How is vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) important for good heath?

Tieraona Low Dog, MD
General Practice
Vitamin B6 is important for energy in the body, and optimal brain and nervous system function, too. In this video, integrative medicine specialist Tieraona Low Dog, MD, explains why vitamin B6 is so important, how to find it, and how much to take. 
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, helps the body break down sugars, fats and proteins. It also helps create antibodies that support the immune system and red blood cells that deliver oxygen to the body. Vitamin B6 is important for keeping the brain working well; during pregnancy, it helps a developing baby's brain grow. It also keeps skin healthy.
Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine
Vitamin B6 is important for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that are necessary for healthy nerve cell communication. There are studies in progress on the relationship between vitamin B6 and chronic pain and headache. In fact, those who suffer with migraine headaches often have lower levels of serotonin.

When it comes to easing PMS symptoms, such as bloating, cramping, and irritability, as well as the discomfort from fibrocystic breast changes, vitamin B6 appears to have some therapeutic benefit. Some studies have shown that vitamin B6 increases the accumulation of magnesium within the cells of the body. When paired with foods high in magnesium, foods containing B6 can reduce vulnerability to mood changes during the menstrual cycle.

For those who suffer with the pain and tingling of carpal tunnel, there are several strong studies suggesting that vitamin B6 deficiency may cause an increased susceptibility to carpal tunnel pain and numbness.

The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 2.0 milligrams. In order to avoid vitamin B6 deficiency, make sure to eat foods that contain this important nutrient on a daily basis. If you do supplement, the Institute of Medicine recently established 100 milligrams of vitamin B6 as the upper limit. Taking too much of vitamin B6 supplements may cause nerve damage to the arms and legs. The best food sources are chicken, fish, liver, kidney, pork, bananas, spinach, sweet potato, white potato, garbanzo beans, walnuts, brown rice, soybeans, sunflower seeds, avocado, oats, peanuts, lima beans, peanut butter, prunes, and whole-wheat products. Fortified cereal has 100 percent of the RDA of vitamin B6, and one banana and one-half cup garbanzo beans gives you more than the RDA of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 supports more than 100 enzymes that perform a variety of essential functions in the body, including the release of stored glucose (glycogen) from muscles, the synthesis of both the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin and the oxygen transport protein hemoglobin, and the lowering of homocysteine levels in the blood (which, when elevated, increase the risk for bone fractures, heart disease and stroke). Most people get more than enough B6, though the elderly may not reach the higher recommended intake of 2 milligrams per day set for their population group. Though rare, a B6 deficiency can result in anemia, skin rash, seizures, depression and impaired immune function.

Immune Function

Vitamin B6 may help maintain immune function as you age. Tufts University researchers found that seniors with depleted vitamin B6 levels had impaired immune response, including significant drops in the numbers of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and interleukin levels (immune response signaling cells). Doubling the RDA of B6 helped boost immune function back to baseline levels.

Heart Health

Vitamin B6 helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, by facilitating its conversion into a harmless and even useful amino acid that’s used as a building block in most proteins.

Cancer Prevention

Scottish researchers discovered that patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer had lower vitamin B6 intakes than a control group. The effect was dose dependent: The higher the intake, the lower the risk. The greatest protection (a 30 percent risk reduction) came from dietary intakes of more than 3.26 milligrams per day, about two-and-a-half times the recommended daily amount.

DNA Repair

Vitamin B6 is emerging as a player on the DNA maintenance team. It helps convert folate -- another B vitamin -- into thymine, a component of DNA. When you’re running low on B6, DNA can’t be repaired, and the cumulative effect of breaks in DNA leads to the negative effects of aging and development of disease. In fact, in a Washington State University study, after just one month, participants on a low B6 diet exhibited 75 percent more DNA-strand breaks than when the study began. This could well be why B6 has been linked with lower risk of various cancers, including colon, prostate, lung, gastric and pancreatic.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Pyridoxine, or vitamin B6, is an extremely important B vitamin involved in the formation of body proteins and structural compounds, chemical transmitters in the nervous system, red blood cells, and prostaglandins. Vitamin B6 is also critical in maintaining hormonal balance and proper immune function.

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

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Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the most comprehensive and practical guide available to the nutritional benefits and medicinal properties of virtually everything...