Vitamin B6: The Forgotten Vitamin

I once wrote an entire thesis on this one topic—vitamin B6! It was a long year and a half, ha-ha! Vitamin B6 gets little to no attention, and is often unnoticed among all the B-complex vitamins, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t important. 

In women, vitamin B6 needs increase after age 50 from 1.3 mg to 1.5 mg per day. For men, it’s even more; after age 50, vitamin B6 needs increase from 1.3 mg to 1.7 mg per day, and some studies suggest older people may need more than the current recommended levels of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 is a water soluble vitamin, so the body doesn’t store it. It has many important functions throughout the body.

Function #1: It plays an important role in the nervous system and cognitive development by helping make several major neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that communicate information from one nerve cell to another throughout our brain and body.

Function #2: Vitamin B6 is needed for normal brain development and function. It helps the body make the hormone serotonin, which influences mood. In fact, recent studies suggest vitamin B6 might help reduce the risk of late-life depression. 

Function #3: Vitamin B6 helps the body make melatonin, which helps regulate the body’s internal clock.

Function #4: Vitamin B6 is very important for heart health. It works together with vitamins B12 and B9 (folic acid), to maintain normal levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid in which high levels may be associated with heart disease. People who don't get enough B6 in their diet have a higher risk of heart disease.

Function #5: Energy production is probably the most well-known function of the B-vitamins. Vitamin Bis essential to over 100 enzymes, mostly all involved in metabolizing amino acids (proteins)! Vitamin B6 is also important for metabolizing both carbohydrates and fats.

Dietary Sources

Animal foods, such as turkey, tuna, salmon, shrimp, and beef liver, are among the richest sources of vitamin B6. Other good food sources include bananas, raisins, lentils, beans, spinach, carrots, potatoes, bran, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and many breakfast cereals also contain added vitamin B6. If you avoid vitamin B6-rich foods, or eat small portions of them, you may not be getting enough of this important nutrient. 

As a supplement, vitamin B6 is sold under the names pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, pyridoxine hydrochloride, and pyridoxal-5-phosphate. Vitamin B6’s most active or absorbable form is pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP).

Keep in mind, some is good, but more is not better. Studies have shown taking large amounts of vitamin B(more than 500 mg per day) can cause nerve damage, difficulty walking, or tingling.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



University of Maryland Medical Center, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) 

National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin B6 Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet.

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