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Vitamin B6 Benefits the Brain, Heart, Eyes & More
October 4, 2018
From producing red blood cells to converting food into fuel to boosting mood and immunity, the potential vitamin B6 benefits and the crucial ways that this water-soluble vitamin affects health are unparalleled. It works together with a range of other vitamins and minerals in the body to optimize nearly every aspect of health and supports the function of the liver, blood cells, skin, eyes, nervous system and beyond to keep you feeling your best.
Need a few more reasons why this key vitamin is absolutely essential? Keep reading for a complete list of vitamin B6 benefits and side effects, plus how to get enough of this vital vitamin in your diet through the top vitamin B6 foods.
What Is Vitamin B6?
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. However, they are most well-known for helping to maintain a healthy metabolism, supporting nerve and liver function, and promoting the health of the skin and eyes.
So what does vitamin B6 do specifically, and why is it important?
Vitamin B6 has several derivatives, including pyridoxal, pyridoxal 5-phosphate (p5p) and pyridoxamine. These are all important compounds involved in numerous biological functions. In fact, vitamin B6 is used by the body every single day and plays a major role in everything from movement to memory to energy expenditure and blood flow.
Vitamin B6 also helps the body maintain a healthy nervous system, produces hemoglobin that carries oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body, aids in providing energy from the food that we eat, works to balance blood sugar levels, acts as a natural painkiller, boosts mood and also enhances immunity by increasing the synthesis of antibodies used to protect the body. (1) However, the potential vitamin B6 benefits don’t stop there. In fact, studies show that vitamin B6 benefits can also maintain healthy blood vessels, reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, prevent kidney stones and more to help maximize your health.
Top 11 Vitamin B6 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 have been linked to inflammation and the development of heart disease and blood vessel issues, which may contribute to a heart attack. (2)
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 an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Studies show that when patients take vitamin B6 along with folate, total homocysteine concentrations are significantly reduced. Plus, the homocysteine-lowering effects of vitamin B6 can also help heal the damage done to blood vessels to enhance heart health. (3, 4)
2. Supports Brain Function
Vitamin B6 is often considered a top brain vitamin because it helps promote the proper function and development of the brain and nervous system. Studies have shown that a vitamin B6 deficiency could influence memory and contribute to cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s and dementia with advanced age. (5)
One way vitamin B6 impacts brain function is by controlling homocysteine levels, which are not only a risk factor in coronary heart disease, but can also cause damage to neurons of the central nervous system as well. (6)
Vitamin B6 also plays an important role in the production of hormones like serotonin and norepinephrine, which help control factors like mood, energy and concentration. Researchers believe that certain behavior disorders in children, including ADHD, are caused by low serotonin levels, which means that increasing PLP concentrations in the blood could potentially help reduce symptoms. (7, 8)
3. May Improve Mood
Much like vitamin B6, some prescription antidepressant medications work to increase levels of serotonin. 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 compounds that control mood and are needed to prevent depression, pain, fatigue and anxiety. Although more research is still needed, some studies suggest that vitamin B6 could have a favorable effect on mood and mental health thanks to its positive effects on these key neurotransmitters. (9)
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 can occur when someone doesn’t make enough red blood cells, resulting in anemia symptoms like fatigue, weakness, aches, pains and more.
Studies show that a deficiency in vitamin B6 could cause microcytic anemia, a condition characterized by red blood cells that are smaller and more pale than usual. (10) Getting more B vitamin foods in your diet or through supplementation can help raise plasma PLP levels and may help treat certain types of anemia caused by deficiency.
5. Protects Eye Health
In many instances, a poor diet and/or nutrient deficiencies are the underlying causes of certain eye diseases. Studies have shown that that taking vitamin B6 along with other vitamins, including folate, can aid in the prevention of eye disorders and loss of vision. In particular, vitamin B6 is believed to help slow the onset of certain eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, which is one of the leading causes of vision loss around the world. (11, 12)
6. May Reduce Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Low levels of vitamin B6 have been associated with increased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including severe pain. Interestingly enough, early studies are also finding that people with rheumatoid arthritis may be more prone to vitamin B6 deficiency because of the chronic inflammation that sets off symptoms. (13) Vitamin B6 benefits rheumatoid arthritis by suppressing inflammation to help sidestep swelling and reduce common symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. (14)
7. Could Help Lower Blood Pressure
Several promising animal studies have found that vitamin B6 could reduce blood pressure to help optimize heart health. For example, one animal model published in Molecular and Cellular Biology showed that supplementation with vitamin B6 helped reduce systolic blood pressure in rats with hypertension. (15) Similarly, another study out of China analyzed the diets of 2,241 adults and found that a higher intake of vitamin B6 was associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure. (16)
8. Relieves PMS Symptoms
Consuming plenty of vitamin B6 or taking B complex vitamins can help prevent or treat PMS symptoms. Studies suggest that vitamin B6 helps combat symptoms like breast pain, nausea, cramps, fatigue and headaches. Plus, the potential vitamin B6 benefits for skin can even help reduce acne that occurs before a woman’s menstrual cycle. (17)
It’s believed vitamin B6 helps with PMS because of its positive effects on specific neurotransmitters that are responsible for pain management in the brain as well as its ability to increase blood flow and manage hormones. It’s recommended for women who experience frequent PMS symptoms to take B complex vitamins regularly, especially in the 10 days before menstruating.
