You may know a B-complex vitamin is good for you, but is it really it’s all cracked up to be? Do B vitamins really help everyone? And do you really need to buy that bottle of supplements?
While the B vitamin complex might get a lot of attention, there’s one specific type that deserves a spotlight of its own – and that’s vitamin B6.
This article is more than a list of benefits… It’s a deep dive into the role of B6 in your body. I think this vitamin is often overlooked and underrated so I wanted to be sure to explain exactly why it’s so important.
What is Vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays key roles in many areas of health. The term “vitamin B6” is a generic name for 3 different but similar compounds – pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxine. These 3 forms undergo further reactions to become “cofactors,” which can be thought of as “helper molecules” in enzyme reactions that help your cells function normally.
Among the cofactors is pyridoxal 5’-phosphate (often simply called P5P), the most active form of vitamin B6 in your body. PLP is involved in over 150 (about 4%) reactions in your body! As you can imagine, eating a healthy diet with adequate vitamin B6 levels is very important.
Before we go any further, any discussion of vitamin B6 would be incomplete without mentioning another name that you’ll see or hear quite frequently associated with vitamin B6, and that is homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) that, when present in high levels, can increase the risk of numerous diseases and disorders, including heart disease, depression, seizures, intellectual disability, cancer, and many others.
Because homocysteine is converted to another amino acid called cysteine by a PLP-dependent enzyme, you’ll soon see that many of vitamin B6’s potential benefits could come from reducing the levels of homocysteine in your body.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
10 Roles of Vitamin B6
1. Vitamin B6 and Alzheimer’s Disease
High levels of homocysteine increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, raising the possibility of using vitamin B6 supplements to slow down the damage by lowering homocysteine levels.
One study showed that high levels of vitamin B6 (20 mg/day) along with folic acid and vitamin B12 slowed down the shrinkage of gray matter in the participants’ brains, the region that is mainly affected by Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, other studies indicate that the reduction of homocysteine does not necessarily result in cognitive improvements in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Some researchers believe that we shouldn’t be discouraged by the lack of positive results, however. In one 2016 review, two scientists argued that many of the studies were poorly designed, and that most the participants included in the studies were unlikely to respond to the vitamin B6 within the trial period. Thus, given the safety of vitamin B6, they recommended that patients at risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s add the vitamin to their diet.
2. Vitamin B6 and Depression
Your body needs vitamin B6 to produce at least three well-known neurotransmitters:
These three neurotransmitters help regulate your body’s stress response and moods. They have also been linked to depression.
When there is not enough vitamin B6 in the body, homocysteine is converted to an amino acid byproduct called S-adenosyl homocysteine. The accumulation of S-adenosyl homocysteine leads to decreased production of epinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. This reason is why some scientists believe that high levels of homocysteine related to vitamin B6 deficiency could be a cause for depression and other mental illnesses.
However, while animal studies have shown that vitamin B6 supplements raises serotonin levels, human clinical trials showed that the vitamin does not have any effect on depression.
3. Role of Vitamin B6 in Reducing PMS
Women might be particularly interested in vitamin B6, especially if they suffer from premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. While the cause of PMS is still unknown, several studies have shown that taking vitamin B6 significantly reduces PMS symptoms such as:
The biggest benefits for women may come from taking a combination of vitamin B6 and another mineral effective for PMS symptom relief. In small clinical studies involving a combination of vitamin B6 with magnesium or calcium, researchers found that participants who received the combo experienced more significant relief from their symptoms.
4. Vitamin B6 and Pregnancy Benefits
This is another topic that may be of bigger interest for women or those of you who are looking to start a family.
Vitamin B6 is not only crucial for a baby’s brain development, it may but it may also help relieve the nausea and vomiting that plague at least 70% of women during the first trimester of their pregnancy.
A recently published study showed that 40 mg of vitamin B6 taken twice daily was as effective as 500 mg of ginger taken twice daily at reducing the severity of their nausea and vomiting. Other clinical studies showed similar results, with many participants seeing positive results within four to five days.
5. Vitamin B6 and Cancer Prevention
Low levels of PLP in your blood has consistently been linked to higher risk of inflammation, which can lead to chronic diseases like cancer. The relationship between cancer and low PLP levels has been observed in colorectal, lung, breast, and kidney cancers, indicating that the role of PLP in cancer and inflammation should be investigated further.
Whether vitamin B6 helps prevent cancer or not is still unclear. Some studies have suggested that vitamin B6 could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and breast cancer, while others suggest that there is no relationship. We need to wait for more clinical data to see if there are any confirmed benefits.
