Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in over 100 different reactions in the body, which is why you want to get vitamin B6 foods in your diet. This vitamin is needed to help make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and hundreds of cellular functions. It can also be used to make niacin (vitamin B3) from the amino acid tryptophan.
Other roles of vitamin B6 include the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, as well as regulation of blood glucose. So how can you get vitamin B6 in your diet? Try the following vitamin B6 foods.
Top 10 Vitamin B6 Foods
This vital vitamin can be found in high levels, naturally, in the following 10 vitamin B6 foods (percentages based on 1.3 milligrams daily for adults under 50 years old):
- Turkey Breast — 3 ounces: 0.7 milligrams (53 percent DV)
- Grass-Fed Beef — 3 ounces beef tenderloin: 0.5 milligrams (38 percent DV)
- Pistachios — 1/4 cup: 0.5 milligrams (38 percent DV)
- Tuna — 1 3-ounce can: 0.4 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Pinto Beans — 1 cup cooked: 0.4 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Avocado — 1 raw: 0.4 milligrams (30 percent DV)
- Chicken Breast — ½ one breast: 0.3 milligrams (23 percent DV)
- Blackstrap Molasses — 2 tablespoons: 0.26 milligrams (20 percent DV)
- Sunflower Seeds — 1/4 cup: 0.25 milligrams (19 percent DV)
- Sesame Seeds — 1/4 cup: .25 milligrams (19 percent DV)
Vitamin B6 Benefits
What is vitamin B6 good for? Consuming vitamin B6 foods is critical because this vitamin is used on a daily basis since it plays a part in major functions, including movement, memory, energy expenditure and blood flow. It helps the body maintain a healthy nervous system, makes hemoglobin that carries oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body, provides energy from the food that we eat, acts as a natural pain treatment, boosts mood and also creates antibodies that our immune systems use to protect us.
So what type of benefits can you get from consuming vitamin B6 foods? The following:
1. Supports the Brain
One way vitamin B6 impacts brain function is by controlling homocysteine levels, which are not only a risk factor in heart disease, but also damage to neurons of the central nervous system, too. (1)
Vitamin B6 also plays an important role in making the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, two hormones known as “happy hormones” that help to control mood, energy and concentration. Researchers believe that certain behavior disorders in children, including ADHD, are caused by low serotonin levels and, therefore, that consuming vitamin B6 foods might have a beneficial effect on children with a these learning and behavior disorders. (2)
2. Combats Arthritis Symptoms
Low levels of vitamin B6 have been associated with increased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including more severe pain. Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted the anti-inflammatory benefits of vitamin B6 supplementation in arthritis patients. In the randomized study, 35 adults with rheumatoid arthritis to receive 5 milligrams per day folic acid or 5 milligrams folic acid plus 100 milligrams vitamin B6 for 12 weeks.
What the researchers found is that vitamin B6 supplementation helped treat the symptoms, concluding: “Our results provide valuable reference data for clinical practice with regard to the potential beneficial use of vitamin B6 to suppress inflammatory response in rheumatoid arthritis patients.” (3)
3. Relieves PMS Symptoms
Consuming plenty of vitamin B6 foods or taking B complex vitamins can help prevent or treat PMS symptoms. (4) Studies have shown that vitamin B6 helps combat breast pain, nausea, cramps, fatigue, headaches and even acne that occurs before a woman’s menstrual cycle.
It’s believed vitamin B6 helps with PMS because of its positive effects on neurotransmitters that are responsible for pain management in the brain, as well as its role in increasing blood flow and managing hormones. It’s recommended for women who experience frequent PMS symptoms to take B complex vitamins regularly, especially the 10 days before menstruating.
4. Improves Mood
Vitamin B6 has a significant impact on the central production of both serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters in the brain. These are important hormones that control mood and are needed to prevent depression, pain, fatigue and anxiety, so vitamin B6 has been associated with increasing mood and preventing mood disorders. (5)
Because vitamin B6 is involved in hormone production in the brain, it’s believed to be effective in treating mood disorders and certain brain diseases that can develop as a result of deficiencies in neurotransmitter function. Research suggests that patients taking vitamin B6 supplements can help to lift their mood, experience less pain, and avoid having a lack of energy and concentration, too.
5. Maintains Healthy Blood Vessels
Without enough vitamin B6, homocysteine levels build up in the body and damage blood vessel linings. This can set the stage for dangerous plaque buildup, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Studies have shown that when patients take vitamin B6 along with folate, total homocysteine concentrations are significantly reduced. Vitamin B6 helps treat high homocysteine levels so the body can heal the damage done to blood vessels. (6, 7)
Vitamin B6 also plays a role in managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are two other important factors for preventing heart disease.
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. Because vitamin B6 is so important for nerve function, a vitamin B6 deficiency is linked most commonly with neuropsychiatric disorders, including seizures, migraines, chronic pain and mood disorders, like depression. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and arthritis.
A vitamin B6 deficiency can cause some of the following symptoms:
- Changes in mood, such as irritability, anxiety and depression
- Muscle pains
- Low energy or fatigue
- Worsening of PMS symptoms
- Worsening symptoms of anemia
Older adults are more at risk for a vitamin B6 deficiency, which is why it’s especially important for them to consume vitamin B6 foods and supplements.
Vitamin B6 Foods Recipes
There is no shortage of ways to incorporate vitamin B6 foods into your diet. Here are some of my favorite recipes that feature the top 10 vitamin B6 foods:
- Herbed Turkey Breast
- Seared Grass-Fed Steak
- Pre-Workout Snacks that include pistachios and avocado
- Tuna Salad
Vitamin B6 Precautions
Vitamin B6 can interact with other medications when taken in high amounts. If you’re being treated with any of the following medications, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, including vitamin 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 may also be able to reduce blood levels of vitamin B6
Final Thoughts on Vitamin B6 Foods
- Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in over 100 different reactions in the body.
- The top 10 vitamin B6 foods include turkey breast, grass-fed beef, pistachios, tuna, pinto beans, avocado, chicken breast, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
- Benefits of consuming vitamin B6 foods include supporting the brain, combating arthritis symptoms, relieving PMS symptoms, improving mood, maintaining healthy blood vessels and more.
- Vitamin B6 deficiency is not common, but it can put a toll on mood, muscles energy levels, and worsen symptoms of PMS and anemia. Older adults are at the highest risk for vitamin B6 deficiency.
- You can prevent a deficiency by consuming vitamin B6 foods — just be careful if taking supplements, as vitamin B6 can interact with certain medications.
Read Next: Vitamin B6 Benefits, Deficiency & Sources
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