Many vitamins work synergistically. But, none work more synergistically together than the ones I like to refer to as the Sister Sledge all stars - or the "We are Family" of B vitamins!
Just like the siblings who achieved international success at the height of the disco era, B vitamins are having their hey-day.
B vitamins are essential to our health in general, but what do they mean for thyroid health specifically?
When we talk about B vitamins, we are actually discussing a group of vitamins, each one unique but also each one working synergistically with the others. It’s actually a pretty beautiful thing. It might even make you want to "get up everybody and sing..." Ok, you get my point.
This group of water-soluble vitamins may be confusing or even come off as somewhat mysterious, partially because some we call by name and others we know as B12 or B6.
But I promise that I will take some of the mystery out of B vitamins without losing any of the disco-magic.
Anyone struggling with autoimmune thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s Disease needs to understand how B vitamins are definitely our friends, especially vitamin B12.
But like with any nutrients, it’s all about walking a fine line between too much and too little, trying to get most of your B vitamins from food and, hopefully, seeing the benefits in your thyroid health.
Understanding B Vitamins and What They Do
There are eight B vitamins, and just like vitamin C, they are all water soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are those that are able to dissolve in water and cannot be stored in the body for later use. Fat-soluble vitamins need fat to dissolve and utilize, and they can be stored by the body to be accessed when needed. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.
Because water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored, they must be obtained often so that the body can continue to use them. This explains why you often see vitamin C offered in a time-release form, so that it’s not all dumped into the system at once.
There are eight B vitamins and they each have a number and a name and some come in multiple forms.
Let’s delve in!
Thiamine is also known as B1. It plays an important role in metabolism and specifically helps utilize the energy found in carbohydrates and fats. Deficiencies in thiamine affect the nervous system, as well as the heart and digestion.
Thiamine is found in small amounts in a wide range of foods but deficiencies are still common because processed foods rids them in thiamine. Many foods include enriched forms of thiamine but these are not absorbed or utilized by the body as well as when they come in their natural forms in foods.
Generally enriched foods are foods in which processing has stripped nutrients so they are added in. (As opposed to fortified, in which they add nutrients to foods that wouldn’t naturally contain them.)
The problem is that these added nutrients may be a different or synthetic form, may be in too large a quantity compared to what would naturally occur, and this does not necessarily allow the nutrient to work synergistically with the other nutrients found in the food.
The good news is that there are some wonderfully delicious foods that naturally contain thiamine. The food richest in this B vitamin (by far!) is asparagus. Other foods with thiamine include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Brussels sprouts
- Beet greens and spinach
- Crimini mushrooms
Riboflavin, also known as B2, is that fun little vitamin that turns your pee bright yellow when you’ve consumed it. (“Flavin” even comes from the Latin word for “yellow.”)
Like thiamine, riboflavin is also necessary for energy metabolism, especially from fat. It also helps recycle glutathione, making it critical for antioxidant action, and promotes iron metabolism.
Riboflavin is rich many of the same foods as thiamine, plus also in:
- Sea vegetables
- Green Beans
Both deficiency in and toxicity from riboflavin are rare.
Niacin, also called B3, is sometimes known more for what happens when you get too much than it is for possible deficiencies.
Toxicity is extremely rare from overconsumption from foods, but if you supplement with too much niacin, you can experience the “niacin flush.” This is when the face, arms and chest flush red for up to hours at a time and some people experience a tingling feeling. While not dangerous or permanent, it is uncomfortable and supplementing with niacin alone is not often advised, unless under medical guidance or when specific forms are used.
As you might have seen coming, niacin is also crucial for energy production from fat, protein and carbohydrates. It also works as an antioxidant against free radicals.
Recently, niacin has started to be used to battle high cholesterol numbers. But while found to possibly reduce LDL, niacin has not been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The following foods are good sources of niacin:
- Tuna and salmon
- Crimini mushrooms
- Lamb and beef
- Tomatoes and bell peppers
Also called B5, pantothenic acid is found in small amounts in most foods, hence its name: “pantos” means “from everywhere” or “from all sides.” Therefore, deficiency is very rare, except in cases of severe malnutrition.
