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The Better Your Diet, The Less Vitamin B6 It Contains

What is Vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 is one of the water-soluble vitamins. This means you do not get the benefits of vitamin B6 functions unless you get the vitamin from food or supplements every day. Because vitamin B6 is soluble in water, your body can absorb a lot more than it needs. But the excess goes right out again in the urine and stool just a few hours later.

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Most of us get enough vitamin B6 to avoid deficiency diseases. Most of us do not get enough vitamin B6 really to benefit from its ability to fight disease. Ironically, the more natural and organic your diet, the less likely you are to be getting enough B6. Here are three things every health-conscious consumer needs to know about this often-overlooked B vitamin.

1. Americans and Canadians get most of their vitamin B6 from white bread and baked goods made with fortified flour.

Milling grain to make white flour takes most of the vitamin B6 out, so American flour makers add pyridoxine to flour to put the B6 back in. If you eat three servings of mass-produced baked goods a day, you get enough vitamin B6 to prevent deficiency diseases, such as seborrhea (oily skin), intertrigo (rashes and ulcers in folds of skin), conjunctivitis (inflammation under the eye lids), chapped lips, daytime sleepiness, and, in extreme cases, seizures.

But if you don't eat vitamin-fortified white flour, you need to especially sure to eat enough whole foods to get your B6. For instance:

  • One banana provides about 1/5 of a day's supply of B6 for an adult.
  • Three ounces (84 grams) of cooked salmon or cooked white-meat turkey provides about 1/4 of a day's supply of B6 for an adult.
  • A medium baked potato with skin provides about 1/3 of a day's supply of B6 for an adult
  • A large spinach salad (about 3 cups, or 400 grams) provides just 1/5 of a day's supply of B6.

It's easy to miss getting your vitamin B6. And your body can't store B6 for days you don't eat all the foods you need to get enough of the vitamin.

2. You have to get vitamin B6 for other B vitamins to do their job.

Most of the B vitamins act as a co-factor for enzymes. They "plug in" to the enzyme so it can work.

But most enzymes just one control one step in a long chain of chemical reactions the body uses to make an end-product. If you don't have the co-factor for one step, you can't use the co-factors for all the other steps.

On the level of nutritional health, this means that:

  • Not getting enough vitamin B6 cancels out the effects of folic acid on lowering homocysteine, which is a risk factor heart disease.
  • Not getting enough vitamin B6 increases your body's need for vitamin B3, also known as niacin.
  • Not getting enough vitamin B6 cancels out the benefits of vitamin B12 for fighting depression.

3. You can have enough vitamin B6 to avoid a deficiency disease without getting enough vitamin B6 to be truly healthy.

It just takes from 0.1 milligram (in infants) to 2.0 milligrams (in nursing mothers) of B6 every day to avoid the classical symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency, which include chapped lips, sores in the folds of the skin, swelling and inflammation under the eye lids, daytime sleepiness, personality changes, and seizures. But it takes:

  • 1.9 milligrams a day for women and 2.9 milligrams a day for men to help reduce immune deficiency,
  • About 10 milligrams a day to reduce morning sickness,
  • Up to 75 milligrams a day to boost mental function in people who have age-related cognitive decline, and
  • Generally about 100 milligrams a day to help reduce formation of kidney stones and most other disease-related applications.

You don't need as much B6, however, if your supplement provides the active form of B6 known as pyridoxal 5-phosphate. And you won't have problems with overdosing if you keep below 100 milligrams per day, the US upper tolerable limit.

Vitamin B6 Deficiency - The Pharmaceutical Side Effect Your Doctor May Not Tell You About

Dorothy was an active 88-year-old. Still taking care of her own flower beds and still driving her own car, she had increasing problems with stiff and painful joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor wanted her to try a medication she simply could not afford, but he eventually convinced her to take a drug called penicillamine.

The drug worked great. Dorothy found she could still put on her knee pads and pull the weeds out of hydrangeas without pain keeping her up all night.

