B Vitamins: Helping Our Nerves, Psyche & So Much More

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Taking a detailed look at B vitamins, what they are, what they do and how they benefit our bodies during middle age and beyond.

Table of contents

B vitamins have an effect on mood, nerves and psyche and are also involved in numerous metabolic processes such as the conversion of hormones. To give further insight on just what this entails, we’re taking a detailed look at B vitamins, focussing on women's health from midlife onwards.

What are B vitamins?

If you look at the list of essential (i.e. vital) vitamins, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many B vitamins among them.

There are various vitamins that fall under the B category, some of which are better known by their biochemical names. These are shown in brackets heret:

  • B1 (thiamine)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin)
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6 (pyridoxine)
  • B7 (biotin)
  • B9 (folic acid)
  • B12 (cobalamin)

What all B vitamins have in common is that they are water-soluble vitamins - a direct contrast to the fat-soluble vitamins, such as their A, E, D and K counterparts. The water-solubility of B vitamins makes them particularly sensitive and also means that we can absorb higher amounts of them - since the body gets rid of large quantities of B vitamins via urination.

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B Vitamins for menopause & hormonal balance

Whether it be for PMS during our years of fertility, the various symptoms during the perimenopause or indeed during postmenopause: B vitamins play a major role for us women.


Depression commonly occurs during the menopause, as well as during severe PMS episodes shortly before your period. Falling and fluctuating serotonin levels play a major role in this. Vitamin B6 can help here, as it facilitates the production of the happiness hormone, serotonin. As early as 2004, a study found that folic acid can contribute to a brighter mood. A few years later, in 2013, another study also confirmed that high doses of B vitamins are effective in improving overall temperament.


During the perimenopause, many women struggle with symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and increased stress (which coincides with reduced stress resistance). A diet rich in vitamin B is therefore recommended during the perimenopause and, if necessary, a vitamin B complex consisting of the important B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin).

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) was able to reduce the number and severity of hot flashes in a small study from 2013.


Lack of energy and motivation are common symptoms of the early menopause. Vitamin B6 and B1 play a major and supportive role here due to their role in energy metabolism.


B vitamins are essential for energy metabolism in the cells. The main consumer of our cellular energy (ATP) is the brain: 70 percent of our daily ATP production ends up here. It is therefore clear that tiredness and a lack of focus can be compensated for with sufficient B vitamins, since the brain is thereby able to restore its energy itself.


B vitamins are necessary for the conversion of tryptophan into melatonin - and melatonin is important for a good and restful sleep. B vitamins also appear to make us more resistant to stress, with one study showing a 20 percent reduction in work-related stress in people who consume a higher level of B vitamins. This was confirmed in 2014 by research from Swinburne University in Australia, which showed that chronic stress reduced vitamin B6 levels in the body.


During the menopause and thereafter, the ovaries no longer produce progesterone. The adrenal glands now take over the production of small amounts of progesterone in the post-menopause. They need B vitamins for this process.

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What do B vitamins do and where are they found?

If you look at the list of health claims for B vitamins, it quickly becomes apparent that B vitamins are essential for the nervous system and psyche. Brain and cell health, emotional well-being, memory, the conversion of food into energy, the production of neurotransmitters - all of these processes require B vitamins.

However, there are of course fundamental differences in the effect and function of the individual B vitamins:


  • Vitamin B1 in the body: We mainly need thiamine to obtain energy from food - which includes the metabolism of glucose. Vitamin B1 keeps us clear-headed (memory and concentration) and full of energy. It is also important in the synthesis of collagen and has an effect on heart function. People who regularly drink alcohol, do a lot of sport or suffer from stress in particular have an increased requirement.
  • Foods with vitamin B1: legumes such beans and lentils; fish and seafood such as mussels, tuna and seaweed; dairy products such as milk and yoghurt; wholemeal varieties of oats, rice, pasta and bread; and pork.


  • Vitamin B2 in the body: Important for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. B2 is also important for the detoxification function of the liver, calming the nervous system and in the metabolism of essential fats - which provide energy for certain nerve cells. A deficiency is not so common, but often also leads to an impairment of B6 and B3, which in turn can be detrimental for serotonin metabolism.
  • Foods with vitamin B2: vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes; dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt; eggs; seafood such as mussels, salmon and seaweed; meat such as poultry, beef and liver of beef.


