Bone up on B vitamins: part I

Bone up on B vitamins: part I

Frank Murray

Bone Up On B Vitamins: Part I

A deficiency of B vitamins can produce a wide range of health problems. In Part I of this two-part series, we will examine vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 in detail.

Dr. Casimir Funk isolated what we now know as thiamine (vitamin B1) from rice polishings in 1911, setting the stage for the gradual discovery of other vitamins. Dr. Funk’s initial findings resulted in the virtual elimination of beriberi in the Far East, where B1-deficient white rice was a staple food.

In the United States, scientists recognize eight B vitamins: thiamine (B1); riboflavin (B2); niacin (B3); pyridoxine (B6); vitamin B12; pantothenic acid (sometimes called B5); folic acid and biotin. Three other substances — choline, inositol and para-amino-benzoic acid — are associated with the B Complex since they are found in some of the same foods. American scientists do not recognize B15 and B17 as vitamins.

In the first of a series of two articles, we will discuss B1, B2, B3 and B6. In Part 2, we will elaborate on the remaining B vitamins, as well as the three vitamin B-like substances.

In Nutritional Influences on Illness, Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D., assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, related a thiamine deficiency to alcoholism, anemia, anxiety, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes mellitus, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, neuralgia and parkinsonism.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for thiamine is 1 to 1.4 mg for adults daily; 0.2 mg for infants and 1.5 mg for teenage boys.

Major food sources of the vitamin include brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, whole-wheat bread, Brazil nuts, soybeans, pumpernickel and enriched French and Italian breads, milk, peanuts, cashews, orange and grapefruit juice and pecans.

A diet high in empty calories and junk foods has been linked to “neurotic behavior,” according to Eleanor N. Whitney, Ph.D., R.D., and Linda K. Debruyne, M.S., R.D. They referred to a study in which 20 patients with a B1 deficiency reported pains in the chest and abdomen, sleep disturbances, aggressiveness, hostility, fevers, digestive tract complaints and chronic fatigue. Of the 20 patients, 12 reported a diet high in carbonated and other sweet beverages, candy and typical snack foods. Blood tests indicated that all 20 had low thiamine levels.

After the patients were given thiamine supplements, all 20 “noticed marked symptomatic improvement or lost their symptoms completely,” the authors reported.

In 1988, three patients receiving intravenous feedings in a hospital died because the intravenous solution was deficient in vitamin B1, according to The New York Times. A B1 deficiency can develop within a week with these deficient feedings, which are 70 percent glucose, since the vitamin is necessary for metabolizing glucose.

In an experimental study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, five of nine normal volunteers placed on a B1-deficient diet developed depression and irritability.

Vitamin B2 sometimes is beneficial in dealing with acne rosacea, alcoholism, anemia, cataract, Crohn’s disease, depression, immune disorders and infections, according to Dr. Werbach.

The RDA for B2 is 1.7 mg daily for adults; 1.8 mg for pregnant women; 2 mg for breast-feeding women; 0.4 to 0.6 mg for infants; 0.6 to 1.2 mg for children; and 1.3 mg for boys.

The major food sources are brewer’s yeast, almonds, milk, liver, whole-grain bread, beef, cashews, collards, wheat germ, turnip greens, yogurt and mushrooms.

In animal studies, a vitamin B1 deficiency can impair the immune system and a vitamin B12 deficiency decreases the ability of the body to produce antibodies, reported Ronald Ross Watson, Ph.D., University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, in Food and Nutrition News.

Back in 1940, Archives of Ophthalmology reported that the lesions associated with acne rosacea promptly healed in 32 of 36 patients after they were given from 1 to 4.5 mg of B2 daily, either orally or by injection.

In a study reported by H.W. Skalka and colleagues, 173 cataract patients were tested for a B2 deficiency. The researchers found that 20 percent of subjects under the age of 50 and 34 percent over the age of 50 were deficient in the vitamin.

“B2 supplements (much like vitamin B12 supplements) are especially important for strict vegetarians and others who either do not eat any meat and dairy products — the major dietary sources for vitamins B2 and B12 — or do so in too small quantities to provide enough to help recycle used-up glutathione and prevent possible deficiency symptoms,” wrote Eberhard Kronhausen, Ed.D., and coauthors in Formula for Life.

