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What's the Difference Between All the B Vitamins?


Some vitamins are pretty straightforward: There’s only one vitamin C, you can get it from citrus fruits, and it makes your immune system happy. But B vitamins are an entirely different story. That’s because there are eight different B vitamins: thiamin (aka vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and a group of compounds called cobalamins, which are collectively vitamin B12.

And they do different things like help turn food into energy and support the health of your cells. The bad news is your body can’t store B vitamins, so you need to replenish them through food and supplements every day. The good news is you can get most of the B vitamins, as well as other essential micronutrients, quickly and easily by taking a daily multivitamin like Centrum. Keep reading to find out what the deal is with all the different B vitamins, and why this group of vitamins is so crucial to your health.

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How They’re Related

Originally, vitamin B was considered to be one single vitamin. Now we know that there are multiple vitamins within the B vitamin heading. The B vitamins have distinct functions, but two of the B vitamins—B12 and folic acid—work together hand-in-hand. It takes both to support processes related to cell division and replication; your body can’t absorb, store, or use folic acid without B12. (And it’s especially important for women of childbearing age to get enough folic acid.)

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough

Because your body uses B vitamins in so many processes, you can experience some health issues if you are deficient in them. The big one to look out for is a B12 deficiency, since absorption of B12 can decrease as you get older. That can lead to anemia, which is when you don’t have enough red blood cells, or the red blood cells you do have aren’t shaped right or are too large. Signs to watch out for include weakness, nausea, fatigue, and numbness. Vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk for a B12 deficiency, as are older adults, but if you are B12 deficient, you can work with your healthcare provider to come up with a management plan.

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