Life Extension Magazine®
Man on monkey bars supplementing with vitamin B1 for benefits

B Vitamins: More Vital Than Previously Believed

B vitamins provide systemic benefits including DNA repair, neurotransmitter synthesis, healthy methylation and reduced homocysteine.

Scientifically reviewed by: Julia Dosik, MPH, on November 2020. Written By Chancellor Faloon.

 

B vitamins are often thought of as energy vitamins.

People tend to look for them in drinks and nutrient bars for a mental or physical energy boost.

Few realize the crucial roles that B vitamins play in the body.

Research has shown that B vitamins are necessary for:1

  • DNA/RNA synthesis and repair,
  • Proper immune function,
  • Neurotransmitter synthesis, and
  • Healthy DNA methylation.

Adults with a low B-vitamin status are at increased risk for developing age-related disorders, particularly cognitive and cardiovascular disease.1

Vitamin B1 and the Brain

Doctor studying brain supported by vitamin B1

The first B vitamin identified was vitamin B1.2

Thiamine—another name for vitamin B1—is an important cofactor in the production of energy in the body, making it especially important in the brain.2

Research over the past century has shown that vitamin B1 deficiency, known as beriberi, is associated with several neurological problems.3

In humans, there are similarities between the memory deficits seen in thiamine deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease.4

A fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 called benfotiamine also shows potential benefits for the brain.5

In a 2018 study, researchers tested the impact of benfotiamine on a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.6

The researchers observed that mice given benfotiamine had:6

  • Decreased numbers of neurofibrillary tangles.
  • Significant preservation of motor neurons.
  • Less inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • Significantly increased lifespan and improved behavior.

Skin Benefits of Boosting NAD+

Vitamin B3 exists in several forms that can convert into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) in the body.7,8

NAD+ is a cofactor for life-sustaining reactions in the body, and has garnered a reputation worldwide for its potential longevity benefits.9

Studies have also shown that vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinamide has the potential to treat a variety of dermatological conditions, including skin cancer.10,11

One clinical trial included 386 individuals with a history of at least two non-melanoma skin cancers in the previous five years. They were randomly assigned to receive 500 mg of nicotinamide twice daily or a placebo. At 12 months, the rate of non-melanoma skin cancers was reduced by 23% in those receiving nicotinamide, compared to those who got the placebo.11

It has been suggested that nicotinamide’s role in skin cancer may be related in part to its ability to promote NAD+ synthesis, thereby enhancing DNA repair. NAD+ is involved in the synthesis of ATP, the cellular energy currency that is much needed during energy-dependent cellular processes, including DNA repair.10

Vitamin B6 and Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder characterized by the loss of dopaminergic neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, and by the presence of Lewy bodies.12,13

Studies have tested the effect of dietary intake of vitamin B6 in Parkinson’s disease. The main reason for this interest is largely the association between Parkinson’s and elevated homocysteine.14

Vitamin B6 is important to properly metabolize homocysteine and prevent its dangerous buildup in the body.15

One meta-analysis suggests that higher dietary intake of vitamin B6 may be associated with a 35% reduced risk of getting Parkinson’s disease, compared to those with low intake.14

The B Vitamin that Became a Drug

Scientist holding up mapped DNA

In a large prospective cohort study, the group with the highest levels of vitamin B6 at the time of kidney cancer diagnosis had a three-fold reduction in renal cell carcinoma mortality compared to the group with lowest levels.16

Vitamin B6 comes in several forms, including pyridoxal-5-phosphate and pyridoxamine.

The FDA accepted a petition filed by a drug company to remove pyridoxamine from the market so that it could be transformed into a prescription drug. This has caused pyridoxamine to be largely unavailable.

Pyridoxamine and pyridoxal-5-phosphate forms of B6 may provide similar benefits, but two clinical trials in the past decade have shown noteworthy results from pyridoxamine.

In a study of schizophrenic patients, high-dose pyridoxamine, as an add-on treatment, resulted in improvements in psychological symptoms.17

In a 24-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, pyridoxamine supplementation significantly reduced pain scores and inflammatory markers in osteo-arthritis patients.18

What you need to know

B Vitamins Play Crucial Roles in the Body

  • B vitamins are necessary for DNA repair and synthesis, proper immune function, neurotransmitter synthesis, and healthy DNA methylation.
  • Low B-vitamin status increases the risk for age-related disorders, particularly cardiovascular and cognitive disease.
  • Vitamin B1 is an important cofactor in the production of energy, making it especially important in the brain.
  • Vitamin B3, in the form of nicotinamide, has the potential to treat a variety of dermatological conditions, including skin cancer.
  • Folate (5-MTHF) and vitamins B6 (P5P) and B12 (methylcobalmin) are important to properly metabolize homocysteine and prevent its dangerous buildup.
  • Aging adults can attain these benefits through regular use of a high-quality multivitamin or a comprehensive B-vitamin complex.

