The B vitamins are a group of eight nutrients, each with unique roles in keeping the body healthy. They’re especially important for maintaining cell health and keeping you energized.

The symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency vary depending on which B vitamin you’re deficient in.

Some foods are high in several B vitamins, and certain foods are particularly high in specific B vitamins. Eating a balanced diet is key to getting all nutrients your body needs.

This article provides a rundown of the most common types of vitamin B, including why you need them, their deficiency symptoms, and which foods contain them.

Certain groups, such as older adults and pregnant women, are more at risk for vitamin B deficiencies. They need larger amounts of some types of vitamin B.

Certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, HIV, and alcohol use disorder can prevent the body from absorbing B vitamins effectively, increasing the risk for deficiencies.

The symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency vary depending on which B vitamin you’re deficient in.

They can range from fatigue and confusion to anemia or a compromised immune system. Skin rashes also can occur.

To treat a B vitamin deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend that you take supplements or increase your intake of certain foods that contain the target vitamin.

Summary

Older adults, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions are more likely to have vitamin B deficiencies.

Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, helps regulate the nervous system. It also plays a role in growth and red blood cell formation.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to disruption in the nervous system and the circulatory system.

Vitamin B12 deficiencies can lead to megaloblastic anemia, a condition where the bone marrow produces large abnormally shaped red blood cells that do not function properly.

Psychological conditions such as dementia, paranoia, depression, and behavioral changes can result from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Neurological damage sometimes cannot be reversed.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause the following symptoms:

  • tiredness or fatigue
  • weakness
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • balance problems
  • confusion
  • poor memory
  • soreness of the mouth or tongue

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 1.5 and 15% of people in America.

Which foods contain vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in meat and dairy products, so people on a vegan diet are at risk for deficiency. However, there are foods options to meet their B12 dietary needs.

Vegetarian sources include dairy and eggs. Vegan sources of B12 include fortified foods and nutritional yeast.

The best sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • beef liver
  • clams
  • meat, including fish and poultry
  • eggs
  • milk
  • cheese
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • nutritional yeast
  • other fortified foods, including plant milks and flours

Read about vegetarian sources of B12 here.

Try this recipe for a brunch version of ratatouille. Eggs and cheese make it a great source of vitamin B12.

Summary

Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common. Low levels of B12 can cause anemia, fatigue, and nerve problems.

Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, helps the body turn food into energy. It can also help the body fight infections by supporting the immune system.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women need it to help their babies’ brains develop normally.

Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency

Vitamin B6 deficiency is not common in the United States.

Insufficient amounts of B6 can result in anemia as well as skin disorders, such as an itchy rash or cracks around the mouth.

A lack of B6 can also cause:

  • depression
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • anemia
  • susceptibility to infections
  • skin rashes or dermatitis

Which foods contain vitamin B6?

Foods high in vitamin B6 include:

  • poultry, fish, and organ meats
  • potatoes and other starchy vegetables
  • fruits, except for citrus fruits

Whip up this Asian salmon and spinach rice bowl to get your daily serving of vitamin B6.

Summary

Vitamin B6 deficiency is uncommon. Symptoms include anemia and skin problems, such as itchy skin rashes and cracks around the mouth.

Vitamin B1 is also called thiamin, and vitamin B2 is also called riboflavin.

These vitamins help convert food into energy. Vitamin B1 has neurological benefits, and vitamin B2 helps maintain proper eyesight.

Symptoms of vitamin B1 or B2 deficiency

Vitamin B1 deficiency is rare, and vitamin B2 deficiency is very rare, in the United States.

This is due to the fact that many foods, such as milk and whole-grain cereals, are fortified with these vitamins.

It can become an issue with people who misuse alcohol, however, presenting symptoms such as confusion and cracks along the sides of the mouth.

Which foods contain vitamin B1 and B2?

Most people get their B1 and B2 from fortified breakfast cereals and whole grains.

