Smiling woman lying in bed after taking vitamin B6 supplement

What is vitamin B6 good for? 7 Benefits

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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Vitamin B6 is a nutrient that also goes by the name “pyridoxine.” The body uses it to help break down your food—specifically protein and carbohydrates—and convert food into energy [1]. B6 also assists in the formation of hemoglobin, a protein that allows you to move oxygen and carbon dioxide through the blood, helping prevent anemia [2].

In other words, vitamin B6 intake is important, and it may have benefits beyond those we’ve described.

So what is vitamin B6 good for? Should you be supplementing with B6? We’ll answer that by looking at what happens when you have low levels of B6. In this guide, we’ll also explore the other potential benefits of B6 vitamins for your mood, immune function, and more.

What happens when your B6 is low?

Most people will get enough B6 through well-rounded consumption of foods. You may be wondering what foods have B6. These include:

  • Certain dairy products such as milk
  • Many lean proteins such as poultry and some types of fish
  • Peanuts
  • Some beans
  • Bananas

Normally, if you’re not getting enough B6 through your food sources, you will also be deficient in other B vitamins, such as folic acid. This can lead to several issues, including [3]:

  • Anemia
  • Physical issues, including cracked lips or a swollen tongue
  • Mental health issues such as depression and confusion
  • Reduced immune system functioning

Certain conditions make you more susceptible to a vitamin B6 deficiency, including:

  • Autoimmune disorders – Low levels of B6 can be an issue for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. However, vitamin B6 deficiency can also arise alongside other autoimmune disorders that either affect the body’s ability to absorb B6 or cause an inflammatory response that limits B6 intake.
  • Impaired renal function – If you suffer from kidney disease, require kidney dialysis, or have had a kidney transplant, you are at risk for B6 deficiency. Symptoms of a B6 deficiency can be very similar to the symptoms of kidney disease.
  • Alcohol dependency – Anyone suffering from alcohol dependency is at risk for additional health issues. One of these is B6 deficiency due to the interference of acetaldehyde (a substance produced by alcohol).

What are the benefits of taking vitamin B6?

While many people will get enough vitamin B6 through their diet, taking a supplement is a good idea if you have a B6 deficiency.

Even if you don’t have a deficiency, you may want to consider vitamin B6 supplementation. According to a 2003-2004 study, certain subgroups of the population may still benefit from vitamin B6 supplementation even if they are receiving the recommended amount of B6 through their diet [4].

If you decide to supplement with B6, you might experience the following benefits.

Improved mood

As mentioned earlier, a B6 deficiency is sometimes associated with depression or confusion. It follows that supplementing with B6 may lead to a better overall mood. While this may not be true for everyone, there have been findings that support the idea that vitamin B6 supplements can help reduce symptoms of depression.

For instance, a 2008 study by Anne C. Curtin and Carol S. Johnston in the Journal of Dietary Supplements showed that B6 supplementation worked better than a placebo in reducing depressive symptoms among women who:

  • Were young and healthy (aged 18-25)
  • Did not take dietary supplements
  • Used oral contraception consistently for at least one year

The study was double-blind, featuring one group that took vitamin B6 supplements and one group that received placebos. The vitamin supplement group reported a 20% reduction in depressive symptoms, while the placebo group reported an 11% rise in symptoms [5].

While this is just one study focused on a particular subgroup, it supports the theory that B6 supplementation can have a positive effect on mood.

Improved immune function

A lack of vitamin B6 can lead to problems with the immune system. Often, this occurs when the body is unable to respond adequately to the B6 in the diet. By improving overall intake, supplementation can help strengthen the immune system.

A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides support for this concept. A 14-day study of critically ill patients found that people using large doses (50-100mg) of B6 supplementation had better immune markers than those in a control group who did not use any supplementation [6].

While healthy individuals may not have any issues with their B6 intake, supplement options could be important for supporting immune health for those who experience deficiency.

Brain function

The idea that B6 may help with cognitive function has a solid basis. People suffering from dementia may demonstrate a decline that correlates with reduced levels of B6, B12, and folic acid. Therefore, B6 supplementation might help brain function or at least slow any deleterious effects [7].

A 2007 meta-analysis found that evidence for these claims was inconclusive. While one study suggested benefits to long-term memory, other studies showed no significant differences between B6 supplementation and placebo. High doses of B6 may still help brain function, but so far the data does not fully support this hypothesis [7].

