Vitamin B6 is important for heart health, the digestive tract, muscular function, energy, and a whole lot of other bodily processes, too.
Our bodies use B vitamins to convert the food we eat into the energy we need to function. Together the complex of eight B vitamins are important for metabolism, brain and liver function, growth, and building blood cells, as well as for maintaining healthy hair, skin, and vision.
More specifically, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) — one of the eight — plays key roles in keeping the brain and nervous system functioning properly, says Sonya Angelone, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Vitamin B6 is involved in production of hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body.”
Vitamin B6 is also needed for proper brain development (in kids) and function (for people of all ages). It helps the body make the hormones serotonin (which regulates mood) and norepinephrine (which helps your body cope with stress). Vitamin B6 also helps the body make melatonin, which is important in helping regulate your internal clock and your sleep.
Plus a growing body of research suggests that getting adequate B6 is important for aging brains, too. Small studies suggest that the combination of vitamin B6, B12, and folate may play a role in slowing cognitive decline and age-related memory loss, which is reason to suspect that the vitamins may help decrease risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, according to a review article published in the October 2004 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Other experts have called for larger, more conclusive studies to help explain exactly how important the B vitamins are when it comes to those outcomes.
How Much Vitamin B6 You Need Changes With Age:
It’s important to know that vitamin B6 (and all the B vitamins) are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water and other bodily fluids, so any amount of these nutrients that your body doesn’t use gets excreted in urine, Angelone explains. “That means vitamin B6 is needed every day since the body can’t store water-soluble vitamins.”
The exact amount of B6 vitamin you need every day depends on your age, gender, and any special circumstances, such as whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Here is an overview of how much B6 vitamin people need at different stages of life:
Newborn to 6 months: 0.1 milligram (mg) per day
Infants 7 months to 1 year: 0.3 mg
Children 1 to 3 years: 0.5 mg
Children 4 to 8 years: 0.6 mg
Children 9 to 13 years: 1 mg
Boys 14 to 18 years: 1.3 mg
Girls 14 to 18 years: 1.2 mg
Men and women 19 to 50 years: 1.3 mg
Men 51 years and older: 1.7 mg
Women 51 years and older: 1.5 mg
Pregnant women: 1.9 mg
Breastfeeding women: 2 mg
Most people who eat a well-balanced, varied diet will get the required amount of vitamin B6 without having to take dietary supplements. But if your diet tends to be scarce on protein, you may want to pay attention to how much B6 you’re getting, Angelone adds. Some of the top sources of B6 are protein-rich foods such as beans, meat, poultry, and fish. And if you’re still concerned you’re not getting enough, she adds, “a general multivitamin can help fill in the gaps.”
Note that the recommendation for adults increases after age 50, as our bodies don’t absorb nutrients as well when we're older, Angelone says.
Healthy individuals aren’t likely to be deficient in vitamin B6 without being deficient in the other B vitamins, too, according to information from the National Institutes of Health. Some kidney diseases, as well as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis can specifically lead to a B6 deficiency because those conditions directly affect absorption of that vitamin. Symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency include a swollen tongue, depression and confusion, a weakened immune system, and certain types of anemia.
And even though your body gets rid of excess B vitamins, it is possible to overdo it on B6, Angelone notes. Too much B6 can lead to nerve damage, Angelone says. And a new study suggests too much B6 (and B12) was linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in men, especially those who were smokers. This new data was published online ahead of print in August 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
You’re not likely to get too much B6 (or B12) from a healthy, balanced diet. Too much of any B vitamin is likely due to individual vitamin supplements, not food or multivitamins.
Good Sources of Vitamin B6:
Excellent food sources that serve up the vitamin B6 you need include chickpeas, beef, poultry, and fish. Other foods that are high in B6 are whole grains, fortified cereals, nuts, beans, bananas, and potatoes.
Vitamin B6 is usually included in multivitamins and sold as an individual supplement; it may be listed as pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, pyridoxine hydrochloride, or pyridoxal-5-phosphate. Check with your doctor before taking a supplement and note that NIH recommendations suggest limiting B6 to 100 mg or less for adults.