If you eat a plant-based diet or have recently gotten bloodwork done, you’ve probably heard of Vitamin B12. Or maybe you’re pregnant and know that B Vitamins are especially important when you’re expecting or nursing.

But what are B Vitamins, exactly? What’s the difference between B Complex and B12? If you’re looking to up your B intake and aren’t sure which kind is right for you, let’s break down the differences and benefits of Vitamin B12 and B Complex.

What is B12?

Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, is a chemically complex vitamin often found in animal-sourced foods like fish, red meat, poultry, liver, eggs, and dairy. This is why vegetarians and vegans are often low in it! B12 is an essential nutrient for several processes in the body like metabolic function, nerve function regulation, red blood cell creation, and DNA production. 

Certain fortified foods, like fortified nutritional yeast, or enriched soy milk, contain added B12 for those who might not be getting any in their diet. But if you’re plant-based, it’s difficult to get an adequate amount of B12 from food alone. That’s why it’s essential to supplement with B12 if you follow a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet. If you have severe deficiency, your doctor might even prescribe you a muscular Vitamin B12 injection.

What is B Complex?

Vitamin B Complex is made up of 8 different B Vitamins that are essential to your body’s metabolic processes and overall function: 

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) 
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin) 
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) 
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

You can find these B Vitamins in a wide range of food sources, from dairy products like milk, cheese, and eggs, to meat and fish, to plant-based products like dark leafy greens, avocados, beans, chickpeas, whole grains, nuts, seeds, citrus, watermelon, and soy. 

That being said, it’s important to eat a varied diet to ensure you’re meeting each of your B Vitamin needs.Vitamin B is a water soluble vitamin, which means that your body doesn’t store them, so you need to get them regularly through diet and, potentially, through a vitamin supplement.

Some people may need to consume more B Vitamins than others. If you follow a plant-based diet, are older in age, use certain medications, or are pregnant or nursing, you should talk to your health care practitioner to make sure you’re getting adequate B’s in the right amounts.

Benefits of B12

On its own, Vitamin B12 powers a number of functions in the body (1). It can provide essential support for healthy bones as you age, and it likely benefits memory retention and brain health by preventing the loss of neurons (2). It’s also needed for the production and metabolism of the chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. 

In fact, studies have shown that those with a vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to depression and various other mental and physical problems (3). Because B12 supports healthy serotonin synthesis, it’s important to maintain adequate levels of this vital nutrient in order to avoid mood imbalance. 

Does Vitamin B12 give you energy? It does! B12 deficiency can show up as fatigue or weakness—that’s because it plays a central role in producing red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies. It also supports healthy metabolic function, which is how your body gets energy from food. If these processes are impacted, it’s likely that your energy will take a hit.

B12 deficiency can show up as fatigue or weakness—that’s because it plays a central role in producing red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies.

Benefits of B Complex

Curious why all the B Vitamins get grouped together? It’s because these water-soluble vitamins work synergistically to support certain key processes throughout the body, such as metabolism. Some work directly in these areas, others indirectly, and they all share properties like water solubility. 

Here’s a list of several functions that involve B Vitamins (4):

  • Metabolism (& therefore energy)
  • Neurological function 
  • DNA production & repair 
  • Nerve function 
  • Gene expression 
  • Digestion & appetite 
  • Hormone & cholesterol production 
  • Cellular signaling
  • Neurotransmitter creation 
  • Infection prevention 
  • Muscle tone 
  • Eyesight 
  • Blood cell production 
  • Cell growth & division

B vitamins are crucial for energy via our metabolism, the process that keeps us alive by converting food into cellular currency, or ATP. They’re known as coenzymes, meaning they assist our enzymes that release energy from food. While they don’t provide energy directly (only food can), they help turn the food we eat into energy that our bodies can actually use. 

B1, B2, B3, and B5 are directly involved in breaking down glucose to produce energy, while the rest are involved in metabolism and energy production support. Because of this property, deficiency in B vitamins can manifest as low energy, slow metabolism, fatigue, brain fog, and low mood. 

B Complex supplements are also important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding because B Vitamins, especially folate and B12, assist in fetal development and reduce the risk of birth defects (5, 6). Additionally, a daily B vitamin can help pregnant people keep up their energy stores and potentially relieve morning sickness. If you’re looking for B support during pregnancy or postpartum, consult your doctor about which B Complex supplement they’d recommend.

Differences Between B12 and B Complex

What’s the difference between B12 and B Complex? B12 is a single vitamin, while B Complex is a blend of several B Vitamins—including B12. Though you can take B12 separately (and many plant-based people do), it’s best to take them together, as the vitamins work synergistically to support energy, metabolism, and DNA/RNA synthesis. Because they work in concert, people who are deficient in one or more B’s would likely benefit from full-spectrum support. 

If you’re looking to support healthy energy and mood, Ting™ is a B Vitamin supplement with B Complex, B12, and adaptogenic Ginseng (just note that this is not a prenatal vitamin, as ginseng is not recommended during pregnancy). Our B Complex, extracted from organic Tulsi and Guava, provides cofactors to help convert fat, protein, and carbs into ATP that the body’s cells can use for fuel. Methylated B12 supports normal serotonin levels, while Adaptogenic Ginseng brings the calming energy. Add 1/2 teaspoon to 16 ounces of water daily to get in your B’s.

B12 Vs. B Complex: Which is Right for Me?

So what’s the takeaway? B Vitamins are essential for many processes in the body, specifically metabolism and energy. Did you know that there are other vitamins that provide energy? It’s true! You can also boost your energy naturally by making small changes to your lifestyle. These changes don’t have to include drinking more coffee as there are coffee alternatives for energy that you can try out as well.

Adequate daily intake depends on the person—especially if you’re following a plant-based diet or are pregnant or breastfeeding—but it’s a good idea to supplement with both B12 and B Complex, to ensure you’re getting the full-spectrum, synergistic benefits. 

Sources: 

National Library of Medicine, Vitamin B12 Deficiency
National Library of Medicine, Neuroenhancement with vitamin B12—underestimated neurological significance
National Library of Medicine, Association between vitamin b12 levels and melancholic depressive symptoms: a Finnish population-based study
National Library of Medicine, B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review
National Library of Medicine, Vitamin B-12 and Perinatal Health
National Library of Medicine, Vitamin B12 Metabolism during Pregnancy and in Embryonic Mouse Models