Vitamin B6 Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
I love talking about vitamin B6 (aka pyridoxine) as it’s one of my favourite vitamins. It’s such a complex and important vitamin that is often overlooked.
Without B6 we couldn’t function very well at all.
It forms the basis of many neurological balancing effects and is a co-factor (something needed to make other things happen in the body) for so many different pathways in our body. These include the formation of hormones, neurotransmitters, detoxification pathways and so much more – some we will see in this article.
It is interesting to know that Pyridoxine (B6) is a water-soluble vitamin, yet it is possible to build this vitamin up in the body to sometimes toxic levels. Most water-soluble vitamins just flush down the toilet if our body doesn’t need them, but B6 can be different for some people.
Pyridoxine consists of three related compounds: pyridoxine, pyridoxal 5 phosphate (P5P), and pyridoxamine. I mention this because you can sometimes see B6 written in these different ways. P5P for example, is the more active form of the vitamin.
B6 is required for the proper absorption of B12, the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and the absorption of magnesium. It also helps linolenic acid (a type of good fat) function better in the body.
Pyridoxine plays an important role in the breakdown and utilization (digestion and usage) of proteins, carbs, and fats. B6 must be present for our body to make antibodies and red blood cells, and to release glycogen from the liver for energy, muscle contraction and expansion. Therefore, it is super important for our energy, movement, and our immune system.
Pyridoxine aids in the conversion of tryptophan, an essential amino acid necessary for the proper action of RNA and DNA (our genetic structure) and also to keep our mood happy.
B6 helps to maintain the sodium and potassium balance which regulates normal function of our fluid balance, the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. B6 is one of the B vitamins that if taken alone, can cause an imbalance in the other B vitamins, so it is best taken together with the rest of the B’s (except in certain cases, like pyrrole disorder- see below).
Deficiency of B6 can lead to low stomach acid, resulting in poor digestion, cracks around the mouth and eyes, numbness and cramps in the arms and legs, slow learning, visual disturbances, neuritis, arthritis and increased urination.
If B6 deficiency is present during pregnancy, stillbirths or post-delivery infant mortality may result and infants born to B6 deficient mothers have a higher risk of having convulsions.
Some people have a genetic metabolic imbalance (pyrrole) that is dependent on B6, but too much B6 without zinc can lead to numbness and tingling of fingers and toes.
Healthy mood & behaviour
Vitamin B6 can help to elevate serotonin, norepinephrine (once called nor-adrenaline) and GABA levels which are neurotransmitters, that are also hormones, to support better mood and relaxation, help to prevent depression and anxiety, reduce pain sensations, reduce fatigue and increase concentration. Some studies show that B6 can be as effective as anti-depressants if properly prescribed.
These neurotransmitter hormones are also linked with behavioural disorders in adults, and particularly children with conditions such as ADD and ADHD. Adequate levels of B6 can have a desirable effect on behaviour by supporting the hormone neurotransmitters. I have particularly seen this in people with pyrrole disorder.
Supports pyrrole disorder
If you haven’t heard of pyrrole disorder, then you might find it interesting to know that it is considered a genetic metabolic disorder that is more common than people think. It is often related to conditions where people might be puzzled as to why their doctor can’t find a reason for the way that they feel.
The symptom range is quite broad and can include anxiety, depression, getting sick easily or often, autistic symptoms, behavioural disorders, sensitivity taking certain supplements or medications, and is often related to hypothyroidism.
When clients tested positive to pyrrole disorder (pyroluria) this often unravelled the reason why they had had not been getting better.
With pyrrole disorder, a by-product of haemoglobin synthesis called kryptopyrrole has been shown to bind to B6, resulting in a net deficiency of the vitamin. Some people with this disorder need up to several hundred milligrams of B6 per day but unfortunately, even though they need it desperately, many cannot tolerate B vitamins as a supplement and may even feel allergic to them.
They are not really allergic in the true sense where there would be an immune reaction, but because B6 doesn’t convert properly in the liver into a form the body can use, then it builds up in the body and becomes very toxic for them. For these people, B6 from the diet is super important.
