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Understand the differences between vitamin B6 and vitamin B12

Medically reviewed on May 17, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


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If you’ve ever looked at the back of a cereal box or multivitamin pack, you’ve seen all the vitamin letters—A, C, E, K, and so on. While you’ll notice that every other letter appears once, vitamin B shows up several times. So why are there multiple B vitamins? And what is the difference specifically between vitamin B6 and B12?

In short, both B6 and B12 participate in red blood cell production and help boost immunity. However, they also take on separate functions. Vitamin B6 works to regulate hormones, while B12 is essential to nerve function and DNA synthesis [1].

To explore this distinction in-depth, we’ll look at both vitamins and shed light on their functions, the recommended daily intake, signs of deficiencies, and more.

Vitamin B6 vs. B12

All B vitamins—eight of them in total—are part of a larger group of vitamins known as the “B complex.” Let’s separate two of them from the pack and place them under the microscope.

Vitamin B6

Also called “pyridoxine,” vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that exists naturally in many foods. Like all vitamins, B6 is an organic compound that humans need to sustain life.

More specifically, the term “vitamin B6” refers to six separate compounds called “vitamers.” These are [1]:

  • Pyridoxine
  • Pyridoxal
  • Pyridoxamine
  • Pyridoxine 5’-phosphate
  • Pyridoxal 5’-phosphate
  • Pyridoxamine 5’-phosphate

All of these compounds work together to fulfill the roles of B6 vitamins.

Vitamin B12

Cobalamin (better known as vitamin B12) is also an organic compound and a water-soluble vitamin. The name “cobalamin” comes from the presence of cobalt in vitamin B12.

On its way into our systems, B12 binds to proteins in food. As it travels through the digestive system, it slowly separates from the protein and stores itself in the body for future use [2].

Vitamin B6 vs. B12: what they do

So, from a classification standpoint, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are practically the same. The real differences start to show when you examine their functions within the body.

Vitamin B6

Curious what vitamin B6 is good for? Since the body needs vitamin B6 for more than 100 metabolic processes, dietitians consider it an essential nutrient.

Along with its role in metabolism and the production of red blood cells, vitamin B6 can [3]:

  • Help ward off infections
  • Encourage cognitive development
  • Promote production of lymphocytes (white blood cells)
  • Help with the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin

In other words, vitamin B6 is essential to health and well-being.

Vitamin B12

B12 is equally important; many internal processes depend on this compound for regular function. While red blood cell production is one of the most well-known functions that B12 takes part in, the vitamin can also [4, 5]:

  • Support the regulation of immune response cells like natural killer cells
  • Aid with the proper function of the central nervous system
  • Help maintain healthy eyesight
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

Overall, it’s crucial to consume enough vitamin B12.

Vitamin B6 vs. B12: daily recommended intake

As with all nutrients, it’s possible to take in too little—or too much. Although vitamin B6 and B12 are part of the same vitamin family, the amount needed for each one varies considerably.

Vitamin B6

How much B6 should you have? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 varies according to age, sex, and whether one is pregnant [3]. Their official guidelines for daily intake are as follows:

  • Age 14–18: 1.3 mg for males; 1.2 mg for females
  • Age 19–50: 1.3 mg (regardless of sex)
  • Age 51 and up: 1.7 mg for males; 1.5 mg for females

Additionally, the NIH recommends 1.9 mg per day if you’re pregnant and 2.0 mg per day if you’re lactating—no matter your age.

How to increase your intake

You can take in more vitamin B6 by consuming foods high in B6, such as [3]:

  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Meat (especially beef and beef liver)
  • Fish (including tuna and salmon)
  • Chickpeas
  • Potatoes

Some individuals—especially vegetarians and vegans— may struggle to consume enough vitamin B6. In these cases, vitamin supplements are an excellent way to meet daily dietary needs.

Vitamin B12

Unlike B6, the RDA for vitamin B12 is in micrograms (mcg)—that is, one one-thousandth of a milligram.

The NIH recommends that all individuals 14 years and older consume 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day [2]. Pregnant people of any age require 2.6 mcg every day, while those lactating should take in 2.8 mcg per day.

