The impact of B vitamins on your gut

LeeJoy Ellis
Personal Wellness

The gut microbiota

Our gut is one of the most significant parts of the body.  It acts to transport, digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat.  It is also host to a dynamic ecosystem of microorganisms of over 5000 species of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites.  Collectively this diverse microsystem is known as the gut microbiota and maintains a symbiotic relationship with us, the host.

The gut microbiota has many benefits including:

  • aiding in the assimilation of food
  • producing metabolites that nourish the host
  • protecting the host from infection
  • maintaining function of intestinal epithelial cells
  • regulates host immunity 
  • enhances energy utilization

Clearly this host-microbiota relationship is a vital one, and one that shapes every aspect of human metabolism and health.  Maintaining a balanced state of the gut microbiota is critical to our health and wellbeing.

B vitamins impact the health and diversity of our microbiota

Understanding the importance of a healthy, balanced microbiota is the first step.  But, ensuring your diet and lifestyle support your microbiota, is a critical, health promoting habit.

The B vitamins, also known as B-complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12) play a crucial role in shaping the diversity and richness of the gut microbiota. They are essential not only for the host but for the bacteria living in the gut.  A dietary supply of these vitamins is essential to meet both the needs of the host and microbes.  Since B vitamins are water soluble and not stored, they have to be supplied directly through diet and supplementation.

Our gut microbes can produce a certain amount of B vitamins but the biosynthesis of the B vitamins in the gut is not sufficient to supply the daily requirements for both the host and gut microbiota.  Competition between microbes themselves and between the microbes and host, create the risk of B vitamin shortage in the intestine if ones dietary supply of B vitamins in not optimal.

Deficiencies in B Vitamins effect the gut microbial composition, health of the gut lining and our overall health.

What contributes to B vitamin deficiencies?

  1. Poor diet of processed food lacking in fiber
  2. Coffee and alcohol both affect the absorption of B vitamins
  3. Stress
  4. Sedentary lifestyle
  5. Smoking
  6. Medications like Metformin, Proton Pump Inhibitors, Histamines, Antibiotics
  7. Contraceptive pill
  8. Age

The effect of B vitamin deficiencies on gut health

Vitamin B deficiencies reduce microbial diversity and impact gut health in the following ways.

How to ensure adequate B vitamin intake

Even though the B-group vitamins are found in many foods, they are water soluble and are generally quite delicate and easily destroyed by cooking.  In addition alcohol and coffee can inhibit absorption of B vitamins.

The body has a limited capacity to store most of the B vitamins (except B12 and folate, which are stored in the liver).  For this reason, it’s important that adequate amounts of these vitamins be eaten regularly as part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet.  Supplementation is also helpful in ensuring adequate B vitamins levels are maintained for health and well-being.

Here are some food sources for you B vitamins:

B1 - Sesame seeds, legumes, nuts, meat

B2 - leafy greens, meat, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt

B3 - meat, fish, poultry, eggs nuts

B5 - meat, eggs, legumes

B6 - leafy greens, fish, meat, poultry, nuts

B7 - leafy greens, mushrooms, eggs

B9 - leafy greens, eggs, legumes, seeds, poultry

B12- meat, eggs

Specific roles of B Vitamins

Thiamin - B1.
Vitamin B1 consumption is not as much about benefits as about survival. As one of the vitamins responsible for energy production, thiamine creates the foundation for our health. Vitamin B1 is sometimes called an “anti-stress” vitamin because it strengthens the immune system and improves the body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions. The health of the digestive system is extremely important for Vitamin B1 absorption.

Riboflavin - B2
Vitamin B2 alone has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  This B vitamin activates phagocytosis and the proliferation of macrophages - important solidiers in our immune system.  Deficiencies in Riboflavin leads to elevated oxidative stress.  Also, Riboflavoin is involved in the synthesis of vitamin D.

Niacin - B3
Niacin (nicotinic acid) is a precursor of NAD and NADP, a co factor utilized by multiple enzymes through the body.  Helps to increase glutathione levels and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.  Vitamin B3 has also been shown to inhibit the production of pro inflammatory cytokines.

Pantothenic Acid - B5
Also known as an anti-stress vitamin, B5 helps to make cortisol.  Vitamin B5 is a precursor to Coenzyme A which is important for energy production and fatty acid synthesis.  A deficiency in vitamin B5 increases gut permeability.  Facial acne is also a sign of B5 deficiency.

Pyridoxine - B6
Vitamin B6 has an important role in immune surveillance in the gut and helps support the production of antibodies. Zinc is essential for B6 absorption.  Deficiencies in this important vitamin have been associated with certain cancers like pancreatic and prostate cancer.  Medication use , specifically oral contraceptives in the case of young women, can affect B6 absorption.

Biotin - B7
Vitamin B7 is produced by Bifodobacterium longum in the gut.  Deficiencies of B7 have been associated with increased inflammation.  A deficiency in B7 is a clear indication of gut dysbiosis.

Folate - B9 and Cobalamine - B12 play an important role in red blood cell formation.  Deficiencies in these B vitamins suppress natural killer T cells.
Certain drugs like Metformin, Proton Pump Inhibitors, Histamines all greatly decrease B12 absorption.

6 Signs you may be deficient in B Vitamins

Constant fatigue
Brain fog
Weak immune system with frequent colds and flu
Depression, anxiety
Canker sores in mouth

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