What Is It?
Day by day, there’s probably no nutrient as actively involved in keeping your system running smoothly as vitamin B6. Technically an umbrella term used to describe three B vitamins (pyridoxine, pridoxal, pyridoxamine), vitamin B6 partakes in no fewer than 100 chemical reactions throughout the body. It functions primarily as a coenzyme, working along with other enzymes to speed up chemical reactions in cells.
Incredibly, government surveys indicate that one-third of adults are deficient in this key nutrient. The elderly, pregnant or nursing women, oral contraceptive users, and smokers are particularly at risk for a deficiency.
Many foods contain rich stores of vitamin B6. But to counter a deficiency or to treat specific disorders, try supplements.
A workhorse, vitamin B6 helps manufacture the building blocks of proteins known as amino acids. It also takes part in producing brain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) such as serotonin, in releasing energy stored in cells, and in manufacturing red blood cells. Vitamin B6 also helps to keep hormones in balance and the immune system functioning properly.
Taken as part of a vitamin B-complex supplement, vitamin B6 may help protect against heart disease and a host of other disorders. For example, in concert with folic acid and vitamin B12, it aids the body in processing homocysteine, an amino acidlike compound that, at elevated levels, increases the risk for heart disease and other vascular disorders.
Vitamin B complex supplements (which include vitamin B6) may also minimize memory loss associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Because a deficiency in vitamin B6 may cause sleep problems, taking the nutrient along with the B vitamin niacinamide, which reduces anxiety, may provide some relief from insomnia.
Specifically, vitamin B6 (taken alone) may help to:
Ease carpal tunnel syndrome. People who suffer from this painful wrist and hand disorder are often deficient in vitamin B6. Supplements may not only decrease the inflammation that causes complications but also improve circulation to the compromised areas. In addition, vitamin B6 may boost the production of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which helps to control pain.
Improve symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and fibrocystic breast changes. Some women find that taking vitamin B6 supplements eases PMS symptoms. This is particularly true for women who suffer from severe breast pain–fibrocystic breasts, specifically around the time that PMS symptoms occur. The nutrient appears to help by assisting the liver in its effort to wash excess estrogen from the body. In addition, B6 raises levels of the hormone progesterone and assists in the manufacture of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances mood.
Clear up acne. By regulating levels of hormones implicated in the development of acne lesions, vitamin B6 helps to control outbreaks. It is especially useful for acne triggered by menstrual cycles or menopause.
Counter female infertility. Along with other B vitamins, vitamin B6 contributes to the health and proper functioning of the female reproductive system.
Combat depression. Because it is essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain (especially serotonin), vitamin B6 may be of value in treating depression. Recent findings indicate that up to 25% of people struggling with depression may have a deficiency of this nutrient. Low vitamin B6 levels have also been linked to stress and anxiety. In a recent study of men who were members of a bereavement group, those with low levels of vitamin B6 were more anxious and distressed than those with adequate levels of the nutrient. Depressed individuals might even want to try vitamin B6 supplements before resorting to prescription antidepressants.
Fight asthma. According to various studies, vitamin B6 holds promise for decreasing wheezing and other bothersome asthma symptoms. It’s particularly recommended for asthma sufferers taking the prescription drug theophylline, which depresses natural levels of the vitamin B6 component known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate
Prevent diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy). People with diabetes are at risk of developing nerve damage. Supplemental vitamin B6 may guard against this complication.
Treat chronic dizziness. Vitamin B6 supplements may be of use in treating chronic dizziness caused by a nerve disorder or decreased blood flow to the brain or inner ear.
Lessen tinnitus (ringing in the ears). This condition is probably caused by a nerve malfunction in the brain. Because vitamin B6 positively affects the nervous system, it may improve the health of the nerves leading to the inner ear and thus minimize the discomforts of tinnitus.
Slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. People with this disease lack dopamine, a brain chemical that transmits impulses from nerve to nerve. They are also often deficient in vitamin B6. Interestingly, supplements of the vitamin work to increase the production of dopamine. Consult your doctor for guidance before starting on vitamin B6 supplements if you’re already taking the prescription drug levodopa (L-dopa) for this disease, however, because the vitamin could prevent the medication from working properly.
Note: Vitamin B6 has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Vitamin B6.
The RDA for vitamin B6 is 1.3 mg a day for men and women under age 50. For those over 50, the RDA is 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women.
If You Get Too Little
Mild deficiencies of vitamin B6 can cause increased levels of the amino acid homocysteine, raising the risk of heart and vascular diseases. Severe deficiency is rare. When it occurs, symptoms can include skin disorders such as acne, dermatitis, and mouth sores. Neurological signs of a severe deficiency include insomnia, depression, and, in extreme cases, seizures.
If You Get Too Much
No adverse reactions have been reported with high intakes of vitamin B6 from foods. And when taking supplements, even long-term daily doses up to 100 mg are safe. However, in rare cases, taking 200 to 300 mg daily over time has resulted in nerve damage and associated numbness, weakness, and loss of function in the extremities. This serious consequence is more likely to occur when doses of more than 2,000 mg are consumed daily for lengthy periods (two months or more). Fortunately, nerve damage is reversible once the vitamin is discontinued.
