Vitamin B6 is one of eight B vitamins and is essential for your metabolism, cardiovascular health, and much more. But because vitamin B6 is water-soluble, and not fat-soluble, it’s regularly flushed out of the body, and therefore needs to be consumed daily.
Here are eight health benefits of vitamin B6 and how to get enough of it in your diet.
1. Vitamin B6 helps turn food into energy
Along with other B vitamins, B6 assists the body in converting food into energy. It helps metabolize carbohydrates and works with enzymes to break down proteins into amino acids — compounds that help our body grow and function properly.
2. Vitamin B6 supports heart health
“Vitamin B6 works with two other B vitamins — B12 and folic acid — to reduce levels of homocysteine,” says Megan Wong, a registered dietitian at AlgaeCal, a calcium supplement company.
Hyperhomocysteinemia occurs when there are high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood. High amounts of homocysteine can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, and atherosclerosis, a disease that causes plaque to build up in the arteries.
According to a 2015 report published in the Nutrition Journal, hyperhomocysteinemia can occur when someone is deficient in vitamin B6. But, with the right levels of B6 in combination with B12 and folic acid (B9), homocysteine levels can lower by up to a third. It’s important to note that despite lowered homocysteine levels, patients do not see an effect on vascular outcomes. Therefore, B-vitamins may play a more preventative role in heart health.
3. Vitamin B6 promotes healthy brain function
An increase in homocysteine levels can also speed up cognitive decline, says Wong. This uptick can lead to an increased risk of neurological conditions such as dementia.
In addition to regulating homocysteine levels, B6 plays a role in the synthesis of important neurotransmitters — chemical messengers used by the brain and nervous system. Some of the neurotransmitters B6 helps synthesize include:
Dopamine: responsible for reward-seeking, motivation, and movement
Serotonin: stabilizes mood, causes feelings of well-being and happiness.
Melatonin: plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythm and ability to fall asleep
Noradrenaline: produces the ‘fight or flight’ response in our body when we perceive danger
4. Vitamin B6 may help morning sickness
During pregnancy, anyone experiencing morning sickness is often prescribed a combination tablet of doxylamine — an antihistamine — and vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 has been shown to help with nausea while the doxylamine may reduce vomiting. A typical dose of the combination tablet is 10 mg to 25 mg, three times a day.
5. Vitamin B6 may treat seizures in newborns
Children diagnosed with pyridoxine‐dependent epilepsy (PDE) require between 15 to 500 mg of vitamin B6 a day for life. PDE is a rare, genetic condition that occurs within a few days of being born and is characterized by difficult-to-control seizures. But vitamin B6 can help control the condition.
Pyridoxine‐dependent epilepsy is rare with only 200 cases reported, and occurs within a few days of being born. It is caused by a mutation in the gene ALDH7A1.
When treated intravenously with 50-100 mg of vitamin B6 — also known as pyridoxine — the seizures dissipated within minutes. Children diagnosed with PDE receive 15 to 30mg of vitamin B6 a day for life, but may sometimes require up to 500 mg.
A person with these seizures is vitamin B6 dependent, requiring the nutrient in order to keep the condition at bay as traditional anticonvulsants do not work.
6. Vitamin B6 fosters a healthy immune system
The body requires vitamin B6 to maintain a healthy immune system.
“B6 improves communication from ‘messenger’ cells called chemokines, which direct white blood cells to areas of infection or damage,” says Wong. “Not having enough vitamin B6 can reduce the growth and production of key immune players: lymphocytes and antibodies.”
There are two forms of lymphocytes, both of which are altered by a B6 deficiency:
T cells which fights off foreign invaders in the body
B cells which create antibodies that then attach to foreign invaders, like bacteria or viruses, and destroy them
A 2006 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin B6 improved the immune response in critically ill patients. The study divided 51 participants into three groups: one received an injection of 50 mg of B6 a day, another 100 mg, and a control group. After 14 days of supplementation, those who received 50 to 100 mg of B6 saw an improvement in important markers of immune response like total T-cell count.
7. Vitamin B6 helps prevent anemia
“Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of hemoglobin — a protein that supplies the cells with oxygen,” says Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, a clinical immunologist and a medical advisor at Supplements101.
Lower than normal hemoglobin levels is one of the causes of anemia, a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, so without adequate red blood cells, one can feel weak and fatigued.
Maintaining an adequate intake of vitamin B6 can help prevent anemia.
How much vitamin B6 do I need?
The amount of B6 you should be consuming on a daily basis depends on age and gender. For each demographic, the daily recommended dose of vitamin B6 is:
Where can I get vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 is readily available in food and supplements. “The best way to ensure we have enough of this vitamin is through a vitamin B6-rich diet,” says Velikova.
Foods high in B6 include:
If someone is unable to consume enough vitamin B6 through their diet, they can consider taking B6 supplements. Velikova says dosage should not exceed 1.4 mg a day for women over 18 and 1.7 mg a day for men over 18.
Wong recommends supplements for older adults, especially if they have a reduced appetite that may mean they are not eating enough B6 rich foods.
Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they can help you determine the right dosage.
Vitamin B6 is critical in maintaining proper body functions. Its benefits include improving heart health and fostering a healthy immune system. To ensure you’re hitting your daily recommendation of B6 try incorporating chicken, soybeans, and potatoes into your diet.
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