Why Vitamin B-6 Is So Important to Your Health

Like all vitamins, vitamin B-6 is an organic compound that is essential for various physiological processes but cannot be made by the human body. Although vitamin B-6 can be taken as a supplement, most people will get sufficient amounts of vitamin B-6 from their diet.

Among the many ways that vitamin B-6 is needed in the body, perhaps the most important is its role in brain function. Vitamin B-6 is critical in managing levels of homocysteine which may raise the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

What Is Vitamin B-6?

Before you learn what makes vitamin B-6 unique, you should first what this vitamin has in common with others in this class. All vitamins are “essential nutrients,” which means that they can’t be replaced. Humans can only obtain vitamin B-6 from plants or animals and cannot produce it themselves.

Vitamin B-6 is actually a group of six related vitamers that have a pyridine ring in their molecular structures, all of which can be converted to the most active form pyridoxal 5’-phosphate by various chemical reactions.

Vitamin B-6 is produced by plants to assist in protection against ultraviolet radiation. No animal including humans can synthesize vitamin B-6, so it must be obtained from plants or animals. There is some vitamin B-6 production by our intestinal bacteria, but these quantities are insufficient for our needs. It is now possible to commercially manufacture vitamin B-6 using various chemical processes.

Vitamin B-6 plays pivotal roles in many metabolic mechanisms including

  • Neurotransmitter biosynthesis– vitamin B-6 is necessary to produce 5 very important neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and GABA.
  • Amino acid metabolism-– vitamin B-6 serves as a cofactor for many enzymes that are important in the production and breakdown of amino acids like cysteine and tryptophan.
  • Glucose metabolism—this vitamin is an essential cofactor for the enzyme glycogen phosphorylase, which is necessary for the breakdown of glycogen as well as the synthesis of glucose.
  • Lipid metabolism-– vitamin B-6 is a key facilitator of sphingolipid production. Sphingolipids play important roles in signal transduction and cellular recognition.
  • Gene expression—this vitamin has also been shown to be essential for regulating gene expression. Depending on the level of vitamin B-6, certain genes may be up or down regulated.

Maintaining Healthy Levels of Vitamin B-6

Like many vitamins and minerals, there is an optimal amount of vitamin B-6 for a typical adult. The U.S. National Academy of Medicine recommends that men ingest from 1.3 to 1.7 milligrams per day and that women consume from 1.2 to 1.5 milligrams per day. Children aged 1 to 13 should consume 0.5 to 1.0 milligram of vitamin B-6 per day. No one should consume more than 100 mg per day.

People who take more than recommended amounts of vitamin B-6 consistently for long periods of time are likely to experience         pain and neurological symptoms, especially in the extremities. Amounts greater than 200 mg per day are considered unsafe.

Although it is possible to obtain the needed vitamin B-6 from dietary supplements, it is preferable to get it from your diet. First, dietary supplements are not tightly regulated in the United States, so the amount on the label may not be accurate. Secondly, although it is possible experience adverse effects from supplements, such effects have not been seen in food consumption.

If you eat a typical diet with a healthy mixture of meat, fish, and fowl, you should be obtaining the recommended amount of vitamin B-6. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may need to take a vitamin B-6 supplement, as plants provide only about half the amount of vitamin B-6 as animals.

It is possible to suffer from vitamin B-6 deficiency, but it is very rare. Vitamin B-6 deficiency due to poor diet is possible but very uncommon. More likely causes include a congenital inability to absorb vitamin B-6 or the use of medications that inhibit its acquisition.

The most common symptoms of a vitamin B-6 deficiency are

  • Rash or swelling around the eyes and mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Neuropathy
  • Lesions

Key Benefits of Vitamin B-6

Although it should be stressed that there are serious health problems associated with taking an excess of vitamin B-6, this vitamin is beneficial when taken in appropriate amounts. Among the many benefits are

  • Improves depression—because vitamin B-6 is so important in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and GABA, it plays an oversized role in regulating mood. Several studies have demonstrated that a deficiency of vitamin B-6 can produce depressive symptoms, especially in older people. However, it should be noted that vitamin B-6 is not an effective therapy for depression.
  • Lowers dementia risk– vitamin B-6 has been linked to brain health. One research study found that vitamin B-6 can reduce elevated levels of homocysteine which can make Alzheimer’s disease more likely. However, this study is not conclusive, and more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between vitamin B-6 and brain health.
  • Reduced heart disease risk—there is some evidence that vitamin B-6 may prevent clogged arteries and lower the risk of heart disease. Because vitamin B-6 is important in reducing homocysteine levels which plays a critical role in many disease mechanisms including heart disease, it has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease in several studies.
  • Prevents cancer—maintaining optimal levels of vitamin B-6 may help ward off certain kinds of cancer. Multiple studies show that appropriate levels of this vitamin can lower the risk of colorectal and breast cancer. Although how vitamin B-6 lowers this risk is not well understood (it may be related to its role in reducing inflammation), several studies do appear to confirm this conclusion.
  • Promotes eye health—because elevated levels of homocysteine may contribute to age-related macular degeneration, a common form of vision loss, and vitamin B-6 lowers homocysteine levels, vitamin B-6 may be crucial in maintaining eye health. One study with 5,400 female participants found that those who took daily supplements of vitamin B-6 lowered their risk of developing AMD by 35 to 40 percent.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA, and you should not post any of your private health information.