Although most healthy individuals get all the vitamin B6 they need from a varied diet, a deficiency can lead to severe health conditions. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about vitamin B6, its diverse role in wellness, and the signs of a deficiency.
Vitamin B6 is an essential, water-soluble vitamin crucial for normal brain, immune, and nervous system development. However, vitamin B6 is actually a general term that encompasses several different compounds, including pyridoxine, aldehyde, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine.
The latter two, pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP) and pyridoxamine 5'-phosphate (PMP), differ slightly from the others, as they both act as coenzymes. The body uses coenzymes to assist other enzymes; in the case of vitamin B6, this includes more than a hundred enzymatic reactions linked to protein breakdown, homocysteine production, and immune function.
Finally, vitamin B6 is one of eight B vitamins collectively referred to as the vitamin B complex. Of the eight, B6 and B12 are frequently compared, mainly because they both influence mental well-being. However, B12 has a much more focused impact on mood, energy production, and memory, while B6 takes a more general approach to well-being.
We'll explore some specific interactions shortly, but first we'll look at the general influence of vitamin B6.
As alluded to, the primary function of vitamin B6 is to support normal brain, immune, and central nervous system functioning. Moreover, because the vitamin is essential (meaning the body cannot produce it naturally), we must consume enough vitamin B6 from external sources to support those areas.
Aside from physical well-being, vitamin B6 may also have some uses related to mood. However, even if you don't need support with mood, vitamin B6 is an excellent “all-around” vitamin with a low risk of adverse side effects.
If you like the sound of B6 and want to add it to your wellness routine, natural food sources are the best place to start.
Foods rich in vitamin B6 include the following:
• Fortified cereals
Most healthy adults will get all the vitamin B6 they need from a balanced and varied diet. For example, one chicken breast is roughly 30% of men's and women's recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
Now that we've outlined the basics of vitamin B6, it's time to look closer at the potential wellness benefits. Fortunately, several studies examine the direct influence of B6 on areas such as mood, anaemia, and nausea.
Two studies sought to establish if there is a link between lower-than-normal levels of the coenzyme pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) and depression.
A 2004 study from the Aarhus University Hospital claims that "a low level of plasma PLP is associated with symptoms of depression", while a 2008 paper from Tufts University concludes that "deficient levels of plasma PLP approximately doubled the likelihood of depressive caseness".,
However, both studies acknowledge that PLP levels are one facet of depression, and more longitudinal studies are needed. Just because vitamin B levels are lower in cases of depression doesn't necessarily mean that increasing intake would improve symptoms.
A 2016 review from Northumbria University outlines the importance of B vitamins in brain health, specifically focusing on their ability to metabolise the amino acid homocysteine.
The interaction is crucial because elevated homocysteine levels in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The review also adds that B vitamins "are absolutely essential for every aspect of brain function", and outlines the importance of determining possible benefits to brain function following acute and chronic B vitamin consumption.
According to a 1995 study, the form of vitamin B6 most commonly found in food (pyridoxine) was linked to a "significant decrease" in nausea scores during pregnancy compared to a placebo group. A later study also outlines the importance of B vitamins during pregnancy, specifically focusing on folic acid (B9), B12, and B6—three of the most important to normal development.,
Fortunately, the risk of adverse side effects from vitamin B6 intake is low. And while most people will get all they need from food, vitamin B6 supplements offer a more concentrated form. And as the vitamin is water soluble, any excess vitamin B is expelled by the body during urination.
However, chronic supplementation can lead to the following:
• Sunlight sensitivity
• Ataxia (lack of muscle control)
It’s worth noting that these side effects are typically experienced following excessive supplement intake lasting 12–40 months. It's doubtful you'll reach toxic levels of vitamin B from food alone.
Although most healthy individuals will get all the vitamin B6 they need from food, there are several at-risk groups that are more prone to deficiency. Conditions such as kidney disease, inflammatory disorders, and alcoholism can all upset your body's ability to absorb essential vitamins.
Another important consideration is the balance of B vitamins necessary during childhood and teenage years. Because of the vitamin's role in brain, immune, and nervous system function, it is especially important to normal development.
Although vitamin B6 deficiency is uncommon, it can manifest as several symptoms, so it's important to keep an eye out for the following:
• Various skin conditions (cracked lips/red rash)
• Lowered immunity
Unfortunately, the deficiency symptoms are pretty vague, making them difficult to pinpoint. That said, doctors can test PLP levels in your blood plasma to see if your body is getting enough vitamin B. So, if you suspect you might have a deficiency, the best person to consult is a doctor or physician.
Fortunately, recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for vitamin B6 are low, as the compound has a high bioavailability. Intake is also the same for men and women until the age of fifty.
• 1–8 years old: 0.5–0.6mg
• 9–18 years old: 1–1.2mg
• 19–50 years old: 1.3mg
• Over 50 years old: 1.7mg (men) / 1.5mg (women)
Again, if you have any concerns about your vitamin B6 intake, a doctor or nutritionist is the best person to talk to.
Because vitamin B6 is water soluble, it's easily absorbed and expelled by the body. As such, side effects from excessive intake are rare, while a vitamin B deficiency is equally unlikely. However, given the vitamin's diverse role in mental and physical well-being, it's still important to ensure you get enough, either from a balanced diet or your supplement routine.
Regardless of whether you are part of an at-risk group in need of extra vitamin B6 or simply looking to bolster your existing wellness routine, you should always focus on consuming high-quality sources of vitamin B6. Trusted, superior-quality supplements are one of the best ways to reap the vitamin's vast influence.
 Office of dietary supplements - vitamin B6. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/. Published 2022. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]
 Hvas A-M, Juul S, Bech P, Nexø E. Vitamin B6 level is associated with symptoms of depression. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15479988/. Published 2004. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]
 Merete C, Falcon LM, Tucker KL. Vitamin B6 is associated with depressive symptomatology in Massachusetts elders. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18838531/. Published 2008. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]
 Kennedy DO. B vitamins and the brain: Mechanisms, dose and efficacy--a review. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/. Published January 27, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]
 Vutyavanich T, Wongtra-ngan S, Ruangsri R. Pyridoxine for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7573262/. Published 1995. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]
 Simpson JL, Bailey LB, Pietrzik K, Shane B, Holzgreve W. Micronutrients and women of reproductive potential: Required dietary intake and consequences of dietary deficiency or excess. part I--folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6. The journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20373888/. Published 2010. Accessed October 25, 2022. [Source]