General Dosage Information
Special tips: Vitamin B6 supplements are available as pyridoxine hydrochloride or pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P). While both forms will fulfill your requirements for vitamin B6, P-5-P may be the optimal choice because it appears to be more easily absorbed.
In addition to being available as a single supplement, vitamin B6 is commonly contained in multivitamin and vitamin B complex products. These products supply more than the RDA for vitamin B6, and some will even provide the commonly recommended daily dose of 50 mg. Higher doses are sometimes needed for specific ailments, however.
For carpal tunnel syndrome: Take 100 mg three times a day for two weeks, then reduce the dose to 50 mg three times a day. Many sufferers find that vitamin B6 in the form of P-5-P works best for this disorder.
For asthma: Take 50 mg twice a day.
For PMS: Take 100 mg twice a day.
For fibrocystic breast changes: Take l00 mg twice a day during the week before you expect to start your period.
For acne: Take 50 mg every morning.
For female infertility: Take a vitamin B-50 complex pill and 50 mg B6 in the morning.
For dizziness, Parkinson’s disease, or tinnitus: Take 50 mg three times a day.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for vitamin B6, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
For best absorption, take no more than 100 mg of vitamin B6 at a time.
If you take anticonvulsant medication for epilepsy, be careful not to exceed the recommended vitamin B6 dosage for any given ailment. High doses can decrease the effectiveness of the anticonvulsant.
If you take the prescription drug levodopa (L-dopa) for Parkinson’s disease, don’t take vitamin B6 supplements. The vitamin may prevent the medication from working properly.
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug-Nutrient Interactions Chart.
Taking high doses of this vitamin (more than 200 mg daily) over the long term may cause nerve damage.
If you take vitamin B6 for nerve pain and develop any new numbness or tingling, stop taking the supplement and consult your doctor.
Vitamin B6 supplements (25 mg a day) are commonly recommended for relieving the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy-related morning sickness. However, because there is still so little data on how such supplements will affect your developing baby, consult your doctor before taking the supplement.
Acne Take 50 mg every morning if acne is related to menstrual cycle.
Asthma 50 mg twice a day. May be partially covered by your daily multivitamin/antioxidant.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 50 mg P-5-P 3 times a day or 100 mg vitamin B6 3 times a day
Fibrocystic Breast Changes 100 mg twice a day for one week before period
Kidney Stones 100-150 mg a day; may be partially covered by daily multivitamins and antioxidant complex
PMS 50 mg twice a day or 100 mg once a day. May be partially covered by your daily multivitamin/antioxidant.
Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is one of those compounds that continually amazes scientists with the breadth of its involvement in the body. To mention a few highlights: It helps build amino acids, it aids in the manufacture of red blood cells, it helps keep hormones in balance, and it plays a key role in producing chemical messengers in the brain.
HOW IT HELPS ASTHMA
Studies have shown that B6 deficiencies are common in people with asthma. This may be due to the disease itself, or it may be the effect of widely used asthma medications such as theophylline, which can deplete levels of B6 in the body. Research has also shown that people may experience a reduction in the severity and the frequency of their asthma attacks when they take B6 supplements. This depends on your individual case, however. B6 seems to work best on mild cases of the disease. One team of investigators in Colorado, for instance, reported that B6 didn’t provide much benefit for those people who needed powerful steroid medications (oral or inhaled) to control their asthma attacks.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are essentially three ways to get vitamin B6: Capsules containing vitamin B6 are widely available in doses ranging from 50 mg to 250 mg. Tablets or capsules of pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P) are the biologically active form of vitamin B6. Normally, your liver converts B6 to P-5-P. However, people who have liver problems may not be able to convert the B6 into P-5-P as efficiently as others. Therefore, P-5-P is a good choice if you have a history of liver problems or if the B6 you’ve been taking doesn’t seem to be improving your problem. Vitamin B-complex pills containing B6 in the dose is effective for asthma–100 mg a day–and isn’t hard to find in high-quality products. Some multivitamin products even have this amount. Just scrutinize the label carefully. When you take a B-complex pill, you’ll obviously be enjoying the benefit of B6 and all the other B vitamins as well.
A few points are worth considering when taking vitamin B6: For best absorption, take no more than 100 mg of vitamin B6 at one time. Combine your B6 with bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme found in pineapple and widely available as a dietary supplement. This makes it more effective for asthma. Be patient. Although after just a few days on B6 you may notice some improvements in your symptoms, allow at least two to three months of continuous use for maximum effect.
Nerve damage can result from vitamin B6 doses of more than 200 mg daily (or reportedly with even as little as 150 mg) over the long term, so stick to commonly recommended dosages. In addition, if you develop any new numbness or tingling, stop taking the supplement and consult your doctor.
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David Edelberg, MD