Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins and folic acid

Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins and folic acid

The B vitamins

There are many different types of vitamin B and they all have important functions.

This section has information on:

  • thiamin (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid
  • vitamin B6
  • biotin (vitamin B7)
  • folic acid
  • vitamin B12

Thiamin (vitamin B1)

Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It has several important functions, including:

  • working with other B-group vitamins to help break down and release energy from food
  • keeping the nervous system healthy

Good sources of thiamin

Thiamin is found in most types of food. Good sources include:

  • vegetables – such as peas
  • fresh and dried fruit
  • eggs
  • wholegrain breads
  • some fortified breakfast cereals
  • liver

How much thiamin do I need?

The amount of thiamin you need is:

  • 1mg a day for men
  • 0.8mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the thiamin you need from your daily diet.

Thiamin cannot be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

What happens if I take too much thiamin?

There is not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high doses of thiamin supplements each day.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the thiamin you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take supplements, do not take too much because this might be harmful.

Taking 100mg or less a day of thiamin supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. Its functions include:

  • keeping skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy
  • helping the body release energy from the food we eat

Good sources of riboflavin

Good sources of riboflavin include:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • rice

UV light can destroy riboflavin, so ideally these foods should be kept out of direct sunlight.

How much riboflavin do I need?

The amount of riboflavin you need is about:

  • 1.3mg a day for men
  • 1.1mg a day for women

Riboflavin cannot be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

You should be able to get all the riboflavin you need from your daily diet.

What happens if I take too much riboflavin?

There is not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high doses of riboflavin supplements each day.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get all the riboflavin you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take supplements, do not take too much, because this might be harmful.

Taking 40mg or less a day of riboflavin supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Niacin (vitamin B3)

Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It has several important functions, including:

  • helping to release energy from the foods we eat
  • helping to keep the nervous systems and skin healthy

Good sources of niacin

There are two forms of niacin – nicotinic acid and nicotinamide – both of which are found in food.

Good sources of niacin include:

  • meat
  • fish
  • wheat flour
  • eggs
  • milk

How much niacin do I need?

The amount of niacin you need is about:

  • 17mg a day for men
  • 13mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the niacin you need from your daily diet.

Niacin cannot be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

What happens if I take too much niacin?

Taking high doses of nicotinic acid supplements can cause skin flushes. Taking high doses for a long time could lead to liver damage.

There is not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high daily doses of nicotinamide supplements.

What does the Department of Health advise?

You should be able to get the amount of niacin you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take niacin supplements, do not take too much because this might be harmful.

Taking 17mg or less of nicotinic acid supplements a day or 500mg or less of nicotinamide supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.

Pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid has several functions, such as helping to release energy from the food we eat.

Good sources of pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid is found in virtually all meat and vegetable foods, including:

  • chicken
  • beef
  • potatoes
  • porridge
  • tomatoes
  • kidney
  • eggs
  • broccoli
  • wholegrains – such as brown rice and wholemeal bread

Breakfast cereals are also a good source if they have been fortified with pantothenic acid.

Folic acid

Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, is one of the B-group vitamins.

Folic acid has several important functions. For example, it:

  • works together with vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells
  • helps to reduce the risk of central nervous system defects, such as spina bifida, in unborn babies

A lack of folic acid could lead to folate deficiency anaemia.

Good sources of folic acid

Folate is found in small amounts in many foods. Good sources include:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • liver
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • fortified breakfast cereals

How much folic acid do I need?

Adults need 0.2mg of folic acid a day.

Folic acid cannot be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

Most people should be able to get the amount they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

However, if you are pregnant, thinking of trying to have a baby or likely to become pregnant, it is recommended that you take a 0.4mg (400 micrograms) folic acid supplement daily from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is to help prevent birth defects of the central nervous system, such as spina bifida, in your baby.

If you have a family history of conditions like spina bifida (known as neural tube defects), you may need to take a higher dose of 5mg of folic acid each day until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is available on prescription from your GP. Women with diabetes and those taking anti-epileptic medicines should speak to their GP for advice, as they may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid.

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