Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin that helps to regulate the production of neurotransmitters, DNA synthesis, and numerous other substances. It also supports the nervous system in many ways.
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Luckily, it’s easy to get enough Vitamin B6 from foods we routinely consume: beef liver, lentils, bananas, venison for example. But if you’re struggling with a nerve disorder or chronic pain like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome then a daily supplement can be helpful.
A large study in Finland looked at the relationship between this vitamin and the risk of death from cancer.
They checked the blood levels of B6 in nearly 25,000 people. After 6 years, they found that those with high enough levels had a 35% lower risk of death from cancer.
But before you rush out to buy a bottle, it’s important to realize that many other studies have found B6 does not help in preventing or treating cancer. More research is needed to better understand this relationship.
Another study had similar findings when it came to cardiovascular health: higher vitamin B6 levels were associated with a 25% lower risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. The highest levels were found in people who ate the most foods high in B6.
A different study found that the risk of depression was lowered by 50% when supplementing with B6 over a 12 week period. However, two other studies did not find the same results—in fact, they found an increase in depressive symptoms among those who were supplemented with this vitamin. More research is needed to know the connection between B6 and depressive symptoms.
Vitamin B6 is only needed in small amounts (2-3 mg/day) and it’s considered safe up to 100 mg/day. If you’re already getting enough Vitamin B6 in your diet, there’s no need for a supplement.
It’s wise to discuss any supplement or medication with your doctor so you can be sure it’s safe to take. And if you already take Vitamin B6, talk with your doctor about whether it needs to be checked again.
So what should you look for in a B6 supplement? Most of the research has been done on the use of pyridoxine from natural sources. Pyridoxine is one of several forms of Vitamin B6 and is found naturally in avocado oil, chicken liver, almonds, and spinach. The pyridoxamine form is not as effective but can be used for treating nerve disorders and pain.
The dosage for Pyridoxine ranges from 50-250 mg daily and you can find it in capsule, tablet, or liquid form. It’s recommended to take no more than 100 mg daily without the supervision of a medical professional.
Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) is another form of Vitamin B6 and is absorbed into the body better than other forms. Most of this form needs to be converted into pyridoxine so it’s often used after surgery or trauma to support nerve function. The supplement dosage ranges from 50-100 mg per day—talk with your doctor about how this can help you.
So what is the correct daily dosage for an individual? This depends on age, body weight, and gender. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.
The most common side effects of too much Vitamin B6 are digestive issues like upset stomach or diarrhea, as well as a headache. This can be solved by taking smaller doses with food to reduce side effects.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Vitamin B6 supplements are considered safe in pregnancy but there’s limited research to back this up. More studies are needed to determine how it might affect the baby.
A high Vitamin B6 intake is also not recommended for anyone who has liver or kidney disease, as it can cause serious liver damage. You should always talk with your doctor before taking a supplement to make sure it’s safe for you.
Vitamin B6 can be found in food sources such as dairy products, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, and fortified cereals.
Studies have shown adults with higher Vitamin B6 in their blood levels have better memory as it helps regulate energy use in the brain. It also helps pregnant women with nausea and is considered safe for use in pregnancy.
Vitamin B6 is also known as Pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 has its role in the human body in the following areas:
Vitamin B6 deficiency or pyridoxine deficiency is a condition that occurs when there is an insufficient supply of this vitamin to all parts of the body. Symptoms of this can include mask-like facial expression, muscle weakness, heart disease, and mood swings. The symptoms may be severe enough to require hospitalization where intravenous (IV) fluids may be required. A single outbreak of Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause Guillain–Barré syndrome.
A deficiency of pyridoxal-4-phosphate in the brain causes the abnormal activity of certain genes, which has been linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Pyridoxine is required for the production of active vitamin B6 in animals and humans. Vitamin B6 is found naturally only in significant amounts in animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. However, significant amounts are found in cereal grains such as wheat bran and cereals made from these grains such as cornmeal. It is also present at lower levels in some fruits and vegetables including potatoes, melons, bananas, and tomatoes.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin. It is almost completely absorbed in the small intestine and only some remain in the large bowel as bile salts. Vitamin B6 has many uses in the body, such as in tissues for energy, enzymes involved in amino acids, to break down the sugars that make glycogen in the liver and muscles, and also bone growth. There are 3 main forms of vitamin B6: pyridoxine (B6), methyl pyridoxal phosphate (B6P), and pyridoxal (B6). The best-known form of vitamin B6 is thought to be the methyl ester form called P2Y12.
The vitamin B6 status of a subject is determined periodically by measuring blood levels or urinary excretion or both. Normal values are:
Vitamin B6 has been used to treat schizophrenia for decades, but the mechanism is unknown. The first study on humans was performed in 1947 and the results published in 1952. Clinical trials showed variable responses, but there was a trend to improvement in positive symptoms of the disease in some people. It is thought that high doses of vitamin B6 may stabilize nerve cells and prevent cell death with long-term use.
B6 is required by all bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes for one-carbon metabolism (folate cycle).