The key to this condition is for the toxic release of excess amounts of pyrrole bound (in the liver) to B6 to enable safe excretion of this otherwise toxic substance. It is also bound to zinc, so B6 and zinc are often quite low for those with pyrrole disorder. For more info go to my page All About Pyrrole.
In clinic for my clients I always use B6 for any hormonal imbalance, be it PMS symptoms, ovulation challenges, supporting fertility, PCOS support, or even peri and menopausal symptoms.
B6 is a very important co-factor in the making and balancing of our hormones. B6 helps with serotonin and GABA levels, which boosts healthy mood, and reduces the intensity of pain often experienced with menstrual irregularities. Vitamin B6 also helps with uterine blood flow, so it can help to reduce the cramping feeling often associated with periods.
Plenty of research studies have shown the effectiveness of vitamin B6 to help reduce the severity and duration of the dreaded ‘morning sickness’. The only issue that most women experience with B6 for morning sickness, is that the smelly tablet can make them want to ‘throw up’, so they can’t take the tablet or capsule that might help them.
Try to find a B6 tablet or capsule that’s not too smelly or too big, or take it when your tummy is full of food, especially protein, which can make it easier.
A better option is to ensure that you eat plenty of B6 rich foods every day, especially prior to the onset of morning sickness. Morning sickness often continues from weeks 6 to 16 of pregnancy, so if you can start B6 rich foods as soon as you know you are pregnant, the better the chance of avoiding this horrible stage.
Melatonin, a hormone/neurotransmitter which helps us to have a good night’s sleep and regulates when we wake up, needs B6 as a co-factor for its production. Without B6 we cannot make melatonin.
Healthy vascular system
Vitamin B6 is needed for a process called methylation, which is where specific genes are either switched on or switched off depending on what is going on in the body at any given moment. The process of methylation requires key co-factors to make certain processes happen in the vascular system.
These co-factors are B6, B12 and folate. The combined nutrients help to regulate an amino acid (from protein) called homocysteine. We need a certain level of homocysteine for healthy arteries, veins, and good blood flow.
But with elevated homocysteine (due to inadequate amounts of B6, B12 or folate) we have a greater risk of inflammation and damage of the blood vessels, which can create heart disease or a heart attack from the build-up of plaque because of this inflammation. For the same reasons, B6 can also help to prevent hypertension and elevated cholesterol.
Help prevent anaemia
Not many people know that it takes more than iron to prevent anaemia in the blood for good energy and to carry oxygen around the body. Our body also uses B6 to make haemoglobin, the oxygen molecule in the blood that makes our blood red. The B6 helps to mobilise iron from the stores in the liver. We also need good levels of B12, folate and of course iron, to prevent anaemia.
Supports Brain Function
No doubt a healthy brain is important. We need good levels of B6 for brain development and brain function; a deficiency could contribute to conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s or decreased cognitive abilities. As mentioned, B6, B12 and folate can help to reduce the risk of elevated homocysteine, which not only helps our vascular system and heart, but also prevents damage to the nervous system neurons in the brain.
While it is rare to get an overdose of B6 from foods alone, taking B6 supplements can create toxicity symptoms, especially when there has been long term use of B6, or where a metabolic imbalance is treated with high doses of B6. Symptoms of B6 overdose or toxicity include:
- Numbness or tingling of mouth, muscles, fingers, toes (or anywhere)
- Confusion/disorientation signs, impaired memory (worse than before B6)
- Headaches or migraines (worse than before B6)
- Toxic or sickly feeling. However you can feel this way if taking B6 supplements on an empty stomach or without adequate protein prior to taking B6. This doesn’t happen with food as it is already bound to what it needs.
- For some people, high B6 can cause anxiety or feelings of panic when they didn’t have it previously, particularly with pyrrole disorder.
