Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is an essential vitamins that the body needs to stay healthy.

Used to convert nutrients into energy and create red blood cells and neurotransmitters, the benefits of vitamin B6 include supporting a healthy immune system, promoting brain function, and boosting metabolism.

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about vitamin B6, including its health benefits, the best food sources, and how to make sure you’re getting enough.

What is vitamin B6?

What is vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is one of eight B vitamins. It’s a water-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in many plant and animal foods, but you can also find it in supplements.

B6 is involved in over 100 chemical reactions throughout the body. One of its main roles is to help the body break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for energy.

B6 also…

  • Supports brain health by helping to create neurotransmitters that are important for producing chemical messengers in the brain.
  • Boosts immune system function by producing haemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen to cells), white blood cells, and T cells.
  • Rids the body of excess homocysteine – an amino acid that, at high levels, can cause heart problems.

What are the health benefits of vitamin B6?

What are the health benefits of vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 has various functions throughout the body, and alongside those already mentioned, offers several other potential health benefits too.

For example…

1. Vitamin B6 may improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression

Vitamin B6 plays a key role in mood regulation – partly because it’s needed to create the neurotransmitters that regulate emotions (including serotonin and dopamine).

Research has found that vitamin B6 can decrease high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is associated with depression.

Plus, studies have linked symptoms of depression with low amounts of vitamin B6 in the blood – particularly in older adults who are at greater risk of B vitamin deficiency.

For example, this study of older adults found that having deficient levels of vitamin B6 in the blood doubled the likelihood of developing depression.

2. Vitamin B6 may boost brain health and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s

Some research has suggested that vitamin B6 may help to improve brain function and prevent the development of Alzheimer’s.

As mentioned, research  has shown that vitamin B6 can decrease high levels of homocysteine in the blood. And, at high levels, homocysteine may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. For example, this study of adults with elevated homocysteine levels and mild cognitive impairment found that taking high doses of B6, B12, and B9 reduced homocysteine in regions of the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

However, some of the research is conflicting, as other studies haven’t noted vitamin B6’s ability to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Therefore, while some results are promising, further research is needed to confirm the role of vitamin B6 in brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention.

3. Vitamin B6 may reduce the risk of heart disease

Vitamin B6 may work to prevent clogged arteries and minimise the risk of heart disease.

Research has shown that people with low levels of B6 in their blood have almost double the risk of developing heart disease compared to those with higher levels.

Again, experts believe this is down to the role B6 plays in decreasing homocysteine levels, which, when high, are associated with an increased risk of various diseases – including heart disease.

For example, this study looked at 158 healthy adults who had siblings with heart disease. It found that those who received 250mg of vitamin B6 and 5mg of B9 daily for two years had lower homocysteine levels, fewer abnormal heart tests during exercise, and a lower risk of heart disease than those who took nothing.

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4. Vitamin B6 may boost eye health and prevent eye diseases

Scientific research has revealed that vitamin B6 may play a role in preventing eye diseases, particularly age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a type of vision loss that affects older adults.

This is because studies suggest that high levels of homocysteine in the blood increase the risk of developing AMD (as mentioned previously, vitamin B6 helps to lower homocysteine levels).

For example, this seven-year study of over 5,400 people found that taking daily vitamin B6, B12, and B9 supplements reduced the risk of developing AMD by 35-40%, compared to a placebo.

Other research has also linked low levels of B6 in the blood to eye conditions that block veins connecting to the retina. For example, this study found that the lowest blood levels of B6 were significantly associated with retinal conditions.

Vitamin B6 may boost eye health and prevent eye diseases

5. Vitamin B6 may help to prevent cancer

Some research has indicated that getting enough vitamin B6 may lower your risk of developing some forms of cancer. The reason for this remains unclear, but experts believe it could be down to B6’s ability to fight inflammation. High levels of inflammation are associated with cancer and other chronic diseases.

This review of 12 studies found that healthy levels of B6 in the blood were linked with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. People with the highest blood levels of B6 had an almost 50% lower risk of developing the disease.

Other research has also drawn a link between adequate blood levels of B6 and a lowered risk of breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.

6. Vitamin B6 may help to prevent and treat anaemia

Due to its role in haemoglobin production, research suggests that vitamin B6 may help to prevent and treat anaemia caused by iron deficiency.

Haemoglobin is a protein that delivers oxygen to cells, so when levels are low, cells don’t receive enough oxygen to function properly. This can lead to the development of anaemia, which causes symptoms like weakness and fatigue.

Some research has linked low levels of vitamin B6 with anaemia. However, because vitamin B6 deficiency is fairly rare in healthy adults, research on using B6 to treat anaemia is somewhat limited. That said, there are a few studies to draw on.

