Step 1: B Vitamins

Energy Boosters. Best Taken in the Morning.

Everything we do takes energy. Our cells make this energy by oxidizing ... “burning”, in a sense ... carbohydrate and fat fuels. Tiny mitochondria combustion engines are found everywhere in every single cell. But the “burning” takes place at a controlled pace, in a watery environment, at low temperatures. How does this happen?

B vitamins make it possible. B vitamins are catalysts for the body’s production of energy. They're essential, which means our bodies can't make them and so we need to get them from food.

And that can be tricky because the heat of cooking destroys some B vitamins.

This article describes why we need B vitamins and how to take them. For a summary of the peer-reviewed evidence base on the effects B vitamins have on mental health, go here.

B Vitamins: Crucial Catalysts

B vitamins are also critical catalysts for the processes by which the body puts together and takes apart the huge numbers of different molecules it needs to run. B vitamins are critical to the production of neurotransmitters in the brain and throughout the nervous system. They’re also vital to the enzymes the body uses to take those neurotransmitters apart again and disarm them once their job is done.

What’s a catalyst? Let’s take a moment to review just what catalysts do.

To start many chemical reactions a certain amount of energy has to be brought to bear. If we want to light a candle we use a lighter.

The energy that starts a chemical reaction is called the activation energy. When the wick gets hot it burns on its own until the candle is gone.

Catalysts lower the activation energy needed to start a reaction. Again, the B vitamins in our cells allow oxidation to take place at a low temperature, in a watery environment, at a controlled rate. So they’re essential to our bodies’ energy production.

This of B vitamins as the "sparkplugs" in our cells' engines.

Why can it be hard to get enough B vitamins from food? Generally we cook it and/or eat too many leftovers. B vitamins are fragile critters. They break down in heat and wash out in water. Some of them will break down when exposed to air or ultraviolet light. It was the harnessing of fire … cooking … that started us down the road to B insufficiency. When we started grinding our grains to make flour, the trend accelerated. B vitamins are found in the husks of whole grains; that's why it's a good idea to eat them cooked whole (true, cooking doesn't destroy all the B vitamins … just some of each one.)

Meet the Bs ...

There are generally considered to be ten different B vitamins. They are:

B1 Thiamin
B2 Riboflavin
B3 Niacin
B5 Pantothenic acidCasaba
B6 Pryidoxine
B7 Biotin
B9 Folic acid
B12 Cobalamin

So Why Are Bs Important?

B vitamins get involved in just about everything the body does.

If they're not helping the body burn energy they're helping it make or break down tens of thousands of molecules the body creates and destroys every second.

Thiamine keeps the heart beating. Riboflavin protects our vision. Niacinamide, one of the three forms of vitamin B3-niacin-levels the peaks and valleys of bipolar behavior. Cobalamin preserves the myelin sheathes insulating the nerves.

Each B vitamin has their own special role in the body … often more than one. B vitamins are essential: we can't make them, so we need to get them from outside sources. They’re water-soluble so the body doesn’t store any excess, excreting them instead in urine.

My clinical experience has been that there are few people who don’t experience more energy, optimism and mental clarity when they supplement regularly with a good B complex.

How to Source and Take Bs

I usually recommend B-50 products. These are made by many different companies and are widely available in groceries, pharmacies and health food stores. There is no single B vitamin known as “B-50”, rather, these products are formulas made up of either 50mg or 50mcg of each of the B vitamins; roughly 8-12 times the Daily Value (DV) levels (except for folic acid, which is usually limited to Daily Value levels.)

