How Vitamin B6 Works


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Many researchers speculate that Americans don't get enough vitamin B6. Although there's no evidence of severe deficiency, many nutritionists believe the usual intake of the vitamin falls well below the RDA, perhaps causing borderline deficiency. Certain food dyes, especially FD&C yellow #5, and medications interfere with vitamin B6 so the body ends up with less of the nutrient available for use. Widespread use of these B6 antagonists may be the underlying problem behind many of the health conditions that respond favorably to supplementation of the vitamin. In this article you'll learn why vitamin B6 is so good for you and the wide range of ways to add more of it to your diet.

  • What Is Vitamin B6?

    There are actually three substances that occur naturally in food that have the properties of vitamin B6:
    pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal. Although pyridoxine, the first one of these compounds to be discovered, is often used as a synonym for vitamin B6, the three compounds all have the same effect on the body. On this page you'll learn how B6 functions.

  • Benefits of Vitamin B6

    B6 is effective against more than 100 health conditions. It's used against maladies as serious as heart disease and everyday aggravations such as premenstrual syndrome and sensitivity to MSG. It can even help prevent the formation of kidney stones! This page takes a look at several of the problems that vitamin B6 can alleviate.

  • Foods That Contain Vitamin B6

    All foods contain either
    pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, or pyridoxal in some amount. Meats, whole grains, beans, and some fruits tend to be plentiful in B6, but a large enough serving of vegetables can also provide a healthy dose. You'll find information on how to get dietary B6, and a chart showing some of the most abundant sources, on this page.

  • Vitamin B6 Deficiency

    Although vitamin B6 is plentiful in our foods, and although the recommended daily allowance isn't very high, many people still do not get enough in their diets. On this page you'll learn how much B6 you should get every day (it varies by age), and which medications might increase your need for B6.

  • Vitamin B6 Supplements

    If you do choose to take vitamin B6 in pill form, be careful of the dosage. You should stay between 50 and 100 micrograms a day; in doses over 200 micrograms, the vitamin can actually start to become toxic. Find out what could happen if you take too high a supplement on this page.
Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Biotin aids in metabolism, turning food into energy. Learn more at How Biotin Works.
  • Vitamin B1, or thiamin, is one of the essentil vitamins added back to "enriched" foods. Learn about it at How Vitamin B1 Works.
  • When teamed with other B vitamins, B2 helps in metabolism. Find out what it does at How Vitamin B2 Works.
  • Found mostly in protein, Vitamin B3 keeps us strong. How Vitamin B3 Works explains what happens if you don't get enough of it.
  • Relax; you'll find the stress-busting Vitamin B5 in every food you eat. Learn about it at How Vitamin B5 Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here. 
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

What Is Vitamin B6?

It's called simply vitamin B6, but researchers discovered early on that this vitamin is not one substance, but three: pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal. All three have the same biological activity and all three occur naturally in food.

Vitamin B6 helps in the production of red blood cells.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Vitamin B6 helps in the production of red blood cells.

Pyridoxine functions mainly by helping to metabolize protein and amino acids. Though not directly involved in the release of energy, like some other B vitamins, pyridoxine helps remove the nitrogen from amino acids, making them available as sources of energy. Because of its work with proteins, it plays a role in the synthesis of protein substances such as muscles, antibodies, and hormones.

It also helps out in the production of red blood cells, and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). Prostaglandins are important chemicals that your body uses to send messages between cells about inflammation and immune function.

Abnormal levels are associated with chronic disease such as arthritis, asthma, skin diseases, fibrocystic breast disease, carpal tunnel syndrome and even atherosclerosis. They are chemicals that regulate a large number of metabolic processes. This vitamin gets together with more than 60 enzymes in the body, working to get many functions accomplished.

In addition to building substances in the body, vitamin B6 can be effective against disease. The next page discusses some of the dozens of health conditions that vitamin B6 can treat.

Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Vitamin A plays an essential role in eyesight. Learn how it helps us to see, even in the dark, at How Vitamin A Works.
  • Everyone knows Vitamin C fights the common cold. Learn how it does the trick at How Vitamin C Works.
  • Your body can make its own Vitamin D if you get enough sunshine. Learn the details at How Vitamin D Works.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which keeps the blood clean. Separate truth from fiction at How Vitamin E Works.
  • Vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting. Learn more at How Vitamin K Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Benefits of Vitamin B6

Entire books have been written on the therapeutic uses of vitamin B6; it has been used to treat more than 100 health conditions. These cover a wide range of physical and psychological disorders, from heart disease to mental depression to kidney stones to memory loss. This page covers some of the common ailments that vitamin B6 can treat.