Pantothenic acid is required by our bodies to synthesize a molecule called Coenzyme A (CoA). Without CoA, we could not metabolize carbohydrates, protein or fat. Fat is especially key to this process because CoA is what allows fat to be stored and to build cholesterol.
Although found in many foods, pantothenic acid is highest in:
- Shiitake and crimini mushrooms
- Cauliflower and broccoli
- Dark, leafy greens
- Sweet potato
- Bell peppers
Although most commonly known as vitamin B6, it comes in a number of forms that each have their own name, including pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, pyridoxal.
B6’s metabolism is specifically for carbohydrates, plus it is also involved in red blood cell production, liver detoxification and brain and nervous system function. The neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine and serotonin require B6 for synthesis.
Oral contraceptive pills increase risk of B6 deficiency and those older than 65 can also be at risk because of decreased nutrient absorption.
Vitamin B6 is found in:
- Spinach and turnip greens
- Cabbage and bok choy
- Bell peppers
Vitamin B7 is more commonly known as biotin and more recently has been known as a beauty vitamin, added to many food and supplements for skin and hair health.
But there is more to biotin than its job in building up healthy fats in the skin. Biotin also helps balance blood sugar by helping in insulin production.
Certain medications and raw egg whites can inhibit biotin absorption.
Foods rich in biotin include:
- Chicken and beef liver
Vitamin B9 is a tricky one when it comes to names. Many people know it best as folic acid, because that is the form most often used in supplements, especially in prenatal multivitamins. But in its most natural and food form, it is called folate.
Folate as a source from food comes in many forms (methylfolates, dihydrofolates, monoglutamyl folates, polyglutamyl folates) but when used to fortify or enrich foods, is only found in its synthetic folic acid form.
Folate is necessary for the body to create DNA and RNA, hence its importance during reproduction and fetal development (and therefore in prevention of birth defects). It also plays a role in cell division and red blood cell production.
If you have a hard time remembering what foods contain folate, just remember that the name comes from the word “foliage,” because it’s found in such high quantities in dark, leafy greens. It is also in:
- Lentils and chickpeas
- Spinach and turnip greens
- Broccoli and cauliflower
You may not recognize the name cobalamins, but you will definitely have heard of B12. It is one I’ll cover a lot because of its role in thyroid health and beyond.
Like its B vitamin brothers and sisters, B12 is involved in metabolism. In this case, it metabolizes fat and protein. But it also helps in red blood cell production, DNA synthesis as a co-factor, aids in converting inflammatory homocysteine into methionine, and is relied on by the brain and nervous system.
B12 can be a little trickier to get in your diet than many of the other B vitamins, especially if you are vegan or even vegetarian.
The vitamin cannot be made or stored by plants so the only non-animal foods that contain B12 have gotten help from microorganisms in some form.
Animal-sourced B12 sources include:
- Sardines, salmon, tuna and cod
- Lamb and beef
- Shrimp and scallops
Although not as high in B12, some non-animal sources are:
- Nutritional yeast
- Crimini mushrooms
- Fermented soy products (such as tempeh, miso and natto)
B12 is one of the few vitamins that is also made in the gut.
What B Vitamins Have To Do With the Thyroid
As you read through all that the B vitamins do, you may notice some patterns start to emerge that start to paint a picture as to their connection to the thyroid, thyroid health and Hashimoto’s Disease.
You’ve seen that most of the B’s have something to do with energy production and metabolism. Hey, you know what else regulates metabolism? The thyroid!
The thyroid gland, located in the neck, secretes hormones that change the rate at which our body utilizes energy.
When you have an autoimmune disorder, like Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks some part of itself, in this case the thyroid. When the thyroid is under attack, it cannot function as well and underproduces those hormones. This leads to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), of which Hashimoto’s is the leading cause.
Imagine that you are deficient in the B vitamins that help your body metabolize the fats, proteins and carbohydrates you consume. If they cannot efficiently draw energy from those foods, it puts an extra burden on the thyroid to even better metabolize what energy it does have.
Possibly just as important to understand is how much the B vitamins rely on each other. All of the B vitamins work synergistically so that none can function as well if any of them are deficient.
For example, B12 helps the body recycle folate. When the body has either too much or not enough folate, B12 becomes even more necessary. And when folate and B12 are both deficient, thiamine activity is compromised.
