This vitamin, also known as pyridoxine, is very important for its involvement in the formation of body proteins and structural compounds, red blood cells, chemical transmitters in the nervous system, and prostaglandins. Vitamin B6 is also crucial in maintaining proper hormonal balance and in immune function.
Why People Need Vitamin B6
The Institute of Medicine states people need pyridoxine as a coenzyme in the transamination process, for the decarboxylation and racemization of amino acids, and as the essential coenzyme for glycogen phosphorylase. To simplify - the body needs pyridoxine to turn the proteins consumed into the proteins the body needs. This vitamin is also needed to convert carbohydrates from the form they are stored in to the form used for energy.
One of the proteins the body needs is hemoglobin - the substance that carries oxygen in the red blood cells. Vitamin B6 is also needed to make many other proteins including enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones. Pyridoxine is also necessary for making prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that regulate functions in the body such as blood pressure.
This vitamin is also critical for converting the foods that are eaten into carbohydrates or fat the body can store, and then turning the stored forms into forms that can be used when a person needs extra energy.
Pyridoxine (along with folic acid and cobalamin) helps fights heart disease by breaking down homocysteine. All three need to work together for the maximum health-giving effects in this case. On its own, pyridoxine helps prevent heart disease by helping the red blood cells from getting "clumpy" and sticking together. If enough cells clump together they form a clot that can block an artery. In such a case, the result is a stroke or heart attack.
People who have recently had a heart attack have low levels of pyridoxine. Research is still being conducted to see whether this is cause or effect.
A 2005 study of 67,000 Swedish women suggested that a high pyridoxine intake may significantly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. The research was conducted with women aged 40 to 75 and found the greatest effect was among women who drank moderate to large amounts of alcohol. In that group of women, those with the highest amount of pyridoxine consumption reduced their risk by 70 percent.
Vitamin B6 Requirements
The RDA for vitamin B6 is found in most multivitamin supplements or in B6 alone, and is typically in quantities of anywhere from 10 to 50 mg. When supplements contain just vitamin B6 they come in tablets or capsules ranging from 25 to 500 mg. Seek expert advice before taking such supplements.
To put it simply: normal amounts of pyridoxine keep the body performing normally. However, extra amounts of pyridoxine can help the heart and immune system, as well as asthma and diabetes. Caution should be used as very large amounts of pyridoxine can be toxic.
When the Body is Deficient
So much vitamin B6 is found in food it is rare for a healthy person to be truly deficient. Those who are low in pyridoxine are probably low in the other B vitamins as well. Certain groups of people may be more prone to a deficiency:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding - Their baby is taking up a lot of their pyridoxine, so they need an extra 0.7 mg every day.
- Vegetarians or vegans - Most fruits and vegetables have little or no pyridoxine, so vegetarians and vegans need to get it from nuts and whole grains. Children who eat no animal products are particularly at risk.
- Women taking birth control pills - This group of women could have pyridoxine levels that are 15 to 20 percent below normal.
- Alcohol abusers - Almost a third of all alcoholics are deficient in this vitamin.
- Smokers - Tobacco blocks the use of pyridoxine in the body.
- Those who take certain prescription drugs - Some drugs make the body excrete pyridoxine. These include Apresoline used for high blood pressure, Laniazid for tuberculosis, and Cuprimine for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Those who take theophylline - This drug used for treating asthma or other respiratory problems can deplete vitamin B6.
The first place a B6 deficiency is seen is usually in the immune system. These people are sick more often. While such cases could be blamed on several things, the next common condition could be anemia for those suffering from a pyridoxine deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin B6 Deficiencies
Some of the symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency are convulsions (especially in children), depression, impaired nerve function and glucose intolerance. While extreme deficiencies are believed to be very rare, numerous clinical studies show the importance of vitamin B6 and how supplementation can improve conditions such as:
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Morning sickness
- Kidney stones
Foods Containing Vitamin B6
The best sources for this vitamin are high-quality protein foods such as pork, beef, chicken, fish, milk, eggs and dairy products. Fish and other meats have higher amounts of pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 is also added to a lot of flours, cornmeal, breakfast cereals and many baked goods.
The best plant choices for pyridoxine are bananas, avocados, mangos, and potatoes. Whole grains are very good sources, with a bowl of oatmeal (one three-ounce serving) containing 0.74 mg.
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