The simple facts behind Vitamin B complex -- Which vitamin B is folic acid?

Submitted by Fantestico on Wed, 03/09/2022 - 12:11.

Vitamin b complex lab testsIn one of our previous blogs we covered Vitamin D benefits, signs of low vitamin D levels, symptoms, and blood tests. This blog covers the Vitamin B complex, which consists of eight B vitamins. If you ask yourself—Which vitamin b is folic acid? What are the causes of B12 deficiency? and How to check it at home? this summary simplifies the Vitamin B complex complexity…

Which vitamin B is folic acid?
The full list of Vitamin B originally consisted of 12 vitamins, so no number was skipped… B4 (adenine), B8 (inositol), B10 (para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA), and B11 (salicylic acid) were part of the list. These substances are no longer labeled as vitamins and these days are not part of the B complex. It does not mean these nutrients are not important, but they no longer fit the official definition of a vitamin. Today, the Vitamin B Complex consists of 8 vitamins, including, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). The synthetic form of folate is folic acid, which converts to folate in the body. Because folic acid is more easily absorbed by the body, it is the form most used in supplements and fortified foods, so Vitamin B9 is folic acid.
Can I purchase Vitamin B lab tests online? 
Many lab providers are offering folate blood tests that are able to be purchased online. The Vitamin B12 lab test is also highly available, and the next is B6. The other B vitamins are also available online but only by much fewer lab providers. Here are the full 8 B-vitamins list, their function, food source1, and online lab tests:

Vitamin B Function Food Source Online lab tests
B1 (thiamine)

plays an essential role in metabolism by helping convert nutrients into energy

pork, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ

B1 lab tests

B2 (riboflavin)

helps convert food into energy and also acts as an antioxidant

organ meats, beef, and mushrooms

B2 lab tests

B3 (niacin)

plays a role in cellular signaling, metabolism and DNA production and repair

chicken, tuna, and lentils

B3 lab tests

B5 (pantothenic acid)

helps your body obtain energy from food and is also involved in hormone and cholesterol production

fish, yogurt, and avocado

B5 lab tests

B6 (pyridoxine)

involved in amino acid metabolism, red blood cell production and the creation of neurotransmitters

chickpeas, salmon, and potatoes

B6 lab tests

B7 (biotin)

essential for carbohydrate and fat metabolism and regulates gene expression

Yeast, eggs, salmon, and cheese

B7 lab tests

B9 (folate)

is needed to make and repair DNA and to produce red blood cells (RBCs)

Beans, citrus juices, and dark green vegetables

B9 lab tests

B12 (cobalamin)

is vital for neurological function, DNA production, and red blood cell development

Is found naturally in animal sources like meats, eggs, seafood, and dairy. e.g., if you are vegan, it is critical to check your vitamin B12 levels

B12 lab tests

There are also some bundles. The most common bundle is Folate+B12. The reason why these B-vitamins tests are more popular is that they are very important during pregnancy or because the likelihood for you having vitamin B deficiencies is much higher than with the other B-vitamins, especially for vitamin B-12 which depends on food from animal sources and folate that a mutation in a gene that is important for its production by your body is relatively more common.

What are the symptoms of low folate?
Folate deficiency is most often found in pregnant and lactating women, people with chronic conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, those who are following restricted diets due to weight-loss regimes or medical conditions, people with alcohol dependence, and people at age 65+ years. The symptoms of low folate can include tiredness, fatigue, lack of energy, numbness & tingling in the feet and hands, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, and dizziness. Sometimes psychological and mental problems like depression, confusion, memory problems can be symptoms of low folate. Even repeated diarrhea without other explanations might be caused by folate deficiency.

What are the causes of folate deficiency?
Folate deficiency will not go away on its own. If your folate blood tests are low, it means you might have a dietary intake problem or that your food does not contain enough folate and you need to think about dietary change or taking folic acid supplements. Alcohol-related damage to the liver where your folate is stored can be another reason—so check your liver function and urine. Malabsorption (imperfect absorption of food material by your small intestine) due to gastrointestinal diseases like celiac and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) can be another reason. Some cancers consume more folate for their cell proliferation (the process that results in an increase in the number of cells). 

