Vitamin B6: Deficiency Symptoms, Health Benefits, and Best Food Sources

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Vitamin B6Each member of the vitamin B-complex family is important for the body, especially vitamin B6, which is also called pyridoxine. All B vitamins are essential for various psychological and physical functions. As a result, we require B vitamins for nerve function, healthy metabolism, skin health, eye health, liver function, reducing inflammation, and boosting energy.

There are several derivatives of vitamin B6, including pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal 5-phosphate. Each is an important compound involved in various biological functions. Vitamin B6 is needed in the body daily because it plays an important role in major functions, such as blood flow, energy expenditure, memory, and movement.

Vitamin B6 also helps balance blood sugar levels, boosts mood, makes hemoglobin to carry oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body, creates antibodies to help the immune system protect us, and provides energy from food. Needless to say, it is a very important B vitamin. That is why it is important to get enough of this vitamin in the diet to avoid vitamin B6 deficiency.

Symptoms of Vitamin B6 Deficiency

Vitamin B6 deficiency can produce temporary symptoms, while other ones are more serious in nature. Vitamin B6 deficiency is considered rare in developed Western nations where most people get enough calories and malnourishment isn’t common. In fact, some believe that consuming too much is more common than a deficiency.

Although vitamin B6 deficiency is not common, overconsumption symptoms can include confusion, muscle pains, low energy or fatigue, worsening of anemia symptoms, worsening of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms, and changes in mood like anxiety, depression, mental confusion, and irritability.

Since vitamin B6 is so crucial for nerve function, its deficiency has an association with mood disorders like depression, as well as neuropsychiatric disorders like migraines, chronic pain, and seizures. Research also links low vitamin B6 with an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. Other symptoms include dry skin, hair loss, insomnia, cracks around the lips, swelling around the tongue and mouth, and reduced walking coordination.

Vitamin B6 deficiency is also common among older adults, which can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Older adults should have their vitamin B6 levels tested if they start eating less, begin to lose weight or their appetite, or have nutrient malabsorption problems.

7 Health Benefits of Vitamin B6

There are many health benefits of vitamin B6. For instance, it helps the body make important sleep hormone melatonin. It is responsible for regulating our internal clock, which is how we know what time to wake up in the morning, and when to fall asleep at night.

Vitamin B6 can also prevent vision loss, and slow the onset of eye disorders like age-related macular degeneration. It benefits brain health, heart health, and women’s health. This important vitamin also prevents kidney stones and arthritis, as well as treat asthma and anemia.

The following is a detailed description of some of the key health benefits of this vitamin.

1. Promotes heart health

We need vitamin B6 to regulate of homocysteine within the blood. High amounts of homocysteine in the blood can lead to inflammation and the development of blood vessel disease and heart disease. Without enough vitamin B6, homocysteine will build up and damage the lining of blood vessels, which can set the stage for a stroke or heart attack.

Studies show that vitamin B6 taken with folate can significantly reduce total homocysteine concentrations. Vitamin B6 also plays a role in managing cholesterol and blood pressure—both key factors in preventing heart disease.

2. Supports brain health

Vitamin B6 benefits brain function and brain development. Some studies have suggested that vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin B6 influences brain function through the control of homocysteine levels, which can damage neurons in the central nervous system.

Vitamin B6 also works in a similar way to antidepressant drugs by increasing serotonin and GABA neurotransmitter levels in the brain. GABA and serotonin are vital hormones that help prevent fatigue, anxiety, pain, and mood disorders.

A study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission in 1995 suggested that vitamin B6 supplements can improve mood and prevent low energy and concentration.

3. Helps treat anemia

Vitamin B6 creates hemoglobin in the blood. The hemoglobin is later transported by red blood cells throughout the body to mobilize iron and bring oxygen to cells. Anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells.

Resulting symptoms will include fatigue, weakness, and difficulty concentrating. Research shows that vitamin B6 helps reduce anemia, and sometimes even prevent it.

4. Prevents or reduces rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Low vitamin B6 levels are linked with an increase of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, such as greater severity of pain. People with rheumatoid arthritis are thought to need more vitamin B6 because of the constant joint pain and muscle aches due to chronic inflammation. Vitamin B6 will reduce pain and inflammation, and therefore control aching in the joints and muscles.

5. Benefits women’s health

According to a systematic review published in the journal the BMJ in 1999, studies have found that vitamin B6 combats PMS symptoms like cramps, fatigue, nausea, breast pain, headaches, and acne before a women’s menstrual cycle. So, vitamin B6 is also important for treating or preventing PMS symptoms.

Another study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1995 found that vitamin B6 is effective in relieving the severity of morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy.

6. Treats asthma

Certain studies have linked vitamin B6 with reducing asthma attacks and related symptoms, such as wheezing. Vitamin B6 also reduces the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

7. Prevents kidney stones

Some research shows that taking vitamin B6 with minerals like magnesium may treat or prevent kidney stones. Vitamin B6 is particularly helpful for those with an increased kidney stone risk because of other health problems.

Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin B6

It is a good idea to keep in mind that vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, so the body is unable to store leftover vitamin B6 for the future. As a result, you must regularly eat foods or take a supplement that contains B vitamins to meet daily requirements.

