Do you ever wonder why doctors always tell you to eat a balanced diet? Say you love pineapple chicken, for example. Pineapples and chicken are both good for you, right? So why can’t you just live off pineapple chicken?
The reason is that the building blocks for good health come from a variety of foods, even if they are from the same family of nutrients. Such is the case with vitamin B, a key player in maintaining cell health and keeping you energized.
Not all types of vitamin B do the same thing. Additionally, the different types of vitamin B all come from different types of foods. Vitamin B-12, for example, is found primarily in meat and dairy products. B-7 and B-9 (and, to some degree, B-1 and B-2) are found in fruits and vegetables.
Deficiencies of any of these can lead to health problems. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a supplement when they think you’re not getting enough vitamin B.
Certain groups, such as older adults and pregnant women, need larger amounts of some types of vitamin B. Certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, HIV, and misuse of alcohol can result in poor absorption of vitamin B.
Symptoms of a deficiency depend on what type of vitamin B you lack. They can range from fatigue and confusion to anemia or a compromised immune system. Skin rashes also can occur.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is one of the vitamins included in the vitamin B complex family. All B vitamins, including vitamin B6, play an important role in a range of physical and psychological functions. They are most known for helping to maintain a healthy metabolism, nerve function, liver function, skin health, eye health, as well as help to boost levels of energy.
What is vitamin B6 good for?
Vitamin B6 has several derivatives, including pyridoxal, pyridoxal 5-phosphate and pyridoxamine. These are all important compounds involved in numerous biological functions. Vitamin B6 is used by the body every single day since it plays a part in such major functions including movement, memory, energy expenditure and blood flow. Therefore, a vitamin B6 deficiency can show up in many different symptoms, some only temporary but others more serious.
Vitamin B6 helps the body to maintain a healthy nervous system, to make hemoglobin that carries oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body, to provide energy from the food that we eat, to balance blood sugar levels, to act as a natural pain treatment, to boost mood, and also to create antibodies that our immune system uses to protect us. Yes, it’s that vital.
Preventing a Vitamin B6 Deficiency
A vitamin B6 deficiency is rare in western, developed nations where most people acquire enough calories and aren’t experiencing malnourishment. In fact, some experts feel that some people actually consume too high of levels of vitamin B6 and that this may be even more common in the general population than a vitamin B6 deficiency is.
The recommended amount of vitamin B6 for an average adult who is under the age of 50 is 1.3 milligrams. Normally, this amount is relatively easy to get from your diet, assuming you eat enough calories in general.
However, for vitamin B6 benefits, the intake recommendation jumps up as you get older, with experts recommending that adults over 50 get up to 1.7 milligram daily. The increase in vitamin B6 that is needed as someone ages makes older people more prone to experiencing a vitamin B6 deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Although a deficiency is not very common, studies have linked a vitamin B6 deficiency with an increased risk for a range of different disorders and symptoms.
A vitamin B6 deficiency can overtime cause symptoms including:
Low energy, or fatigue
Worsening of PMS symptoms
Worsening symptoms of anemia
Because vitamin B6 is so important for nerve function, a vitamin B6 deficiency is linked most commonly with neuropsychiatric disorders, including seizures, migraines, chronic pain and mood disorders like depression.
Other studies have indicated that poor vitamin B6 status is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Other research shows that vitamin B6 deficiency is more common among older people, with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia increasing as someone ages and their level of vitamin B6 drops.
Since they are at a higher risk for having a vitamin B6 deficiency, it’s recommended that older adults have their vitamin B6 levels tested by their doctor if they begin to lose their appetite, start generally eating less, lose weight or suffer from nutrient malabsorption for any reason.
Recommended Daily Amount of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 benefits can be found in many foods that are commonly eaten. This includes nuts and seeds, certain kinds of meat and poultry, avocados, certain legumes and beans, among other foods.
Vitamin B6 also includes B complex vitamins and many multivitamins as well. These are especially beneficial to take if you experience a lot of stress, low energy levels, mood changes, lots of physical activity, heart disease, PMS symptoms, chronic pain or migraine headaches regularly — or are above 50 years old.
