Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is one of 8 B vitamins. All B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is used to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B-complex vitamins, also help the body metabolize fats and protein. B-complex vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly.

Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. It is needed for normal brain development and function, and helps the body make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate the body clock.

Pyridoxine is a vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. The body needs vitamin B6 for more than 100 enzyme reactions involved in metabolism. Vitamin B6 is also involved in brain development during pregnancy and infancy as well as immune function.

Along with vitamins B12 and B9 (folic acid), B6 helps control levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that may be associated with heart disease. Your body needs B6 in order to absorb vitamin B12 and to make red blood cells and cells of the immune system.

Vitamin B6 deficiency

It is rare to have a significant deficiency of B6, although studies indicate many people may be mildly deficient, especially children and the elderly. Certain medications can also cause low levels of B6 in the body. Symptoms of serious deficiency include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short-term memory loss

Food source of vitamin B6

Good food sources of vitamin B6 include:

  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereal
  • Chicken, turkey
  • Tuna, salmon, shrimp
  • Beef liver
  • Milk an cheese
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Brown rice
  • Bran
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • Bananas
  • Whole-grain flour

Supplements

People who eat a balanced diet should meet the daily requirement for vitamin B6 without taking a supplement.

Vitamin B6 is available in dietary supplements, usually in the form of pyridoxine. Most multivitamin-mineral supplements contain vitamin B6. Dietary supplements that contain only vitamin B6, or vitamin B6 with other B vitamins, are also available.

The upper limits for vitamin B6 are listed below. These levels do not apply to people who are taking vitamin B6 for medical reasons under the care of a doctor.

Life Stage Upper Limit
Birth to 12 months Not established
Children 1-3 years 30 mg
Children 4-8 years 40 mg
Children 9-13 years 60 mg
Teens 14-18 years 80 mg
Adults 100 mg

Can vitamin B6 be harmful?

Very high doses, 200 mg or more per day, of vitamin B6 can cause neurological disorders, such as loss of feeling in the legs and imbalance. Stopping high doses usually leads to a complete recovery within 6 months.

There have been rare reports of allergic skin reactions to high doses of vitamin B6 supplements.

Other side effects can include:

  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
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