Pantothenic acid is another vitamin of the B-complex family and is also known as vitamin B-5. It is an integral part of Coenzyme A (CoA) which is a central molecule involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. CoA plays a unique role in integrating the various metabolic pathways as more than 70 enzymes are known to be dependent on it. Pantothenic acid itself is part of the multi-enzyme complex involved in fatty acid synthesis. It also has a role in the production of hormones and cholesterol.
Biotin is a sulphur containing B-complex vitamin that has a role as a coenzyme in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Since pantothenic acid and biotin are widely distributed in foods, deficiencies of these vitamins are rare.
Folate, earlier known as folacin is the generic term for both folate that is naturally present in food and folic acid that is used in dietary supplements and fortified foods.
Folic acid works along with vitamin B-12 and vitamin C to help the body break down, use and create new proteins. It functions as a coenzyme in the synthesis of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), the body’s genetic material. It is required for the formation and maturation of the red blood cells in the bone marrow and deficiency of folic acid leads to, megaloblastic anaemia, a type of anaemia in which the red blood cells are larger in size than usual.
Folic acid is also needed for the development of a healthy foetus and plays an important part in the development of the brain and spinal cord of the foetus. Deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects of the brain and spinal cord known as neural tube defects, hence the timing of taking folic acid is critical. Since the neural tube closes by the 28th day of gestation – even before most women realise they are pregnant, it is important that women of the reproductive age eat adequate amount of folic acid rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and pulses particularly before conception.
Research studies have been exploring the roles of vitamin B6, B-12 and folic acid in preventing heart disease and some types of cancer. Till date the findings have been mixed as some studies suggest that these three vitamins can lower the risk of these chronic diseases while other studies have shown no effect.
Vitamin B-12, is another water-soluble vitamin and exists in several forms. These compounds exhibiting vitamin B-12 activity contain cobalt and are collectively called cobalamins. There are many forms of cobalamin, but methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosyl cobalamin are the forms of vitamin B-12 that are active in human metabolism.
Vitamin B-12 is essential for the normal functioning of all cells particularly the cells of the bone marrow, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. It is required along with folic acid for the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, for the formation of the red blood cells and to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a compound involved in immune function and mood.
Unlike the other B-vitamins that are present both, in plant and animal foods, vitamin B-12 is present only in foods of animal origin such as milk, curd, eggs, fish and sea foods, chicken, meat and organ meats such as liver, kidney. Curd is a better source of vitamin B-12 than milk because of the synthesis of vitamin B-12 by lactobacillus.
In foods, vitamin B-12 is bound to protein and during digestion the hydrochloric acid in the stomach releases B-12 from protein. Once released, B-12 combines with a specific chemical substance present in the stomach, called Intrinsic Factor (IF) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. Vitamin B-12can only be absorbed in the presence of intrinsic factor.
The body’s requirement for vitamin B-12 is very small and can be easily met by including animal foods like milk and egg in the daily diet. Unlike the other B vitamins which are thrown out of the body when in excess, the body can store vitamin B-12 in the liver for years.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency occurs when the diet is deficient or when the body is unable to absorb adequate amounts of vitamin B-12.Vegans, senior citizens, individual suffering from disorders such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease and individuals who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery such as weight loss surgery or surgery to remove all or part of the stomach are likely to be deficient in vitamin B-12.
Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include loss of appetite, weakness, tiredness, weight loss, constipation, megaloblastic anaemia, numbness, tingling of fingers and toes and problems with balance. Severe deficiency results in loss of memory, confusion, depression and psychosis.