As a matter of fact, B vitamins are often offered in supplement form together because they are better absorbed and utilized when they work as a group.
When they are in harmony, remember?
But this does not mean that some of them don’t have a direct impact on the thyroid.
Vitamin B12’s Relationship with the Thyroid
B12 is probably the most notable B vitamin for its role on the thyroid.
Research has found that of those with hypothyroidism, around 40% are deficient in vitamin B12. This may in part be due to the indications that hypothyroidism can be a cause of some forms of anemia and B12 deficiency is also a risk factor for anemia.
Add to this that people with underactive thyroid have a difficult time absorbing B12.
Those with Hashimoto’s are also known to be at higher risk of producing less stomach acid, impacting absorption of nutrients like B12 or the production of B12 in the gut.
B12 deficiency can be a cause of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), of which around half of Hashimoto’s sufferers have.
Biotin’s Secret Role in Thyroid Diagnoses
There has been no direct correlation between biotin and autoimmune thyroid disorders. But the growing use of biotin supplements may be leading to diagnoses in an unexpected way.
Thanks to its role in skin health, biotin is increasingly being used as a beauty supplement. But doctors and researchers are finding that high levels of biotin (too high to get just from food) are affecting testing levels of thyroid hormones.
This doesn’t mean that the vitamin is actually impacting hormones, just that the test is impacted to make it appear that TSH, T3 and T4 are higher than they really are, leading to incorrect diagnoses of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and Grave’s Disease.
While doctors are becoming aware of this and asking those with high thyroid hormone levels if they are taking biotin, they aren’t necessarily asking patients with normal levels that same question.
This means that some patients with low levels and an underactive thyroid, may miss getting an appropriate diagnosis.
The best thing to do is to stop taking any biotin supplements at least five days before any thyroid panel.
Other B Vitamins and Their Impact on the Thyroid
While not fully understood in terms of their direct relationship, it has been found that supplementing with thiamine has been effective in supplying relief for those with Hashimoto’s-related fatigue.
There may be indications that a riboflavin deficiency can suppress thyroid function.
And lastly, B6 is necessary for the thyroid to utilize the mineral iodine in order to make thyroid hormones. For more on iodine’s role in thyroid function, check out my blog on this amazing mineral.
My Opinion About Supplementing with B Vitamins
As you’ve seen by now, there are a number of B vitamins that are very easy to get from foods, especially if you avoid processed foods and stick with a whole foods diet ideally.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t see into your digestive system to know if you are breaking down and absorbing your foods. And if you are older, have Hashimoto’s or suffer from a digestive issue like IBS, you may have low stomach acid and are not really getting all those great nutrients you are eating.
And unfortunately, the most common deficient B vitamin, B12, is also the one most important for thyroid health.
The food news is that these days, tests that will look for deficiencies are pretty easy to come by and not expensive.
It can be worth it to know where your nutrient levels stand.
If you are deficient or suspect you may be, I usually recommend taking a B complex supplement as opposed to an individual B vitamin supplement since I think you know by now how well these vitamins work together.
And you can feel comfortable adding a B complex to your day knowing that there are no known interactions with any thyroid hormone medication.
Hopefully, a B complex as a supplement is a short-term solution while you find the missing gaps in your diet and/or supporting healthy levels of stomach acid.
B Vitamin Roundup
While B12 plays the most critical role in thriving with Hashimoto’s and in thyroid health in general among the B vitamins, it’s crucial to understand how much all the B vitamins work together.
They help balance each other out and be utilized by the body. The best way to do this, with a close second being supplementing, is to eat a balanced diet that includes cooked and raw vegetables, and organic meats and eggs.
Whether this simple step feels small or monumental, it truly supports a healthy thyroid that will give you a leg up on thriving each and every day.
Getting Additional Thyroid Support
If you would like to feel great again and really get out there on the dance floor, well, I think you need more support with your thyroid health.
If you are looking for personalized attention to your thyroid, seek out a program and thyroid advocate who can give you the tools and resources to feel your best again.
I would recommend my Happy & Healthy Adult Program for those with possible thyroid health issues.
Working closely together, we can customize a supplement and meal plan regimen just for you. Get your party dress on - let's go!