Vitamin B6 is essential to the function of many enzymes involved in amino acid and protein metabolism, including the synthesis of:
As a result, vitamin B6 deficiency results in impaired function of these vital biological molecules. In addition, vitamin B6 may be needed to convert tryptophan into niacin (vitamin B3), and folate into its biologically active form. However, since most mammals can synthesize vitamin B6 or obtain it from their food, it is not an essential nutrient for them. Because of this, it is not considered an essential nutrient in horses.
Deficiency is associated with a wide variety of diseases, though the symptoms are usually mild, and may include:
The deficiency can be caused by genetic mutations that prevent asparagine from being converted to aspartate. These genetic mutations can be passed on from either parent if one is a carrier of the mutation. Often, the child will then also carry the mutation and hence have no synthetic enzymes to metabolize asparagine either. Depending on how severe the deficiency is in this individual will determine how severe the resulting disease may be.
Other names for the disease include asparaginase deficiency, which is a technical name used by physicians in one of the mutations involved, and Western variant juvenile amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Symptoms include delayed development in children, loss of sensation in arms and legs due to lack of sensation of touch, or lack of ability to accurately interpret sensation (due to faulty brain signals), loss of mobility, and muscle weakness. In more severe cases, sufferers may be wheelchair-bound by the age of ten.
The majority of people born with this disease will die before they reach twenty-five years old due to respiratory failure or respiratory arrest caused by abnormal breathing patterns or weakness in chest muscles that are unable to function properly.
A deficiency in vitamin B6 among expectant mothers can cause a form of brain damage known as the birth defect spina bifida. This is because of the lack of vitamin B6's role in the enzyme that breaks down folate, which results in an accumulation of potentially toxic levels when there is not sufficient enzyme to break it down. The excess folate co-factors cause changes in neural tube formation during early development, which can result in a birth defect if they are not properly regulated.
The symptoms include learning problems, seizures, and the inability to walk or talk.
Vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms are generally not observed during the formation of the child and therefore are usually noticed during childhood or adolescence. This specific birth defect is known as spina bifida. Vitamin B6 is needed by both folic acid and S-adenosyl methionine synthetase in order for the body to function properly. Without enough of those two nutrients, serious birth defects can occur such as spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube does not close completely during early pregnancy development causing malformation of the central nervous system and spinal cord. Another symptom of spina bifida is called anencephaly which results in the neural tube closing completely during early pregnancy development resulting in a lack of brain growth. Anencephaly is usually fatal and causes death shortly after birth.
Vitamin B6 deficiency can also cause increased susceptibility to infection, a reduction in the immune response to infections, and an increased risk of developing cancer when combined with either a deficiency or high levels of alcohol consumption.
Deficiency among young infants can cause irritability, apathy, lethargy, and seizures.
In older infants, it can cause cutaneous anemia, dermatitis, diarrhea, and hypotonia.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6 was last revised by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in 1998. The current RDA for vitamin B6 is listed below:
Because of increased oxidative stress and potential loss of water-solubility during heat processing, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B6 have been added to many foods to extend their shelf life. It has also been proposed that these vitamins could reduce cancer risk together by inducing apoptosis in transformed cells as well as restoring reducing power and glutathione levels in the body.
B6 promotes the synthesis of gamma-tocopherol, an active form of vitamin E, and a number of other tocopherols, which have beneficial health effects in humans. All known forms of vitamin E are water-soluble and are solubilized or "dissolved" by fat. Gamma form (also called α-tocopherol) is thus not soluble in water but is stable in fats. It has antioxidant activity and is known as the active form because it can give oxygen-free radicals a way to react with each other before they damage cells. Beta-tocopherol (also called β-tocopherol) is also present in foods.
Food for Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is widely distributed in foods, and deficiency is rare in developed countries. Vitamin B6 occurs mainly in meats, dairy products, eggs, legumes, and cereal grains; vegetarians have to eat a large amount of green leafy vegetables just like non-vegetarians. It is also present in brewer's yeast and wheat germ. Plant sources of vitamin B6 include brown rice, millet, buckwheat, barley, bananas, potatoes (especially the green parts), asparagus, and wheat germ.
Foods that are sources of vitamin B6 include liver, kidney, yeast, beef, chicken kidneys, pork loin, and liver. Dairy products are also good sources of vitamin B6 however the amount of vitamin B6 in dairy products varies greatly from brand to brand. Dark chocolate containing less than 2.5% baking cocoa is a source of both magnesium and theanine. Theanine is a functional group in the amino acid L-theanine which is found in tea leaves and has been found to have some protective effects on the nervous system and can promote sleep quality and induce relaxation effects at higher doses than other dietary supplements as well as anti-stress effects at lower doses.
Vitamin B6 is present in very few nonfoods like soy sauce, however, large doses of B6 may still cause a toxic effect.
Vitamin B6 deficiency
Deficiency among young infants can cause irritability, apathy, lethargy, and seizures.
In older infants, it can cause cutaneous anemia, dermatitis, diarrhea, and hypotonia.
