Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the human body. It belongs to the B-vitamin family, which consists of eight essential vitamins that are vital for maintaining overall health and well-being.
Vitamin B6 was discovered in the 1930s as a result of research on the causes of a skin disease in rats. Pyridoxine, along with its related compounds pyridoxal and pyridoxamine, are collectively referred to as vitamin B6. These compounds can be interconverted in the body and are essential for the proper functioning of numerous biochemical reactions.
Functions Of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the human body. Some of the primary functions of vitamin B6 include:
- Amino acid metabolism: Vitamin B6 is essential for the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. It is involved in the synthesis, breakdown, and regulation of amino acid levels in the body.
- Neurotransmitter synthesis: Vitamin B6 is required for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters are essential for regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and other brain functions.
- Haemoglobin synthesis: Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body.
- Immune system function: Vitamin B6 supports a healthy immune system by participating in the production of antibodies and white blood cells, which help protect the body against infections and diseases.
- Hormone regulation: Vitamin B6 is involved in the regulation of steroid hormones, such as oestrogen and testosterone, by modulating their activity and metabolism.
Good Sources Of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is present in a variety of foods, making it possible to obtain sufficient amounts through a balanced diet. Some good sources of vitamin B6 include:
- Meat and poultry: Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef are all good sources of vitamin B6. Organ meats, such as liver and kidney, are particularly high in pyridoxine content.
- Fish and seafood: Fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut, as well as other seafood, provide vitamin B6 along with other essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and various minerals.
- Whole grains: Whole grain products like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, barley, and quinoa provide vitamin B6, fibre, and various minerals.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans are good plant-based sources of vitamin B6, as well as protein, fibre, and various minerals.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and other nuts and seeds contain vitamin B6, along with healthy fats, protein, and other essential nutrients.
- Vegetables: Certain vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, and broccoli, contain varying amounts of vitamin B6.
- Fruits: Some fruits, including bananas, avocados, and watermelon, provide small amounts of vitamin B6.
- Fortified foods: Some breakfast cereals and other processed foods are fortified with vitamin B6, which can contribute to your daily intake.
How Much Vitamin B6 Do We Need?
According to the NIH, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6 varies based on age, sex, and life stage. Here are the general guidelines:
- Infants: 0-6 months*: 0.1 mg/day (milligram)
- Infants: 7-12 months*: 0.3 mg/day
- Children: 1-3 years: 0.5 mg/day
- Children: 4-8 years: 0.6 mg/day
- Children: 9-13 years: 1.0 mg/day
- Teens 14-18 years (males): 1.3 mg/day
- Teens 14-18 years(females): 1.2 mg/day
- Adults 19-50: 1.3 mg/day
- Adults 51+ (males): 1.7 mg/day
- Adults 51+ (females): 1.5 mg/day
- Pregnant women: 1.9 mg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 2.0 mg/day
* adequate intake (AI)
These values are for general informational purposes and may not be suitable for everyone. Individual nutrient needs can vary based on factors such as age, sex, body size, genetics, health status, and specific dietary requirements. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalised recommendations based on your individual needs and circumstances.
What Are the Signs of Vitamin B6 Deficiency?
- Skin Disorders: One of the early signs of vitamin B6 deficiency can be skin problems such as dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or angular cheilitis (cracks in the corners of the mouth). These conditions typically present as scaly, itchy, and inflamed skin.
- Mood Changes: A lack of vitamin B6 can lead to mood disturbances, as the vitamin is involved in producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood. Symptoms may include irritability, depression, and anxiety.
- Cognitive Dysfunction: In severe cases, vitamin B6 deficiency may lead to cognitive issues such as confusion, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating.
- Anaemia: Since vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin, deficiency can cause anaemia. Symptoms of anaemia include fatigue, weakness, and pale skin.
- Weakened Immune Function: Vitamin B6 plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system. A deficiency can result in a weakened immune response and increased susceptibility to infections.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin, and excess amounts are typically excreted through urine. However, taking extremely high doses of vitamin B6, usually in the form of supplements, can lead to toxicity and cause negative side effects. Some possible side effects of taking too much vitamin B6 include:
- Nerve damage: High doses of vitamin B6 (typically above 1,000 mg per day) taken over an extended period can cause nerve damage, resulting in symptoms like tingling, numbness, or burning sensations in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). This condition can be severe and may not be fully reversible even after discontinuing the supplements.
- Sensitivity to sunlight: In some cases, excessive vitamin B6 intake can lead to increased sensitivity to sunlight, causing skin rashes and other related symptoms.
- Nausea and vomiting: Taking large doses of vitamin B6 supplements can cause gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and vomiting, in some individuals.
- Headaches: In rare cases, high intake of vitamin B6 might cause headaches, dizziness, or other neurological symptoms.
- Interaction with medications: High doses of vitamin B6 can interact with certain medications, such as anticonvulsants, potentially reducing their effectiveness.
It is essential to get the right amount of vitamin B6, as both deficiency and excess can have negative health consequences. Most people can meet their vitamin B6 requirements through a balanced diet without needing supplements. If you’re concerned about your vitamin B6 intake or are considering taking supplements, consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalised advice and recommendations.