B Vitamin Supplements: Controversy and Commercials

by Brooke on August 21, 2012

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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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Shayla July 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm

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Barney Qualia January 30, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I am very happy to read this. This is the type of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.


Brooke January 30, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for your feedback Barney! I hope to see more of your comments :)


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