9. Reduces Morning Sickness and Nausea
Studies have found that vitamin B6 benefits pregnancy by relieving the severity of nausea and “morning sickness” that often 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 afterward, the group who took pyridoxine/vitamin B6 experienced a significant decrease in nausea compared with the placebo group. (18) For this reason, vitamin B6 is one of the active ingredients in Bendectin, a common medication used to treat nausea.
10. Regulates Sleep Cycles
Vitamin B6 helps the body make melatonin, which is an important hormone that helps us to fall asleep. (19) Melatonin is responsible for regulating the internal clock, helping the body know when it’s time to wake up and also when it’s time to wind down and fall asleep for the night.
11. 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 in certain populations. (20) Vitamin B6 is usually helpful in doing this in patients who are at an increased risk for kidney stones due to other illnesses.
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.
Over time, some of the key vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms in adults can include: (21)
- Changes in mood, such as irritability, anxiety and depression
- Muscle pains
- Mouth sores
- Low energy or fatigue
- Worsening of PMS symptoms
- Worsening symptoms of anemia
Because vitamin B6 is incredibly important for nerve function, a vitamin B6 deficiency is sometimes associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, including seizures, migraines, chronic pain and mood disorders like depression. (22, 23)
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 with age and decreased vitamin B6 concentrations. (24)
Since they are at a higher risk for having a vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms, it’s often recommended that older adults have their vitamin B6 levels tested by their doctors if they begin to lose their appetite, lose weight or suffer from nutrient malabsorption for any reason, as this could indicate a potential B vitamin deficiency.
Others who are at an increased risk of deficiency include those with impaired kidney function, an autoimmune disease or alcohol dependence, as many of these issues can impact nutrient absorption.
Top 10 Vitamin B6 Foods
One of the best ways to increase your intake of this important water-soluble vitamin is to squeeze more vitamin B foods into your daily diet. Here are a few of the top foods with B6 to get you started:
- Turkey Breast — 3 ounces: 0.7 milligram (53 percent DV)
- Grass-Fed Beef — 3 ounces beef tenderloin: 0.5 milligram (38 percent DV)
- Pistachios — 1/4 cup: 0.5 milligram (38 percent DV)
- Tuna — 1 3-ounce can: 0.4 milligram (30 percent DV)
- Pinto Beans — 1 cup cooked: 0.4 milligram (30 percent DV)
- Avocado — 1 raw: 0.4 milligram (30 percent DV)
- Chicken Breast — ½ one breast: 0.3 milligram (23 percent DV)
- Blackstrap Molasses — 2 tablespoons: 0.26 milligram (20 percent DV)
- Sunflower Seeds — 1/4 cup: 0.25 milligram (19 percent DV)
- Sesame Seeds — 1/4 cup: 0.25 milligram (19 percent DV)
The easiest and most effective way to boost your B6 intakes is by including more foods with vitamin B in each meal. Adding protein foods like grass-fed beef, pinto beans or tuna fish to each meal can supply a hearty chunk of the vitamin B6 that you need along with a range of other important micronutrients. Meanwhile, mixing up your snack with a few different types of nuts and seeds, like sunflower seeds or pistachios, can also help boost your intake.
Here are a few tasty recipe ideas that incorporate foods with vitamin B6 to meet your daily needs:
- Crockpot Beef and Broccoli
- Cranberry and Pistachio Bliss Balls
- Salted Paleo Sunbutter Cups
- Strawberry Avocado Salad
- Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Supplements and Dosage
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, and extra amounts are excreted through the urine rather than stored in the body. Therefore, it’s extremely important to regularly eat foods high in B vitamins or take supplements to continue to meet your daily requirements.
