Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) is an essential vitamin that helps maintain the health of your whole body. This important nutrient plays a key role in brain development and keeping your nerves and immune system working as they should.
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Your body doesn’t produce B6 naturally, but it’s found in many foods. It’s also available in supplements like multivitamins and B-complex supplements that contain several different B vitamins.
“If you’re not getting enough vitamin B6, your healthcare provider may recommend a supplement,” says dietitian Joyce Prescott, RD. “It generally doesn’t take much to bring your vitamin B6 levels up to where they should be.”
What is vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 is one of eight B vitamins that help your body develop and function properly. Your body uses small amounts of this nutrient for more than 100 chemical (enzyme) reactions involved in your metabolism.
B6 is water-soluble (dissolves in water), which means your body disposes of any excess B6 in your urine. It also means you need to replenish your B6 consistently, ideally from an overall balanced diet that includes meats, grains, vegetables and nuts. And if you don’t eat meat, B6 is available in many other foods, so you can easily ensure you get enough B6 through the right mix of foods. However, be cautious about taking a B6 supplement for an extended period, as this can lead to toxicity. To maintain healthy B6 levels, it’s best to get this vitamin through food sources.
What is vitamin B6 good for?
Vitamin B6 has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It plays many important roles in your body. It helps make:
- DNA, the genetic building blocks of your body.
- Hemoglobin, the parts of red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body.
- Neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that send signals from nerve cells to other cells.
“It’s important to be sure to get enough B6 from foods, or talk to your provider if you suspect you are deficient,” says Prescott.
Research suggests vitamin B6 may offer these seven potential health benefits:
1. Prevent and treat anemia
Studies have linked low levels of vitamin B6 (as well as iron) with anemia, especially in pregnant people and those of childbearing age. Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen to your body’s tissues.
Vitamin B6 helps produce red blood cells. In fact, it’s been shown to help treat a condition called sideroblastic anemia, a rare genetic disorder that affects how your body produces red blood cells.
2. Improve mood
Vitamin B6 is involved in producing neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that can help regulate mood and even aid sleep. Some research suggests that high doses of B6 may be effective at reducing anxiety and other mood disorders.
One large study showed that higher vitamin B6 intake is associated with lower depression and anxiety risk in females, but not males. Scientists also recently found young adults felt less anxious and depressed after taking high-dose vitamin B6 supplements every day for a month.
3. Promote brain health
Vitamin B6 is important for your brain health because of its role in making neurotransmitters. A deficiency of vitamins B6 and B12 has been associated with reduced brain function. But there is no evidence yet that supplements can slow cognitive decline or prevent neurological issues.
4. Ease nausea during pregnancy
B6 plays several vital roles in ensuring a healthy pregnancy. But it’s best known for helping to relieve nausea during pregnancy and severe morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum).
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends vitamin B6 supplements as an over-the-counter treatment to ease symptoms. Supplements may also contain doxylamine, which has been proven a safe and effective treatment for these symptoms.
5. Protect your heart
This critical nutrient also helps your body maintain normal levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that helps to build proteins, but can also lead to blood clots or blood vessel blockages if levels are too high.
Some evidence suggests that low blood levels of vitamin B6 may be associated with a higher risk of death from coronary artery disease, but supplements have not yet been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.
6. Reduce your chance of cancer
Vitamin B6 plays a key role in the healthy growth and development of your cells. Research shows its deficiency is associated with inflammation and inflammation-related chronic illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s unclear yet whether vitamin B6 in foods or supplements helps lower your risk of developing cancer. But early studies suggest a link between adequate intake of B6 and other B vitamins and reduced risk of some types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
7. Lower risk of eye disease
Research suggests that daily supplementation of vitamin B6, folic acid and B12 may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In one study, female study participants taking these supplements daily for seven years had a lower risk of AMD.
Is too much vitamin B6 harmful?
While vitamin B6 has many benefits, too much from supplements can be harmful. Check with a healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
The upper limit of vitamin B6 for adults is 100 milligrams (mg) per day. Much more than that may cause:
- Ataxia (loss of control of body movements).
- Nausea or heartburn.
- Nerve damage and numbness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy).
- Reduced ability to sense extreme temperatures or pain (sensory neuropathy).
- Sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity).
How much vitamin B6 do I need per day?
The amount of B6 you need depends on your age. Your recommended vitamin B6 intake (in milligrams) is:
|Age||Recommended Daily Amount|
|6 to 11 months*||0.3 mg|
|1 to 3 years||0.5 mg|
|4 to 8 years||0.6 mg|
|9 to 13 years||1 mg|
|14 to 50 years||1.2 to 1.3 mg|
|50+||1.5 to 1.7 mg|
|Pregnant adults||1.9 mg|
|Lactating adults||2 mg|
Source: 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Do I need to take vitamin B6 supplements?
Most of the time, you don’t need to take supplements, as B6 is contained in a wide variety of foods. Make sure you eat a varied diet, and talk to your provider if you experience symptoms or changes in your health. When needed, multivitamins that contain B6 or B-complex supplements that contain several types of B vitamins can be helpful.
Sometimes, healthcare providers use B6 supplements to treat certain health conditions, like:
- Nausea (morning sickness) in pregnancy.
- Rare seizure disorder (pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy) in infants and children.
- Sideroblastic anemia.
“Whatever you do, don’t try to treat a vitamin deficiency on your own,” advises Prescott. “Your provider will work with you to restore adequate B6 levels in a safe and effective way.”
What are the best sources of vitamin B6?
Foods rich in vitamin B6 include meats, fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts. In addition, it’s often added to foods (fortified) such as cereals.
“You can find B6 in a range of foods that are widely available, and easy to add to a balanced meal,” says Prescott. “It helps to know what to look for, and how little you need to keep your body working well.”
Good sources of vitamin B6 include:
- Fish: Tuna is a heart-healthy fish that has one of the highest amounts of vitamin B6 of any food. Three ounces of cooked yellowfin tuna gives you 53% of your recommended daily intake. Sockeye salmon is also loaded with B6 and is another great option at the seafood counter.
- Beef: Beef is rich in vitamin B6. By choosing grass-fed, leaner cuts, you can also avoid the downside of meats: saturated fat. Chicken liver and beef liver products are also great sources of B6.
- Tofu: Tofu is a great plant-based protein source that is also rich in vitamin B6, with 1 cup providing 66% of the recommended daily amount.
- Dairy products: A cup of 1% low-fat cottage cheese gives you 12% of your recommended daily value (DV) of B6. It’s also found in cheese, especially types containing whey.
- Eggs: Eggs are a nutritious part of any meal. No matter how you prepare them, you can get 10% of your recommended daily value of B6 by eating two eggs.
- Fruits and vegetables: One cup of chickpeas provides 65% of your recommended daily amount. Other plant-based foods rich in vitamin B6 include:
- Sweet potato.
- Green peas.
- Spaghetti squash.