For example, this case study of a 72-year-old woman with anaemia caused by low levels of B6 found that using the most active form of B6 as treatment improved her symptoms.

In addition, another study found that taking 75mg of vitamin B6 every day during pregnancy decreased symptoms of anaemia in women who were unresponsive to treatment with iron.

7. Vitamin B6 may be useful in treating symptoms of PMS

Vitamin B6 has been used to treat various symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including anxiety, depression, and irritability.

Experts believe that B6 helps with emotional symptoms related to PMS because of its role in creating neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

For example, this three-month study of 63 premenopausal women found that taking vitamin B6 daily improved PMS symptoms of depression, tiredness, and irritability by 69%. Another study showed that vitamin B6 helped reduce mood swings and anxiety throughout one menstrual cycle.

However, according to experts, further research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of vitamin B6 in improving PMS symptoms and the amount required for positive results before exact recommendations can be made.

How can I make sure I’m getting enough vitamin B6?

How can I make sure I’m getting enough vitamin B6

According to the NHS, the recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 is 1.4mg for men and 1.2mg for women.

Vitamin B6 is found in a variety of plant and animal foods, which means most people should be able to get enough by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Some top sources of vitamin B6 include…

  • Beef liver (0.6mg per 100g)
  • Pork (0.5mg per 100g)
  • Poultry (0.2mg per 100g)
  • Salmon (0.6mg per 100g)
  • Tuna (1mg per 100g)
  • Chickpeas (0.5mg per 100g)
  • Fortified cereals, e.g. Cornflakes (1.8mg per 100g)
  • Soybeans (0.4mg per 100g)
  • Oats (0.1mg per 100g)
  • Bananas (0.4mg per 100g)
  • Papayas (0.04mg per 100g)
  • Oranges (0.1g per 100g)
  • Cantaloupes (0.1mg per 100g)
  • Dark leafy greens, e.g. kale (0.3mg per 100g)

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What are the symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency and toxicity, and who’s at risk?

What are the symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency and toxicity, and who’s at risk

Due to its availability in various plant and animal foods, most people should be able to maintain healthy levels of vitamin B6 in their blood.

That said, several factors – including age, health conditions, and over-supplementation – can leave people more at risk of developing B6 deficiency or toxicity.

We’ll take a closer look at this below.

Vitamin B6 deficiency

According to experts, vitamin B6 deficiency most commonly occurs when other B vitamins are low – particularly vitamins B12 and B9.

Mild B6 deficiency can have no symptoms. However, a more severe or prolonged deficiency can lead to skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis (a scaly, itchy rash that usually appears on the face), microcytic anaemia, depression, confusion, and reduced immunity, among other things.

While vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively uncommon in the UK, research has shown that certain conditions can increase a person’s risk by interfering with the body’s absorption of vitamin B6. These include kidney disease, autoimmune inflammatory disorders (like rheumatoid arthritis), autoimmune intestinal conditions (such as ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease), and alcoholism.

Research has also revealed that older adults are at greater risk of vitamin B6 deficiency due to decreased absorption and, often, lower consumption of food in general.

Those at greater risk of vitamin B6 deficiency may consider taking a supplement. However, it’s important to always speak with your GP before introducing any new supplements into your diet.

Vitamin B6 toxicity

It’s fairly unlikely for the body to reach a toxic level of vitamin B6 from food sources alone. This is because, as a water-soluble vitamin, unused amounts of vitamin B6 are passed out of the body through urine.

But, studies have found that toxic levels of vitamin B6 in the body can occur if a person takes a high-dose supplement (more than 200mg per day) long-term.

Symptoms of vitamin B6 toxicity can include nausea, neuropathy in hands and feet, and ataxia (losing control of body movements) – though these typically disappear after stopping taking a high dosage.

As a result, experts recommend taking no more than 10mg of vitamin B6 in supplements per day, unless advised otherwise by a health professional. As always, speaking to your GP first is important, as supplements won’t be right for everyone.

Final thoughts…

Vitamin B6 isn’t one of the most well-known essential vitamins or minerals. However, due to its role in immune system function, brain health, and metabolism, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough.

The good news is that most of us can get our required dose of vitamin B6 by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Often, all it takes is a few small lifestyle changes.

However, if you’re worried about your vitamin B6 intake, it’s worth booking an appointment with your GP for advice and guidance.

For more information on other essential vitamins and minerals, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here, you’ll also find a range of delicious recipes and healthy eating tips.

How do you make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B6? Have you learnt anything new in this article? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.