But about three weeks after Dorothy started taking penicillamine, she started to notice strange blemishes at the corner of her mouth. Her smile line seemed be replaced by a rash. Then she got a sore throat that just wouldn't go away. She noticed crusts from her eyes in the morning and she started feeling tired all the time. She went back to the doctor to complain.

Fortunately, Dorothy's doctor was aware of nutritional medicine, and he recognized that the arthritis medication had caused a vitamin B6 deficiency. He gave her a prescription for 100 mg of B6 a day (so her Medicare part D would pay for it, although Dorothy could also have bought her B6 at a health products store) and her energy picked up and her face went back to normal in about a week.

Here are three things everyone, even if you aren't yet 88 years old, needs to know about vitamin B6 deficiency:

1. Many medications can cause vitamin B6 deficiency.

The medications that most commonly cause vitamin B6 deficiency are cycloserine, hydralazine, Isoniazid, D-penicillamine, and pyrazinamide. Vitamin B6 deficiency can also occur in severe malnutrition, such as many alcoholics experience, and when babies are born to mothers who suffer severe malnutrition from any cause.

2. Many health conditions can cause vitamin B6 deficiency.

Any inflammatory disease can trigger B6 deficiency. Dorothy both had an inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and took a medicine for that inflammatory disease that also caused B6 deficiency, peincillamine. Other diseases that cause B6 deficiency include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Extensive tissue injury, as might be caused by a car crash
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and liver cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease

Smokers, drinkers, and people over 80 are also more likely to develop B6 deficiencies.

3. The symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency overlap the symptoms of many other diseases. Just a few of the symptoms of B6 deficiency include:

  • Dizziness, weakness, and chronic fatigue
  • Memory problems, confusion, depression, seizures, and changes in the white matter of the brain
  • Numbness and weakness in the legs
  • Blisters, raw tongue, chapped lips, swollen or crusty eyelids, and sore throat

Diagnosis of B6 deficiency, however, is very straightforward. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin. When we're getting enough, it spills over into the urine. When we don't get enough, it's not found in the urine.

It doesn't take a lot of vitamin B6 to correct a deficiency. In certain long-term conditions like kidney failure, as little as 5 mg a day is enough. Most conditions require 100 to 200 mg a day until a second urine test shows vitamin B6 levels have been built back up.

Consuming Enough Foods With Vitamin B6 - Meeting Your Bare Minimum Needs Is the Best You Can Do

Vitamin B6 is useful in fighting a variety of health conditions. It plays a role in preventing heart disease, in stopping age-related mental decline and memory loss, and in supporting recovery from ADHD, liver disease, diabetes, allergies, and women's reproductive issues.

You can avoid vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms if you get as little as 2 milligrams a day. But getting even those 2 milligrams can require some planning, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan.

What foods contain vitamin B6? Here are the vitamin B6 contents of some common foods:

  • 1/2 cup of Kellogg's All-Bran, 3.6 mg
  • 1 cup of General Mills Total Cereal, 2.0 mg (both cereals have added B6)
  • 6 oz (168 g) of broiled whitefish, 1.0 mg
  • Medium baked potato with skin, 0.6 mg
  • 1 medium banana (5 oz/140 g), 0.5 mg
  • 3 oz (84 grams, or one piece) fried chicken, 0.4 mg
  • 1 cup (150 grams) cooked broccoli, 0.3 mg
  • 1 cup (190 grams) boiled collard greens, 0.2 mg
  • 1 cup (150 grams) raw carrots, 0.15 mg
  • 1 cup (240 ml) of pink grapefruit juice, 0.10 mg
  • 2/3 cup (100 g) of fresh blueberries, 0.05 mg
Vitamin B6 Foods

You can find values for these and hundreds of other foods at the USDA website. But it should be very quickly obvious that one has to eat a lot of fresh food to get the minimum daily vitamin B6 needed to avoid deficiency diseases, and the hundreds of milligrams of B6 per day needed to support recovery from various health conditions is simply impossible with B6 supplements.

