Vitamin B4 – ever heard of it? If I were a betting person I’d say probably not. Well perhaps there is a reason. Maybe someone doesn’t want you to know what it is you are missing.

Here’s a little historical background. The discovery of vitamins began in the early 20th Century. One of the leading scientists was Casimir Funk who discovered what he called “vitamines” – short for “vital amines” or chemicals that were vital for life. The vitamins were named sequentially and initially associated with a specific deficiency condition. Vitamin A was for night blindness, B for beriberi, C for scurvy, and D for rickets.

Initially, each vitamin was thought to be its own unique substance. Soon it became apparent this was more complex than originally thought. The B family of vitamins began to emerge, now known as the B Complex. This family of compounds was found together in nature (real food), but different foods had different mixtures of the compounds. For example wheat germ and liver each contain the B vitamins, but in different proportions.

The B family grew as B1 became Thiamine, B2 Riboflavin, B3 Niacin, B5 Pantothenic acid, B6 known as Pyridoxine, Pyridoxal, and Pyridoxamine, B7 Biotin, B8 Inositol, B9 Folate, and B12 Cobalamin. But what happened to B4? It seems to be missing in the progression. Certainly that is a logical question to ask.

Interestingly enough back in the early days, B4 was referred to as Vitamin D. Remember the common thinking was that all these factors were different and deserving their own unique letter. In fact at this time two different factors were being considered for the fourth vitamin. What we are now calling B4 and what is now officially recognized as D.

Funk was certain that there were these two unique components to the initial vitamin B. Before they started with the subsequent “B” numbers it would have been logical to call it D. Once the B series started it was B4.

Here’s the important part of the story. In nature B1 and B4 are found together in the B Complex as described above. With these two factors this B vitamin is the anti-beriberi nutrient. But, there are two kinds of beriberi: “wet” beriberi which affects the cardiovascular system (the heart) and “dry” beriberi which affects the nervous system. B1 (Thiamin) supports the nervous system while B4 supports the heart.

The more easily identified form of beriberi is the “dry”. This leads to paralysis – which is quite evident. Beriberi is Swahili for “I can’t, I can’t.” The “wet” form with its damage to the heart is a longer process and not as immediately evident.

More specifically B4 has two main functions. The first is to maintain muscle tone. As the vitamin becomes deficient muscle tone, particularly of the heart suffers. The second function is to convert chemical energy into electrical energy which fuels the heart. When the heart is starved of electricity it enlarges. With enlargement it also becomes flaccid (lacks muscle tone) and the tissue responds to the forces of gravity by sinking. This pulls the valves and other structures down causing minor leakages, ultimately compounding the heart disease.

If you remember your basic biology ATP is the source of our energy. Adenine, a critical component of ATP, is part of the B4 complex. Adenine alone does not have the ability to make energy. It only works with the rest of the B4 complex.

As you can see – B4 is essential for heart health.

So back to the original question – what happened to B4? Quite simple – B4 is part of the B complex as found in real foods, for example whole grains. When grain is refined (as in white bread and other white flour products) the B4 is removed. And here’s the kicker. B4 cannot be made in the lab. There is no synthetic version – no one can make isolated B4. The food manufacturers cannot add it back to their grain products during their “enrichment” process (of course this is misleadingly called “fortifying” or “enriching”) when they add back other B vitamins such as Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Folic Acid.

Due to our modern diets of refined grain products we become deficient in B4 and over time this leads to the enlarging of the heart, minor leakages, damage to the heart, and simultaneously heart disease.

Fortunately the solution is rather simple. Be sure to eat real food products that have their full assortment of vitamins intact. Another option is to supplement, however this must be done with products that are derived from whole foods and contain B4. In my practice I use Standard Process supplements which fit this description.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at, call (262) 389-9907 or go to