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We all know B vitamins are a must, but while we’re clear on the connection between vitamin C and the immune system and between vitamin D and healthy bones (and hair, teeth, cognitive function – that’s another article) – there is some confusion about what B vitamins actually do and what happens if we become deficient.
Firstly, when we say B vitamins we’re talking about eight different vitamins – all with very different functions and optimum serum levels. They are: B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate/Folic Acid) and B12 (Cobalamin).
B vitamins have a long list of benefits, they support basic brain and heart function and are crucial to our energy levels and general wellbeing. Their cosmetic benefits are less well known, but obvious when we consider their key role in maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails.
Skin is affected by B vitamins in many ways – dull skin, for instance, can sometimes be linked to a vitamin B deficiency. More specifically, B5 can encourage faster skin healing – whether it’s a post-surgery wound or skin inflammation like acne. Further, B5 has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride, generally promoting healthier skin and reducing acne-causing oil levels. The second ‘skin hero’ B Vitamin is B12 (this one comes up a lot) – studies have shown that B12 regulates skin pigmentation, so in cases of skin hyperpigmentation a B12 supplement is recommended.
The key relationship between B vitamins and hair health is their role as a food source ‘metaboliser’ – they transform the nutrient content of food to maximise its value to the body, and to your hair follicles. Hair loss due to undernourished follicles can be down to deficiencies in the ‘low’ Bs – B1, B2, B3 and B5 – whereas low intake of B9 (folic acid) slows the cell division process meaning follicles are sluggish and produce less hair less quickly. Biotin (B7) is increasingly popular in supplement form thanks to its role in maintaining the strength and healthy texture of scalp hair. The bioavailability, or absorption rate, of biotin supplements is still being researched – but its success as a treatment for infant ‘cradle cap’ suggests it could be effective in optimising scalp health. (Another advantage – biotin is vegan and can be used as a substitute for collagen supplements, if you’re avoiding animal products) Again, B12 emerges as key – B12 deficiency often underpins hair loss to some degree and is essential for its role in metabolising dietary iron.
B12 is also essential for keeping nails strong and healthy. B12 specificially enables iron to be absorbed by the body, ensuring the formation of enough red blood cells. Low iron levels or anaemia can directly affect nail health – in fact it’s a classic symptom – making them white, thin and prone to breakage. Again, B9 (folic acid) is key to maintaining healthy nails due to its role in growing new cells – a good reason to opt for a full spectrum B vitamin complex.