Just how much food would you have to eat, for instance, to get enough B6 to support recovery from cirrhosis of the liver? Getting 50 milligrams of B6 a day from natural sources of vitamin B6 would require eating:

  • 18 cups of Kelloggs' All-Bran, or
  • 25 cups of General Mill's Total, or
  • 18 pounds (8 kilos) of broiled whitefish, or
  • 83 baked potatoes with skin, or
  • 100 bananas (no peels, however), or
  • 250 pieces of fried chicken, or
  • 88 pounds (40 kilos) of cooked broccoli, or
  • 110 pounds (50 kilos) of boiled collard greens, or
  • 32 gallons (30 liters) of pink grapefruit juice, or
  • 667 cups (100 kilos) of fresh blueberries.

And some conditions require 10 times more B6 than that. The simple fact is that supplements give you the dosage you need to correct severe nutritional imbalances. Then in a few weeks, after any deficiency is corrected, it's possible to pursue a much lower daily dosage of vitamin B6 by eating vitamin B6 foods.

Getting Enough Vitamin B6 Without Taking Too Much

How much vitamin B6 should I take?

It's a common question, and the answers depend on whether you are just wanting a minimum of "vitamin insurance" or whether you are facing special circumstances that have caused you to experience a vitamin B6 deficiency. But first a word about the maximum dosage of vitamin B6:

Vitamin Dosage
No one ever needs more than 600 mg of vitamin B6 a day.

And the reason you would ever take that much vitamin B6 would be that you suffered sideroblastic anemia and you needed a variety of B vitamins because of bone marrow problems. If you really need that much vitamin B6, you also need a doctor's supervision for your disease. And if you had certain kinds of mushroom poisoning, you might get a single dose of up 10,000 mg of B6 under doctor's supervision.

Dosages of 1,000 mg of vitamin B6 a day have been associated with numbness and breathing problems, but no one needs to take that much. If for some reason you do need to take high-dose B6, then it's important to remember:

Dosages of 500 mg of B6 per day and higher are less likely to cause problems if you get adequate protein in your diet.

But the real problem is an imbalance in the amino acids for which vitamin B6 is an enzyme cofactor, not the B6 itself.

Most of the time a much lower dosage of B6 will correct a deficiency. Here are some typical dosages of the pyridoxine form of B6 used in various diseases:

  • 50 to 600 mg a day for sideroblastic anemia
  • 100 to 500 mg a day, with other B vitamins, for people with high homocysteine
  • 100 to 250 mg a day for luteal phase defect in women trying to conceive(read more about vitamin B6 and pregnancy)
  • 50 mg a day for people with chronic liver disease
  • 2 to 5 mg a day for people receiving dialysis or who have chronic kidney disease

Just avoiding vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms only requires 1 to 2 mg a day, more for people over 70 and lactating mothers, less for teens and adults under 50. Children under six usually need no more than 0.5 mg a day and infants who are fed formula (not breastfed) may only need 0.1 or 0. 2 mg of B6 a day(you may also be interested in vitamin b6 for children ). But any dosage under 10 mg a day is certain not to cause any side effects.

Selected References:

Bender DA. Vitamin B6 requirements and recommendations. Eur J Clin Nutr. May 1989;43(5):289-309.

Chiang EP, Smith DE, Selhub J, et al. Inflammation causes tissue-specific depletion of vitamin B6. Arthritis Res Ther. 2005;7(6):R1254-62.

More Vitamin B6 Related Articles

Vitamin B6 Benefits - How Vitamin B6 benefits your body?

Vitamin B6 and Pregnancy - Vitamin B6 can be the missing nutrient for women trying to conceive. And it can also help make the first trimester of pregnancy a lot more pleasant.

