Vitamin B6 Explained – What is it and How Does it Work
Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin you take on through foods in your diet.
It’s been identified as taking part in more than 150 enzymatic reactions and helps your body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Vitamin B6 is also essential in the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters.
Due to its essential role in such a diverse range of functions, getting enough B6 is key to keeping your body healthy.
But how exactly can vitamin B6 benefit your body?
Read on to find out what it does and why you need it in your diet.
What is vitamin B6?
This is one of eight vitamins in the B family. It’s a water-soluble nutrient that plays an essential role in metabolic processes, along with maintaining a healthy nervous system.
B6 helps to break down and use carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Not only is this important for general health, its invaluable to someone who regularly goes to the gym and is into their fitness.
It also helps to produce neurotransmitters, which allow the cells within your brain to communicate with each other. This gives it nootropic qualities.
Your body does not create B6, which means you get it from your diet. Most people will get enough from the foods they eat; however, it is possible to become deficient in the vitamin.
The best way to ensure you’re getting enough of it is to become familiar with the B6 rich foods.
Sources of vitamin B6:
- Cereal grains
- Sunflower seeds
As well as eating plenty of vitamin B6 foods, you’ll also find the majority of the B nutrients in a multivitamin or supplement.
Vitamin B6 deficiency
While you may experience a B6 deficiency if you simply don’t take on enough of the vitamin, there are certain conditions that can make a low intake more likely.
Vitamin B6 deficiency is more common in people with digestive or autoimmune issues, along with liver and kidney disease. Those with hyperthyroidism and congestive heart failure may also experience lower B6 levels.
If you’re a smoker, obese alcoholic or pregnant, there is also a higher rate of vitamin B6 deficiency.
The signs of a B6 deficiency include:
- Cracked and sore lips
- Inflamed tongue and mouth
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Tingling in hands and feet
The benefits of Vitamin B6
As this vitamin plays such an important role in so many internal functions, maintaining optimal B6 levels can offer a huge range of positive health properties. Here we’ll run through vitamin B6 benefits based on science.
Can Improve Metabolic Processes
This translates into a whole host of benefits.
In terms of energy, your body is able to process carbohydrates more efficiently with optimal B6 levels. This means you’ll improve your sensitivity to these foods and heighten fat oxidization .
It’s also a key player in the metabolization of protein, helping your body absorb the amino acids you need for muscle growth more readily .
With both of these benefits in mind, optimal B6 levels can be considered key to both weight loss, and maximizing results from workouts.
Key Point: Vitamin B6 can help with the processes that help you lose weight
Improve your mood and promote brain health
Due to its role in nourishing the brain and creating neurotransmitters, vitamin B6 can help to regulate and improve your mood.
Low levels of B6 are associated with heightened symptoms of depression .
In particular, these neurotransmitters contribute to the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and GABA . The presence of these chemicals has been linked to lower symptoms of depression .
As well as promoting these mood-enhancing compounds, vitamin B6 is shown to lower the presence of an amino acid called homocysteine. This has been linked to a number of psychiatric issues, including depression, especially in older people who were at risk of B6 deficiency .
By improving neurotransmitter health, you’re also improving your brain health which, in theory, should help to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s .
However, despite the links it has to help with these issues, there’s little evidence to suggest B6 works as a treatment for either depression or Alzheimer’s .
Key Point: This vitamin helps to enhance mood and nourish your brain
May help with the symptoms of PMS
The symptoms of PMS include anxiety, depression, and irritability.
As vitamin B6 benefits include regulating mood, scientists think it could be used to treat PMS.
Although their suspicions line up with the other benefits of vitamin B6, the evidence is conflicting.
One study prescribed 60 premenopausal women with a daily dose of 50mg of B6 for three months and found the negative mood symptoms of PMS dropped by an average of 69% .
However, in the same study women who received placebo control also reported an improvement in irritability, depression, and tiredness. This indicates the results from those who took B6 may not be entirely based on the performance of the vitamin .