Interactions of B6 with medications
Many health conditions are treated with various medications that can reduce your levels of B6, and B6 can also interfere with some medications and treatments. If you are being treated with any of the following drugs/medications, or have any of the following conditions, please seek the advice of your doctor and health care practitioner if considering implementing vitamin B6 in therapeutic doses, other than what is contained in foods naturally.
- Antibiotics including Tetracycline
- Asthma medication such as Theophylline (TheoDur)
- Antidepressants of the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) class may reduce levels of vitamin B6, as well as antidepressants such as Norpramin, Pamelor, Desipramine, Tofranil and Elavil.
- Alzheimer’s disease drugs
- Drugs for seizures
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Heart disease drugs
- Hypertension drugs such as Hydralazine (Apresoline)
- Parkinson’s disease drugs
- Penicillamine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
Vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms
Because there is such a long list of attributes of B6, you can find an extensive list of conditions and symptoms that are linked to a deficiency of vitamin B6. The more common deficiency symptoms include:
- Anything to do with neurotransmitters & the neurological system, including conditions such as migraines, epileptic seizures, Alzheimer’s, dementia
- Mood imbalances like anxiety, irritability, depression, confusion, pyrrole
- Elevated homocysteine levels, which require good levels of B6, B12 and folate
- PMS symptoms, or basically any hormonal imbalance, including menopausal symptoms, PCOS symptoms, ovulation imbalances, infertility
- Poor energy, fatigue, lack of motivation or concentration
- Heart disease and any cardiovascular issues including varicose veins
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic pain disorders
- Exacerbation of symptoms and characteristics of disorders such as autism spectrum, ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, behavioural disruptions, mania, disconnection to others.
The following is the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6. The amounts are expressed in milligrams (mg). A milligram = 1,000th of a gram.
- Newborns to 6mths: need 0.3mg
- Children 1–4yrs: need 0.5–0.6mg
- Children 4–14yrs: need 0.6–1.0mg
- Teens 14–18yrs: need 1.2–1.3mg
- Men and women 19–50yrs: need 1.3mg
- Women 51yrs +: need 1.5mg
- Men 51yrs +: need 1.7mg
- Pregnant women: need 1.9mg
- Breastfeeding women: need 2.0mg
It is interesting to see on the government’s RDA list that we only need trace amounts of B6 between 1-2mg for most adults, but I find that many really need around 10mg (basic level) up to 400mg to have any therapeutic advantage. However, if you are not treating any health condition, then the lower recommended doses are usually sufficient to maintain good health.
Another good point is that vitamin B6 in foods has a far greater biological value (usefulness) than from synthetic vitamin supplements. But if high doses are needed then it is almost impossible to get those doses from food alone.
If you have been taking a B6 supplement containing more than 50mg per day for more than 6 months, then be wary of any B6 toxicity or overdose symptoms and get your levels tested. Don’t take your supplement on the day before and the same day of your tests because you need accurate levels that reflect your B6 status.
Following are some foods rich in vitamin B6, showing the weight of the food and the quantity of vitamin B6 in milligrams. This list of foods can be used in conjunction with the above RDA’s. You can see that it is relatively easy to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin B6 from your diet.
- Chicken liver: 3.5oz/100g = 0.85mg
- Turkey: 3oz/85g = 7mg
- Chicken: 1 breast = 0.6mg
- Bananas (medium): 1 = 0.6mg
- Beef (grass fed): 3oz/85g = 0.5mg
- Avocado: 1 = 0.5mg
- Pistachio Nuts (shelled): ¼ cup = 0.5mg
- Atlantic salmon: 3oz/85g = 0.5mg
- Tuna: 1 x 3oz/85g can = 0.4mg
- Pinto or Kidney Beans: 1 cup = 0.4mg
- Hazelnuts: ½ cup = 0.38mg
- Sunflower Seeds: ¼ cup = 0.25mg
- Sesame Seeds/Tahini: ¼ cup = 0.25mg
- Spinach: ½ cup cooked has 0.22mg
- Sweet potato: 3.5oz/100g = 0.2mg
- Chickpeas/Garbanzo: – 1 cup has 0.2mg
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.