Your digestive system is one of the most important systems in your body as much of our nutrition is obtained through the foods we eat. Vitamins make up one of the six essential nutrients that a human body needs in order to function. All vitamins are important for digestive health but some vitamins play a specific role in digestion. Essential vitamins are called “essential” because the body needs them, but it can’t make them so we must obtain these through the foods we eat or from supplements.
The B-Vitamin Complex
B vitamins are the most important vitamins for digestive health. The B-vitamins are water-soluble meaning that they are dissolved in water and are not stored by fat cells in the body. This means that we need a continuous supply of them in our diets. The main role of B-vitamins is to get energy into our cells from the foods we eat.
Also known as thiamine, this vitamin converts carbohydrates, or sugars, into energy for the cells in your body. It is necessary for muscular function, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. Good sources of this vitamin are whole-grain cereals, wheat germ, kidney beans, and meats such as pork. The best sources of vitamin B1 are liver and foods containing yeasts.
This vitamin is also known as riboflavin. Riboflavin’s most important action is to work as an antioxidant, ridding the body of free radicals. Free radicals are damaging particles in the body that contribute to a large number of diseases including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants, such as vitamin B1, help to reduce the risk of disease and may help prevent damage to the body caused by such conditions. Riboflavins are also important in the production of red blood cells and for the growth of the body. Good sources of vitamin B1 are whole grains, wheat germ, soybeans, milk, yogurt, eggs spinach, and broccoli.
Known as niacin, this vitamin is important for digestive health as it breaks down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and converts them to calories for energy. When taken in higher doses, it has been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. The best sources of vitamin B3 are meats, poultry, and fish. It is also found in yeast, milk, eggs, and peanuts.
Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is important in promoting the health of the immune system. It is essential for the manufacturing of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. It also plays a large role in digestive health by helping the body break down proteins that have been consumed. Good sources of vitamin B6 are legumes, cereal grains, milk, cheese, eggs, fish, vegetables such as carrots and spinach, meats, and liver.
This B-vitamin, also known as folic acid, is very important for women who are pregnant. A deficiency of this vitamin has been linked to birth defects. It has been shown, when taken in high levels, to reduce the risk for colon cancer. Folic acid also helps the body to produce red blood cells. Foods that contain folic acid are leafy green vegetables, enriched breads and cereals, grain products, fruits, and dried beans.
Known as cobalamin, this B-vitamin is different from the other water-soluble vitamins in that it isn’t excreted from the body as quickly as the others. It is stored in the liver and kidneys and is important for metabolism. It aids in maintaining the health of the nervous system and is also necessary in the production of DNA (genetic material in the body). Vitamin B-12 can be found in foods such as fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products.
Biotin, also known as vitamin H, aids in the process of metabolism by producing cholesterol and by breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fatty acids. After breaking these down it helps the body to eliminate wastes. This B-vitamin is also needed in order for enzymes to function properly in the body. Biotin deficiencies are very rare but do occur in some cases. Good sources of biotin include yeast, egg yolks, salmon, cauliflower, legumes, and mushrooms. Biotin supplements are often used to treat hair loss, weak nails, acne, and eczema.
Berkson, Burt, and Arthur J. Berkson. User’s Guide to the B-Complex Vitamins. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications; 1st Edition, 2005.
Zempleni, Janos, Robert B. Rucker, and John W. Suttie. Handbook of Vitamins, Fourth Edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC P; 4 Edition, 2007.
Mayoclinic Website (accessed 08/23/10)
WebMD Website (accessed 08/23/10)
LifeClinic Website (accessed 08/23/10)