Vitamin B6 is a nutrient available in supplement form and found naturally in many foods. Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 helps the body maintain normal nerve function, break down proteins, keep blood sugar in check and produce antibodies and hemoglobin (a substance responsible for transporting oxygen to tissues).
Health Benefits of Vitamin B6:
Vitamin B6 may help treat a number of conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For instance, taking vitamin B6 may reduce high blood levels of homocysteine (a substance thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels).
The NIH also considers vitamin B6 "possibly effective" for alleviating upset stomach and vomiting during pregnancy, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (including breast pain and depression) and behavioral disorders in children with low levels of serotonin (a brain chemical involved in regulating mood). However, vitamin B6 does not appear to help with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. In addition, the NIH cautions that vitamin B6 may not enhance memory in older adults or prevent future strokes in people who have experienced a stroke in the past.
Some studies suggest that vitamin B6 may also help stimulate the immune system, ease muscle cramps and aid in the management of arthritis, allergies and asthma. However, more research is needed before vitamin B6 can be recommended for these health purposes.
Uses of Vitamin B6
People use vitamin B6 to treat or prevent many different health problems, including:
- age-related macular degeneration
- Alzheimer's disease
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- menopausal symptoms
- morning sickness
- premenstrual syndrome
Signs of Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Although vitamin B6 deficiency is not common in the United States, people who follow nutrient-poor diets or consume excessive amounts of alcohol may have low levels of vitamin B6. Signs of vitamin B6 deficiency include confusion, depression, irritability and mouth and tongue sores.
Foods with Vitamin B6
To meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6, include the following foods in your diet:
- fortified cereal (2 mg per 3/4-cup serving)
- baked potato with skin (.7 mg per medium-sized potato)
- banana (.68 mg per medium-sized fruit)
- garbanzo beans (.57 mg per 1/2-cup serving)
- chicken breast, meat only (.52 mg per half-breast)
- rainbow trout (.29 mg per 3-ounce serving)
- sunflower seeds (.23 mg per ounce)
- avocado (.2 mg per 1/2-cup serving)
The RDA for vitamin B6 is 1.2 mg per day for females ages 14 to 18; 1.3 mg per day for males ages 14 to 50 and females ages 19 to 50; 1.5 mg per day for females over 50; and 1.7 for males over 50.
Taking Vitamin B6 with Vitamin B12
Some research indicates that taking vitamin B6 in combination with vitamin B12 may be beneficial. For instance, a 2009 study of 5,442 women 40 years or older found that those who took vitamin B6 in combination with vitamin B12 and folic acid every day for about 7.3 years had a reduced risk for age-related macular degeneration (compared to those who took a placebo). The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
There's also some evidence that taking vitamin B6 in combination with vitamin B12 and folic acid may help reduce homocysteine levels.
Side Effects of Vitamin B6
While vitamin B6 is likely safe for most people, it may cause some side effects (including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite, headache and sleepiness). In addition, combining vitamin B6 with certain medications may produce harmful effects. These medications include phenytoin (Dilantin), amiodarone (Cordarone), phenobarbital (Luminal) and levodopa. It's also important to note that long-term use of high doses of vitamin B6 may result in brain and nerve problems.
If you're considering the use of vitamin B6 supplements, talk to your doctor to determine a safe dose.
Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Chew EY, Albert CM, Manson JE. "Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study." Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):335-41.
National Institutes of Health. "Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): MedlinePlus Supplements". August 2011.
National Institutes of Health. "Vitamin B6: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia". August 2011.
Schnyder G, Roffi M, Flammer Y, Pin R, Hess OM. "Effect of homocysteine-lowering therapy with folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 on clinical outcome after percutaneous coronary intervention: the Swiss Heart study: a randomized controlled trial." JAMA. 2002 Aug 28;288(8):973-9.