— by Cate Stevenson, BA
The B vitamins are, without a doubt, essential for maintaining good health. Here’s a quick review of some of the complex jobs this group of vitamins could help with.
Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is a critical nutrient for brain health. It is used to manufacture neurotransmitters that carry signals throughout your body. In particular, your memory and mental performance rely on one transmitter called “acetylcholine.” B1 is needed for the production of this neurotransmitter.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a big role in many different bodily functions. In order to metabolize proteins, there are more than 100 enzymes in your body that rely on vitamin B6. The more protein you eat, the more vitamin B6 is needed.
Vitamin B12 ensures your red blood cells are made properly, including your DNA. When cells rapidly divide, B12 is needed. In fact, anywhere in your body that has a high turnover of cells — for example, your intestines and your blood — requires adequate amounts of B12. Among its many roles, vitamin B12 helps you maintain a healthy nervous system. Specifically, it helps protect the important protein “myelin” that surrounds your nerve cells.
Just looking at these three (there are others equally important, such as folate), it’s clear to see how low levels of any one of these powerhouse vitamins can lead to some serious health problems. It’s not surprising, then, that researchers have just discovered that people who eat a diet high in B-vitamins are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
Japanese researchers analyzed dietary questionnaires completed by almost 60,000 men and women. During 14 years of follow-up, 986 of the participants died from stroke, 424 from heart disease, and 2,087 from all diseases related to the cardiovascular system.
The researchers found that women who ate more foods with the B-vitamins folate and B6 were less likely to die from stroke and heart disease, while men who ate a diet high in these B vitamins were less likely to die of heart failure.
The researchers believe that folate and vitamin B6 may help to protect the heart by keeping levels of “homocysteine” low. Homocysteine is an amino acid that can damage the inner lining of arteries and promote the formation of blood clots.
Get a daily dose of B6 by eating adding fish, liver, meats, whole grains and fortified cereals to your diet. And you can boost folate levels by eating vegetables and fruits, whole or enriched grains, fortified cereals, beans and legumes. If you have heart problems already, consider taking a B-vitamin supplement.