  • Vitamin B3 in the body: Niacin plays a major role in the energy production of the mitochondria (the powerhouse of our cells). B3 also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, acts on the adrenal hormones, indirectly on serotonin levels and promotes the release of growth hormones. People with high cholesterol are particularly deficient.
  • Foods with vitamin B3: Beans and legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, edamame or other soy products; nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, peanuts or sunflower seeds; wholegrain products such as bulgur, rice, pasta or bread; fish such as tuna and salmon; meat and poultry.


  • Vitamin B5 in the body: Pantothenic acid supports the detoxification of the body and eliminates inflammatory substances. It is therefore important for wound healing. Vitamin B5 plays a major role in the production of adrenal hormones (stress hormones) and is therefore essential for coping with stress. The two sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone also need plenty of B5 to be produced. Those who suffer problems with skin, mucous membranes, wound healing, sleep disorders, and adrenal insufficiency, often have a deficiency.
  • Foods with vitamin B5: Beans and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils; dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt; eggs; vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes and tomatoes; nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and peanuts; wholemeal variants of bread, rice, oats; fish such as tuna; meat and poultry.


  • Vitamin B6 in the body: Vitamin B6 is essential for the brain and therefore our psyche. It plays a key role in serotonin and melatonin metabolism and in the synthesis of red blood cells. It therefore has the greatest mood-enhancing/regulating effect. It is also important for good liver function, as B6 promotes the flow of fat and bile to and from the liver, which is particularly relevant in cases of oestrogen dominance. Vitamin B6 binds to oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and thus helps to detoxify these excess hormones. Levels are often too low, especially in cases of chronic illnesses or in women taking the pill.
  • Foods with vitamin B6: Beans and legumes such as chickpeas and tofu products; fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkin, spinach and onions; nuts and seeds such as pistachios, sunflower seeds and walnuts; wholegrain products such as wheat bran, bulgur and rice; fish such as tuna and salmon; and meat and poultry such as chicken and turkey.


  • Biotin in the body: Biotin helps to convert our food into energy and regulates many genetic processes (DNA and protein synthesis). Biotin also promotes the formation of new hair and nails and activates the metabolism. Accordingly, a deficiency is common in people with skin problems, brittle nails, acne, rosacea or hair loss.
  • Foods with biotin: Egg; fish such as salmon and tuna; meat; nuts and seeds such as almonds and sunflower seeds; and vegetables such as sweet potato and broccoli.


  • Folic acid in the body: Folic acid is important for cell division, tissue and blood formation. Vitamin B9 breaks down homocysteine, which has mood-enhancing properties and supports the adrenal hormones. Folic acid also helps to prevent neural tube defects and thus damage to the brain and nerves in babies. People with blood disorders in particular often have a folic acid deficiency.
  • Foods with folic acid: Beans and legumes such as peas, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas; fruit and vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, avocado, broccoli, green peas, oranges, papayas and bananas; wholegrain products such as wheat bran or rice; and liver of beef.


  • Vitamin B12 in the body: B12 is essential for cell growth, cell division and the formation of healthy red blood cells. It is also important for the excretion of heavy metals and histamines. Vitamin B12 influences mood and the free flow of neurotransmitters. It also helps the body to release the sleep hormone melatonin. As the stomach lining changes with age and no longer absorbs B12 optimally, almost all people over 50 have a (slight) vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Foods with vitamin B12: Eggs; fish and seafood such as mussels, trout, salmon and tuna; dairy products such as milk, some types of cheese and yoghurt; meat and poultry; tempeh; yeast; and blue and green algae. The methylated form (methylcobalamin) is recommended for taking B12 as a dietary supplement.


  • Choline in the body: Choline is not really a B-vitamin, but belongs to the group of B-vitamin-like substances. Choline is also water-soluble and is a so-called "semi-vitamin" or "vitaminoid". The body can produce a small amount of choline itself, the rest must be provided by our diet. Choline is involved in important bodily functions such as homocysteine metabolism, fat metabolism and liver function. Choline is important for numerous brain functions, particularly for the cognitive abilities of the brain through its conversion into acetylcholine. Choline is classified as a nootropic - a substance that is said to have a positive influence on cognitive functions such as memory, creativity and motivation. Since it poses such immense benefits, we have made it a component of XbyX Think Clearly.
  • Choline in food: Animal foods such as fish roe (caviar) and egg yolk; dairy products; poultry, beef and pork liver are particularly rich in choline. Smaller amounts of choline are found in plant foods such as cruciferous vegetables and beans. Nuts, seeds and whole grains are also sources of choline.