Overall, more research and larger studies need to be performed to better understand vitamin B6 benefits for PMS symptoms.
Key Point: The brain-boosting elements of vitamin B6 can help to reduce the symptoms of PMS
Could help treat anemia and ensure a healthy pregnancy
When creating red blood cells in the body, B6 plays a part in making hemoglobin. With optimal amounts of hemoglobin in your system, you can carry more oxygen around your body, which combats anemia.
Studies have backed this up, by linking low B6 levels with anemia in women who’re pregnant .
To support this, the study examined 56 anemic pregnant women who supplemented their diet with 75mg of vitamin B6. They found the symptoms of anemia decreased .
Vitamin B6 is linked to reducing nausea in pregnancy.
In a study of 342 women who were in early pregnancy, scientists found that 30mg of B6 helped to reduce the feelings of nausea they were experiencing after just five days .
Although scientists aren’t actually sure why it helps to reduce the feelings of nausea, they suspect it’s because vitamin B6 is essential to maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Key Point: Vitamin B6 has long been known to help reduce nausea and support a healthy pregnancy
B6 may help to reduce the risk of heart disease
Science indicates that vitamin B6 functions may include reducing the risk of heart disease and preventing artery-clogging.
Those who are deficient in B6 have been shown to be at almost twice as much risk of developing heart disease in comparison to those with high readings .
Researchers believe this occurs because B6 helps to lower homocysteine levels. This amino acid is commonly found within the body, however, elevated amounts are associated with a number of diseases, including heart disease .
In this randomized trial, scientists used 158 participants whose siblings had heart disease. They split the group into two and supplemented half with a daily serving 125mg of vitamin B6 and 5mg of folic acid. This trial continued for 2 years and, by the end, the participants who took the vitamin had lower homocysteine levels and were at lower risk of heart disease .
Key Point: Science shows that supplementing with B6 may help to lower the risk of heart disease over time
Could reduce chances of eye disease
Much in the same way B6 can help to reduce heart disease, it has can promote good eye health by contributing to the prevention of the eye disease: age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.
It is suspected that AMD comes about when a high level of homocysteine is present .
Scientists, therefore, presume that, since B6 can lower the amount of homocysteine within the body, it can help to reduce the chances of developing AMD .
During a seven-year study, more than 5,400 women supplemented with B6, B12 and folic acid on a daily basis. The results showed that this helped to reduce the risk of AMD by 35-40% in comparison to the placebo .
Key Point: B6 may help to lower damaging amino acids that could cause eye diseases that come with aging
How much vitamin B6 do I need?
The majority of people get enough of this vitamin simply from eating a varied diet.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6 is 1.5mg for women per day and 2mg per day for men .
However, this isn’t a set guideline, as the research surrounding the health benefits of the vitamin uses serving ranging from 30mg up to around 200mg.
The servings vary depending on the condition too, so it’s difficult to tell how much to take.
Based on side effects, which we’ll cover below, the most you can take with experiencing any adverse symptoms from the vitamin is around 100mg.
If you are considering taking B6 to treat a deficiency, we recommend you speak to your physician first
Vitamin B6 side effects and safety
Taking your recommended daily allowance of the vitamin is completely safe. It’s considered very unlikely that you could take on enough B6 to experience any adverse symptoms.
However, when taken at higher servings, a number of side effects have been noted.
When taking a serving of 1,000mg or higher, you may experience pain in the hands and feet, which comes from nerve damage or neuropathy. However, some reports indicate that these vitamin B6 side effects have been experienced at 100-300mg servings .
The safe upper limit of vitamin B6 is therefore considered to sit at 100mg .
This is usually used to guide trials and tests; however, some do go over this amount. If you’re considering taking more than 100mg, we’d suggest consulting your physician first.
Vitamin B6 is essential to so many processes and functions within the body.
It has been linked to reducing the chances of disease, enabling a healthy pregnancy, increasing fat oxidization and heightening the mood.
Overall, getting enough vitamin B6 in your system is essential to maintaining healthy internal functions.