Vitamin B6 Benefits, Foods, Deficiency, & Side Effects

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on
A bowl of sunflower seeds. Healthy metabolism is one of many vitamin B6 benefits.

The body uses vitamin B6 for brain and nervous system function, metabolic processes, blood sugar level regulation, blood cell formation, and to support your immune system. This important vitamin is found in many foods, including meat, seafood, and some vegetables. Taking B6 supplementally is generally quite safe since excess is excreted in urine; however, extremely high intake has been associated with some side effects.

What Is Vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 is a micronutrient with six separate compounds: pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, and each of their' 5'-phosphate esters (for example, pyridoxal-5'-phosphate or PLP, and pyridoxamine-5'-phosphate or PMP). As a water-soluble vitamin, if you take more than you need, your body eliminates it in your urine. Since your body does not store this vitamin, it's important to consume enough on a daily basis. It's also important to note that all the vitamin B complex compounds work together, so make sure that all are included in your diet.

Top 6 Benefits of Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is necessary for the metabolic processes that help with brain health, immune system function, the formation of blood cells, protein synthesis, and more. Vitamin B6 also helps regulate blood sugar levels. Below are the top six health benefits linked to vitamin B6.

1. Promotes Healthy Metabolism

Vitamin B6 helps to convert food into energy. As a coenzyme — a non-protein used alongside enzymes — pyridoxal-5'-phosphate (PLP) helps catalyze more than 100 enzyme reactions that influence your body's metabolism. These are mostly building and breaking down proteins and amino acids.[1] B6 helps control your metabolism through the production of hormones, including melatonin that affects sleep, serotonin that boosts your mood, and norepinephrine, which releases energy.[2]

2. Supports Skin & Hair Health

Vitamin B6 helps you have clearer, healthier skin. Making sure you get enough of this vitamin can normalize redness and swelling of the skin.[3] Those effects extend to your hair, too. By oxygenating hair follicles, B6 contributes to thick, healthy-looking locks.[4] In one study, injecting B6 intramuscularly in people with alopecia reduced hair loss.[5]

3. Boosts Your Brain Power

Vitamin B6 plays a role in building neurotransmitters, which are the neurochemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate with one another in the brain and across the nervous system. Vitamin B6 helps with memory, learning, and focus. Studies show that B6 can normalize mood, and mitigate issues such as depression, anxiety, and attention disorders.[6]

4. Balances Your Blood Sugar

Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the body's preferred source of energy. However, consistently high glucose levels can lead to insulin resistance and conditions like type 2 diabetes. At least one study found vitamin B6 helped regulate blood glucose levels as well as insulin release in mice; the researchers suggested it may help prevent the development of metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) in humans, as well.[7]

5. Bolsters Your Immune System

Vitamin B6 also helps the immune system work be its best. B6 is involved with the production of lymphocytes, also called white blood cells, which help the body fight infection and injury.[8] Studies have found that B6 deficiency is linked to reduced white blood cell count and diminished immune system response. Some evidence suggests it may, but studies need to determine whether increasing B6 intake can improve immune system function.[9, 10]

6. Builds Your Blood

Vitamin B6 also promotes a healthy circulatory system. Red blood cells bring oxygen to the brain and other organs. Vitamin B6 not only helps make hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells, it also optimizes the blood's ability to transport that oxygen to tissue. A lack of B6 can lead to an anemic condition that resembles the one caused by iron deficiency.[11]

Causes of B6 Deficiency

  • Vegan or vegetarian diets
  • Crohn's disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Kidney disease
  • Certain medications
  • Alcoholism

Some people get enough vitamin B6 from their diet because it is found in meat, seafood, and eggs. Similarly, because it's found in those foods, vegetarians and vegans may end up deficient. Where your diet falls short, you can rely on supplements to fill the gaps. There is also a higher risk of vitamin B6 deficiency for individuals who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder like Crohn's disease or rheumatoid arthritis. The same is true for those with kidney disease, who are taking medication for epilepsy or suffer from alcohol dependence. If you believe you're at risk, talk to your healthcare provider.

