Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is involved in numerous metabolic processes that keep your body energized and your brain functioning. It plays a role in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, which facilitate communication between the brain and the nervous system.
Vitamin B6 is found in a wide range of foods. However, supplementation is recommended for pregnant women and people at risk of poor nutrient assimilation, such as older adults and people with autoimmune and bowel diseases. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient from food, you can take vitamin B6 supplements either isolated or as part of a B-complex or multivitamin blend. Research shows that vitamin B6 helps benefit your body and mind in many ways by preventing serious diseases, regulating your mood and sleep cycle, and reducing PMS symptoms.
1. Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Vitamin B6 is critical for brain development in children and for maintaining cognitive function as you age. Insufficient vitamin B6 levels are linked to memory loss, age-related cognitive decline, and dementia. Vitamin B6 helps control levels of homocysteine in the body by converting it to the amino acid methionine. High levels of homocysteine, which results from vitamin B6 deficiency, have toxic effects on the brain and nervous system .
One study suggests that controlling homocysteine levels with vitamin B6 can even help reduce brain shrinkage and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, participants were given either a placebo or a combination of vitamins B6, folic acid and vitamin B12, which are all known to reduce homocysteine in the body. Compared to the placebo group, the group that took B vitamins had significantly less brain shrinkage over the course of 2 years. In another study, the same combination of B vitamins reduced brain shrinkage by 90 percent. The researchers concluded that the decrease of grey matter atrophy in the brain was responsible for slowing cognitive decline .
2. Boosts Your Mood
Vitamin B6 is known to help improve your mood, as well as prevent and treat mood disorders. It’s involved in the synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are hormones that regulate mood and promote energy and concentration. According to research, vitamin B6 works the same way prescription antidepressant drugs do by boosting the production of serotonin and GABA neurotransmitters. Elevated levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA neurotransmitters not only lift your mood but also improve energy and brain function .
3. Protects Heart Health
By preventing levels of homocysteine from becoming too high, vitamin B6 also helps protect your heart. When homocysteine builds up in your blood, it causes inflammation and damages blood vessels. This promotes plaque buildup, which is linked to atherosclerosis and increased risk of heart attack . By improving circulation and reducing plaque buildup in the arteries, vitamin B6 seems to help prevent and reduce major factors involved in cardiovascular disease. In a study that looked at 5,500 heart disease patients, homocysteine levels decreased over five years in participants who supplemented with vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid, and lowered their risk of stroke by 25 percent . In animal studies, vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, which is another critical heart disease risk factor .
4. Alleviates PMS Symptoms
A review of nine studies involving over 900 women published in The BMJ concluded that vitamin B6 prevents and treats symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when taken at doses up to 100 mg per day . The role of Vitamin B6 in neurotransmitter synthesis may be responsible for alleviating mood-related PMS symptoms. Specifically, clinical trials have revealed that vitamin B6 reduces breast pain, nausea, cramping, fatigue, headaches and acne associated with menstruation .
5. Reduces Morning Sickness During Pregnancy
Studies show that vitamin B6 reduces nausea (“morning sickness”) for pregnant women. In one study, pregnant women rated the intensity of their nausea for 24 hours before and after taking either vitamin B6 or a placebo. By the end of the study, women who took vitamin B6 had significantly less nausea compared to those who took the placebo .
6. Regulates Your Sleep Cycle and Reduces Insomnia
Vitamin B6 plays a role in the body’s production of melatonin–a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle, helping you feel sleepy at night but alert during the day. By boosting serotonin levels, melatonin increases as well, because serotonin converts to melatonin at night. In a study on 100 children given vitamin B6 intravenously at night, melatonin levels doubled and promoted better sleep .
7. Supports Bone Health
According to a study on 93 healthy older individuals, supplementing with 50 mg of vitamin B6 per day improved markers of bone metabolism. Bone metabolism, also known as bone turnover, is the process by which old bone material is swept away and new bone is laid down to keep bone tissue healthy and strong. After one year, the subjects in this study had faster bone turnover, suggesting that vitamin B6 supports bone health .
Another study found that vitamin B6 has this effect on bone turnover by boosting levels of collagen–the structural protein matrix upon which new bone minerals are deposited. Collagen levels are linked to increased bone mineral density, suggesting that vitamin B6’s role in synthesizing this critical protein is crucial to bone health .
8. Supports Joint Health
By increasing collagen levels, vitamin B6 also boosts the strength of cartilage, which is the supportive tissue within joints. Arthritic joints are joints in which the cartilage is continually damaged. People with rheumatoid arthritis have lower vitamin B6 levels because chronic inflammation requires more expenditure of this vitamin . Because vitamin B6 is linked to lower collagen production, supplementing with vitamin B6 could help improve connective tissue health in people with arthritis . It could also play a role in preventing joint problems such as arthritis.
9. Prevents and Improves Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway on the inner side of your wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can result from repetitive strain or from fluid retention in the area. It causes the compression of a major nerve, leading to pain, tingling or numbness in the area. Vitamin B6 has been used as an adjunctive therapy in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. In 994 carpal tunnel syndrome patients treated with vitamin B6, 200 mg of vitamin B6 supplementation a day helped alleviate symptoms in 68 percent of people. By contrast, only 14 percent of those who did not receive vitamin B6 as an adjunctive therapy experienced symptom alleviation from regular treatment .
10. Antioxidant Support
Vitamin B6 has antioxidant effects and can protect the body from heart disease. A study in a 2004 publication of The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology assessed the effects of vitamin B6 on rats with elevated homocysteine levels, a condition which is linked to heart disease. The authors of the study, who were affiliated with the H.E. Moore Heart Research Foundation and the University of Illinois, found that vitamin B6 helped reduce oxidative damage and promoted normal functioning of the aorta among these rats. They speculated that vitamin B6 has antioxidant effects because of its ability to increase vitamin C and glutathione levels in the blood .
Sources of Vitamin B6
Adults aged 19 to 50 need 1.3 mg of vitamin B6 per day, while men over 50 require 1.7 mg and women over 50 need 1.5 mg. The best food sources of vitamin B6 are fish, poultry, organ meats, starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. You can supplement with vitamin B6 on its own in liquid or pill form, or as part of a B-complex or multivitamin. As a supplement, vitamin B6 exists as pyridoxine hydrochloride and as pyridoxal phosphate (PLP), both of which are highly absorbable, much like vitamin B6 from foods. Vitamin B6 levels tend to be lower in pregnant women and obese people. People with bowel diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis struggle to absorb vitamin B6 from foods, which is why supplementation is recommended .
Vitamin B6 plays roles in the body that provide foundations for health, such as hormone synthesis and amino acid metabolism. Due to its role in brain and nervous system function, it protects you from cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. It also helps improves mood and sleep, alleviates PMS and helps with morning sickness during pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is required to protect your cardiovascular system from excessive homocysteine levels, which increase your risk of heart disease. Supplementation has been shown to eliminate vitamin B6 deficiency and its symptoms in people who struggle to absorb nutrients from foods while providing several health benefits.