B Vitamin Supplements: Controversy and Commercials

Vitamin B Supplements

Photo: WebMD

This is a guest blog post by Brooke Schantz, MS, RD and was originally posted here.

Walgreens has a new commercial implying that B vitamins will help you increase your energy.    In the commercial, there is a husband and wife debating whether or not their small backyard is a garden or farm.  At the end of the commercial, the husband drives up in a tractor with chickens in it.  Then, the camera flashes to the wife and a statement is made about how she may need a B vitamin supplement to increase her energy needs, in order to, deal with her husband.  The commercial is cute, but the message is misleading.  It insinuates that you can just take a pill to increase your energy and B vitamin supplements are the way to do just that.

Since, dietary supplements are not regulated like foods and drugs they do not need approval from the FDA before they are marketed and sold to the public.  Supplement manufacturers are supposed to abide by certain rules and follow the Current Good Manufacturing Practices, but some may not be doing this.  This can lead to supplements hitting drug store shelves with false claims written all over their labels. Current research does not support the claims that consuming extra B vitamins will increase your energy or that they will speed up your metabolism.

It is TRUE that B vitamins are known mostly for their role in energy metabolism.  However, it is important to note that vitamins themselves do not provide our bodies with energy; they only aid in helping our bodies turn food into energy.  Consuming a larger amount of B vitamins than is required by your body will not speed this process up!

Summer Porter, a Registered Dietitian and PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago told me what she tells her nutrition and dietetics students when she is asked about B vitamins and energy metabolism, “There are a lot supplements out there- and dietetics practitioners get asked about these products constantly. My students want to know what to tell folks when they are asked if and how these things work. I tell them, when it comes to B-vitamins and energy metabolism, it’s like putting oil in your car… more doesn’t make it go faster, as long as the right amount is there, it just facilitates the process that makes the engine work. If you are feeling fatigued or low on energy, B-vitamin supplements aren’t going to help you cut the corners to a healthy productive lifestyle.”

If you really want to increase your energy try working out, sleeping 7-8 hours per night, and eating balanced meals with foods containing these B vitamins!

Here is a quick guide of good food sources for each of the B vitamins:

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin):  Whole grain cereals, beans, pork, enriched grains

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):  Milk and other dairy products, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals, enriched grains

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxin, Pyridoxal, Pyridoxamine):  High-protein foods (meats), whole grain cereals, enriched cereals, eggs

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin):  Foods of animal origin (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese) and fortified cereals

The irony of the commercial is that the food from the garden and the chicken and eggs provide more nutrition and energy than a B vitamin supplement!


Benardot, Dan.  Advanced Sports Nutrition.  Champaign:  Human Kinetics, 2000.

Carmel R. How I treat cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency. Blood.2008;112:2214-21.

Paul E. Marik and Mark Flemmer. Do Dietary Supplements Have Beneficial Health Effects in Industrialized Nations: What Is the Evidence?  Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition 2012; 36: 159-168.

Sarubin Fragaakis A, Thomson C. The Health Professional’s Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements. 3rd ed. Chicago, Il: American Dietetic Association; 2007.

Brooke Schantz

Brooke B. Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the CEO of Bitchin’ Nutrition and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).  She is also an active member in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly known as the American Dietetic Association (ADA), currently holding the following positions:  President-Elect of the Chicago Dietetic Association, Nominating Chair of the Illinois Dietetic Association, and a member of the Diversity Committee. You can find Brooke on Twitter @BitchnNutrition


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  • Nancy- The Frugal Dietitian

    Another concern I discuss with clients, a POSSIBLE increase in colon polyps (which can change to cancerous tumors) with the higher intakes of folic acid added to food and from taking B vitamin dietary supplements. It is not the same folic acid found naturally in foods and usually has about a 100% absorption rate. It will be interesting to follow the future research on folic acid.

  • Jensen_G

    a nice followup to this would be to examine energy drinks (Red Bull) and take a look at the stuff that goes into them.

  • L-N

    But this is not even the best Walgreen’s commercial! How about the one that suggests that a flu shot can help you battle dog drool germs?

  • http://twitter.com/klownow Kathy Low

    isn’t eating “enriched” foods kind of the same as taking a supplement? choose the whole food that contains the nutrient, not the one that has it added back in

  • Violet

    Someone has beaten this article with a comma whip. It is very distracting. Otherwise, the information is exactly I come to Fooducate to get. I with the article had expanded upon the connection to colon polyps.

  • Cat804

    What about the B-12 shots? My husband wants them but I’m concerned and good sources are hard to find.

  • Pingback: Tips And Ideas For Maintaining Good Nutrition | Is Ice Cream Gluten Free

  • vitamins and supplements

    isn’t consuming “enhanced” sustenance sort of the same as taking a vitamins and supplements pick the entire nourishment that holds the nutrient, not the singled out case that has it included back in

  • http://www.vitaminsbenefit.com/ Vitamins Benefit

    Vitamin B12 is also an integral part of the vitamin supply that our body needs. Your body will harmlessly excrete whatever vitamin B12 it dosen’t use from supplements. Our bodies can also store vitamin B12 for various lengths of time. You must always consult your physician before consuming any vitamin B supplements. Vitamins Benefit our body’s immunity and blood flow also.