliflower, peanuts, and yeast

 

B9 (Folate) - Our bodies need folate (folic acid) for:

  • DNA replication
  • Cell growth and proper cell division
  • Formation of red and white blood cells, and proper cell division
  • Metabolism of vitamins and amino acids
  • Pregnancy
  • Food sources of folic acid are legumes, seeds, citrus fruits

 

B12 (Cyanocobalamin) – Our bodies need B12/cyanocobalamin for:

  • Brain and neurological function
  • DNA synthesis
  • Creating new red blood cells
  • Fat and protein metabolism
  • Food sources of B12 are nutritional yeast, some mushrooms and seaweed, and most animal products

 These vitamins within a B-complex supplement often work synergistically in various bodily processes, including energy production.

 

 

 Why do I Need Vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 has long been touted as an energy booster. And it gets to work FAST - hence those B12 shots I mentioned above! This single powerhouse vitamin is responsible for a ton of processes in the body, most commonly known for boosting energy and metabolism. Below are just some of the benefits and processes B12 plays a role in.

 

 Our bodies can't produce B vitamins on their own, so we need to get them from our diet or from a supplement

 

  1. Red Blood Cell Production: B12 is crucial for the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen through the body. When your body has an adequate supply of red blood cells, it means your muscles and organs receive a consistent oxygen supply, ensuring sustained energy.
  1. Mitochondrial Function: B12 plays a role in mitochondrial function, the energy powerhouses of your cells. It helps convert food into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the cellular energy currency, ensuring that your cells have the fuel they need for sustained activity.
  1. Nervous System Health: A healthy nervous system is essential for maintaining energy levels and preventing fatigue. B12 supports nerve cell health, helping to transmit signals efficiently and ensure optimal energy production.
  1. Mental Alertness: B12 is also linked to cognitive function and mental alertness. By supporting brain health, it helps you stay focused and energized throughout the day.
  1. Metabolic Health: B12 your body gets energy from food, which in turn creates energy.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency to watch out for: fatigue, weakness, brain fog, anemia, depression. If vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, it can cause lasting serious side effects that affect the nervous system and brain.

 

 

 Why do I Need B-Complex Vitamins?

While B12 plays a significant role in energy production, the B-complex vitamins offer a more comprehensive approach to sustaining energy levels. B-complex vitamins enhance metabolic efficiency, enabling your body to make the most of the nutrients you consume. They support stress management, which is vital for preventing the depletion of energy stores caused by the demands of modern life. Additionally, their impact on hormonal balance and mood stability ensures a more consistent and sustained energy level, even during menstruation or menopause.

  1. Enhanced Synergy: B-Complex vitamins work together synergistically, complementing each other's functions. For example, B6, B9, and B12 collaborate to regulate homocysteine levels in the blood, which can affect cardiovascular health and overall energy levels.

 

  1. Metabolic Efficiency: B-Complex vitamins are crucial for metabolic processes, helping your body convert the food you eat into energy efficiently. They ensure that the nutrients from your diet are utilized to their full potential.

 

  1. Stress Resilience: Women often face high-stress levels due to various factors. B-Complex vitamins, particularly B5 (Pantothenic Acid), assist in adrenal gland function, helping the body cope with stress more effectively. This, in turn, preserves energy and prevents burnout.

 

  1. Hormonal Balance: Women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives, which can affect energy levels. B6 (Pyridoxine) helps maintain hormonal balance, reducing the likelihood of energy dips related to menstrual cycles or menopause.

 

  1. Mood and Cognitive Support: B-Complex vitamins, including B1 (Thiamine), B3 (Niacin), and B6 (Pyridoxine), play a large role in mood stabilization and cognitive function. They help combat mental fatigue, ensuring you stay focused and alert.

 

 

The Importance of a Balanced Diet for Getting Adequate Amounts of B Vitamins:

It's important to note that while B-complex vitamins offer numerous benefits for sustained energy, they are best obtained through diet.  Incorporating a variety of whole foods, such as whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, can help you meet your B vitamin needs naturally. However, in cases of deficiency or increased energy requirements, supplementation may be recommended under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Certain B vitamins are harder to get through food than others, such as B12. Plant-based diets, while typically higher in other nutrients like B6 than an omnivorous diet, tend to be lower in B12 as B12 mainly occurs in animal products. If you eat a plant-based diet, it is important to be on top of your B12 intake. Consuming foods such as nutritional yeast, fortified cereals that contain B12, and supplementing where needed can help you meet your needs. Other factors may increase your need for B vitamins as well such as age, pregnancy, dietary choices, medical conditions, genetics, medications, and alcohol consumption.

 

 

Should I Supplement with B12 or a B-Complex Supplement?

Both B12 and B-complex vitamins are crucial for so many systems and processes in the body, and B12 and B-complex supplements indeed have their merits and applications. B12 offers quick, targeted energy, while B-Complex vitamins provide sustained vitality through a multifaceted approach. The choice ultimately depends on your unique needs and circumstances. As mentioned, vitamin supplements should complement a nutrient rich diet, not replace it. However, since our bodies do not store B vitamins or make B vitamins on their own, supplementation might be something to discuss with your healthcare provider to help support your long-term health goals.

 bia BLENDS gentle energy drink was formulated to nourish the body, providing a substantial amount of B vitamins in each serving, as well as other beneficial ingredients to support energy, hydration, focus, and repair, making it a great choice for those looking to increase their intake of B vitamins.

 

 

By Gina Southern-Monson, RYT, CHWC