Vitamins B2 and B6, magnesium, evening primrose oil and vitamin E are included in the supplement program that Douglas Hunt, M.D., prescribes for his pre-menstrual syndrome patients.

“I prescribe 25 mg B2 tablets and suggest that a patient chew one three times daily,” Dr. Hunt wrote in No More Fears. “This seems to work best when PMS symptoms extend into the actual period. One important point: As soon as a patient regains control, I have her steadily reduce the number of tablets, until she can level off on the smallest amount that is effective, even if it’s only half a tablet.”

Dr. Hunt added that too much B2 can unbalance the body’s chemistry and cause further problems.

Although niacin, niacinamide, nicotinamide and nicotinic acid are all vitamin B3, they serve a variety of functions inside the body. A lack of niacin is related to alcoholism, hardening of the arteries, diabetes mellitus, difficult menstruation, gout, muscle abnormalities, multiple sclerosis, neuralgia, schizophrenia and tardive dyskinesia.

The RDA for niacin is 5 to 8 mg daily for infants; 8 to 15 mg for children, 17 to 20 mg for males; 13 to 15 mg for females, 15 mg for pregnant women and 20 mg for lactating women.

Major food sources include brewer’s yeast, tuna, peanuts, whole-grain bread, chicken, swordfish, liver, beef, almonds, lamb, mackerel, oysters and salmon.

Type 1 diabetics may benefit from taking nicotinamide orally, according to researchers at the University of Rome and the University of Cattolica, also in Rome. Thirty-two percent of 22 patients who received insulin and 200 mg of B3 daily for a year experienced partial remission, as shown by a reduced need for insulin. Of the 13 patients in a control group, only 7.5 percent experienced partial remission, according to Diabetalog.

In Orthomolecular Medicine for Physicians, Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., said that by 1950 Dr. William Kaufman had published two books dealing with the beneficial effects of vitamin B3 for a large group of arthritics.

“I have seen similar beneficial results,” Dr. Hoffer continued. “This does not mean that every arthritic will respond; a number of other vitamins, especially pyridoxine, vitamins A and D3, and a mineral, zinc, have also been shown to be helpful. There is no doubt a large proportion of arthritics are vitamin B3 responsive, using 2 to 6 grams per day.”

According to Dr. Werbach, the list of illnesses related to a vitamin B6 deficiency is a long one: alcoholism, allergies, anemia, atherosclerosis, autism, bronchial asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes mellitus, abnormal menstruation, epilepsy, immune disorders, kidney stones, neuralgia, osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatism, schizophrenia, tardive dyskinesia and ulcers.

The RDA for infants is 0.2 to 0.4 mg daily; for children is 0.5 to 1.2 mg daily; for males and females is 1.4 to 2 mg daily; and for pregnant and lactating women 2.5 mg daily.

Major food sources include brewer’s yeast, wheat germ and wheat bran, blackstrap molasses, soybeans, cottonseed meal, milk, brown rice and salmon.

John M. Ellis, M.D., who practices in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, has found that 100 to 200 mg of B6 daily for 12 weeks significantly improves or alleviates the pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, the crippling wrist problem.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Hayward, Calif., reported that B6 was useful in treating diabetic neuropathies, or nerve pains associated with diabetes. The vitamin also caused a reduction in necessary insulin and oral medications.

Twelve patients with celiac disease who were severely depressed were given 80 mg of pyridoxine daily for six months. All of them had been on a gluten-free diet for many years. After six months on the B6 therapy, depression had improved significantly in all the patients, reported the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology.

An experimental study in Lancet reported that 70 to 80 percent of 630 women with premenstrual syndrome obtained relief after taking 80 to 200 mg of B6 daily. No nerve damage was reported and side effects were minimal, the researchers said.

The value of B vitamins in fighting disease is phenomenal. If you don’t get enough B vitamins in your diet, a supplement may be warranted.

PHOTO : Although food sources vary, almost all B vitamins can be found in nuts.

PHOTO : Salmon is a good source of vitamin B6, which has been used to treat depression.

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