Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, plays a vital role in more than 100 enzyme reaction involved in metabolism.

Most people can get enough vitamin B6 through rich dietary sources like meats, seafood, milk, bean, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and whole-grain flour.

However, certain medical conditions like kidney disease and malabsorption syndrome can lead to vitamin B6 deficiency.

Consuming adequate amounts of pyridoxine through food or supplements is essential for health as its deficiency can put you at the risk of many ailments.

Read on to learn more about this essential nutrient, its health benefits, and side effects.

What is vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a water-soluble vitamin that is a part of the B vitamin family. It is crucial for brain development, and it helps keep the nervous system and the immune system healthy.

The derivatives of vitamin B6 like pyridoxal, pyridoxal 5-phosphate and pyridoxamine are involved in many biological functions.

Pyridoxine is needed by the body every day as it helps in providing energy from the food we consume, produces hemoglobin that carries oxygen in the red blood cells throughout the body and also increases the synthesis of antibodies that protect the body.

This water-soluble vitamin is involved in the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, which help to transmit signals to the brain.

Pyridoxine also helps prevent high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay and nervous and skin disorders. Since it is an essential vitamin for the reproductive process, it also helps in healthy pregnancies.

Health benefits of vitamin B6

1. Boosts brain performance

Vitamin B6 is vital for the proper functioning of the brain and the nervous system. According to a 1996 study, people with higher concentrations of vitamin B6 tested better in two measures of memory function (1).

Studies have shown that vitamin B6 can control homocysteine levels, which can damage the neurons of the central nervous system and can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s (2).

Vitamin B6 is also involved in the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, which help control mood, energy, and concentration.

According to experts, low levels of serotonin can lead to certain disorders in children like ADHD. So increasing vitamin B6 levels can also help in reducing these symptoms (3).

According to the researchers from Oxford University, high doses of vitamin B is also helpful for older people with mild cognitive impairment.

Also read: 21 Top Vitamin A Foods – Fruits, Vegetables, Non-Vegetarian Options

2. Prevents depression

Patients with depression also have low levels of vitamin B6 and other B vitamins. According to a study on 251 older adults in Massachusetts, vitamin B6 deficiency doubled the likelihood of depression (4). 

This is because vitamin B6 plays a vital role in mood regulation. Research has shown that this vitamin is essential for the production of neurotransmitters that regulate emotions like serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) (5).

Though more detailed research is needed on the subject, some studies have shown that vitamin B6 has a significant impact on both serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters which control depression, pain perception and anxiety (6).

vitamin b6 benefits infographic

3. Helps treat anemia

We need Vitamin B6 to create hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is transported by the red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the cells and to mobilize iron. When there is low hemoglobin, your cells don’t get enough oxygen, and you may develop anemia as a result.

A deficiency in vitamin B6 can lead to microcytic anemia, a condition characterized by smaller and paler red blood cells. Specific studies have also linked low vitamin B6 levels to anemia in pregnant women.

When pregnant women with anemia were non-responsive to iron supplements were given vitamin B6 supplements, the symptoms of anemia decreased (7).

So, adding more pyridoxine to your diet and taking supplements can help in treating certain kinds of anemia.

4. Reduces the risk of heart disease

Pyridoxine can prevent clogged arteries and lower the risk of heart disease. Studies show that lower levels of vitamin B6 can increase the risk of coronary heart disease (8).

This vitamin helps regulate the levels of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine in the blood can lead to inflammation, blood vessel issues and the development of heart disease (8).

According to a 2006 study, oxidative stress caused by low levels of vitamin B6 accelerates the development of homocysteine-induced atherosclerosis in rats (9).

When patients take vitamin B6 and folate, the total homocysteine concentrations are reduced (10).

During one placebo-controlled trial, 158 siblings of 167 patients with heart disease were given 5 mg folic acid along with 250 mg vitamin B6 daily for two years.

The results showed that the group that took folic acid and vitamin B6 had lower homocysteine levels and decreased the occurrence of abnormal exercise electrocardiography tests, which lowered their risk of heart disease (11).

5. May reduce blood pressure

Several promising studies have shown that vitamin B6 can help lower blood pressure. During a 1999 study, when hypertensive rats were given a high vitamin B6 diet for 14 weeks, it helped reduce their systolic blood pressure.

This study suggests that vitamin B6 supplementation may be an effective antihypertensive (12).

A more recent survey was done on a cross-section of 2,241 rural Chinese in the age group of 18 to 80 years. The study found that higher intake of vitamin B6 is associated with lower risk of hypertension (13).

6. Prevents eye diseases

Vitamin B6 helps prevent eye diseases and age-related macular degeneration in older adults. High levels of homocysteine in the blood can lead to age-related macular degeneration (14).

Since vitamin B6 helps lower homocysteine levels, it may also lower the risk of AMD.

According to a seven-year study, when 5,400 female health professionals took supplements of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid, it significantly reduced their AMD risk by 35 to 40 percent (15). 

A deficiency in vitamin B6 can also lead to retinal disorders as low levels of vitamin B6 block the veins that connect to the retina.

During a study, 260 patients of retinal vein occlusion and 262 healthy subjects were tested for their serum vitamin B6 levels. The study found that low B6 levels and elevated homocysteine levels were associated with retinal disorders (16).

