By Jan de Vries, originally published Autumn 2005
It has been known for many years that vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) was involved in numerous key biological processes. Foods naturally rich in vitamin B6: • Wheatgerm • Bananas • Turkey • Chicken • White Fish • Brussels Sprouts • Baked Beans • Peas • Milk •As such it was given the name “Master Vitamin”. As part of its day to day workings, Vitamin B6 is involved in the metabolism of proteins and plays a vital role for the healthy production of brain chemicals such as serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. Once taken into the body, vitamin B6 is rapidly converted into pyridoxal phosphate and pyridoxamine phosphate. These substances are then active in the processes that regulate fat and energy metabolism as well as the healthy activity of the nervous system and blood production.
Vitamin B6 and the pill
If you are taking the pill you will probably need a pill of vitamin B6! Studies have shown that the use of the oral contraceptive pill places greater than normal demands on the body for vitamin B6. In such situations marginal deficiencies can occur especially if the diet is not very high in vitamin B6-containing foods. In a similar fashion, the high oestrogen levels often associated with pre-menstrual syndrome can be effectively reduced by taking extra vitamin B6.
Lower your risk of heart disease
We are all acutely aware of the potential harm cholesterol can have on the heart and circulatory system but it appears that vitamin B6 may help prevent the damage before it can occur. Supplementing the diet with folic acid can reduce homocysteine, a substance made within our body that can accelerate many degenerative diseases including heart disease. When combined with vitamin B6 the effect is even more powerful. By effectively lowering homocysteine, the risk of heart attack can be slashed. In general, it is recommended that vitamin B6 is taken as part of a vitamin B complex to ensure adequate intakes of vitamin B12, folic acid and other key co-factors.
Lighten your mood
The effects of hormones can be astounding. As mentioned earlier, vitamin B6 is often depleted in women taking the oral contraceptive pill. However, vitamin B6 is a key nutrient needed for normal mental functioning. Studies have shown that women who become depressed while taking the pill are often vitamin B6 deficient. In one study the women responded well to vitamin B6 supplements. There is also some evidence linking other forms of depression with low vitamin B6 status.
A cure for Chinese restaurant syndrome?
After a busy day all you want to do is curl up with a take away and watch some TV. But the next morning you suffer the headache, weakness and stomach of Chinese restaurant syndrome! No, you have not been poisoned but you have suffered a reaction to the flavour enhancing chemical monosodium glutamate (MSG). This substance is traditionally added to Chinese food during the final stages of cooking. Many studies have shown that the Chinese actually have an enzyme capable of splitting this up but many Westerners don’t!
Taking a supplement containing vitamin B6 for about 3 months may help you metabolise this chemical better since the typical reactions to MSG have also been likened to vitamin B6 deficiency. In one study, 8 out of the 9 MSG sensitive people stopped developing Chinese restaurant syndrome after using a vitamin B6 supplement.
A guide to safe intake
Vitamin B6 was the centre of controversy a few years ago when it was reported that the nutrient could cause nerve damage. In truth, nerve damage can occur but only in those who took single doses (2-7g) or very high doses over many years. However, the symptoms of nerve damage (numbness and tingling) soon passed once the vitamin B6 was stopped.
There are a few drug interactions to be aware of: Vitamin B6 supplements are not advised if you are taking Levadopa, used in the medical treatment of Parkinson’s disease. B6 supplements should also be avoided if you’re taking phenytoin and phenobarbitone.
The important aspect to remember is that supplements should always be taken as directed on the tub or under the guidance of a health professional. Just because something is natural does not always mean it is safe.
From the Jan de Vries archives
I hope you enjoyed reading about vitamin B6 from Jan himself – he really was an incredibly knowledgeable man! Here at Jan de Vries, we often recommend vitamin B6 to our customers who are taking the pill or suffer from PMS, and it’s so interesting to read about its other uses. If you’re looking for a vitamin B6 supplement we have a huge range here at Jan de Vries, but you may wish to consider a B-complex too! Have a look at my favourite products below.