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B vitamins are a collection of vitamins that have a variety of different functions in the body. They work both together and on their own to achieve these functions – of which some are: brain development and function, red blood cell production, immune system function and energy production. Today, our focus is on the effects that B vitamins have on the brain and nervous system function, also known as neurological function. The B vitamins primarily responsible for neurological function are B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, B9 and B12.

What Is The Most Important B Vitamin?

Vitamin B12 is arguably the most important vitamin. It is responsible for the maintenance of the ‘casing’ that surrounds nerves, like the plastic casing that surrounds electrical wire. These cases are made of what’s called myelin, allowing efficient and effective transmission of nerves from Place A to Place B in the body. The breakdown of myelin is what leads to neurological dysfunction and diseases mainly found in later life, like dementia and nerve disease. An example of neurological dysfunction that B12 deficient people experience is peripheral nerve neuropathy. 

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when there isn’t enough myelin around the nerve, which means the nerve becomes damaged, and the signals are unable to be passed from the spinal cord to other body parts properly. This is bad as it means that certain parts of the body can lose sensation, and the muscle in those areas starts to deteriorate. With age the brain shrinks, but vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with speeding up this process. Deficiency in B12 increases the levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which is what speeds up brain deterioration. In addition, a shortage of vitamin B12 can cause memory loss, depression and sometimes hallucinations due to the alteration of brain signal transmission.

However, it is thought that around 3.2% of adults over 50 have seriously low vitamin B12 levels, and up to 20% have borderline B12 deficiency. As well as the older population, vegetarians are at a higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, because the most common sources are from animal produce. Other B vitamins can be found in plant sources, however the only non-meat source of vitamin B12 comes from some cereals that have been fortified with B12 to make it more available for non-meat eaters.

What Foods Are High In Vitamin B?

Foods that are high in vitamin B include salmon (a great source of multiple B vitamins) – a great one for consuming more vitamin D as well, which we have recently written an article on. You can find this here. Leafier greens, including spinach, collard and romaine lettuce are all great sources of vitamin B. The most benefit of these greens comes from eating them raw, but cooked they still provide a great deal of your recommended daily intake of folate – vitamin B9. Organ meats, from any of the traditionally consumed meats, are also exceptionally high in most types of B vitamins. Liver is one of the best meats to consume for this, and can easily be made more palatable in the right dish. Beef is especially high in most B vitamins, as do eggs, which are mainly rich in riboflavin (B2) and Biotin (B7). Milk contains a high amount of vitamin B2. There are many, many more foods that contain high amounts of vitamin B, so it’s worthwhile doing a quick search for the main foods to understand whether you’re consuming enough in your diet currently.

What Are The Effects Of Vitamin B Deficiency In Children?

The production of myelin starts in foetal life and continues until puberty. Firstly, if the mother is vitamin B12 deficient during pregnancy, or if the child does not get enough vitamin B12 throughout childhood then they will not develop enough myelin. The areas where the myelin production around nerves is restricted will determine what cognitive and intellectual problems occur. In babies, symptoms of vitamin B12 don’t usually appear until 2 months old in some cases, but usually around 4-10 months of age. Autism is one of the biggest cognitive problems that B12 deficiency has been linked with. The first reason for this is due to the role that B12 has in the transmission of brain signals mentioned above. Another reason for this is that B12 inhibits the air pollutant nitrous oxide (N2O). Exposure to N2O has been associated with increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders, therefore if the person is unable to inhibit the effects of N2O, their risk is increased. In most studies on the effects B12 has on autism the vitamin has been directly injected into the subjects and has shown in some cases that the symptoms of autism disorders have improved. More evidence is needed for the use of oral supplementation, but the current studies seem positive.

Are There Side Effects Of Vitamin B?

The recommended daily intake of vitamin B is 2.4mg in adults, 2.6mg in pregnant women, and 2.8mg for women who are breastfeeding. In some very rare cases, vitamin B12 can cause side effects, such as vomiting, headaches and nausea. Even rare is that some people can experience a very serious allergic reaction, which causes difficulty breathing and swallowing. For that reason, it is important to consult a medical professional before supplementing if you are worried about any potential side-effects.

B vitamins play a very important role in the body’s neurological function, nervous system function and brain function, so it’s vital that we are consuming enough sources of vitamin B in our everyday diet. Vegans and vegetarians may struggle with this more than usual, since B12 can be mostly found in animal products. In this case, supplements may be useful to ensure you’re consuming enough, but do make sure to consult your health provider before taking supplements. We hope this article has been helpful for you! If you do have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us – either by calling us on 0203 947 3222, by email at info@themayfairclinic.com or through our social channels!

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