Sources of vitamin B1 include:

  • whole grains
  • fortified bread, cereal, pasta, and rice
  • pork
  • fish
  • legumes, including black beans and soybeans
  • nuts and seeds

Sources of vitamin B2 include:

  • eggs
  • organ meats, including kidney and liver
  • lean meats
  • low-fat milk
  • green vegetables, including broccoli and spinach
  • fortified cereals, grains, and bread

Get your daily servings of green vegetables with this green smoothie.

Summary

Vitamin B1 and B2 deficiencies are rare in the United States. Symptoms include confusion and cracks along the sides of the mouth.

Vitamin B3, also called niacin, helps convert food into energy. It also aids in proper digestion and healthy appetite, and is important for cell development.

Symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency

A lack of niacin can cause digestive issues, such as nausea and abdominal cramps. Severe deficiency may also cause mental confusion.

Vitamin B3 deficiency is very rare in the United States.

Severe deficiency can result in a condition called pellagra, with symptoms such as:

  • rough skin that turns red or brown in the sun
  • a bright red tongue
  • vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • aggressive, paranoid, or suicidal behavior
  • hallucinations

Which foods contain vitamin B3?

Food sources of vitamin B3 include:

  • meat, including poultry, beef, pork, and fish
  • some nuts, legumes, and grains
  • fortified breads and cereals

These Thai chicken tacos with peanut sauce are a great way to get niacin in your diet.

Summary

Vitamin B3 deficiencies are very rare in the United States. In severe cases, low B3 can lead to a serious condition called pellagra.

Vitamin B9 is also called folate. Folate occurs naturally in foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form, often found in fortified, processed foods.

Like most B vitamins, B9 fosters the growth of red blood cells. It also reduces the risk of birth defects when pregnant women consume it.

Symptoms of vitamin B9 deficiency

Vitamin B9 deficiency is rare in the United States, but it does occur.

Low levels of vitamin B9 can result in the following symptoms:

  • megaloblastic anemia, which causes weakness
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • headache
  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • open sores in the mouth
  • changes in skin, hair, or fingernail color

Pregnant women with a folate deficiency could result in their babies being born with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

Excessive supplemental folic acid during pregnancy, however, may also lead to a baby developing neurological problems.

Which foods contain vitamin B9?

Food sources of folate include:

  • beef liver
  • asparagus
  • brussels sprouts
  • dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach and mustard greens
  • oranges and orange juice
  • other fruits and fruit juices
  • peanuts and other nuts
  • beans, including kidney beans
  • peas, including black-eyed peas

Foods fortified with folic acid include:

  • enriched bread, flour, pasta, and rice
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • corn tortillas and tamales made with fortified flour

Make this spicy roasted beet hummus as a snack or appetizer.

Summary

Vitamin B9 deficiency is rare in the United States, but it does occur. It’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough of this vitamin.

To stay healthy, most people don’t need to take a supplement in order to get enough B vitamins.

There are plenty of delicious foods available to get all the nutrients you need naturally. Try to eat a complete diet of:

  • meats
  • grains
  • fruits
  • vegetables

If you don’t eat meat, eggs, or dairy, you can still get vitamin B12 from fortified foods or nutritional yeast to help prevent deficiency.

Supplementation is only a last resort if you cannot obtain B vitamins through diet or if you have certain health conditions that require using supplements.

Over-the-counter supplements can often treat or prevent deficiency. It’s best to check with a doctor before taking vitamin supplements.

If you’re pregnant or over 50 years old, you’re more likely to need supplements.

The risk of overdose is lower than other nutrients because B vitamins are water soluble. However, supplements may still cause:

  • side effects
  • long-term health effects
  • interactions with medications you take

If you suspect you might be vitamin B deficient, contact your doctor. They might perform a physical exam as well as order blood testing.

There are eight types of vitamin B, each with a unique function in the body. Deficiencies in each of these vitamins will results in different symptoms.

Most people can get all nutrients they need, including B vitamins, by eating a varied diet of lean meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables.