You’ve all heard the urban legend that B vitamins give you energy.
You’re probably reading this article to find out which are the best B vitamins for energy, aren’t you?
The truth is, B vitamins are organic compounds that support energy metabolism. Do they produce energy? Not quite. But they do make it easier for us to use energy sources.
And make no mistake, if B vitamins are lacking, you’ll definitely feel tired.
B vitamins are also crucial for many functions in the brain. Vitamin B6, for example, is a requirement for the production of several neurotransmitters.
Research has shown that B Vitamins as nootropics help improve mental energy, memory, focus, neuroplasticity, physical endurance, and mood.
They also play a part in regulating sleep patterns and immune function, as well as the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and depression.
In particular, researchers have found that vitamins B6, B9, and B12 provide the most benefit for cellular metabolism and overall cognitive enhancement.
So when we talk about the best B Vitamins for energy, we are usually thinking of these ‘Three Amigos’.
Now that we have an idea of how B Vitamins indirectly benefit physiological and neurological activity, let’s look at how they do the wonderful things they do.
B Vitamins for General Health – Mechanisms of Action
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds the body needs to function normally, but they’re not synthesized by the body. Scientists believe this is an evolutionary adaptation.
Since vitamins are common in most foods, and it would require extra energy to create them ‘in-house’, the human body simply stores them for later use.
I find this kind of ironic, because nowadays people in developed countries are eating junk food all the time, and they can’t get enough micro nutrients from their diet.
So they have to take supplements just to avoid any deficiencies, and stay relatively healthy. Weird…
But I digress. Let’s move on…
There are 13 vitamins in total, 4 fat soluble, and 9 water soluble.
The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. The water soluble vitamins are vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12.
The fat soluble vitamins can only be absorbed by the body in the presence of some kind of fat, hence the name. They can also be stored.
The water soluble vitamins are easily absorbed without any help, but they constantly get flushed out in the urine.
In fact, the turnover rate for B Vitamins is in the range of 10% to 100% daily, and is closely monitored through various mechanisms in the body.
The only exception is vitamin B12. It’s a water soluble vitamin, but the body can tuck some of it away for a rainy day.
So the take away here is that we need to get all of the water soluble vitamins every day, whether it’s from foods we eat, or supplements.
The most important role B Vitamins perform is acting as co-enzymes in metabolic reactions that process energy in the body.
If you weren’t skipping chemistry class on the wrong day, you might still remember the ‘Citric Acid Cycle’, or the ‘Kreb’s Cycle’ from high school.
Basically the Kreb’s cycle starts with a raw energy source (acetyl CoA), and ends with it being converted to ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate.
ATP is to the body what a dollar is to the economy. ATP holds energy in chemical bonds that can be used by the brain and other major organs to fuel all of their activities.
The human brain burns a lot of calories, accounting for only 2% of our body weight, but spending over 20% of our energy budget.
Not surprisingly, brain cells are absolutely packed with mitochondria.
The next most important functions of B Vitamins are facilitating the synthesis of essential structures like:
- Red Blood Cells
- Myelin Sheathing
There are other very important functions that the B vitamins perform, like regulating certain aspects of the immune system, protecting the body from free radicals, and preventing inflammation.
But at this point I want to focus our attention on how Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 benefit neurological function.
B6, B9, and B12 as Nootropics
Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 are considered the superstars among the B vitamins when it comes to enhancing cognition.
This is mainly due to the ‘Homocysteine Hypothesis’.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that irritates blood vessel linings, and increases oxidative stress at the blood-brain barrier.
Elevated levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream have been shown to be a consistent indicator of increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.
Homocysteine levels typically rise with age, and are especially high after age 65. General cognitive decline is also closely tied to homocysteine in older individuals.
Fortunately, B6, B9, and B12 all have the ability to break down homocysteine, and reduce any negative impact.
This triad of B Vitamins also promotes the release of Nitric Oxide, which acts as a vasodilator. When cerebral blood flow is improved, more oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to mitochondria.
The end result is accelerated energy production and faster removal of metabolic waste. In other words, the brain starts operating more cleanly and efficiently.
Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 can also stabilize mood by maintaining optimal neurotransmitter levels. They essentially keep the symptoms of depression at bay.
Those are the benefits for neurological function that these 3 share.
Now lets get a little more specific and look at the unique advantages they are able to offer individually.
Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine
B6 is so important to brain function that it is 100 times more concentrated in the brain than it is in the bloodstream.
It’s a building block for the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin, and the hormone melatonin.
Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are Natures’ ‘Happy Pills’. In addition to being essential to healthy cognitive function, they regulate mood.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is therefore closely tied to mental decline and depression.
GABA is a neurotransmitter best known for it’s ability to slow down the nervous system by blocking the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.
Melatonin concentration in the brain increases gradually throughout the day to let the body know that it’s time to go to sleep.
When GABA and melatonin levels are too low, anxiety and agitation can set in. It’s also common to see sleep cycles get disrupted.
Vitamin B6 also provides structural support by promoting the growth of myelin.
Myelin is a protein that grows on the outside of nerve fibers and brain cell membranes. It acts as a conductor for the delivery of nerve signals.
If you can imagine, nerve fibers are almost like a wire turned inside out, with the conducting material (the myelin) on the outside instead of the inside.
When myelin sheaths don’t form properly, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis can be the result.
Vitamin B9 – Folate
B9 is about 4 times as concentrated in the brain as it is in the bloodstream, and it acts as a catalyst for the production of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Naturally, folate helps regulate mood, and folate deficiency is closely associated with symptoms of depression.