While taking a vitamin B6 supplement can be helpful for some people, it’s always best to get your nutrients from real food sources. Not only are these foods rich in other important vitamins and minerals, but your body also knows exactly what to do with the vitamins naturally found in whole foods as opposed to synthetic nutrients added to fortified foods and supplements.
Additionally, 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 take any supplements that contain vitamin B6, be sure to purchase a high-quality product that is made from real food sources and is free of fillers or toxins to get the most vitamin B6 benefits. High-quality B vitamin complex supplements are made by joining together different nutrients that work together, such as niacin, folate and vitamin B6, helping your body recognize the vitamins and minerals and use them in a natural way that gives you the most beneficial results.
Most adults over 19 need at least 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily to help meet their needs. However, the required vitamin B6 dosage increases for older adults as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. (25) For best results, be sure to stick to the recommended dose on your specific supplement to avoid unwanted vitamin B6 side effects.
B6 vs. B12 and Other B Vitamins
B vitamins like vitamin B6 and B12 are essential for many aspects of health, including the conversion of food into usable energy by the body. They are also involved with the production of red blood cells, nerve function and hormone synthesis. Additionally, B vitamins are found in many of the same sources and are especially high in animal products like meat, poultry and seafood.
However, there are also important differences that set these key vitamins apart, and one of the biggest differences is in the way that low levels affect health. While a deficiency in vitamin B6 can cause symptoms like fatigue, irritability and muscle pains, low levels of vitamin B12 can cause issues like anemia and cognitive impairment. (26) Conversely, consuming very high doses of vitamin B6 through supplementation is also more likely to result in adverse symptoms like nerve damage while high doses of vitamin B12 can generally be consumed with minimal risk of side effects.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Many vitamin B6-rich foods have long been used in traditional medicine for their powerful effects on health and wellness. While these foods contain a wealth of other micronutrients and health-promoting properties that makes them especially beneficial for use in holistic medicine, their vitamin B6 content undoubtedly contributes to many of their favorable effects on health.
Grass-fed beef, for example, is one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin B6 and is believed to strengthen the blood and enhance red blood cell production according to Ayurveda. It’s also thought to relax the mind, satisfy the stomach and improve liver function.
Similarly, pistachios are another vitamin B6-rich food that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote spleen health. They also help support the liver, heart and gallbladder and are thought to treat conditions like jaundice, which is caused by excess levels of a yellow pigment called bilirubin.
Believe it or not, the importance of vitamin B6 on health has only come to light within the last century. In fact, it wasn’t actually discovered until 1934, when biochemist Paul György found a substance that was effective at curing skin disease in rats and named it vitamin B6. Just a few years later in 1938, nutritionist Samuel Lepkovsky was the first to isolate vitamin B6 from rice bran.
In recent years, scientists have begun learning more about the many different forms of vitamin B6 and the ways that they influence health. Derivatives like pyridoxine hydrochloride (pyridoxine HCl), for example, are converted to the active form, pyridoxal phosphate, or PLP.
Today, research continues to unearth new ways that vitamin B6 can impact health. From supporting nerve function to reducing the risk of hyperhomocysteinemia and beyond, more and more studies confirm that this water-soluble vitamin is absolutely vital to the function of the body.
Risks and Side Effects
Like other B vitamins, such as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamine, vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that if you consume too much vitamin B it will simply be excreted through the urine. For this reason, there is minimal risk of vitamin B6 toxicity from vitamin B6 foods.
However, a vitamin B overdose is possible if high doses are consumed from supplements. Some of the most common signs of toxicity can include nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, increased urination and flushing of the skin. High amounts of B6 can even contribute to more serious side effects like nerve damage.
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 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
- Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine vitamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in a range of physical and psychological functions.
- There are several different derivatives and forms of B6, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, which are converted to the active form, pyridoxal phosphate.
- Vitamin B6 is involved in several aspects of health, including metabolism, nerve function, liver health, red blood cell production and more, and there are many vitamin B6 benefits.
- Getting enough in your diet could help promote heart health, support brain function, improve mood, treat anemia and reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It may also improve eye health, relieve PMS symptoms, reduce morning sickness, prevent kidney stones and regulate the sleep cycle.
- Whether it’s through including more vitamin B6 foods in your diet or taking a B complex to meet your daily needs, getting enough B6 is absolutely essential to overall health and wellness thanks to the wealth of vitamin B6 benefits and vital functions it provides.