Vitamin B12 vs B Complex: Are They the Same?
“Vitamin B12 vs B Complex: Are They the Same?” was written by Karina Tolentino, RD & edited by Ashlee Mikles, RD, CD, CLS. Final review/edit completed by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN. Karina is a dietitian and blogger at Dietitian Karina.
Do you feel confused about which B vitamin is best for you? It might be overwhelming to think of all the different types of B vitamins and how they can impact your health.
Two commonly recommended vitamin supplements for the elderly are vitamin B12 and vitamin B complex. In this article, we will learn the differences between vitamin B12 and B complex and why they are essential.
You’ll also learn if these vitamins are the same, how to get these vitamins naturally in your diet, and if these vitamins (as supplements) are right for you. Remember to always speak with your doctor before beginning any new supplements.
Why Do the Elderly Need B Vitamins?
While all B vitamins are necessary to support brain function, energy levels, and metabolism for all people, they are especially vital for older adults.
B vitamins are water-soluble and are not stored in your body.
This means that any “extra” B vitamins you consume are excreted through your urine.
Since they are not stored by your body, you need to make sure that you are getting the vitamins from food (or supplement) sources to prevent any deficiencies.
Maintaining good nutrition by eating a balanced diet can help to prevent or delay diseases and a lower quality of life as you age.
B Vitamins and Bone Health
Calcium and vitamin D help maintain strong bones, but B vitamins are equally important for bone health.
Research has shown that getting enough of all the B vitamins supports and protects bone health. (1) This is important as B vitamins may decrease the risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures which are a common concern among the elderly.
Though, it’s been noted that more research is needed on this topic.
B Vitamins and Cognitive Function
As you age, you can help your mind stay sharp by getting enough B vitamins.
Studies have shown that low levels of B vitamins in the body are linked to cognitive decline. B vitamins help to maintain good memory and prevent neurocognitive disorders like dementia. (2)
B Vitamins and Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease and strokes are important health topics to discuss for older adults. In 2020, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States and strokes were the 5th leading cause of death. (3)
The good news is that research has shown a relationship between B vitamins and preventing these diseases. Studies have found that B vitamins play an important role in reducing the risk of stroke and maintaining cardiovascular health in older adults. (4)
How to Tell if You Need Vitamin B12 vs B Complex
We’ve talked a little bit about B vitamins and why they are important for elderly health. But how can you tell if you are in need of B vitamins? Let’s learn more about three causes of vitamin B deficiency below.
Chronic Poor Appetite
If you are eating very little, you may not be getting enough B vitamins and other nutrients to keep your body healthy. Not eating a variety of foods or limiting entire food groups can contribute to not getting the nutrients your body needs.
Establishing a mealtime routine may help to stimulate your appetite and help you eat more throughout the day.
You may need a B vitamin supplement if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, like Crohn’s disease, that affects how well your body can absorb nutrients.
Decreased absorption by your body may also be related to some medications you take. You can talk to your doctor to find out if you have a medical condition that causes malabsorption of vitamin B.
Vegetarian and Vegan
If you do not eat animal products, then you may be at a higher risk of being deficient in vitamin B12. B12 is only found in animal products or food products where it is added to increase nutritional value.
Adding a B12 supplement to your diet is likely needed if you do not eat animal products.
How to Get More Vitamin B12 vs B Complex
Food is a great way to get all the nutrients your body needs. Opting for food choices before supplements can help you get even more nutrients and vitamins from your food.
Foods with B Vitamins
- Dark green vegetables
- Fresh fruits
- Whole grains
- Dairy products
B vitamins are also added to foods.
These foods are called fortified foods because they have additional nutrients added to them that aren’t naturally found within the foods.
- Fortified grains (cereal, pasta, bread)
- Fortified soy milk or rice milk
- Fortified food products (granola or breakfast bars)
Making sure you eat a balanced diet from all the food groups will ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain your health.
Vitamin B12 vs B Complex: Are They the Same?
Simply put, the vitamin B12 and B complex are not the same.
Vitamin B complex is made up of the eight B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is one of those eight B vitamins.
Keep reading to learn more about the differences!
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is in animal products. It is also added to supplements or foods that may already be in your diet.
Significant functions of vitamin B12 include (5):
- Red blood cell formation
- Nerve cell function
- Cell metabolism
- DNA production
B12 is an essential vitamin for your body. It is a key component in maintaining good health by supporting the functions listed above.
What is Vitamin B Complex?
Vitamin B complex contains all of the eight essential B vitamins that your body uses to complete many functions like transporting nutrients, breaking down protein, and supporting immune health. (5)
Which Vitamins are in Vitamin B complex?
The eight B vitamins that make up vitamin B complex are:
- Vitamin B1: thiamin
- Vitamin B2: riboflavin
- Vitamin B3: niacin
- Vitamin B5: pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6: pyridoxine
- Vitamin B7: biotin
- Vitamin B9: folate or folic acid
- Vitamin B12: cobalamin
All of these B vitamins are in naturally in foods that you can include in your diet.
Which is Better: Vitamin B12 vs B Complex?
The truth is that neither is better. As you’ve learned, the two vitamins serve different purposes and have different roles in maintaining our health.
People who have multiple medical conditions and are at risk of being deficient in multiple B vitamins may benefit from a B complex vitamin.
If your doctor feels that you are only at risk for not getting enough of one B vitamin, like B12 or B9, then you may not need to take vitamin B complex.
Vitamin B12 vs B Complex Wrap-up
We hope this article has given you clarity in deciding between vitamin B12 vs B complex. All B vitamins are essential to our bodies and we need to get them in our diet (or from supplements) to stay healthy and avoid any vitamin deficiencies.
B vitamins play essential roles in our bodies including cell metabolism, immune regulation, and nerve function.
Getting enough B vitamins is important, especially in older adults, and may help to prevent common health problems such as cognitive decline and stroke.
B vitamins are in all food groups and can be easy to get enough of if you eat a varied and balanced diet. Taking a vitamin B12 or B complex supplement can help fill in the gaps in your nutritional needs if you feel you are not getting enough.
As always, talk to a dietitian or your doctor to see what might be best for you and your needs!
- Dai Z, Koh WP. B-vitamins and bone health–a review of the current evidence. Nutrients. 2015 May 7;7(5):3322-46. doi: 10.3390/nu7053322.
- Xu, H., Wang, S., Gao, F., & Li, C. (2021). Vitamin B6, B9, and B12 Intakes and Cognitive Performance in Elders: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2014. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 18, 537-553. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S337617.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 6). FASTSTATS – leading causes of death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm.
- Porter, K., Hoey, L., Hughes, C. F., Ward, M., & McNulty, H. (2016). Causes, Consequences and Public Health Implications of Low B-Vitamin Status in Ageing. Nutrients, 8(11). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8110725.
- B vitamins. The Nutrition Source. (2020, August 11). Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitamin-b/.