Deficiencies Found in B-Complex Supplements

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Deficiencies Found in B-Complex Supplements

Tests of B vitamin supplements, including B-complexes and shot-sized energy drinks, revealed problems with the quality of 4 out of 18 products selected for review by independent testing organization
One widely-sold B-complex supplement was found to contain only 17.9% of its vitamin B-12. Another had no detectable vitamin B-6 and was short on both biotin and folic acid. Two energy shot liquid supplements were low on folic acid, respectively providing only 40.4% and 75.5% of the amounts listed on their labels.
Both energy shots displayed B vitamins as their top-listed ingredients and listed caffeine as part of a proprietary “energy blend.” The amounts of vitamins B-6 and B-12 included in these two products were, respectively, 2,000% and 8,333% of the Daily Values of those nutrients.
Taking three of four small bottles in a day (which one product indicated as permissible), would cause a person to exceed Upper Tolerable Intake Levels for niacin, vitamin B-6, and folic acid, representing a risk of toxicity.
Neither of the energy shots listed a specific amount of caffeine but noted the amount to be comparable to that in a cup of either “brewed” or “leading premium” coffee.
According to the USDA, one cup (8 fluid ounces) of brewed coffee contains an average 95 mg of caffeine. The same serving of Starbucks coffee has 180 mg of caffeine. discovered the amounts of caffeine in the small (2 fluid ounce) energy shots to be higher than one might assume from their labels: 156 mg (64% more than brewed coffee) in one and 207 mg (15% more than a premium coffee such as Starbucks) in the other.
“Consumers need to be aware that some supplements don’t provide all of the B vitamins they claim,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of “It is also important to recognize that B vitamins won’t increase energy levels if you already get an adequate intake, which most people do. The sense of energy from B vitamin liquid shots appears to come from the added caffeine, which may be at higher levels than you expect.  If you do use energy shots, be careful not to drink more than one or two a day and not to take other B vitamins.  Otherwise you run a risk of toxic effects.”
According to Nutrition Business Journal, sales of B vitamins in the U.S. were $1.2 billion in 2009, second only to multivitamins. Most healthy individuals are not deficient but deficiencies can occur with long-term use of certain medications such as those that reduce stomach acid and strong diuretics, recovery from surgery, alcoholism, and in strict vegetarians.
In addition to treating and preventing vitamin deficiencies, B vitamins are useful in specific conditions.  For example, high-dose niacin can improve cholesterol levels and folic acid can help prevent spinal birth defects. The combination of vitamins B-6, B-12, and folic acid can reduce elevated homocysteine levels — a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, although studies have not shown this combination to reduce cardiovascular risk itself.
In addition to the four supplements that failed testing, fourteen other B vitamin products passed testing as did five products similarly tested through’s voluntary certification program. also indentified two products similar to one that passed testing but sold under different brand names. The results found in the full report now available online to members.
The report includes test results, quality ratings, and comparisons of B-complexes, energy shots, and single-B vitamin supplements containing thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B-12.
Products from the following brands are covered:

  • 5-Hour Energy,
  • Country Life,
  • CVS,
  • FoodScience of Vermont,
  • Freeda,
  • Isotonix,
  • Jamieson,
  • Kirkland,
  • Klaire Labs,
  • Life Solutions,
  • Nature Made,
  • Nature’s Bounty,
  • Nature’s Life,
  • Nature’s Plus,
  • Now,
  • Puritan’s Pride,
  • Schiff,
  • Slo-Niacin,
  • Solgar,
  • Source Naturals,
  • Spring Valley,
  • Stacker 2 – 6 Hour Power,
  • Swanson,
  • Twinlab and
  • Vitamin World.

The report also includes information about the uses, recommended intakes, and cautions for each of the B vitamins. is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. The company is privately held and based in Westchester, New York. It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products


  1. Lois says:

    It’s annoying that you must subscribe to consumer lab in order to get the B vitamin info.

    • waltlarimore says:

      It may be, Lois, but there are a couple of advantages to us as consumers: (1) subscriptions sites are more likely to be objective than those who accept advertising, and (2) the subscription costs less that a couple of bottles of vitamins — a small price to pay, in my opinion, for safe product.
      Also, some public libraries carry (or will, with request) carry a subscription.
      Last, but not least, you can share a prescription with others or ask you doctor to consider subscribing.

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