One thing is clear: some foods contain a good combination of all (or many) important B vitamins. Apart from B12, these are mainly plant-based foods such as legumes, mushrooms, vegetables and wholegrain products. A good supply of vitamin B - with the exception of B12 - is perfectly possible with a purely plant-based diet.

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Which B vitamins are particularly important?

As is often the case with these questions, there is no clear-cut answer - all of them are important. But we should pay particular attention to some of the B vitamins. Not only should we do this because they are needed for many things in the body, but also because they are most likely to decrease with age. The main ones to focus on are B6, B12 and folic acid.

Vitamin B deficiency: how can I recognise it?

Signs and symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency include:

  • Anemia (insufficient red blood cell count)
  • Confusion and poor memory
  • Depression, sadness
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Mouth and tongue sores
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting)
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Restlessness
  • Skin rashes
  • Weakness & dizziness
  • Loss of appetite & weight loss

As it always takes a while to notice the signs and effects of a vitamin deficiency, it is better to have the most important B vitamins determined regularly by means of a blood test. This will become apparent at an early stage if individual vitamin B stores are not optimally filled.

What are the causes of vitamin B deficiency?

The main cause is a malnourishing or too one-sided diet. This is because if we do not supply the body with the B vitamins, it simply does not have any, as it cannot produce them itself. But even those who eat a healthy and balanced diet can have vitamin B deficiencies. The reasons for this can include:


With age, various metabolic processes no longer operate at 100%, meaning the absorption of vitamins also suffers. For example, the stomach produces less gastric acid, which reduces the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12. Age-related changes in the digestive tract also have an impact on the absorption of vitamin B6 and folic acid, in addition to the absorption of B12.


Taking certain medications can impair the absorption of individual B vitamins. Examples include:

  • Medications for indigestion and reflux reduce stomach acid and thus B12 absorption.
  • The diabetes medication metformin can reduce the absorption of B12 - as well as that of vitamin B6 and folic acid (B9).
  • Contraceptives such as birth control pills and IUDs reduce folic acid
  • Laxatives and diarrhea medications are also classics. In order to achieve their goal of relieving the body, they also flush out a lot of water, and thus unfortunately also water-soluble B vitamins.

Anyone who regularly takes medication should ask their doctor or pharmacist about the effect on vitamins and regulate their vitamins accordingly via blood tests and supplements.


Certain diseases also have an influence. For example, coeliac disease and Crohn's disease can inhibit one’s ability to absorb B12 from food.


Vegetarians and especially vegans who do not eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy products can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency, since plant-based foods are not a natural source of B12. B12 supplements or foods fortified with B12 are therefore a particular necessity for vegans. In addition, the B12 level should be checked regularly via a blood test.


Continual stress places particularly high demands on our body, as it means our body is constantly running close to its limit. To cope with stress, the body needs an extra portion of B vitamins. So if you are constantly experiencing stress, you should keep an eye on your vitamin B levels and also look for ways to reduce stress on a regular basis.

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What contains B vitamins?


Each food contains a different amount of the respective B vitamins. For the best possible coverage of all vitamins of the B group, the classic recommendation is to eat as varied and as colorful as possible.

This applies in particular to plant foods that are generally very rich in vitamin B, such as legumes and wholegrain products. Beans, chickpeas, beluga lentils, red lentils, white beans, peas, green beans - mix and match for flavor and variety. Make sure you get a portion of these on your plate every day!

Fish and seafood, eggs and dairy products - especially yogurt and cheese - are also an excellent source of vitamin B for anyone who does not follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. So you don't necessarily need meat products to get the right amount of vitamin B. If you don't want to go without meat just make sure to not eat it too often and try and make sure it is organic, since the high proportion of saturated fatty acids in meat can be harmful to your body.

Important to note: eating meat does not protect against vitamin B12 deficiency. It is not only strict vegetarians and vegans that can have B12 deficiencies. Even people who eat a lot of meat are found to have B12 deficiencies. The reasons for this are, as described above, age, medication,and also a lack of other B12 vitamins sources within their diet.


When choosing vitamin B supplements, it is worth looking at the ingredients list to assess whether they are of a high quality or not. Vitamin B12 should not be consumed via the cheaper and less bioavailable cyanocobalamin form, but rather via the methylcobalamin form. Although the raw material is somewhat more expensive, in this form it can be absorbed much more easily by the body. It also should not contain unnecessary fillers such as maltodextrin, coating and anti-caking agents such as magnesium stearate, or colorants such as titanium dioxide.