The symptoms include learning problems, seizures, and the inability to walk or talk. These symptoms are due to the fact that folate is required in order for vitamin B6 to be converted into its active form. Without vitamin B6 there would be insufficient levels of this enzyme to prevent a buildup of folate. This buildup can lead to potentially fatal neurological problems in infants.
Vitamin B6 is needed by both folic acid and S-adenosyl methionine synthetase in order for the body to function properly. Without enough of those two nutrients, serious birth defects can occur such as spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube does not close completely during early pregnancy development causing malformation of the central nervous system and spinal cord. Another symptom of spina bifida is called anencephaly which results in the neural tube closing completely during early pregnancy development resulting in a lack of brain growth. Anencephaly is usually fatal and causes death shortly after birth.
To prevent these birth defects, women who are taking a folate supplement are typically given vitamin B6 supplements as well. This vitamin can be found in breakfast cereals, wheat germ, bananas, oranges and in many other fruits and vegetables.
Deficiency during pregnancy may lead to problems with the newborn:
The mother's diet must be supplemented with B vitamins (including vitamin B6) especially during the pregnancy period in order to prevent neural tube birth defects in infants. Vitamin B6 is needed by both folic acid and S-adenosyl methionine synthetase in order for the body to function properly. Without enough of those two nutrients, serious birth defects can occur such as spina bifida.
Vitamin B6 can be toxic in large doses. For example, it can cause peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage at doses higher than the RDA (recommended dietary allowance). In high doses, vitamin B6 supplements may cause nausea and vomiting.
Vitamin B6 affecting the Immune System
There is not a large body of study on how vitamin B6 affects the immune system, though it is likely that vitamin B6 supports the immune system. Deficiency may affect cell-mediated immunity by decreasing the number of T-cells.
Vitamin B6 is used in some methods of treating neuropathy. It may have effects on other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma and multiple sclerosis. Some studies have shown that it can improve symptoms in these diseases when injected directly into joints. Vitamin B6 contributes to the prevention and management of RA, lupus, and scleroderma.
Vitamin B6 is also a key nutrient in managing epilepsy. It is one of the most important treatments for epilepsy, especially for children. Vitamin B6 may be used to control anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Vitamin B6 regulates the production of serotonin, a "happy" neurotransmitter. Vitamin B6 is also involved in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that make us feel good and function well throughout the day. Dopamine is especially important as it affects our motivation to get things done and enables us to feel good about what we've accomplished.
Vitamin B6 has been found to help improve the mood of people with depression. One large study looked at how people responded to antidepressant medication, light therapy, their usual treatment, or a placebo. They found that those in the vitamin B6 group had more improvements in depression than those who were given a placebo.
Have you ever experienced a "low" period after taking an intense exam or final in school? If so, you have probably experienced feelings of fatigue, symptoms of anxiety, and become irritable. When we don't have enough vitamin B6 in our system we become tired and irritable because our adrenal glands are not working properly without sufficient levels of this nutrient.
Vitamin B6 has been found to be effective in increasing energy levels in the body. The older people get, the more likely they are to become deficient in vitamin B6. 25% of people over the age of 60 tested were found to have a vitamin B6 deficiency and this number is even higher (40%) for those over 80 years old. Supplementing with vitamin B6 can help maintain proper energy levels, even among the elderly.
Vitamin B6 Side Effects
The only side effect that has been reported from taking vitamin B6 is a small increase in the production of stomach acid and an increase in heart rate. These effects are generally due to the fact that vitamin B6 is also used as a gastric acid–stimulating agent. No adverse or toxic effects have ever been associated with vitamin B6. Because of this, it is considered safe for use during pregnancy; however, the recommended dose during pregnancy is slightly less (1 mg per day).
Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency include:
fatigue, irritability, and apathy
insomnia or trouble sleeping
headache, depression, lack of concentration, and short-term memory loss
muscle weakness and spasms; muscle cramps; difficulty with balance and coordination.
When taken in doses larger than the RDA (recommended dietary allowance), vitamin B6 supplements can sometimes cause diarrhea; high doses can result in a burning sensation throughout the body. Some people experience nausea when taking large doses. Vitamin B6 is generally considered to be safe for most people, but it is not recommended for use by children under age four or during pregnancy. High doses of vitamin B6 have been known to cause nerve damage in adults.
The RDA for vitamin B6 is a minimum of 1 mg per day. In scientific studies, a dosage range of 100–300 mg per day of vitamin B6 has been used; some people use even higher amounts, particularly when combining it with other B vitamins in the treatment of epilepsy. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin; therefore, it is not stored by the body and can easily be flushed through the urine if there are high levels present. It is the most sensitive to heat, and the least stable of all vitamins.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is quite common among elderly people. Studies have shown that in the elderly, it occurs when there are high levels of stress and less time spent engaged in activities that require the use of muscles. The B6 content of foods can also be significantly affected by processing methods. Vitamin B6 is often found in cereal grains, milk, blood pencils (used for measuring blood sugar levels), liver, and bananas.