Pyridoxine has a role in preventing heart disease. Without enough pyridoxine, a compound called homocysteine builds up in the body. Homocysteine damages blood vessel linings, setting the stage for plaque buildup when the body tries to heal the damage.

The pyridoxine in vitamin B6 can lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of a heart attack.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The pyridoxine in vitamin B6
can lower cholesterol, reducing
the risk of a heart attack.

Vitamin B6 prevents this buildup, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack. Pyridoxine lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels and keeps blood platelets from sticking together. All of these properties work to keep heart disease at bay.

If people are marginally deficient in vitamin B6, they may be more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by pain and tingling in the wrists after performing repetitive movements or otherwise straining the wrist on a regular basis.

A lack of the vitamin may play a role in sensitivity to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer. This sensitivity can cause headaches, pain and tingling of the upper extremities, nausea, and vomiting. In both of these syndromes, supplementation of pyridoxine alleviates symptoms only when people were deficient in the vitamin to begin with.


Prone to kidney stones? Pyridoxine, teamed up with magnesium, prevents the formation of stones. It usually takes about three months of supplementation to make blood levels of these nutrients sufficient to keep stones from forming.

Vitamin B6 has long been publicized as a cure for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Study results conflict as to which symptoms are eased, but most of the studies confirm that women who take B6 supplements have reductions in bloating, breast pain, and premenstrual acne flare, a condition in which pimples break out about a week before a woman's period begins.

There is strong evidence that pyridoxine supplementation, starting ten days before the menstrual period, prevents most pimples from forming. This effect is due to the vitamin's role in hormone and prostaglandin regulation. Skin blemishes are typically caused by a hormone imbalance, which vitamin B6 helps to regulate.


Mental depression is another condition which may result from low vitamin B6 intake. Because of pyridoxine's role in serotonin and other neurotransmitter production, supplementation often helps depressed people feel better, and their mood improves significantly. It may also help improve memory in older adults.

Women who are on hormone-replacement therapy or birth control pills often complain of depression and are frequently deficient in vitamin B6. Supplementation improves these cases, too.


Low intakes of pyridoxine can slow down the immune system. Several different immune components become rather sluggish and critical prostaglandins levels decrease in the absence of adequate vitamin B6, making a person more susceptible to diseases.

People with asthma can benefit from pyridoxine supplements. Clinical studies of the nutrient show that wheezing and asthma attacks decrease in severity and frequency during vitamin B6 supplementation.

Anyone with breathing difficulties who is taking the drug theophylline may want to consider supplementation with this vitamin. Theophylline interferes with vitamin B6 metabolism. Supplementation not only normalizes blood levels but also helps limit the headaches, anxiety, and nausea that often accompany theophylline use.


The nausea and vomiting that frequently accompany the early stages of pregnancy sometimes respond to pyridoxine treatment.

This health-affirming vitamin occurs naturally in all foods, but it's abundant in meats, whole grains, and certain other foods. On the next page you'll learn what to eat for a good dose of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Folate is necessary for healthy growth, because it makes DNA and RNA. Learn how it manufactures cells at How Folate Works.
  • Vitamin B12, which helps folate make cells, works differently than any other vitamin. Learn the details at How Vitamin B12 Works.
  • Vitamin B1, or thiamin, is one of the essentil vitamins added back to "enriched" foods. Learn about it at How Vitamin B1 Works.
  • When teamed with other B vitamins, B2 helps in metabolism. Find out what it does at How Vitamin B2 Works.
  • Found mostly in protein, Vitamin B3 keeps us strong. How Vitamin B3 Works explains what happens if you don't get enough of it.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Foods That Contain Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is in all foods, in one form or another. Plant foods are generally high in pyridoxine, while pyridoxamine and pyridoxal are more common in foods of animal origin. All three forms of vitamin B6 -- pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal -- appear to have the same biological activity.

Meat and other proteins are good sources of vitamin B6.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Meat and other proteins are good sources of vitamin B6.

Protein foods, meats, whole wheat, salmon, nuts, wheat germ, brown rice, peas, and beans are good sources. Vegetables contain smaller amounts, but if eaten in large quantities, they can be an important source. Even though pyridoxine is lost when grains are milled to make flour, manufacturers do not regularly add it back to enriched products, except some highly fortified cereals.

Here is a chart that shows some of the wide variety of foods that contain vitamin B6:

Food
Quantity      
Pyridoxine (mcg)
Bananas
1 medium
0.66 
Corn Flakes cereal  
1 cup  0.52 
Instant breakfast drink
1 envelope
0.50 
Brussels sprouts, cooked
1 cup   0.45 
Halibut
3 ounces  0.43 
Cheerios cereal
1 cup  0.41 
Avocados
1/2 medium  0.36 
Pork chops  
3 ounces  0.33 
Potatoes, baked, no skin
1 medium  0.28 
Roast beef
3 ounces  0.27 
Cantaloupe
1/4 melon  0.26 
Cottage cheese, low-fat
1/2 cup  0.18 
Lamb chops
3 ounces  0.15 
Tomatoes
1 medium  0.14 

Even with the wide range of sources for vitamin B6, most people still don't eat enough of it. On the next page you'll learn what the recommended daily allowance is.

Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Relax; you'll find the stress-busting Vitamin B5 in every food you eat. Learn about it at How Vitamin B5 Works.
  • Biotin aids in metabolism, turning food into energy. Learn more at How Biotin Works.
  • Everyone knows Vitamin C fights the common cold. Learn how it does the trick at How Vitamin C Works.
  • Your body can make its own Vitamin D if you get enough sunshine. Learn the details at How Vitamin D Works.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which keeps the blood clean. Separate truth from fiction at How Vitamin E Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Vitamin B6 Deficiency

The amount of protein you eat determines your dietary requirement for this vitamin, because it functions in protein metabolism. The RDA for pyridoxine is 1.3 micrograms for both men and women, increasing to 1.7 mcg for those over 50 years of age. Pregnant and nursing women require more. Children younger than ten years of age require slightly less.

Children need less vitamin B6 than adults, but most people just don't get enough.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Children need less vitamin B6 than adults, but most people just don't get enough.

Even with the large amount of protein Americans eat, the RDAs for pyridoxine are sufficient for most people. The problem is that many people are not even meeting the RDA.

The 1980 Nationwide Food Consumption Survey showed that pyridoxine intake was below 70 percent of the RDA in half of the people surveyed. A 1990 survey showed that intake of the vitamin was still inadequate for most men and women. Other studies show reduced blood levels of pyridoxine in some pregnant women, elderly adults, alcohol abusers, and people with disorders such as kidney disease and Down syndrome.

Some prescription medications, including birth control pills, steroids, and the antibiotics isoniazid and penicillamine, can increase the need for pyridoxine. If you take one of these medicines, ask your health care practitioner about taking a pyridoxine supplement.

If you don't get enough vitamin B6, there are supplements out there -- just be carefult not to overdo it. The next page will tell you what happens if you take too much.

Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • Vitamin A plays an essential role in eyesight. Learn how it helps us to see, even in the dark, at How Vitamin A Works.
  • Vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting. Learn more at How Vitamin K Works.
  • Folate is necessary for healthy growth, because it makes DNA and RNA. Learn how it manufactures cells at How Folate Works.
  • Vitamin B12, which helps folate make cells, works differently than any other vitamin. Learn the details at How Vitamin B12 Works.
  • Vitamin B1, or thiamin, is one of the essentil vitamins added back to "enriched" foods. Learn about it at How Vitamin B1 Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Vitamin B6 Supplements

Although pyridoxine has been shown to be effective against a high number of conditions, dosages of this helpful vitamin should stay between 50 and 100 mg per day. If taking more than 50 mg per day, divide it into several doses. These amounts are believed to be safe for long-term use. Some experts feel that vitamin B6 is most effective when taken alone, rather than in a vitamin B complex.

High doses of pryidoxine have a toxic effect.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
High doses of pryidoxine have a toxic effect.

Despite being water-soluble, pyridoxine is toxic in high doses, causing reversible nerve damage to the extremities. Doses of 200 mg or more for an extended period of time can trigger tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. When dosage levels are reduced, symptoms disappear. To find the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.

With so many uses and so many sources, there's no reason not to get your full daily dose of vitamin B6. With the help of this article, you can pick your favorite vitamin-B6-rich food and start eating your way to better health.

Vitamin B6 is just one of the many vitamins that are part of a healthy diet. Check out the following links to learn more:
  • When teamed with other B vitamins, B2 helps in metabolism. Find out what it does at How Vitamin B2 Works.
  • Found mostly in protein, vitamin B3 keeps us strong. How Vitamin B3 Works explains what happens if you don't get enough of it.
  • Everyone knows vitamin C fights the common cold. Learn how it does the trick at How Vitamin C Works.
  • Your body can make its own vitamin D if you get enough sunshine. Learn the details at How Vitamin D Works.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which keeps the blood clean. Separate truth from fiction at How Vitamin E Works.
  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • If you were looking for the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Brett, N.D. is director of the Acupuncture Institute for the University of Bridgeport, where she also serves on the faculty for the College of Naturopathic Medicine. A recognized leader in her field with an extensive background in treating a wide variety of disorders utilizing nutritional and botanical remedies, Dr. Brett has appeared on WABC TV (NYC) and on Good Morning America to discuss utilizing herbs for health.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.