And don't worry if the list of ingredients for the B vitamins it contains sounds "chemical". Nature is chemistry and so is the name of the respective compounds in which the B vitamins are present. Examples include:

  • Pyridoxine hydrochloride = vitamin B6
  • Methylcobalamin = vitamin B12
  • Calcium pantothenate = vitamin B5


One nutrient rarely works alone. For individual processes to function smoothly, the harmonious interaction of a whole group of vitamins and minerals is usually required. In these instances, the vitamins and minerals support each other, meaning they are known as co-factors. For example, B6 + B12 + folic acid is a useful combination for depressive moods and also for moods caused by PMS (premenstrual syndrome).

How much vitamin B do I need?

The respective recommended daily values per individual B-vitamin for women (not breastfeeding or pregnant) of the European regulation (efsa) are as follows:

  • B1 (thiamine): 1.1 mg
  • B2 (riboflavin): 1.4 mg
  • B3 (niacin): 16 mg
  • B5 (panthothenic acid): 5 mg
  • B6 (pyridoxine): 1.4 mg
  • B7 (biotin): 540 μg
  • B9 (folic acid): 200 μg
  • B12 (cobalamin): 2.5 μg
  • Choline: 400 mg

However, it is better to have your vitamin B status determined on an individual basis and then supplement them in a targeted manner. This is because, depending on the deficiency and body condition, the required dosages of B vitamins are almost always significantly higher. In medical treatment for a deficiency, this sometimes results in dosages that are 50-100 times higher. Your various vitamin B levels should therefore be tested once a year - especially as we get older - during a medical check-up. This is particularly relevant for vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid.


Since B vitamins are water-soluble, too much is excreted by the body in the urine. This is why there are no upper limits for most B vitamins (B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), biotin (B7) and B12).

However, people with a diseased liver and an inherited eye disease should definitely discuss additional B12 intake with their doctor. High doses of niacin (B3) can lead to reddening of the skin ("flushing"). Some people get a little nauseous when taking vitamin B supplements, especially if their liver is under a lot of strain. Some people also get mild acne.

There are recommendations for upper limits for vitamin B6 and folic acid (B9):

  • Super high doses of vitamin B6 - 300-500 mg per day - can cause nerve damage over time. Up to 100 mg per day showed no negative effects - almost a factor of 100 from the 1.4 mg of the 100 percent reference amount.
  • The safe upper limit for folic acid (vitamin B9) for adults is 1000 μg: the reason for this is the interaction of folic acid and vitamin B12. Folic acid appears to reverse the protective effect of folic acid in the case of B12 deficiency - if B12 is not supplemented in parallel.

B vitamins: super power for body and mind

Indispensable for the nervous system, brain and mood, cell metabolism, stress management, but also for hormone production and numerous other processes: Our body cannot function optimally without the water-soluble vitamins of the B group!

We get most of these B vitamins from a varied and balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, wholegrain products, legumes, fish and seafood as well as yogurt and cheese.

However, the body's ability to absorb vitamin B well is impaired with age, due to special diets or the influence of medication. So from now on, pay particular attention to the B vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid, and possibly also vitamins B1 and B3. These should be measured and checked regularly in the annual check-up, just like vitamin D and magnesium.

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Sources & Referencecs

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J Caring Sci. Effects of Magnesium and Vitamin B6 on the Severity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms. 2012 Dec; 1(4): 183–189.

Harvard Health. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky and harmful. Harvard Health. Published 23. März 2022.

Eva Calvaresi, Janet Bryan: B Vitamins, Cognition, and Aging: A Review. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 56, Issue 6, 1 November 2001, Pages P327–P339, 6.P327, 01 November 2001

Can Fam Physician. Vitamin B12 and health. 2008 Apr; 54(4): 536–541. PMCID: PMC2294088

Ndtr LDBs. A comprehensive guide to B complex vitamins. Fullscript. Published 4. Dezember 2023.

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Frazer A. Serotonin involvement in physiological function and behavior. Basic Neurochemistry - NCBI Bookshelf. Published 1999.

Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. Treatment of Depression: Time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2005;19(1):59-65. doi:10.1177/0269881105048899

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(NDA). Summary of Dietary Reference Values – version 4 (September 2017)

Folate IPO, Vitamins OB. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline.; 1998. doi:10.17226/6015