Since the body easily rids itself of excess amounts of most B vitamins there’s little or no danger in taking these elevated levels, with a couple of caveats.1

Failing to recognize our bodies’ need for adequate Bs is dangerous. B vitamins are frequently essential parts of the enzymes that help our digestive systems absorb Bs in the gut. Studies show that if mammals are deprived of adequate amounts of B vitamins for long periods they lose some of their ability to absorb Bs later, even when given an adequate supply. This is one of the reasons for taking generous doses of Bs; the other has to do with the fact that in modern societies certain critical body areas typically experience a loss of circulatory efficiency as we age. This concern is especially relevant to physical medicine issues.2 However, given increasing indications that atherosclerosis may impact blood circulation in the brain as humans age, the problem of poor circulation may also impact mental health concerns. The evidence is particularly strong linking poor cerebral blood circulation to Alzheimer's.

Resupplying Bs
after not supplementing them for years

If you haven't been supplementing with Bs for years or decades, taking too high a dose too quickly can make you feel sick.

Bs aren't bad for you. They're crucial. And my experience has been that when someone has a bad reaction resupplying Bs after not taking them for very long periods of time, it's actually a good sign. It means that they're very likely to feel a marked improvement after getting over an initial hump. It's just that too much too quickly isn't a good idea in such a case.

The solution here is to start very slowly, and come up to a B-50 level of supplementation over a period of months. A liquid B complex is the ticket.

(There’s nothing superior about the liquid form … it’s just easier to adjust the dosage precisely when measuring in drops.)

Here’s the way it works: most liquid Bs dose at 1 tsp-1 tbsp/day. The most B-deprived should:

  • start at 2 drops/day for the first week,
  • increasing to 4 drops/day the second week,
  • 6 drops the third week
  • and so on up to about 10-12 drops.

An eyedropper is useful; these are commonly available at pharmacies and almost all health food stores.

Once one reaches 10-12 drops/day people in otherwise decent health can start increasing their dose by four drops/day each week, up to about twenty drops/day. Going from nothing to 20 drops/day, about ½ dropperful, seems to be the tricky part. After that, going from ½ dropperful to ¾ dropperful the next week, then 1 full dropper the next, then 1 ½ droppers the next, and so on until reaching the full label-recommended dose. At that point continue with the liquid or switch to a B-50 pill as one prefers.

If one is elderly or taking pharmaceuticals, it's imperative to check in with your pharmacist and/or a qualified health professional before beginning any supplement program.


 1. There are two exceptions to the general rule that large amounts of B vitamins can't harm us. The first is niacin (B3). While most bodies can eventually tolerate large amounts of this B vitamin there is potential for liver damage, particularly if large doses are administered without a substantial ramp-up period first. This danger is easily avoided by taking the amide form of the vitamin, niacinamide, or by taking one's time, reintroducing the vitamin gradually over a period of weeks after a period of deprivation.

The other exception is pyridoxine, B6. There is a lifetime limit to the amount of pyridoxine that humans can consume without risking harm, in this case again, damage to the liver. However, the amount of this lifetime limit is sufficiently high that one would have to take very large doses over a substantial period of time to reach it. One could take the amount of B6 contained in a B-50 preparation for a whole lifetime without approaching this limit.

 2. I'm thinking especially of the spinal discs here, which have no direct blood supply themselves, getting their fresh blood primarily from the bending and flexing action of the spine. Lean to your left and the spinal discs on that side are squeezed, forcing depleted blood out of them. Lean to the right and the spinal discs on the left side are stretched, pulling fresh blood in. In physically active humans, like our ancestors or our contemporaries living in less advanced societies, the normal activities of daily living are usually enough to ensure adequate nourishment and waste removal in these discs.
The problem comes when people live sedentary lives in advanced post-industrial societies. Sitting in a chair at a desk all day, and then going home to sit in front of a television at night, does little to help the spinal discs get the blood supply they need. The end result of this situation is degenerative disc disease, frighteningly common today. As the discs degenerate they lose their ability to maintain the critical distance between spinal segments, sometimes damaging nerves that emerge from holes, or foramen, between those segments. These damaged nerves cause pain and a further contraction of the muscles around the affected spinal segments. This contraction further impedes blood supply to these tissues, and a vicious cycle of degeneration and pain is set in motion.