Vitamin B6 Facts: Everything You Need to Know

By:    Published: February 1, 2012

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As one of the eight vitamins included in the B vitamins group, vitamin B6 is a healthy part of any balanced diet. In fact, vitamin B6 (more commonly referred to as pyridoxine) shares many characteristics with other members of the B vitamins group. It does still retain some unique properties and health benefits, however, each of which will be explored in this article. Also investigated will be the proper daily dosage for pyridoxine and in which foods it can be found naturally.

What Does Vitamin B6 Do?

Like other members of the B vitamins group, vitamin B6 is essential for converting food into energy once it is consumed. Essentially, pyridoxine helps the body metabolize foods, especially protein, into usable energy to power basic body functions and give ample stamina throughout the day. People who eat large amounts of protein sometimes need more pyridoxine in their diets to ensure that the protein is properly broken down. It's important that an adequate amount of B vitamins, including vitamin B6, are ingested daily in order to sustain enough energy for the body and to avoid excessive weight gain.

Perhaps the most important function of vitamin B6, and which also happens to set this vitamin apart from the other B vitamins, is its important role when it comes to brain function. Vitamin B6 helps the body manufacture several types of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send out signals between nerve cells. This process is essential for normal brain function and development, and it also plays a role in producing the right amounts of hormones like norepinephrine, melatonin and serotonin. Because some of these hormones affect an individual's mood, it's important to get enough pyridoxine in your diet every day.

Vitamin B6 is also essential for the body to fight against several types of diseases. It does this by allowing the immune system to produce antibodies which detect and defend against harmful substances in the body. For this reason, pyridoxine is sometimes used as an immune system boost.

Other uses for pyridoxine include counteracting the symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy-related morning sickness. It can also help people combat certain side effects of radiation treatment and can sometimes help to lower cholesterol levels. However, be sure you consult a doctor before taking vitamin B6 to treat any specific health problems.

Food Sources of Vitamin B6

One of the best things about vitamin B6, along with many of the B vitamins, is that it is easy to find in common foods. Some of the foods richest in pyridoxine include eggs, wheat germ, brown rice, bran, sunflower seeds, whole grains and fortified breads. Nuts, legumes and beans are also excellent sources of vitamin B6. Some meats and fish also have high levels of pyridoxine, which is especially helpful since it is essential for breaking down proteins. These meats and fish include chicken, turkey, beef liver, tuna, salmon and shrimp. Most people are able to get an adequate amount of vitamin B6 in their system daily just by eating a balanced diet.

Side Effects

It is very rare for vitamin B6 to produce any negative side effects. However, some possible side effects include stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite or headaches. When large doses of pyridoxine are consumed, partial numbness or neurological disorders may occur. Additionally, large doses of vitamin B6 should not be combined with phenytoin, a medication that is more quickly broken down in the presence of pyridoxine and therefore may decrease the drug's effectiveness.

Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin B6 deficiencies are very uncommon in the U.S. However, if this deficiency does occur, then it can be accompanied by several symptoms, including sores on the mouth and tongue, irritability, confusion and depression.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The recommended dosage for pyridoxine changes as a person grows older. As a teenager and adult, the dosage also varies based on sex. Newborns should have about 0.1 milligrams of vitamin B6 each day until they reach 6 months of age. From 7 months to 12 months of age, the recommendation is 0.3 mg a day. For children ages 1 through 3, 0.5 mg of pyridoxine a day is adequate; from ages 4 through 8, about 0.6 mg per day; and from age 9 through 13, about 1 mg a day.

Once a child reaches 14 years of age, the recommended dosage varies according to sex. Males ages 14 to 18 should have 1.3 mg a day of pyridoxine, while females 14 to 18 years old should have 1.2 mg. At age 19, the recommended dosage is 1.3 mg for both men and women until they reach age 51. At that point, men should start taking 1.7 mg per day of vitamin B6, while women should take 1.5 mg a day.

These are general guidelines, but based on personal health conditions, those recommendations may be altered. Note that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding usually have a higher daily dosage recommendation as well. Consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your daily vitamin B6 consumption.

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