November 9, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: B Vitamins

How much energy do B vitamins provide?
-- Michael Gardner

Buffalo, NY

Ah, yes, the "vitamins give energy" myth. I can understand why many people would think so, given the misleading advertising witnessed in vitamin and energy drink advertisements.

Centrum Performance multivitamins, for example, state that they use "higher levels of five essential B vitamins" to help create a blend for "the vitality of your mind and body." Monster Energy drinks boast about their high B vitamin level content.

From a metabolic standpoint, energy is exclusively derived from the three calorie-containing nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Vitamins (and minerals) do not contain calories, and therefore can not be used to produce energy.

So what's all the B vitamin hype about?

Well, the B vitamins play a major role in energy metabolism. Without them, our bodies wouldn't be able to get sufficient energy from our food.

In the United States, though (and other developed nations), deficiency of the B vitamins is practically unheard of.

Remember, the Enrichment Act of 1942 mandates that thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3) be added to bread products, while a 1996 ruling by the Food and Drug Administration resulted in the required fortification of folic acid (B9) in enriched bread products.

Additionally, B vitamins are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, meats, and dairy products. They are certainly not hard to come by!

The one group of people who are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency are vegans.

This deficiency results in a condition known as pernicious anemia (in which the body is unable to produce enough red blood cells, thereby causing fatigue), but can be prevented through adequate supplementation.

If your B vitamin intake already meets the recommended values, extra B vitamins will not provide more energy. Since they are water soluble (like Vitamin C), they will simply be excreted in your urine.

If you are eating sufficient amounts of food and lethargy and lack of energy have been a problem for several weeks, be sure to get a blood test. Chugging energy drinks loaded with B vitamins will do nothing but provide empty sugar-laden calories to your day.

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