Vitamin B6 is found in B-complex vitamins and many other multivitamins. While B vitamin supplements can help for some people, it is always best to get nutrients from whole food sources rather than obtaining synthetic nutrients that are added to fortified foods.

For the average adult under the age of 50, the recommended amount of vitamin B6 is 1.3 milligrams, and it is relatively easy to get this from the diet. However, the recommended vitamin B6 intake increases when you reach 50 and beyond.

Adults over 50 require 1.7 milligrams each day. Older adults, particularly those more likely to experience vitamin B6 deficiency, require additional vitamin B6.

According to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, the following is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6 daily:

  • Infants and babies 0 to 6 months: 100 micrograms
  • Infants and babies 7 to 12 months: 300 micrograms
  • Children 1 to 3 years: 500 micrograms
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 600 micrograms
  • Children 9 to 13 years: 1.0 milligram
  • Males 14-50 years: 1.3 milligrams
  • Females 14-50 years: 1.2 milligrams
  • Males 51 years and older: 1.7 milligrams
  • Females 51 years and older: 1.5 milligrams
  • Pregnant females: 1.9 milligrams
  • Breastfeeding females: 2.0 milligrams

Top Food Sources of Vitamin B6

As mentioned, it is best to get vitamin B6 from food whenever you can. So, what are high vitamin B6 foods?

The top vitamin B6 foods sources include certain types of poultry and meat, nuts and seeds, avocados, certain beans and legumes, as well as a variety of leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, or collard greens. Other good vitamin B6 foods sources include garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers, and bananas.

The following is a vitamin B6 foods chart that is a useful tool for learning what foods can help you avoid a vitamin B6 deficiency. The chart will allow you to become aware of what whole foods contain the highest amount of vitamin B6.

Food Serving Size Amount (mg) Daily Value %
Turkey breast 3 ounces 0.70 53.0%
Grass-fed beef 3 ounces of beef tenderloin 0.50 38.0%
Pistachio nuts ¼ cup 0.50 38.0%
Bananas 1 each 0.70 34.0%
Tuna 1 3-ounce can 0.40 30.0%
Pinto beans 1 cup cooked 0.40 30.0%
Avocado 1 raw 0.40 30.0%
Cod 4 ounces 0.50 26.0%
Chicken breast ½ piece 0.30 23.0%
Spinach 1 cup 0.40 22.0%
Blackstrap molasses 2 tablespoons 0.26 20.0%
Sunflower seeds ¼ cup 0.25 19.0%
Sesame seeds ¼ cup 0.25 19.0%
Garlic 1 ounce 0.40 17.5%
Chickpeas 1 cup cooked 0.20 15.0%
Amaranth grain 1 cup cooked 0.20 15.0%
Brussels sprouts 1 cup 0.30 14.0%
Collard greens 1 cup 0.20 12.0%
Bell peppers 1 cup 0.20 11.5%
Asparagus 1 cup 0.20 11.0%
Broccoli 1 cup 0.20 11.0%
Watermelon 1 cup 0.20 11.0%
Cauliflower 1 cup 0.20 10.5%
Carrots 1 cup 0.20 9.0%
Cantaloupe 1 cup 0.20 9.0%
Kale 1 cup 0.20 9.0%
Cabbage 1 cup 0.20 8.5%
Crimini mushrooms 5 ounces 0.20 8.0%

Final Thoughts on Vitamin B6

Since B vitamins are water-soluble, it is quite difficult to overdose on vitamin B6. If you acquire too much vitamin B6, it is flushed from the body and dissolved in the urine within a few hours. So, consuming too much vitamin B6 is often the result of taking vitamin B supplements or drinking or eating fortified processed foods that contain synthetic B vitamins, such as energy drinks or fortified grain products. As a result, excessive vitamin B6 in the body can lead to confusion, muscle numbness, and other unpleasant temporary symptoms.

When taken in high amounts, vitamin B6 can also interact with certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs, cycloserine or isoniazid for tuberculosis, hydralazine for hypertension, penicillamine for rheumatoid arthritis, theophylline for asthma, antibiotics like tetracycline, antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). It will also affect other antidepressants like Norpramin or Pamelor, as well as drugs for anemia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and seizures. It is best to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements, such as vitamin B6.

If you do supplement with vitamin B6, choose a high-quality product made from real food sources, and that is free from toxins or fillers. High-quality B vitamin complex supplements are made in a process that allows the body to recognize the vitamins and minerals so give you the most benefits.

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“9 Amazing Benefits of Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxamine,” Organic Facts;, last accessed May 18, 2017.
“Vitamin B6 for Brain Health,” Dr. Weil;, last accessed May 18, 2017.
Wyatt, K.M., et al., “Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review,” The BMJ, May 22, 1999; 318(7195): 1375-1381.
Vutyavanich, T., et al., “Pyridoxine for nausea and vomiting or pregnancy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, September 1995; 173(3 Pt 1): 881-884.
Hartvig, P., et al., “Pyridoxine effect on synthesis rate of serotonin in the monkey brain measured with positron emission tomography,” Journal of Neural Transmission, 1995; 102(2): 91-97.