The recommended daily allowance for vitamin B6 is as follows, depending on your age and gender:
Newborn–6 months: 0.3 milligrams
Children 1–8 years: 0.5- 0.6 milligrams
Children 4–16 years: 0.6- 1.0 milligrams
Boys 14–18 years: 1.2- 1.3 milligrams
Men and women 19–50 years: 1.3 milligrams
Men 51 years and older: 1.7 milligrams
Women 51 years and older: 1.5 milligrams
Pregnant women: 1.9 milligrams
Breastfeeding women: 2.0 milligrams
All B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they will be flushed out of the body and dissolved in your urine if you acquire too much of them. For this reason, there isn’t usually much concern with overdosing on vitamin B6 or reaching toxic levels; however, in rare instances too much vitamin B6 can cause some unwanted reactions.
Consuming too much vitamin B6 is usually a result of taking supplements and eating or drinking fortified processed foods that contain synthetic B vitamins, including fortified grain products and energy drinks. When someone has too much vitamin B6 within their body, reactions including muscle numbness, confusion and other unpleasant temporary symptoms.
Taking Vitamin B6 Supplements
Keep in mind that because vitamin B6 is water soluble, this means that the body is not able to store any leftover vitamin B6 for future needs and that you must regularly eat foods with B vitamins or take supplements to continue to meet your daily requirements.
While taking B vitamins supplements can be helpful for some people, it’s always best to get your nutrients from real food sources. The body knows exactly what to do with the vitamins naturally found in foods, as opposed to synthetic nutrients added to fortified foods.
Vitamins are best used by the body as more than just one single nutrient; they are actually utilized as complex groups of molecules that interact and are dependent upon each other, so you get the most benefits from vitamin supplements when you consume them in the same way nature intended.
If you are going to be taking any supplements that contain vitamin B6, be sure to purchase a high-quality product that is made from real food sources and doesn’t contain fillers or toxins. are made by joining together different collaborative nutrients so your body recognizes the vitamins and minerals and can use them in a natural way that gives you the most beneficial results.
Best Vegetarian and Vegan Sources Vitamin B6 Food Sources
Vitamin B6 can be found in high levels naturally in the following 13 foods (percentages based on 1.3 milligrams daily for adults under 50 years old):
Pistachio Nuts — 1⁄4 cup: 0.5 milligrams (38% DV)
Pinto Beans — 1 cup cooked: 0.4 milligrams (30% DV)
Avocado — 1 raw: 0.4 milligrams (30% DV)
Blackstrap Molasses — 2 tablespoons: 0.26 milligrams (20% DV)
Sunflower Seeds — 1⁄4 cup: 0.25 milligrams (19% DV)
Sesame Seeds — 1⁄4 cup: .25 milligrams (19% DV)
Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans — 1 cup cooked: 0.2 milligrams (15% DV)
Amaranth Grain — 1 cup cooked: 0.2 milligrams (15% DV)
Vitamin B6 Health Benefits
1. Maintains Healthy Blood Vessels
Vitamin B6 is needed to regulate levels of a compound called homocysteine within the blood. Homocysteine is a type of amino acid acquired from eating protein sources, especially meat. High levels of homocysteine in the blood is linked to inflammation and the development of heart disease and blood vessel disease, which may contribute to a heart attack.
Without enough vitamin B6, homocysteine builds up in the body and damages blood vessel linings. This can set the stage for dangerous plaque buildup, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Studies have shown that when patients take vitamin B6 along with folate, total homocysteine concentrations are significantly reduced. Vitamin B6 helps to treat high homocysteine levels so the body can heal the damage done to blood vessels.
Vitamin B6 also plays a role in managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are two other important factors for preventing heart disease.
2. Supports Brain Function
The B6 vitamin benefits include helping proper brain development and brain function. Studies have shown that a vitamin B6 deficiency could influence memory function and contribute to cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and dementia as someone ages. Other studies also link a vitamin B6 deficiency to possibly contributing to Alzheimer’s disease.
One way vitamin B6 impacts brain function is by controlling homocysteine levels, which are not only a risk factor in heart disease but also damage to neurons of the central nervous system, too.
Vitamin B6 also plays an important role in making the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, two hormones known as “happy hormones” that help to control mood, energy and concentration. Researchers believe that certain behavior disorders in children, including ADHD, are caused by low serotonin levels and, therefore, that taking vitamin B6 might have a beneficial effect on children with a these learning and behavior disorders. (19)
3. Can Improve Your Mood
Some prescription antidepressant medications work the same way that vitamin B6 does … by raising levels of serotonin in the brain. Research has shown that vitamin B6 has a significant impact on the central production of both serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters in the brain. These are important hormones that control mood and are needed to prevent depression, pain, fatigue and anxiety, so vitamin B6 has been associated with increasing mood and preventing mood disorders.