7. May reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Low levels of vitamin B6 have been linked to symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis such as severe pain. Chronic inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis may lead to low levels of vitamin B6 (17).

However, there are contradictory reports of whether supplementing with vitamin B6 can reduce inflammation.

During a 30-day study, researchers found that supplementing 36 patients with 50 mg of vitamin B6 every day did not decrease the production of inflammatory molecules in the body (18).

During another study, 43 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took 5 mg of folic acid and 100 mg of vitamin B6 for 12 weeks. The results showed a decrease in the pro-inflammatory cytokines in these patients (19).

Though more research is needed on the subject, it appears that large doses of vitamin B6 can provide anti-inflammatory benefits to patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

8. May help prevent cancer

The ability of vitamin B6 in reducing inflammation helps in lowering the risk of certain types of cancers (20). According to a review of 12 studies, researchers found that vitamin B6 intake and blood levels of vitamin B6 were inversely related to the risk of colorectal cancer.

Those with the highest levels of B6 in their blood had an almost 50 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer (21).

Various studies on the relationship between vitamin B6 and breast cancer also show that adequate blood levels of B6 lower the risk of breast cancer, especially in postmenopausal women (22).

9. Relieves PMS symptoms

According to studies consuming B vitamins including vitamin B6 helps combat symptoms of PMS including nausea, breast pain, cramps, fatigue, and headaches.

It also helps reduce acne that occurs before the menstrual cycle. According to researchers vitamin B6 helps relieve symptoms of PMS due to its role in creating neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

During a trial, 63 women were given 50 mg of pyridoxine for three months. This helped improve their PMS symptoms like depression, irritability, and tiredness (23).

Another study found that taking 50 mg of vitamin B6 along with 200 mg of magnesium per day helped reduce the symptoms of PMS (24).

10. Treats nausea during pregnancy

Studies have found that vitamin B6 is helpful in treating morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is also an ingredient in Diclegis, a medication commonly used to treat morning sickness (25).

Vitamin B6 plays several important roles to ensure a healthy pregnancy, which may be the reason why it helps prevent nausea.

During a study, 345 women who took a 30 mg supplement of vitamin B6 in the first 17 weeks of pregnancy noticed a reduction in nausea after just five days of treatment (26).

11. Prevents kidney stones

Some studies suggest that taking large doses of vitamin B6 along with other minerals like magnesium can prevent and treat kidney stones (27).  Inadequate vitamin B6 increases urine oxalate and kidney stone risk.

12. Regulates sleep

Vitamin B6 helps the body to produce melatonin which is responsible for regulating the internal clock. During a study, researchers gave 30 rats vitamin B6 injections.

At the end of two months, the plasma levels of melatonin increased by 35.95 percent in the rats.

Recommended daily requirement for vitamin B6

According to the US Office of dietary supplements, the recommended requirement for vitamin B6 is (28) –

  • 0 to 6 months: 0.1 mg
  • 7 to 12 months: 0.3 mg
  • 1 to 3 years: 0.5 mg
  • 4 to 8 years: 0.6 mg
  • 9 to 13 years: 1 mg
  • 14 to 18 years: 1.3 mg
  • 19 to 50 years: 1.3 mg
  • 51 plus years: 1.7 mg (men) and 1.5 mg (women)
  • During pregnancy: 1.9 mg
  • During lactation: 2.0 mg

Food sources of vitamin B6

One of the best methods to increase your vitamin B6 intake is to add more vitamin B6 rich foods to your diet. Although most foods contain vitamin B6, here are some of the best sources of this vitamin:

  1. Chickpeas: One cup contains 1.1 mg
  2. Beef liver: 3 ounces contains 0.9 mg
  3. Yellowfin tuna: 3 ounces contains 0.9 mg
  4. Turkey breast: 3 ounces contain 0.7 mg
  5. Grass-fed beef: 3 ounces contain 0.5 mg
  6. Roasted chicken breast: 3 ounces contain 0.5 mg
  7. One medium banana: 0.4 mg
  8. One raw avocado contains: 0.4 mg

Precautions and side effects

Since vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, it will just be excreted if you consume too much of it. So there is minimal risk of vitamin B6 toxicity.

However, if you consume very high doses of supplements, it can lead to toxicity. Common signs of vitamin B6 toxicity include nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, flushing of the skin and increased urination.

In some severe cases, it can also lead to nerve damage. Check with your doctor before taking vitamin B6 if you are taking medications. Medicines that interact with vitamin B6 include –

  • Taking vitamin B6 with Levodopa which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease can reduce its effectiveness.
  • Taking vitamin B6 with anticonvulsants like fosphenytoin or phenytoin can decrease the drug’s duration and intensity.
  • Taking barbiturates with vitamin B6 decreases the drug’s duration and intensity.
  • If vitamin B6 is taken along with chemotherapy drug altretamine can reduce its effectiveness.

Final thoughts

Vitamin B6 is needed for many processes in the body. It boosts brain performance, prevents depression, helps treat anemia, and also helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitamin B6 rich foods like chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, turkey breast, bananas, and avocados are the best way to add vitamin B6 to your diet. So, add these vitamin B6 rich foods to your diet and enjoy the benefits of this essential vitamin.

Vitamin B6 boosts brain performance, helps treat anemia, reduce blood pressure, prevents eye disease, relieves PMS symptoms, etc.