Vitamin B6 for Morning Sickness - Vitamin B6 is best described as half of an effective natural treatment for morning sickness. B6 is better for preventing nausea than vomiting, and another natural remedy is better for preventing vomiting than nausea. Taking both offers maximum benefit - and there's an acupuncture remedy that can be used in a pinch, too.

Pyridoxal Phosphate - Pyridoxal phosphate is the form of vitamin B6 that most supplement manufacturers use in vitamin B supplements. But they didn't start looking at this superior form of vitamin B6 until the FDA nearly put them out of the vitamin B business.

Vitamin B6 and Depression - Pharmaceutical relief from depression comes at a high price, and not just because of how much antidepressants cost at the drugstore. Vitamin B6 supplementation can play an important part in relieving mild to moderate depression without side effects.

Vitamin B6 Side Effects - If you think that all water soluble vitamins are safe to take at any amounts, then you must have heard it wrong. Read more about vitamin B6 side effects and find out why care must be taken in taking B6 supplements.

Pyridoxine Hydrochloride - Pyridoxine hydrochloride, also known as pyridoxine HCl, is an especially stable form of vitamin B6 used in many supplements. It's not as quickly active in your body as pyridoxine 5-phosphate, but it can help you recover from literally dozens of health conditions.

Vitamin B6 and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Vitamin B6 is not a complete cure for carpal tunnel syndrome. But for four of the most troubling symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it performs as well as any drug.

Vitamin B6 and Fertility - Vitamin B6 plays an important role in correcting some cases of infertility in women. When both partners know they are fertile and they are having sex at the right time to take advantage of ovulation, then vitamin B6 may extend give the fertilized egg a chance to be implanted and grow.

Vitamin B6 and Magnesium - Vitamin B6 and magnesium are a low-cost and side effect-free treatment for children with autism. Getting the dosage right, however, may take trial and error.

Vitamin B6 and Neuropathy - Neuropathy is one of the most insidious complications of diabetes, causing advanced damage to nerves before it is even suspected. Vitamin B6 is an important part of treating, preventing, and reversing the effects of this all-too-common complication of poorly controlled blood sugars.

Vitamin B6 and Pms - Women seeking natural remedies for PMS should focus on calcium and magnesium. Vitamin B6, however, is an important addition to these treatments.

Vitamin B6 and Weight Loss - You wouldn't think that overweight and obese people are at special risk for vitamin deficiency. But, especially when it comes to vitamin B6, they are.

Vitamin B6 for Acne - Vitamin B6 has a very specialized application for treating acne in women in their teens and twenties who get acne during just part of their menstrual cycle. But for these women, vitamin B6 can do things that scrubs, cleansers, exfoliants, and antibiotics cannot.

Vitamin B6 for Children - Thanks to Lucky Charms, Frankenberry, Cocoa Puffs, and Cheerios, all made with vitamin-fortified white flour, supplemental vitamin B6 for children usually is not critical. Two types of children, however, definitely need additional vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 for Hair - If taking a vitamin pill could grow back long-lost hair to bald scalps, we have to admit, you would have already heard about it. What vitamin B6 can help some women do to keep the hair they still have on on their heads longer, maybe even permanently.

Vitamin B6 Injections - Injectable vitamin B6 has distinct advantages over taking B6 pills, tablets, and gel caps. If you have a true vitamin B6 deficiency, it is often the best way to take the vitamin.

Vitamin B6 Overdose - You have to try pretty hard to get an overdose of vitamin B6, but it sometimes happens. Here is what to look for if you take more than 500 milligrams of vitamin B6 per day.

Zinc and Vitamin B6 - Zinc, vitamin B6, and magnesium are often the overlooked ingredients in men's nutritional health. Inexpensive, safe, and effective, these three supplements have a lot of to do with libido, muscle mass, and erectile strength.

Written By Robert S. Rister
Robert Rister is the author of Healing without Medication and many other books that have been translated into eight languages. He is a chemist, a formulator of natural products, and a writer of consumer guides to getting the greatest value from natural health care.

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