Because vitamin B6 is involved in hormone production in the brain, it’s believed to be effective in treating mood disorders and certain brain diseases that can develop as a result of deficiencies in neurotransmitter function. (21) Research suggests that patients taking vitamin B6 supplements can help to lift their mood, to experience less pain, and to avoid having a lack of energy and concentration, too.
4. Helps Treat Anemia
Vitamin B6 is needed to create hemoglobin in the blood, which is transported by red blood cells throughout the body to help bring oxygen to cells and to mobilize iron. Anemia results when someone doesn’t make enough red blood cells, resulting in symptoms like fatigue, aches and pains, and more. Studies show that consuming plenty of vitamin B6 can help lower symptoms of anemia and prevent it from occurring in some instances.
5. Protects Eye Health
In many instances, a poor diet or nutrient deficiencies are the underlying causes of many eye diseases. Studies have shown that that taking vitamin B6 along with other vitamins, including folate, can help with the prevention of eye disorders and loss of vision.
Vitamin B6 is believed to help slow the onset of certain eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration.
6. Can Help Prevent or Reduce Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Low levels of vitamin B6 have been associated with increased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), including more severe pain. Certain early studies are finding that people with RA may need more vitamin B6 than healthy people because they experience ongoing muscle aches and joint pain due to chronic inflammation. Vitamin B6 benefits include curbing pain and can be useful in supplement form for controlling aches in the muscles and joints due to arthritis.
7. Helps Treat High Blood Pressure
Some earlier studies suggest that taking vitamin B6 supplements may be able to help lower blood pressure in people with existing high blood pressure levels. Vitamin B6 increases blood flow, lowers build up in the arteries and helps prevent common factors of heart disease.
8. Helps Relieve Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome
Consuming plenty of vitamin B6 or taking B complex vitamins can help prevent or treat PMS symptoms. Studies have shown that vitamin B6 helps combat breast pain, nausea, cramps, fatigue, headaches and even acne that occurs before a woman’s menstrual cycle.
It’s believed vitamin B6 helps with PMS because of its positive effects on neurotransmitters that are responsible for pain management in the brain, as well as its role in increasing blood flow and managing hormones. It’s recommended for women who experience frequent PMS symptoms to take B complex vitamins regularly, especially the 10 days before menstruating.
9. Helps Decrease Nausea During Pregnancy
Studies have found that taking vitamin B6 is effective in relieving the severity of nausea and “morning sickness” that occur during pregnancy. One study showed that after patients tracked the severity of their nausea over 24 hours before treatment with vitamin B6 and again afterwards, the group who took vitamin B6 experienced a significant decrease in nausea compared with the placebo group that did not.
10. Can Help Treat Asthma
Some studies have shown that vitamin B6 benefits including decreasing the occurrence of asthma attacks. The nutrient has helped those with asthma to reduce symptoms of wheezing that are associated with asthma attacks, as well as to lower the severity and frequency of the attacks occurring.
11. Helps Regulate Sleep Cycles
Vitamin B6 helps the body to make melatonin, which is an important hormone that helps us to fall asleep. Melatonin is responsible for allowing us to regulate our own internal clock, so we know when it’s time to wake up and have energy, and also when it’s time to wind down and fall asleep for the night.
12. Prevents Kidney Stones
Some evidence shows that taking vitamin B6 along with other minerals, including magnesium, may be able to prevent or treat kidney stones. Vitamin B6 is usually helpful in doing this in patients who are at an increased risk for kidney stones due to other illnesses.
Concerns and Interactions of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 can interact with other medications when taken in high amounts. If you’re being treated for any of the following conditions with medications, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, including vitamin B6.
Some medications that interact with vitamin B6 include:
Drugs used for treating Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, seizures or heart disease
Any drugs used in chemotherapy
Cycloserine (Seromycin) or Isoniazid for treating tuberculosis
Hydralazine (Apresoline) for treating high blood pressure
Penicillamine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
Theophylline (TheoDur) used to treat asthma
Antibiotics including Tetracycline
Antidepressant medications including Pamelor, Elavil, desipramine, Norpramin and Tofranil
Some antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) may also be able to reduce blood levels of vitamin B6