6. Vitamin B6 and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Because vitamin B6 could play an important role in inflammation and cancer, scientists naturally examined another inflammatory disease that plagues millions of people: rheumatoid arthritis. Like in certain types of cancer, patients with rheumatoid arthritis have low levels of vitamin B6. They also have high levels of homocysteine.
While an earlier study showed that vitamin B6 does not have any benefits for rheumatoid arthritis, a more recent study showed that vitamin B6 reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins.
The second study used a much larger dose of vitamin B6 (100 mg/day) for 12 weeks, while the first study used 50 mg/day for 30 days. These results suggest that vitamin B6 provides anti-inflammatory benefits for patients with rheumatoid arthritis when used over a long period of time.
7. Vitamin B6 and Skin Health
Vitamin B6 is also important for skin health. Low levels of the vitamin have been associated with seborrheic dermatitis, a skin condition that causes rough, scaly patches on the face, neck, and scalp.
Collagen production can be suppressed by lack of vitamin B6, which could in turn affect skin health. Some participants of one study found that applying a vitamin B6 ointment to the skin lesions temporarily improved their symptoms.
B-complex vitamins were also shown to have a positive effect on the production and migration of two types of skin cells, keratinocytes and fibroblasts, which could help wounds heal faster.
8. Vitamin B6 and Sleep
As we discussed before, vitamin B6 is important in the production of serotonin. Serotonin doesn’t just make you happy, though – it actually gets converted to melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep better.
If you have trouble remembering your dreams when you wake up, vitamin B6 might be able to help you. In one study, participants who took vitamin B6 were able to recall much more of their dreams compared to before, which suggests that the vitamin could play a role in lucid dreaming.
9. Vitamin B6 and Your Eyes
Vitamin B-complex has been called a “silver bullet” in the prevention and management of age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss among seniors. Once again high levels of homocysteine is associated with another condition: age-related macular degeneration, causing researchers to believe that taking vitamin B6 could help lower the homocysteine levels and slow down the disease progression.
A seven-year study following over 5,000 women showed that a combination of folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration by 35-40%. This is quite a significant finding seeing as how the risks were reduced without the use of pharmaceuticals, and I believe this could lead to improvements in age-related macular degeneration treatment methods.
A similar study was conducted using the supplement combination’s effect on age-related cataract development and extraction. Unfortunately, the vitamins had no significant effect, and may have even increased the risk of cataract removal.
10. Vitamin B6 and Heart Health
High homocysteine levels are also seen in many heart diseases. So,preventing them with vitamin B6 might be a real possibility. Vitamin B6 deficiency could increase the rate of homocysteine-related atherosclerosis – the hardening and narrowing of arteries.
When rats were given vitamin B6, their cholesterol levels were much lower compared to those that didn’t receive any, despite the fact that their homocysteine levels did not change.
And although vitamin B6 may not prevent heart attacks, it could have a small impact on lowering your risk for a stroke.
Vitamin B6 Sources
So now you’re probably wondering how you can get more vitamin B6 in your diet. While you can take a supplement, it’s always better to get your nutrients from foods when possible.
Vitamin B6 is water soluble, meaning that our bodies doesn’t store them. While we also can’t produce vitamin B6, we have access to a wide variety of foods that are rich sources of the vitamin. The following foods are just some of the many dietary sources of vitamin B6:
- Beef liver
- Fish (tuna, salmon)
- Chicken breast
- Boiled potatoes
- Marinara sauce
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 is 1.3–1.7 mg for adult men and 1.3–1.5 mg for adult women. For pregnant or lactating women, the amount can increase to 2.0 mg.
Vitamin B6 Side Effects
A healthy adult can tolerate up to 100 mg of vitamin B6 per day. Interestingly, taking too much or too little vitamin B6 can both lead to nerve damage. In humans, vitamin B6-related neuropathy can happen at intakes of 1000 mg or more, which is 800 times the recommended daily intake.
However, there have been complaints of vitamin B6 toxicity at lower concentrations. Because pyridoxine is the most common form of vitamin B6 in supplements, some scientists have suggested the replacement of pyridoxine by pyridoxal or pyridoxal-phosphate, other forms of vitamin B6 that are much less toxic.
Do You Take Vitamin B6?
As you can see, we’ll need a lot more research on vitamin B6 to determine its potential benefits. While it’s certainly not a miracle drug, vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to many health problems, so it’s essential to eat a well-balanced diet. If that’s something you struggle with, you may benefit from nutrition consulting.