How to increase your intake

Vitamin B12 is present in many animal food products; excellent sources include:

  • Seafood (such as tuna, clams, and salmon)
  • Meat (beef, beef liver, and turkey)
  • Dairy products (including milk, yogurt, and cheese)
  • Eggs

Vegans and vegetarians can find a small amount of vitamin B12 in tempeh, fortified breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast [2]. As with B6, dietary supplements can help you reach the RDA for B12—especially if you don’t eat meat or dairy.

Vitamin B6 vs. B12: symptoms of vitamin deficiency

As mentioned, our bodies depend on B vitamins for various processes. When these internal mechanisms go awry due to a lack of vitamins, the body finds ways to tell you.

Vitamin B6

Depending on the severity of a vitamin B6 deficiency, you may experience symptoms like [6]:

  • Rashes
  • More frequent infections
  • Cheilitis (inflamed lips)
  • Glossitis (inflamed tongue)
  • Anemia
  • Depression

According to a recent study in the journal Nutrients, there is also growing evidence that a lack of vitamin B6 can increase the chances of developing some forms of cancer [4].

Thankfully, some of these signs and symptoms are easy enough to spot. However, even if you don’t experience physical symptoms, you may still have a vitamin B6 deficiency.

A note on vitamin B6 overconsumption

While it’s extremely rare to consume too much vitamin B6, it can happen. However, it would be nearly impossible to intake too much of the vitamin through diet alone. Realistically, the only way to take in a harmful dose of vitamin B6 is by taking high-dosage dietary supplements for a prolonged period [3].

As per the NIH, the upper limit for daily consumption in adults aged 18 and over is 100 mg [3]. That’s around 60 times the recommended daily amount. (For reference, a full cup of chickpeas contains 1.1 mg—imagine eating 100 cups of chickpeas.)

Overconsumption of B6 could eventually lead to:

  • Nerve damage
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn

Even if you’re taking vitamin B6 supplements, don’t panic. We want to stress that it’s incredibly difficult to take too much B6. Plus, symptoms usually resolve themselves when you stop taking supplements.

Vitamin B12

The likelihood of a vitamin B12 deficiency increases with age [7]. Vegans and vegetarians could be even more prone to a deficiency, as most of the significant sources of vitamin B12 come from animal food products.

Signs of low B12 levels can include [8]:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weight loss

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is no risk in taking more than the recommended amount of vitamin B12 [2].

Frequently asked questions about B vitamins

Are you still wondering about the differences between vitamin B6 and vitamin B12? Let’s look at the facts from a more practical standpoint and clear up any lingering questions.

Do you need B6 and B12?

Absolutely—even though B6 and B12 are both members of the B-vitamin complex, they fulfill different roles within the body.

Because you need both vitamins, you may feel the need to increase the variety of foods consumed. Fortunately, many foods that contain vitamin B6 also contain B12, including:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry

Which is better to take: B6 or B12?

Neither vitamin is better than the other—they’re both equally essential to your well-being. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you need to consume the correct amount of all vitamins and micronutrients.

You should only favor one vitamin over the other if you have a deficiency in one but not the other and a healthcare provider advises you to do so. In these cases, you may receive a prescription for the individual B vitamin rather than the entire B complex.

Can you take vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 together?

You can—in fact, in many cases, it’s unavoidable (in a positive sense). Foods like meat, fish, and fortified cereals usually contain vitamins B6 and B12.

Additionally, if you're interested in supplementing with B6 as well as B12, try the Everlywell vitamin B6 supplements and B12 vitamin supplements (both of which are vegan and non-GMO).

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References

1. Kennedy DO. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):68. Published 2016 Jan 27.

2. Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

3. Vitamin B6: Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

4. Peterson CT, Rodionov DA, Osterman AL, Peterson SN. B Vitamins and Their Role in Immune Regulation and Cancer. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3380. Published 2020 Nov 4.

5. Pawlak R. Is vitamin B12 deficiency a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in vegetarians? Am J Prev Med. 2015 Jun;48(6):e11-26.

6. Vitamin B6 Deficiency. StatPearls [Internet]. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

7. Vitamin B12 Deficiency. StatPearls [Internet]. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

8. Vitamin B-12 Deficiency Anemia. Cedars Sinai. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

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