Sarah Fielding •
This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
- Vitamin B6 is a key nutrient that benefits your immune system, brain, and heart health.
- It's also essential for your body's metabolism, helping convert food into energy.
- Experts recommend adults get around 1.3 mg of vitamin B6 daily from sources like oats and spinach.
Here are some health benefits of vitamin B6 and how to get enough of it in your diet.
1. Vitamin B6 helps turn food into energy
Along with other B vitamins, B6 assists the body in converting food into energy. It helps metabolize carbohydrates and works with enzymes to break down proteins into amino acids — compounds that help our body grow and function properly.
2. Vitamin B6 supports heart health
"Vitamin B6 works with two other B vitamins — B12 and folic acid — to reduce levels of homocysteine," says Megan Wong, a registered dietitian.
Hyperhomocysteinemia occurs when there are high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood. High amounts of homocysteine can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, and atherosclerosis, a disease that causes plaque to build up in the arteries.
According to a 2015 report published in the Nutrition Journal, hyperhomocysteinemia can occur when someone is deficient in vitamin B6. But, with the right levels of B6 in combination with B12 and folic acid (B9), homocysteine levels can lower by up to a third. It's important to note that despite lowered homocysteine levels, patients do not see an effect on vascular outcomes. Therefore, B-vitamins may play a more preventative role in heart health.
3. Vitamin B6 promotes healthy brain function
An increase in homocysteine levels can also speed up cognitive decline, says Wong. This uptick can lead to an increased risk of neurological conditions such as dementia.
In addition to regulating homocysteine levels, B6 plays a role in the synthesis of important neurotransmitters — chemical messengers used by the brain and nervous system. Some of the neurotransmitters B6 helps synthesize include:
- Dopamine: responsible for reward-seeking, motivation, and movement
- Serotonin: stabilizes mood, causes feelings of well-being and happiness.
- Melatonin: plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythm and ability to fall asleep
- Noradrenaline: produces the 'fight or flight' response in our body when we perceive danger
4. Vitamin B6 may help morning sickness
5. Vitamin B6 fosters a healthy immune system
The body requires vitamin B6 to maintain a healthy immune system.
"B6 improves communication from 'messenger' cells called chemokines, which direct white blood cells to areas of infection or damage," says Wong. "Not having enough vitamin B6 can reduce the growth and production of key immune players: lymphocytes and antibodies."
There are two forms of lymphocytes, both of which are altered by a B6 deficiency:
- T cells which fights off foreign invaders in the body
- B cells which create antibodies that then attach to foreign invaders, like bacteria or viruses, and destroy them
A 2006 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin B6 improved the immune response in critically ill patients. The study divided 51 participants into three groups: one received an injection of 50 mg of B6 a day, another 100 mg, and a control group. After 14 days of supplementation, those who received 50 to 100 mg of B6 saw an improvement in important markers of immune response like total T-cell count.
6. Vitamin B6 helps prevent anemia
"Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of hemoglobin — a protein that supplies the cells with oxygen," says Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, a clinical immunologist.
Lower than normal hemoglobin levels is one of the causes of anemia, a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, so without adequate red blood cells, one can feel weak and fatigued.
Maintaining an adequate intake of vitamin B6 can help prevent anemia.
How much vitamin B6 do I need?
The amount of B6 you should be consuming on a daily basis depends on age and gender. For each demographic, the daily recommended dose of vitamin B6 is:
Where can I get vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 is readily available in food and supplements. "The best way to ensure we have enough of this vitamin is through a vitamin B6-rich diet," says Velikova.
Foods high in B6 include:
If someone is unable to consume enough vitamin B6 through their diet, they can consider taking B6 supplements.
Wong recommends supplements for older adults, especially if they have a reduced appetite that may mean they are not eating enough B6 rich foods.
Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they can help you determine the right dosage.
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