Are you surprised by the importance of vitamin B6 in your body? It’s quite fascinating how one vitamin can have such a huge impact on our health. If you’ve experienced any benefits by adding a vitamin B6 supplement to your diet, be sure to share in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this article with your family and friends!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Is not B6 involved in the methylation cycle? – What happens when there are genetic factors interfering with this cycle? – Does vitamin B6 simply accumulate in the blood and become toxic?
yes, it is one of the co-factors in methylation… too much B6 may cause neuropathy
Is there a recommended lab test to measure your b6 levels?
B6 levels are easlly tested in a hospital lab. Your docotor wil tell you how to prep for the test.
Between the ages of 25-35, I passed quite a few kidney stones- Must confess that I had the worse diet any human could have, eating lots of junk and sugary foods. But in 1981 I came across an internal medicine dr who evidently was partial to natural medicine —although I did not know it at that time— and who, after a recent hospitalization, changed my diet and among other supplements prescribed B6 with chelated magnesium (don’t remember the exact dosage), explained to me in simple terms what this combination does —breaks down cristals and cleanses the kidneys’ filters of residue that formed my particular type of stones—, and assured me I would never have another kidney stone. He never prescribed conventional meds, only supplements, and I remember him telling me to please not tell anyone. I took this combination for one year and tapered down through the years —now take it as “maintenance” . I am now 74 years old, still on a balanced diet and, true to his words, have never passed another kidney stone nor have had any problems with my kidneys.
I am so fortunate to have had the privilege of having this man —who has since passed away— as my doctor. He was a real doctor who wholeheartedly cared for his patients, and I will forever be grateful for the time he took to counsel me and steer me in the right track to better health without prescription drugs.
Taking a vitamin B6 supplement along with methyl-folate & a vitamin c as well as other lifestyle & diet changes has been miraculous for me. After the birth of my son & an unexpected, but subsequently, stressful time in my life- I found myself in very poor health. Traditional doctors could not help me and I could not afford the services of alternative doctors. I considered all my symptoms & took a good look at all my bloodwork & went to town researching how to get better. I realized my food intolerances & terrible PMS were most likely related to a histamine intolerance & an MTHFR gene mutation because I am highly sensitive to histamine rich & enriched/fortified foods- which at the very least caused stomach pain in my 20’s, but turned into my throat feeling like it would close during the lowest point of my health scare. I started eating more protein & vegetables. I wasn’t in the habit of eating much processed food anyway, but noticed reactions to ingredients in “natural” pantry items that I had always considered safe, so went on a quest to overhaul my pantry- purchasing items with very minimal or truly all natural ingredients or making more stuff from scratch. I excluded dairy entirely, all extra sugar and most grains. I wasn’t terribly unhealthy before, but stress was a big factor & I had gotten into the bad habit of putting myself dead last after I became a mom. In my 20’s I had what I thought were some healthy habits- staying active & eating a mostly vegetarian diet, but also some unhealthy habits- eating out alot, taking birth control for 10 years I believe was not good for me, drinking heavily on the weekends & letting stress reign supreme. But at least I ate 3 square meals! In my mom life, I routinely skipped breakfast & lived on coffee fumes, until lunch when I would eat something quick, sometimes binging on sweets in between as a “pick me up”. I once believed that being successful was “doing it all” & there is still so much a person can accomplish, but I knew things had to change. Thanks to resources here and other like minded practitioners, I have achieved far better health. Thank you.
Fantastic article! I’ve been taking P-5-P (PLP) for many years along with Benfotiamine, to help minimize glycation, an effect of elevated blood sugar. So far so good! 19 years and no diabetic complications yet.
When I was 19 I read an article in Prevention magazine about vitamin B6. At the time, it said that it would help with Asthma and poor lung function. It also said that when we consume B6, we give off a scent that bugs do not like, so it works like a natural bug repellent. I am now 51, and have faithfully taken B6 all these years because both are true. On a 90 degree day with high humidity, I can stand in a swarm of mosquitos, be able to BREATH, AND NOT Get bit once. Great Stuff! I think this article only touched on the tip of the iceberg in the good that B6 can do.
A few years ago a blood test showed I had elevated B6 in my blood. It was around 2.5x above high range. I did not experience neuropathy but my dr warned me it was too high. I stopped taking B6 (it was not p5p form) A year later he tested again and it was still 2x high. I positively had not taken any b6 supplement. Anyway it must have been stuck in a cycle. Where I do not know. Then I read an article about how p5p could lower high B6 in your blood so I started taking it and sure enough the. Loud level came down. Do you know what was happening?