Symptoms of B6 Deficiency

Many individuals who have been diagnosed with a B6 deficiency may not show symptoms for years. But some common symptoms and side effects of low B6 levels include the following.

Depression

Vitamin B6 plays an important role in neurotransmitter function, including the construction of serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in mood regulation. Inadequate B6 can result in depressive symptoms — as well as feelings of anxiety.[12] Many individuals with insufficient vitamin B6 experience feelings of depression and anxiety.

Low Energy

Vitamin B6 is crucial for energy production in the body. When you are deficient, you may experience muscle fatigue and low energy. As you digest your food, all the B vitamins work together to help transform the nutrients in your diet into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the energy molecule that gives your cells the fuel they need. When B6 levels are low, glucose is not converted as efficiently, leading to feelings of low energy.

Heart Conditions

B6 may offer a degree of protection against cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to scientists.[13] This vitamin helps reduce intracellular calcium ion overload, which has been linked to cardiovascular issues in some studies.[14] When there is insufficient B6, there is increased risk of high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and heart attack. And the lack of oxygen to the brain can also lead to stroke or symptoms of dementia.[13]

Other Symptoms

Because of its role in hemoglobin production, vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to microcytic anemia, a form of anemia associated with too-small red blood cells. Infants and young children with vitamin B6 deficiency may show irritability or have seizures. In adults and children, B6 deficiency may also result in the following symptoms:

  • A swollen and cracked tongue or lips
  • Skin itchiness and eczema
  • Insomnia
  • Eye issues
  • Asthma
  • Suppressed immune function
  • Reduced liver function

Vitamin B6 & Pregnancy

Studies suggest that adequate B6 intake during pregnancy is associated with healthier outcomes in pregnancy, including higher birthweight and lower rates of preterm birth and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and malformations. A recent review concluded that more evidence is needed on this, however.[15] Some studies have found taking 30-75 mg B6 during pregnancy can reduce nausea and vomiting.[1]

How to Test for Vitamin B6 Deficiency

If you are concerned about whether you are getting enough vitamin B6 or might be deficient, ask your doctor for a test. Healthcare providers typically measure concentrations of this vitamin using a blood plasma test that tests for PLP (pyridoxal-5'-phosphate) — though vitamin B6 status can also be evaluated through a urine test. A PLP concentration of more than 20 nmol/L is considered sufficient. Anything less is a deficiency and should be addressed through adjustments to your diet or supplementation.

Top Foods High in Vitamin B6

It's fairly easy to get vitamin B6 through a healthy, balanced diet. While a plant-based diet offers great health benefits over eating meat, turkey breast and beef do have high levels of B6. But vegetarians and vegans need not worry! This nutrient is also present in certain vegetables and non-citrus fruits, as well as a wide variety of fortified foods. Here are some foods with higher levels of vitamin B6:

Food Milligram (mg) Per Serving
Sunflower seed 1 cup 1.1 mg
Chickpeas, canned, 1 cup 1.1 mg
Beef liver, pan fried, 3 ounces 0.9 mg
Tuna, yellowfin, fresh, cooked, 3 ounces 0.9 mg
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces 0.6 mg
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 0.5 mg
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25 percent of the DV for vitamin B6 0.5 mg
Potatoes, boiled, 1 cup 0.4 mg
Turkey, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces 0.4 mg
Banana, 1 medium 0.4 mg
Bulgur, cooked, 1 cup 0.2 mg
Squash, winter, baked, 1/2 cup 0.2 mg
Avocado 1/2 fruit 0.2 mg
Tofu, raw, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup 0.1 mg
Watermelon, raw, 1 cup 0.1 mg
Spinach 1/2 cup 0.1 mg

Vitamin B6 Dosage

Adults need about 1.2 mg to 2.0 mg of vitamin B6 daily, which is achievable through a balanced diet. The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) at different ages, published by the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, are listed below.[1]

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Vitamin B6

* Adequate Intake (Assumed to be adequate for healthy individuals in this age range).