Folate Can Reverse Epigenetic Aging

Woman sleeping after energy boost

A common gene variant occurs in approximately 40% of people.

It affects the activity of the enzyme needed to convert vitamin B9 (folate) into its active form: 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF).21

One adverse impact of this methylation deficit is elevated homocysteine blood levels that contribute to atherosclerosis.

Vitamins B6 and B12 work together with the 5-MTHF form of folate in the methylation cycle.

Sufficient levels of these vitamins support the healthy transfer of methyl groups between the molecules, and steps involved in the methylation cycle.

When adequate levels of these vitamins are not present, the methylation cycle is impaired.19

Epigenetic clocks allow scientists to accurately predict future healthspan and lifespan.22,23

A study published in 2018 tested the effect of folate plus vitamin B12 supplementation in measuring changes in epigenetic age in older subjects (65-75). Each subject had different variants of MTHFR genes. Participants supplemented with 400 mcg of folic acid and 500 mcg of vitamin B12 daily.23

After two years, women with a particular MTHFR gene variant showed beneficially reduced epigenetic age.

Those with deleterious MTHFR variants should supplement with higher dosages of the 5-MHTF form of folate, which is more effective than folic acid. They should also consider using the methylated form of vitamin B12, called methylcobalamin.

Decreasing Macular Degeneration Risk

A study was done to evaluate the impact of B vitamins on age-related macular degeneration. A combination of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 was used in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial in women over age 40 who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The study period lasted an average of 7.3 years.24

Compared to the placebo group, the B-vitamin combination decreased the risk of macular degeneration by 34% and decreased the risk of severe macular degeneration by 41%.24

B Complex Fights Insomnia

Close up eye with vision test

B vitamins are thought to have anti-depressant effects and play a range of biochemical roles that may help reduce psychological distress.

Although B vitamins are commonly added to caffeine supplements or drinks for a physical energy boost, they do not interfere with sleep. In fact, research suggests they may even help support healthy sleep.

In a recently published clinical trial, 60 people with diagnosed insomnia filled out a questionnaire which quantified the degree of insomnia they had. They were separated into two groups to receive either a placebo or a supplement containing melatonin, vitamins B6, B12, folate, and a form of magnesium. Both groups took their pills one hour before going to bed, for three months.27

When the participants took the questionnaire again at the end of the study, the placebo group had a slight increase in the degree of insomnia, while those who received the combination supplement reported a nearly 30% decrease in their insomnia scores.

The authors of the study suggest that their results support the hypothesis that elevated homocysteine levels may be causally related to age-related macular degeneration.

Protection Against Surgery-Induced Delirium

New evidence is showing that B vitamins may diminish a serious side effect of major surgery.25

In a recent clinical trial, 138 patients with vitamin B12 deficiency undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery were assigned into a control or an experimental group to receive a B-complex solution as part of the surgical procedure.25

The researchers wanted to see if the B complex could reduce the incidence of postoperative delirium compared to controls.

Although open heart surgery is a lifesaving procedure, it also commonly causes serious side effects. One of the most frightening potential problems after such major surgeries is postoperative delirium, which is a state characterized by altered consciousness and orientation, and diminished memory, perception, and behavior.26

Following surgery, 42% of the patients in the control group experienced postoperative delirium, but only 26% of those in the B-complex group did.25

Enhance Healthy DNA Methylation

DNA methylation controls the activation of our genes.

Without proper DNA methylation, beneficial genes are deactivated while harmful genes can be over-expressed.

Healthy methylation allows gene expression to support youthful cellular functions. DNA methylation influences how your genes are expressed.19

Accurate estimates of biological age can be assessed through measurements of DNA methylation patterns in the blood.20

This can be done using epigenetic clocks, a technology developed by UCLA researchers to measure DNA methylation patterns that provides an epigenetic or biological age estimate.

“Epigenetics” refers to external modifications that occur in gene expression as a result of what we do to our bodies, as opposed to the genetic code we are born with.

Ingesting overcooked food or inhaling cigarette smoke causes deleterious epigenetic changes to DNA. Healthy lifestyles enable beneficial gene expression changes.

Deficits in certain B vitamins can also adversely impact healthy DNA methylation.

Summary

Man exercising with boost from vitamin B1

B vitamins are essential for multiple cellular functions, including facilitating vital DNA repair.

These benefits can be attained through regular use of a high-quality multivitamin, or taking a comprehensive B-complex supplement, preferably one that uses activated forms like 5-MTHF (folate), methylcobalamin (B12), and pyridoxal-5-phosphate (B6).

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

References

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  6. Tapias V, Jainuddin S, Ahuja M, et al. Benfotiamine treatment activates the Nrf2/ARE pathway and is neuroprotective in a transgenic mouse model of tauopathy. Hum Mol Genet. 2018 Aug 15;27(16):2874-92.
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