Medically reviewed by Suzanne Fisher, MS
Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin, meaning our bodies can’t produce it on their own and we have to get it from external sources like food or supplements. Vitamin B6 plays a number of important roles in our body. While the benefits can mostly be reaped from food alone, there are some potential benefits from B6 supplementation. You will most often see it on a label as pyridoxine and pyridoxal 5’ phosphate (PLP).
Keep reading to learn the benefits, uses, and risks of vitamin B6.
Important for Immune Function
B6 plays a crucial role in various aspects of immune health including intestinal immune regulation, immune cell production, inflammation regulation, and antibody production. The health of your gut microbiome impacts the health of your immune system, and B6 appears to impact the formation of your gut bacteria. Some studies have shown that taking B6 through food or supplementation can improve certain aspects of immune function in those with a vitamin B6 deficiency.
A study with over 2,000 participants found that those who had the lowest serum levels of PLP had the highest levels of chronic inflammation and those with the highest serum levels of PLP had the lowest levels of chronic inflammation. Researchers believe this may be because of B6’s role as a cofactor in over 150 enzymatic reactions, which could help regulate inflammation and immune health.
May Prevent Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy
Some studies have found that B6 may reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. For example, a 2017 study found that 40 milligrams (mg) of B6 supplementation twice daily was comparable to 500 mg of ginger twice daily taken for four days when it comes to reducing symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Both were more effective than a placebo. The study used the Rhodes questionnaire to evaluate participants’ symptoms—an eight-item questionnaire that evaluates frequency, severity, and distress related to nausea and vomiting.
However, a 2015 Cochrane review examined various treatments for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, including B6 supplementation, and didn’t find any of the treatment options to be supported by clear and consistent evidence.
May Help With Premenstrual Syndrome
Dealing with bloating, anxiety, and irritability leading up to menstruation is never fun. Some research shows that B6 supplementation may help ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
A 2020 study evaluated the effectiveness of 80 mg of B6 supplementation daily compared to a broad-spectrum micronutrient supplement on symptoms of PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It found that both treatments improved symptoms of PMS, while the micronutrient supplement was more effective for PMDD.
However, most studies on this subject are dated and of low quality, so more research is necessary to form stronger conclusions about B6’s effectiveness in treating PMS symptoms.
May Improve Mental Health
Anxiety and depression rates have skyrocketed in recent years, with the World Health Organization estimating that they rose 25% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some studies suggest that B6 may impact mental health, specifically anxiety and depression.
A 2022 study compared the effects of B6 supplementation, B12 supplementation, and placebo on almost 500 young adults’ anxiety and depression. The participants in the B6 group took 100 mg of B6 per day and after about a month, they had lower levels of self-reported anxiety and a trend toward reduced depression.
Another study found that lower intakes of B6 were associated with a higher risk for anxiety and depression, particularly among women. However, this was an observational study so it cannot prove that the lower B6 intake caused anxiety or depression.
Good Sources of B6
You can find vitamin B6 in a variety of foods. Some of the best sources are:
Chickpeas: 1.1milligrams (mg) per cup canned, or 65% of your daily value (DV)
Fresh yellowfin tuna: 0.9 mg per 3 ounces cooked, or 53% DV
Sockeye salmon: 0.6 mg per 3 ounces cooked, or 35% DV
Roasted chicken breast: 0.5 mg per 3 ounces cooked, or 29% DV
Fortified breakfast cereals with 25% DV: 0.4 mg per serving, 25% DV
Boiled potatoes: 0.4 mg per cup, or 25% DV
Roasted turkey: 0.4 mg per 3 ounces, or 25% DV
Banana: 0.4 mg per medium fruit, or 25% DV
Marinara sauce: 0.4 mg per cup, or 25% DV
In the U.S., adults get most of their B6 from fortified cereal, beef, poultry, starchy vegetables, and fruits, per the NIH.
How to Take B6
B6 can also be found in dietary supplements, including multivitamins. These can be purchased in different forms including capsules, gummies, liquids, chewable tablets, and sublingual tablets. B6 is also sometimes included in other dietary supplements like protein powders or weight gain supplements.
Since B6 is a water-soluble vitamin, you generally don’t have to take it with food and can take it any time of day. It doesn’t need to be taken with dietary fat for optimal absorption.
The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) and adequate intakes (AIs) for B6 vary based on your age, sex, and whether you’re pregnant or lactating. These recommendations are for your total intake of B6, not just supplementation. Since most Americans meet the recommendations for daily B6 intake, a high-dose supplement is often unnecessary. The recommendations for each group are:
0–6 months: 0.1 mg
7–12 months: 0.3 mg
1–3 years: 0.5 mg
4–8 years: 0.6 mg
9–13 years: 1.0 mg
14–18 years: 1.3 mg for males; 1.2 mg for females; 1.9 mg if pregnant; 2.0 mg if lactating
19–50 years: 1.3 mg for males and females; 1.9 mg if pregnant; 2.0 mg if lactating
51+ years: 1.7 mg for males; 1.5 mg for females
Is B6 Safe?
While eating food sources of B6 is not associated with health risks, excess supplementation is. Taking 1–6 grams (g) of B6 orally every day for 12–40 months could lead to sensory neuropathy that can cause you to lose control of bodily movements. These severe symptoms typically stop if you stop the supplements.
Potential Drug Interactions
B6 can interfere with certain medications, while other medications can affect B6 levels. These include:
Cycloserine: If you take this antibiotic with pyridoxal phosphate, it increases pyridoxine excretion through the urine. This can exacerbate seizures and neurotoxicity associated with cycloserine, so you may need a pyridoxine supplement.
Antiepileptic medications: B6 can interfere with certain antiepileptic medications, while adding B6 to other antiepileptic medication regimens may prevent behavioral side effects.
Theophylline: This medication commonly used for breathing problems can deplete B6 levels, increasing the risk of neurological and central nervous system side effects associated with the medication.
What to Look For
When buying a supplement, we recommend finding a third-party tested option since supplements are not regulated by the FDA for purity and potency. Reputable third-party testers include USP, NSF, and ConsumerLab.com.
When in doubt, shop from reputable brands and always speak with a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any prescription medications.
Can You Take Too Much B6?
Given the severe health risks associated with excess B6 intake from supplements, there is certainly such a thing as too much B6. For that reason, the Food and Nutrition Board established tolerable upper limits (ULs) for B6, which vary based on age. However, there are no ULs for infants aged 0–12 months, and it’s recommended that babies in this age range only consume B6 from breast milk, formula, and food. The ULs for B6 are:
1–3 years: 30 mg
4–8 years: 40 mg
9–13 years: 60 mg
14–18 years: 30 mg
19+ years: 100 mg
Side Effects of B6
In doses under the UL, third-party tested B6 supplements are generally safe. However, if you consume too much B6 from supplementation it can lead to extreme sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, heartburn, and painful skin lesions.
A Quick Review
Vitamin B6 is important for immune function and may also improve mental health and reduce symptoms of PMS and so-called morning sickness during pregnancy. While more research is generally needed to confirm the benefits of high-dose supplementation, there’s no question that consuming enough B6 from food sources is important. Foods like meats, starchy veggies, and fortified cereals are great sources and ones relied upon by many Americans.
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Read the original article on Health.