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
Birth to 6 Months 0.1 mg* 0.1 mg* N/A N/A
7–12 months 0.3 mg* 0.3 mg* N/A N/A
1-3 years 0.5 mg 0.5 mg N/A N/A
4–8 years 0.6 mg 0.6 mg N/A N/A
9–13 years 1.0 mg 1.0 mg N/A N/A
14–18 years 1.3 mg 1.2 mg 1.9 mg 2.0 mg
19–50 years 1.3 mg 1.3 mg 1.9 mg 2.0 mg
51+ years 1.7 mg 1.5 mg N/A N/A

Vitamin B6 Side Effects & Safety

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, so if you have too much, the excess will be excreted in urine. Side effects from taking this vitamin in supplement form are uncommon, though it can interact with some medications, including drugs that treat tuberculosis and epilepsy.

That said, in rare circumstances, taking too much B6 has been linked to side effects such a loss of control of voluntary movements, gastrointestinal difficulties, and skin that is extra sensitive to light. Since vitamin B6 supports so many processes across the body, flooding the system can interfere with healthy function — it's truly a case of a body getting too much of a good thing. As such, it's important to not to over-supplement. Talk to your healthcare provider about how much vitamin B6 is right for you.

Points to Remember

Vitamin B6 plays an important role in giving you energy, but it also plays an important role in immune, brain, and cardiovascular function. And it also promotes healthy-looking hair and skin. You can find B6 in certain foods, including meat and seafood, but also in some plant-based foods such as chickpeas, potatoes, squash, and bananas.

Most adults should get 1.3 mg per day, with lesser amounts recommended for younger individuals, and 1.5 mg per day for individuals over 50 years old. You can find vitamin B6 in many multivitamins, B-complex supplements, and as a standalone pill. Most supplements contain all six of the vitamin B components, but some sell PLP only. The B vitamins work with each other, so, for best results, make sure to consume food or supplements that provide all the vitamin B complex compounds.

References (15)
  1. "Vitamin B6: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated 2 March 2018. Accessed 20 August 2018.
  2. Parra M, et al. "Vitamin B6 and Its Role in Cell Metabolism and Physiology." Cells. 2012;7(7),pii:E84.
  3. Kato N. Role of Vitamin B6 in Skin Health and Diseases." In: Preedy VR, eds. Handbook of Diet, Nutrition and the Skin. Human Health Handbooks, vol 2(1). Wageningen, Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
  4. 2012.4.
  5. Goluch-Koniuszy ZS. "Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause." Prz Menopauzalny. 2016;15(1),56-61.5.
  6. Brzezinska-Wcislo L. "Evaluation of vitamin B6 and calcium pantothenate effectiveness on hair growth from clinical and trichographic aspects for treatment of diffuse alopecia in women." Wiad Lek. 2001;54(1-2),11-8.6.
  7. Mousain-Bosc, M. et al. "Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6." Magnes Res. 2006;19(1),46-52.7.
  8. Li, Z, et al. "Vitamin B6 Prevents Endothelial Dysfunction, Insulin Resistance, and Hepatic Lipid Accumulation in APOE(-/-) Mice Fed with High-Fat Diet." J Diabetes Res. 2016;2016:1748065
  9. Qian B, et al. "Effects of vitamin B6 deficiency on the composition and functional potential of T cell populations." J Immunol Res. 2017;2017:2197975.
  10. Rall LC, Meydani SN. "Vitamin B6 and immune competence." Nutr Rev. 1993;51(8),217-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8302491
  11. Cheng CH, et al. "Vitamin B6 supplementation increases immune responses in critically ill patients." Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(10),1207-13.
  12. Pan WH, et al. "Co-occurrence of anemia, marginal vitamin B6, and folate status and depressive symptoms in older adults." J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 2012;25(3),170-8.
  13. Mikkelsen, K et al. "The Effects of Vitamin B in Depression." Curr Med Chem. 2016;23(38),4317-37.
  14. Dhalla NS, et al. "Mechanisms of the beneficial effects of vitamin B6 and pyridoxal 5-phosphate on cardiac performance in ischemic heart disease." Clin Chem Lab Med. 2013;51(3),535-43.
  15. "Calcium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated 2 Mar. 2017. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.
  16. Salam RA., et al. "Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) supplementation during pregnancy or labour for maternal and neonatal outcomes." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(6), CD000179.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

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