Folate is also important for expecting mothers because a lack of folate can result in spina bifida, a condition where the spine of a fetus is deformed.
In 1998, after realizing that more folate in the diet could reduce the incidence of spinal tube defects in children, they started putting folic acid into foods as a preventative method.
However, it was later realized that folic acid is not the same as true folate. If you are expecting, I recommend you find a good prenatal supplement with folate or methylfolate in it, not folic acid.
You can also eat more foods naturally rich in folate. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, liver, broccoli, asparagus, and brussel sprouts are among the foods with the highest folate levels.
I should mention that folate depends on B12 to be effective in certain metabolic processes, so a B12 deficiency can lead to folate getting “stuck”, and not being able to function.
For example, the creation of new red blood cells is one of the functions that folate and B12 share, and both need to be present in adequate amounts to prevent anemia.
The same goes for the production of DNA and RNA. When B9 and B12 are lacking, the re-coding process can’t be performed properly.
The end result is that brain cell reproduction slows down, and neurons start dying prematurely.
Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin
Vitamin B12 is also known as Cobalamin, because it has cobalt in it, and it’s used to synthesize dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Just like B6 and B9, vitamin B12 improves mental energy, overall cognition, sleep patterns, and mood. It also aids in the prevention of depression.
Some of the other major functions of B12 are as follows:
- Red Blood Cell Formation
- DNA/RNA Reproduction
- Myelin Regrowth & Repair
- Brain Cell Regeneration
I have already mentioned that B9 and B12 work together to synthesize new red blood cells, DNA, and RNA.
2 functions that B12 can facilitate on its’ own without the presence of folate are myelin and brain cell regrowth.
Myelin repair results in more efficient conduction of nerve impulses, which in turn explains how B12 enhances neuroplasticity and brain signaling.
B12 also provides some gains in overall cognition because of new brain cell growth.
The ability to absorb B12 can decline with age, so older individuals need to look out for signs of B12 deficiency, which include:
- Memory Issues
- Poor Vision
Now that we have looked at vitamins B6, B9, and B12 as individual micro nutrients, let’s think about how to supplement with them for best results.
B Vitamin Dosages – Deficiency vs Toxicity
The first thing I have to mention here is that the RDA, or ‘Recommended Daily Allowance’ for any nutrient is based on an estimate of the minimum amount of that substance you need to remain healthy.
How much you need also depends on your sex, age, and body weight. The National Academy of Sciences crunches collects data and crunches some numbers, and at the end of it all, they take their best guess.
But if your goal is not just mere survival, you are now trying to find the upper limit for the nutrients you need, not the lower limit. That changes the rules of the game significantly.
That being said, I will provide a range of recommended dosages for B6, B9, and B12 for easy reference.
All 3 vitamins are very well tolerated. The only time you should experience side effects is if you exceed the maximum recommended dosages.
Some of the possible side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
If you have any issues, stop taking your supplement, and talk to your doctor.
So without further ado, here they are in all their wonderful glory:
- B6 – 1 mg-2.5 mg/day
- B9 – 100 mcg-500 mcg/day
- B12 – 1 mcg-25 mcg/day for people 18-50 years old/25-100 mcg for people 50+
Folate needs to be taken in larger doses by pregnant or breastfeeding women, so they should be aiming for 500-600 mcg/day; closer to the upper limit.
I also need to mention that there is a significant difference between folate and folic acid. They are very similar in their structures, but they are metabolized differently by the body.
According to one study, approximately 60% of Americans cannot absorb folic acid efficiently due to genetic variations, and therefore can experience B9 deficiency even while taking folic acid supplements.
Furthermore, the unprocessed folic acid can build up in their blood, causing other health issues.
What you need to take away from this is that folic acid is not the same as folate, and you should try and make sure your supplements have folate in them for best results.
Vitamin B12 is also kind of special because the ability to absorb it diminishes with age, and by the time people get over 50, they need to take a lot more to maintain optimal health.
If you are over 50 years old, and feel you need to go closer to the upper limit of 100 micrograms/day to see any appreciable benefit, you can raise your dosage gradually.
And when in doubt, please talk to your doctor. They will be able to make recommendations tailored to your specific situation.
Well, that’s everything I wanted to cover concerning dosages and side effects.
Let’s wrap things up, shall we?
Best B Vitamins for Energy – Final Comments
B vitamins are required co-factors for several reactions in the body related to energy metabolism. Without them, we can experience fatigue, depression, and cognitive decline.
The vitamins B6, B9, and B12 in particular have been the focus of numerous studies because of their ability to break down the amino acid homocysteine.
This helps keep blood vessel walls healthy, and significantly lowers the risk of heart disease or the onset of neurodegenerative disorders.
B6, B9, and B12 are also needed for the production of several key neurotransmitters that can help maintain optimal brain function.
The symptoms of depression, and disturbed sleep cycles can be prevented by ensuring adequate levels of these 3 vitamins.
The best way to do this is with supplements, as the modern day diet is typically rich in calories, but has poor nutritional value.
A decent multi-vitamin can fit the bill for physical well being, and a good nootropic stack like Mind Lab Pro can also work if you want to enhance cognitive function.
Well, that’s all I have for you on the best B vitamins for energy. I hope you learned a few things as you read this article.
In my next post, I’m going to look at PQQ as a potential nootropic. It’s well known for increasing energy levels, and it’s anti-aging effects.
You don’t want to miss it!
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