Vitamin B6 is pretty amazing since it can convert and make different molecules within the body from the food that you eat. It can convert protein into carbohydrates, change protein into neurotransmitters (allowing your brain cells and to communicate with one another), cause protein to disappear and can make glucose. Let’s dive in deeper.
Role Of Vitamin B6
Function Of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 plays a large role in manipulating protein, or more specifically the amino acids which make up protein. Protein in plants and animals are broken down by your body into amino acids. From that point, vitamin B6 takes control and does multiple things with these amino acids.
Protein Related Functions Of Vitamin B6
- It converts them into neurotransmitters.
- Converts specific amino acids in excess into an amino acid you’re deficient in.
- Through gluconeogenesis, amino acids are converted into glucose when you’re lacking glucose.
- Most metabolic processes involving protein and amino acids generate ammonia. Left in your body, it’ll make you feel pretty awful. Fortunately, vitamin B6 converts ammonia into urea which is colourless and not toxic. Urea is what comes out of your urine!
Non-Protein Related Functions Of Vitamin B6
- Allows for storage of carbohydrates in muscles during high-intensity exercise and stores carbohydrates in the liver to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Aids in the release of stored carbohydrates so they can be utilised.
- Helps form haemoglobin, a protein which carries oxygen in the blood, helping to prevent anaemia. This is very important for a high level of performance in aerobic activity.
- Histamine is known to cause allergies – lots of foods contain histamine, but vitamin B6 actually helps to get rid of it.
- Oxalates are chemicals which are known to cause kidney stones. Certain vegetables are high in oxalates, and vitamin B6 doesn’t do much about those, but some foods like bone broth or collagen supplements can generate oxalates – vitamin B6 prevents them from forming.
Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Now that the role of vitamin B6 has been covered, let’s look into what symptoms may surface from a deficiency so you know what to be aware of.
- Kidney stone development
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Cognitive decline (mostly in old age)
Dietary Sources Of Vitamin B6
Plant Form And Animal Form
Vitamin B6 can be obtained through foods in two different forms.
Plants foods contain the form pyridoxine.
Animal foods contain the form pyridoxal.
Similarly to vitamin A, the human body requires the animal form of vitamin B6. It’s possible to convert the plant form to animal form in the liver, but this requires vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and a healthy liver. There are some further difficulties when trying to ensure you get enough vitamin B6 such as:
- Most plants have vitamin B6 bound to sugars which can make it difficult to absorb. This can mean you’re getting less than half of the vitamin B6 that’s listed in certain plant foods.
- Cooking causes the vitamin to bind to protein within foods which destroys some vitamin B6. In cooked animal foods, B6 activity decreases by 25% – 30% compared to raw animals foods. With plants, B6 activity decreases by about 40% compared to the raw plant food. However, it all depends on how you cook your food.
- Requirements are around 1.3 mg per day for most adults, but requirements increase as you get older to about 1.7 mg per day for males and 1.5 mg per day for females over 50 years old.
Foods Rich In Vitamin B6
Here are some of the best foods to consume for vitamin B6 divided into three tiers. Each serving is 100g before cooking unless mentioned.
Tier 1 provides 2 mg per serving. Your top food here is 1.25 heaped teaspoons of raw nutritional yeast.
Tier 2 gives 2 mg in three servings. Opt for the following foods:
- Liver (veal, lamb, beef, turkey)
- Fish (fresh tuna, salmon)
- Chicken and turkey breast
- Canadian goose
- Rice bran
- Top round and eye of round beef steak
Tier 3 foods provide 2 mg in five servings. These foods are:
- Chicken liver
- Lots of cuts of fresh meat, poultry and fish which aren’t in tier 2
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Gingko nuts
Most foods will contain some amount of vitamin B6, however, some foods will contain very little if any B6. Here are some of those foods to be aware of:
- Canned fish
- Collagenous tissue
- Most non-liver organ meats
- Fried foods
- Ultra-processed foods
- Most cheeses
- Many types of beans
Reasons For Vitamin B6 Deficiency
There are several reasons why one could become deficient:
- Not consuming enough foods rich in vitamin B6.
- Vitamin B2 deficiency prevents the extraction of vitamin B6 from plant foods.
- Inflammation raises B6 requirements.
- Variations in genetics and gut flora could make it harder to obtain B6 from plant foods.
- Increased oestrogen levels such as during pregnancy and before menstruation increases requirements.
- High protein diets raise B6 requirements.
- Certain rare genetic disorders need extremely high doses of vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 Toxicity
Given that vitamin B6 isn’t the easiest vitamin to obtain it would seem like a good idea to take a supplement, except you need to be aware that it can be toxic at high doses. Symptoms of vitamin B6 toxicity include loss of feeling (touch and temperature), tingling or burning in your limbs, extremities or complete loss of control over full body movements.
To avoid toxicity, I suggest starting with a low dosage of 10 mg per day and working your way up to no more than 100 mg per day. If you plan on taking a supplement, I recommend consulting your doctor first.
Vitamin B6 Supplements
There are two main types of supplement available, an animal form and a plant form.
Pyridoxine HCL is the plant form. It’s been the most studied and has been shown to work so it’s a completely viable option as a supplement. However, some reasons to reconsider taking it are that its effectiveness depends on your genetics, liver health and vitamin B2 status. This supplement is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Pyridoxal 5′-Phosphate (P5P) is the animal form. Since you don’t need to worry about conversion, I think that this form is much better as a supplement.
Summing Up Vitamin B6
A few key points to take away from this post:
- Nutritional yeast is the best and easiest way to hit your B6 requirements (and is great for other B vitamins)!
- Top symptoms indicating a need for more B6 include anaemia, insomnia, depression or mood problems.
- High oestrogen, high protein and high inflammation will increase requirements.
- Pyridoxal 5′-Phosphate (P5P) is the best supplement to take (in my opinion). Use it if consuming food isn’t working for you and increase the dosage slowly if you plan on increasing it to avoid the effects of toxicity!
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