Fit after 50: You need those Bs!

If you want a healthy heart, strong immunity and good brain function in your senior years, consider your daily intake of the B-vitamins. These three areas of health—which commonly decline as we age—all require the Bs to function properly.

The B family includes eight individual vitamins: thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6), vitamin B-12, folate (folic acid) and biotin. All are water-soluble, which means our bodies are unable to store them; we must therefore consume adequate amounts each day through diet or from a supplement.


Each of the B-vitamins functions uniquely, but all are involved in energy usage and in cell development. B-1 is important for brain and nerve cell development as well as heart function. B-2 is essential for growth and red blood cell production, and niacin is required by the skin, nerves and digestive system. Both pantothenic acid and biotin are involved in metabolizing food. Folic acid is important in the synthesis of DNA.

Vitamin B-6 is allied with our immune system and is directly involved with many of the chemical and physical changes of normal metabolism. Studies also suggest B-6 plays a role in altered brain function as we age.

Vitamin B-12 is associated with red blood cell formation and with the functioning of the central nervous system. Researchers at Tufts University now recommend B-12 supplements for all people over 60, since many people over 60 don’t form enough stomach acid to release the vitamin from food. Experts recommend B-12 supplements over injections.


Cereals are the major source of B-vitamins because they are now fortified with all of them except biotin. All of the B-vitamins are found in meats, although dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and citrus fruits are better sources of folic acid than most meats. Whole grains and pork are good sources of thiamin. Milk and other dairy products supply riboflavin, while niacin is found in pork, fish and nuts. Eggs, milk, fish, whole grains and lean meats give us pantothenic acid and biotin.

Studies show that many older North Americans are at risk for various B deficiencies, largely due to poor dietary choices. Make sure to seek out foods that are rich in the Bs every day. If in doubt about your intake, talk to a health professional about which vitamin B supplement is right for you.

“Fit After Fifty” is provided as a public service by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009.