By Dr. Adam Killpartrick
Vitamins are essential to life. Not only do they contribute to good health by regulating the body’s metabolism, but they also support the release of energy from digested food, which is critical for daily vitality.1
Of the major vitamins, B vitamins help maintain the health of the nerves, skin, eyes, hair, liver, and mouth, as well as ensure healthy muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract. They are particularly important for maintaining proper brain function in children.2 Providing kids with the proper amount of B vitamins guarantees that their brain activity will remain high during their school years, allowing them to meet their cognitive needs and protect their brains from stress.3
What Are Vitamins, Exactly?
Vitamins are a group of compounds that are essential for normal biological functions and should be taken in small quantities. Some vitamins are soluble in water, and others in fat. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins, must be taken daily, because the body cannot store them; they are excreted within four hours to one day. Fat-soluble vitamins—like vitamins A, D, E, and K—can be stored for longer periods in the body’s fatty tissue and the liver. However, both types of vitamins are needed by the body for proper functioning.4,5
Humans need suitable amounts of 13 vitamins, which include the four fat-soluble vitamins mentioned above and nine water-soluble vitamins, which include vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins: thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9), and methylcobalamin (vitamin B12).6 The B vitamins are grouped based on their water solubility and their cellular functions. Because they work together, a deficiency in one often indicates a lack in another. Although they are a team, they will be discussed individually below.
The Individual Role of Vitamins
Most parents know their children need nutrients to stay healthy and focused in school. Having the proper knowledge about the functions of B vitamins and how much a child needs can ensure your kids are on the correct nutritional path.
Below is a breakdown of the B vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Thiamine enhances circulation and helps in blood formation, carbohydrate metabolism, and proper digestion. Thiamine optimizes brain function and cognitive activity. The richest food sources of thiamine include brown rice, egg yolks, fish, legumes, liver, peas, and broccoli.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Riboflavin is necessary for red blood formation, cellular respiration, and growth. It alleviates eye fatigue and supports metabolism. Cheese, egg yolks, fish, meat, milk, avocados, and asparagus contain high levels of vitamin B2.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin, nicotinic acid, niacinamide): This vitamin helps promote proper circulation and healthy skin. It supports the nervous system and metabolism. Niacin is found in beef liver, broccoli, carrots, cheese, milk, and tomatoes.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Pantothenic acid is known as the anti-stress vitamin. It is required by all cells in the body. A deficiency of pantothenic acid may cause fatigue, headaches, and nausea. Pantothenic acid is found in avocados, eggs, vegetables, and nuts.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Pyridoxine is involved in more functions than almost any other single nutrient. It is beneficial if you suffer from water retention, and it is necessary to promote red blood formation. All foods contain some amount of vitamin B6, but the following foods have the highest amounts: carrots, chicken, eggs, fish, meat, peas, and spinach.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin): Biotin aids in cell growth, metabolism, and in the utilization of other B-complex vitamins. This vitamin is great for healthy hair and skin. You can get ample amounts of biotin in cooked egg yolks, meat, and milk.
- Vitamin B9 (folate): Folate is considered a brain food and is needed for energy production and the formation of red blood cells. Folate is found in asparagus, chicken, cheese, brown rice, lentils, liver, and milk.
- Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin): Methylcobalamin is important for the growth and protection of the nervous system. Large quantities are especially necessary to protect against neurological deterioration. Methylcobalamin is highly prevalent in meats, eggs, milk, dairy products, and seafood. However, It is not found in many vegetables; it is only in sea vegetables, such as kelp and seaweeds.
Do Children Need B-Complex Vitamins?
As children grow, the pressures of learning, homework, quizzes, tests, and other educational activities start to build up. Therefore, it is important to provide your children with the proper nutrients, particularly vitamin B-complex, to support their brain function.7 Although a balanced diet, good sleeping patterns, and daily physical activity will help keep your child on the road to success, there are additional things you can do to improve their cognitive health and learning.