Folate deficiency anemia is a complication that is caused by low folate levels. Your red blood cells need folate to form and grow. In folate-deficiency anemia, the red blood cells are abnormally large and are called macrocytes or megaloblasts.

Risks of folate deficiency during pregnancy
Folate is very important in the correct development of cells and is crucial for the development of fetuses. Folic acid deficiency in the mother can cause defects in the neural tubes in the fetuses (severe birth defects of the brain or spine).
The MTHFR gene provides instructions for your body to make an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, or the MTHFR protein. This enzyme helps your body to process folate and is necessary for the multi-step process that converts the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. The body uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds. A gene variant is a change in your DNA sequence that is different from the expected DNA sequence. The most common variant in the MTHFR gene is MTHFR C677T. This variant may also be called MTHFR 677 C>T or MTHFR 677 C→T. This means that at the 677 position in the MTHFR gene, “C” is the expected DNA base, but “T” is the gene variant. You can order an MTHFR genetic test online to check which variant you might have.

Pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant should increase their folic acid consumption to 400 micrograms a day. The CDC urges all women of reproductive age who could become pregnant to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, including those with an MTHFR C677T variant2. For women affected by diabetes, celiac disease, a BMI of more than 30, or who are treated with drugs that affect folate absorption, it is recommended to increase the folate intake to 5mg a day.

What are the symptoms of low vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 low symptoms are similar to those of folate deficiency and include extreme tiredness (fatigue), lack of energy (lethargy), headaches, breathlessness, feeling faint, pale skin, noticeable heartbeats (palpitations), hearing sounds coming from inside the body (tinnitus), loss of appetite and weight loss. If you have anemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may have other symptoms, mouth ulcers, a sore and red tongue (glossitis), a pale-yellow tinge to your skin. Also, neurological symptoms such as abnormal sensation, typically tingling or pricking (“pins and needles”), like pressure on or damage to peripheral nerves (paraesthesia), disturbed vision, irritability, changes in the way you think, feel, and behave, depression, a decline in your mental abilities, memory, understanding, and judgment (dementia), as well as changes in the way that you walk and move around.

Methylmalonic Acid (MMA) Test
This test measures the amount of methylmalonic acid (MMA) in your blood or urine. If your body doesn't have enough vitamin B12, it will make extra amounts of MMA. High MMA levels can be a sign of a vitamin B12 deficiency. At-home urine MMA tests are available for online purchase.

What are the causes for B12 deficiency?
In many cases, the causes for B12 deficiency depend on your age, your eating habits, and what medications you take. The average recommended amounts per day in mg (microgram, e.g., one-thousandth of a gram) are3:

  • Infants up to age 6 months: 0.4 mg 
  • Babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mg
  • Children age 1-3 years: 0.9 mg
  • Kids age 4-8 years: 1.2 mg
  • Children age 9-13 years: 1.8 mg
  • Teens age 14-18: 2.4 mg
  • Adults: 2.4 mg
  • Pregnant women: 2.6 mg
  • Breastfeeding women: 2.8 mg

You can Vitamin B12 by eating animal foods such as meat, fish, chicken, dairy, and eggs or from food items that or from items that have been fortified with vitamin B12 like plant milk, such as soy, almond, oat, cashew, and coconut milk, breakfast cereals, spreads, nutritional yeast, fruit juice, and dairy-free yogurt. Just check the product's Nutrition Facts label. If you follow a vegan diet and do not eat any food from natural sources, vegan test panels are recommended.

It can become harder to absorb Vitamin B12 naturally with age, and a higher amount is needed per day. Sometimes even Vitamin B12 is recommended. Other causes are related to several medical conditions and medication you may take, such as Atrophic gastritis, in which your stomach lining has thinned; Pernicious anemia, which makes it hard for your body to absorb vitamin B12; Conditions that affect your small intestines, such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite. Immune system disorders, such as Graves' disease or lupus, are additional diseases that affect vitamin B12 absorption.

High alcohol consumption can make it harder for your body to absorb B12. Some heartburn medicines like proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, Aciphex), H2 Blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid AC); and certain diabetes medicines (Glucophage) can affect your vitamin B12 absorption as well.

If you're experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia. It's important to order lab tests for Folate+B12. You can also take at-home bloodwork for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia in order to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Can you find & compare your vitamin B complex online lab tests?