Let’s talk about another B vitamin: Vitamin B6 (otherwise known as pyridoxine). Vitamin B6 functions as a coenzyme essential for amino acid metabolism. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Since B6 plays such an important role, it is essential for:
Cognitive development and mood
Vitamin B6 plays a key role in making certain neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA. Even a moderate deficiency in Vitamin B6 can reduce the levels of serotonin in the brain which can affect a person's mood and lead to depression. Low levels of Vitamin B6 have also been linked to cognitive impairment in middle-aged and older adults.
Adequate intake of Vitamin B6 has also been shown to reduce the risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, and heart failure. A deficiency in Vitamin B6 has been shown to moderately increase blood pressure, which may be related to reduced regulation of certain neurotransmitters (epinephrine and norepinephrine). If you take blood pressure medications and want to start a supplement that contains B-vitamins like Vitamin B6, always consult with a pharmacist or healthcare provider prior to starting any supplement.
Vitamin B6’s exact role in supporting immune function has not been determined, yet. However, a deficiency in Vitamin B6 has been connected to reduced immune responses, especially in older adults, HIV positive persons or those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Vitamin B6 also plays a role in diabetes. Studies have found that adequate Vitamin B6 levels in the blood can improve glucose tolerance in women with gestational diabetes. There are also studies exploring why patients with Type 2 Diabetes tend to have lower levels of Vitamin B6 in their blood and its role in insulin resistance. There are also studies examining the role of Vitamin B6 combined with Vitamin B12 for reducing peripheral neuropathy (a complication of diabetes causing nerve pain in the extremities, especially the legs and feet).
A deficiency of Vitamin B6 may appear as skin changes, depression, confusion, lowered immunity, and microcytic anemia (the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body are too small). Populations that are at risk for a Vitamin B6 deficiency include children and adults with low food intake due to malnutrition or illness, premature infants, kidney transplant recipients, and alcoholics. Low vitamin B6 levels are associated with inflammation and chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Certain medications can deplete Vitamin B6 including corticosteroids (prednisone, methylprednisolone and dexamethasone), antibiotics, loop diuretics (furosemide, torsemide, bumetanide), a blood pressure medication - hydralazine, birth control and hormone replacement medications, and seizure medications like valproic acid.
Vitamin B supplements may be helpful for certain conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, PMS, and nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. In fact, there is a very expensive prescription product that is just Vitamin B6 and doxylamine (the active ingredient in Unisom).
Usually, Vitamin B6 supplements are not needed since it is found in a variety of foods like fish, organ meats, potatoes, chickpeas, avocado, sweet potatoes, bananas, and sunflower seeds. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare provider about vitamin B6 or any supplements prior to taking them. Some supplements can interfere with other medications you are taking. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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Combs Jr., G., McClung, J., The Vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health: 6th ed., 2022. Academic Press, San Diego. 387 – 413.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2019, September 4). Vitamin B6. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-b6/
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Mascolo E, Vernì F. Vitamin B6 and Diabetes: Relationship and Molecular Mechanisms. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(10):3669. Published 2020 May 23. doi:10.3390/ijms21103669
Palacios, N., Scott, T., Sahasrabudhe, N., et al., 2019. Lower plasma vitamin B-6 is associated with 2-year cognitive decline in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study. J.Nutr. 149, 635-641.
Robinson, K., Arheart, D., Refsum, H., 1998. Low circulating folate and vitamin B6 concentrations: risk factors for stroke, peripheral vascular disease and coronary artery disease. European COMAC Group. Circulation 97, 437 – 443.