What Does Vitamin B6 Do?

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Vitamin B6 is one of the B-complex vitamins. It is an essential nutrient that we must obtain from our food or from dietary supplements. Vitamin B6 is important for the metabolism of all food we eat and supports the health of the heart and cardiovascular system as well as the brain and nervous system.

Function

  • Vitamin B6 is required for the breakdown and utilization of all food--protein, carbohydrates and fat--that we eat. Vitamin B6 is required for the formation of many neurotransmitters--the chemicals that our brain uses to send messages throughout the body--including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Low levels of serotonin and GABA are associated with depression and anxiety. Vitamin B6 also helps to alleviate some of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, such as depression and fatigue. Vitamin B6 is required for the conversion of homocysteine to cysteine in the body (along with folate and vitamin B12). High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, as well depression. In helping to reduce homocysteine levels in the body, Vitamin B6 plays an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Types

  • Vitamin B6 is found in foods like liver, meat, fish, cereals, soybeans, walnuts and noncitrus fruits, and in several forms. Pyridoxine is the form of Vitamin B6 that occurs mainly in plant foods and dietary supplements. Meats, fish and poultry contain B6 in pyridoxal and pyridoxamine forms. Vitamin B6 is best absorbed and utilized when taken in dietary supplement form, since about 50 percent of the food content of B6 is lost during cooking and processing.

Considerations

  • Vitamin B2 and magnesium are required for Vitamin B6 to be metabolized into its active form in the body. Vitamin B12 and folate are also required for conversion of homocysteine into cysteine, so Vitamin B6 should also be taken with these nutrients for cardiovascular and nervous system support.

Prevention/Solution

  • To support your heart, brain and nervous system, as well as overall health, take 25 mg of vitamin B6 daily. Ensure that Vitamin B6 is taken as part of a comprehensive multivitamin-mineral formula or at least as part of a B-complex product since it requires other nutrients to be most effective. To help alleviate symptoms of pms, take 100 mg daily of Vitamin B6 in the pyridoxal phosphate form.

Warning

  • Excess Vitamin B6 in the pyridoxine form can result in nerve disturbances that can cause symptoms of tingling, numbness or pain. Do not take more than 100 mg of vitamin B6 daily on a long-term basis unless it is in the pyridoxal phosphate form and only after consulting with your doctor. Vitamin B6 may interfere with medications used to treat Parkinson's disease, such as levodopa. Other Parkinson medications, including carbidopa, can deplete vitamin B6 levels in the body, as can oral contraceptives. Talk to your doctor about your need for extra Vitamin B6 supplementation or about reducing your B6 intake if you are taking any prescription medications.

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