What is Vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble essential nutrient. It exists in three forms in nature: pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine. Of these, pyridoxine is the most common.
The body uses vitamin B6 to create the myelin sheath for neurons (basically, the insulation) and to manufacture the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrin. Because of this, a lack of vitamin B6 usually manifests as problems with the central nervous system. Interestingly, vitamin B6 toxicity also causes neurological problems. Vitamin B6 is also important to making hemoglobin (the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen) and improving the oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin.
Many of the enzymes involved in protein metabolism also depend on vitamin B6 for their production.
Sources of Vitamin B6
Ideally, vitamin B6 should come from the diet. Foods that are particularly high in vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas, garbanzo beans, oatmeal, and chicken. In general, cereal grains, vegetables, legumes, dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry are good sources of vitamin B6. Some people may not get enough vitamin B6 through foods alone. Fortunately, supplements are available to help make up the lack, and today, many foods, especially breakfast cereals, are fortified with vitamin B6.
Who Should Take Vitamin B6?
People who don't get enough vitamin B6 through their diet will benefit from supplements. Some medical disorders such as cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, uremia, hyperthyroidism and alcoholism can all lead to vitamin B6 deficiency. Alcoholics in particular tend not to get enough vitamins in general, and alcohol also destroys vitamin B6, so these people need to make sure to get plenty of vitamin B6. Certain medications can also deplete the body's supply of vitamin B6. These include certain antibiotics and oral contraceptives. Vitamin B6 supplements may also alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma, kidney stones, lung cancer, and PMS, so many people suffering from these conditions take extra vitamin B6 in the hope that it'll help them.
PMS and Vitamin B6
PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a condition affecting a majority of women at some point or another in their lives. It is a group of symptoms occurring each month during the time before menstruation. Common symptoms include bloating and water retention, mood swings, food cravings, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and depressed mood. Some people claim that vitamin B6 can help relieve many of the symptoms associated with PMS. Because many of the symptoms of PMS are thought to be caused by low serotonin levels in the brain as a result of declining estrogen levels following ovulation, this seems reasonable. Because vitamin B6 is important in serotonin production, many people believe that increased levels of vitamin B6 might help boost serotonin production. In particular, many people have found relief from breast swelling and tenderness associated with PMS through vitamin B6 supplementation. It may also help even out mood and ward off the anxiety and depressed mood associated with PMS.
How much Vitamin B6 Should I be Taking?
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6 is 1.3 mg for women fifty and under, and 1.5 mg for women fifty-one and older. That said, there is quite a bit of leeway, and a bit of extra won't cause any harm. However, this is definitely not a case of more is better. In fact, taking too much vitamin B6, anything more than 100mg per day, can cause serious health effects such as neuropathy (nerve damage) in the arms and legs, so keep track of how much vitamin B6 you're getting both through foods and supplements. Fortunately, these effects are usually reversible if vitamin B6 intake is immediately stopped.
Photo Credit: L_K_M