Poor short term memory. Apathy and irritability. Weakness and trouble sleeping. Restlessness and fatigue. Depression.
All of the above are symptoms commonly treated with prescription drugs—usually antidepressants, sleep aids, or a combination of them—and those prescriptions all carry well-known side effects that can impair daily living. But those symptoms might also point to a problem that’s much easier to address, and the solutions don’t cause potentially addictive and life-threatening problems: low levels of B vitamins.
Alas, few patients get a recommendation for, let alone information about, these essential nutrients.
The body requires B vitamins to turn food into energy, maintain the nervous system, support the heart and other muscles, and sustain healthy immune system function. Each B vitamin performs numerous functions. Without good levels of Thiamine (B1), the body doesn’t convert the carbohydrates of food into usable energy, and doesn’t deal well with stress. When Niacin (B3) is low, the nervous, circulatory, and digestive system suffers. Deficiencies of B6 reduce the body’s ability to produce serotonin, leading to depression, and melatonin, leading to poor sleep regulation. Low levels of B12 leads to fatigue, numbness in the fingers and toes, hair loss, weakness, and depression.
For years, we’ve been told we’ll get plenty of B vitamins from a “healthy” diet. But that recommended “healthy” diet usually depends upon artificially fortified and processed foods (such as cereals and breads), and large quantities of fruits and vegetables that are nutritionally dense (which are hard to find in commercially-grown produce).
We’ve also been told a “healthy” diet should include very small amounts of animal protein because those proteins contain fat. However, B12 is found primarily in animal proteins! Vegetarians and vegans are at particular risk of B12 insufficiency and deficiencies—a critical health hazard that’s rarely identified.
Even if you get the daily bare minimum of B vitamins from foods, prescription drugs can do a fantastic job of undermining that healthy diet. Statins deplete the body of niacin and folic acid. Antacids keep the body from accessing and absorbing B12, and deplete folic acid. Birth control pills interfere with riboflavin, B6, and folic acid. Diabetes medication can deplete B12—the last thing a diabetic at risk of peripheral neuropathy wants!
So what about nutritional supplements? While not a replacement for a good diet (hence the name “supplement”), B-complexes can provide the body with the levels of vitamins needed to support physical and emotional health naturally and inexpensively.
Keep in mind that the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) are intended to be “adequate” for nutritional needs. I aspire to health that exceeds adequate. What the RDA levels don’t account for are those vitamin-depleting pharmaceuticals mentioned above, nor do they account for how quickly and completely emotional stress can deplete our stores of B vitamins. The RDA would hardly be adequate under those circumstances.
I don’t use isolated B vitamins, because most of the Bs require other Bs to work properly. Nor would I ever use those little “energy shots” that tout a B-complex. There’s no need for artificial colors and sweeteners, and the $2 cost-per-use is ridiculous. And though B12 injections were once all the rage, most practitioners today know a quality sublingual B12 is just as effective. I use a liquid sublingual when I feel my energy lagging. If pregnancy was a possibility, I’d use this B Complex instead because of its folic acid levels.
Knowing everything B vitamins do for me, and knowing the consequences of not getting enough, I refuse to leave my nutrition to chance. Balanced energy, restful sleep, a strong metabolism, and the ability to think clearly–that’s more than worth the pennies and moments it takes to make sure I have my B vitamins.