Just as prenatal vitamins are essential to support optimal development of babies in the womb, growing children need continued vitamin and mineral support. The prenatal and childhood stages are the most critical for brain development. During these stages, neurons are formed to enhance cognitive health and brain function. During childhood, optimal nutrition and the recommended intake of several key nutrients like B-complex vitamins are crucial.8
Related Content: Nutrition for Kids: How to Build Healthy Eating Habits
Brain-Specific Roles B-Vitamins Play In Developing Minds
Did you know that a child’s brain undergoes a period of brain development from birth to age three, and they can produce more than a million neural connections each second? Nourishing children with B vitamins plays a significant role in their brain development and helps keep those neural connections sharp.
In fact, B vitamins likely play an even larger role than you may think. For example, thiamine contributes to the structure and function of cellular membranes, including neurons. Niacin receptors, which are distributed throughout the brain and immune system, are essential for energy production. Pantothenic acid contributes to the structure and function of brain cells, and it’s involved in the synthesis of cholesterol, amino acids, phospholipids, and fatty acids.9 Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters—such as dopamine, serotonin, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and noradrenaline—and the hormone melatonin. Both folate and vitamin B12 help with brain development and function, as well as concentration; folate reduces neural defects, and vitamin B12 is involved in the function and development of the brain, nerve cells, the myelin sheaths that protect nerves, and blood cells.
All B vitamins are essential for brain health, and a deficiency in any one of these vitamins may have some side effects. For example, if there is a vitamin B6 deficiency, it may lead to depression and loss of concentration. A folate and vitamin B12 deficiency may cause neurological problems and anemia.12 A riboflavin deficiency—a vitamin responsible for the synthesis, conversion, and reutilization of niacin, folate, and vitamin B6—can lead to adverse effects on brain function and the nervous system.11,12
Having this information and knowing the benefits and deficiency risks can help you realize the impact B vitamins have on a child’s educational focus and overall health. A healthy diet throughout childhood can offer positive benefits, like stimulating the immune system and enhancing digestion, metabolism, and growth. By adding the right B vitamins into their diet, your child can meet their nutritional needs and enjoy a healthier brain—all while getting As in school.
1" Smith A.G., Croft M.T., Moulin M., Webb M.E. Plants need their vitamins too. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. 2007; 10:266–275. doi: 10.1016/j.pbi.2007.04.009.
2 Wang C., Nagata S., Asahara T., et al. Intestinal microbiota profiles of healthy pre-school children and effects of probiotic supplementation. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015; 67(4): 257-66.
3 Foster J.A., Rinaman L., Cryan J.F. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Nerobiol Stress. 2017 Mar; 7:124-36.
4 Kennedy D.O. Plants and the Human Brain. Oxford University Press; New York, NY, USA: 2014.
5 Bates C.J. Thiamine. In: Zempleni J., Rucker R.B., McCormick D.B., Suttie J.W., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 4th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2007.
6 Rivlin R.S. Riboflavin (vitamin B2). In: Zempleni J., Rucker R.B., McCormick D.B., Suttie J.W., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 4th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2007.
7 Sinigaglia-Coimbra R., Lopes A.C., Coimbra C.G. Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition. Springer; Berlin, Germany: 2011. Riboflavin deficiency, brain function, and health; pp. 2427–2449.
8 Bryan J., Osendarp S., Hughes D., et al. Nutrients for cognitive development in school-aged children. Nutr Rev. 2004 Aug; 62(8):295-306.
9 Cazzola M., Pham-Thi N., Kerihuel J.C., et al. Efficacy of a symbiotic supplementation in the prevention of common winter diseases in children: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Ther Adv Respir Dis. 2010 Oct; 4(5):271-8.
10 Kirkland J.B. Niacin. In: Zempleni J., Rucker R.B., McCormick D.B., Suttie J.W., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 4th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2007.
11 Bates C.J. Thiamine. In: Zempleni J., Rucker R.B., McCormick D.B., Suttie J.W., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 4th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2007.
12 Rivlin R.S. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) In: Zempleni J., Rucker R.B., McCormick D.B., Suttie J.W., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 4th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2007.