Premenstrual syndrome

Several studies have investigated B6 supplementation to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). During a 1999 meta-analysis of nine studies, B6 supplements were shown to affect [8]:

  • Overall symptoms – A 2.32 odds ratio improvement was shown in favor of water soluble vitamins over a placebo.
  • Depressive symptoms – A 1.69 odds ratio improvement was shown in favor of supplementation over a placebo.

Although this meta-analysis included nine separate studies, they focused on a total of 940 patients—a small sample size. More studies have since been done to back up these findings and have shown the promise of B6 in alleviating symptoms of anxiety [3]. While there are no firm conclusions, there is a strong basis for the idea that B6 supplementation can reduce PMS and anxiety symptoms.

Eye health

While B6 won’t improve your vision enough that you can suddenly stop wearing glasses, it may be useful in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) [9]. A 2008 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine focused on 5,205 women over the age of 40. All the participants had either cardiovascular disease (CVD) or three or more risk factors for CVD or AMD. They were split into two groups, receiving either:

  • A combination supplement that included B6, B12, and folic acid
  • A placebo

After an average of 7.3 years, the results of those who developed age-related macular degeneration were:

  • 55 in the supplementation group
  • 82 in the placebo group

While this certainly doesn’t show that supplementation is a cure-all, it does support the idea that supplementation can reduce the risk of developing AMD.

Anemia

Sideroblastic anemia is a condition in which the red blood cells are unable to use the iron in the blood to make hemoglobin (even if iron levels are sufficient). As a result, it can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Enlargement of the liver or spleen

While this condition can sometimes be caused by a drug or toxin, it can also be hereditary. B6 supplementation can also be effective in treating anemia for some people [10].

Cardiovascular health

B6 deficiency might present an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Consequently, it’s been theorized that B6 supplementation might reduce this risk.

A 2019 study of 9,142 participants found that B6 supplementation reduces the instances of heart conditions in men [11]. However, there was no benefit for female participants. While more research is needed, this study suggests that B6 could also improve heart health.

Inflammation

While there are links between low B6 levels and overall inflammation in the body, supplementation is not necessarily recommended to combat inflammation. This is because there is also a possible linkage between high B6 and inflammation [12].

B6 supplements may still be useful in reducing inflammation in some people, but should not be taken prophylactically for this purpose. If you are worried about inflammation, talk with your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplements.

How much B6 do you need per day?

Insufficient B6 can lead to several health issues. So how much B6 do you need per day? Currently, the recommended daily amount of B6 is as follows [13]:

  • For people under 50 years old – 1.3 milligram
  • For women over 50 years old – 1.5 milligrams
  • For men over 50 years old –1.7 milligrams

While having too little B6 can result in the problems we’ve discussed, an excessive amount of the vitamin can also be dangerous. Taking supplements of 200mg or more per day has been linked with peripheral neuropathy, which is a loss of feeling in the arms and legs. While this will likely go away after ceasing the use of the supplement, there is a chance this condition can become permanent [1].

B6 Vitamins from Everlywell

What’s the final word on B6 supplementation? In some cases—especially for people with a B vitamin deficiency—supplementation can prevent negative health outcomes including anemia and mood issues.

If you're looking to boost your B6 intake, consider trying the Everlywell vitamin B6 supplement option. Each bottle comes with a 30-day supply and you can save 10% with a monthly subscription.

What is the difference between vitamin B6 and B12?

How much omega-3 per day should someone get?


References

1. B vitamins and folic acid. National Health Service. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

2. Hemoglobin Test. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

3. Vitamin B6. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

4. Morris MS, Picciano MF, Jacques PF, Selhub J. Plasma pyridoxal 5'-phosphate in the US population: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1446-54.

5. C Curtin A, Johnston CS. Vitamin B6 Supplementation Reduces Symptoms of Depression in College Women Taking Oral Contraceptives: A Randomized, Double-Blind Crossover Trial. J Diet Suppl. 2022 Feb 2:1-13.

6. Cheng CH, Chang SJ, Lee BJ, Lin KL, Huang YC. Vitamin B6 supplementation increases immune responses in critically ill patients. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;60(10):1207-13.

7. Balk EM, Raman G, Tatsioni A, Chung M, Lau J, Rosenberg IH. Vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid supplementation and cognitive function: a systematic review of randomized trials. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Jan 8;167(1):21-30.

8. Wyatt KM, Dimmock PW, Jones PW, Shaughn O'Brien PM. Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review. BMJ. 1999 May 22;318(7195):1375-81.

9. Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Chew EY, Albert CM, Manson JE. Folic acid, pyridoxine, and cyanocobalamin combination treatment and age-related macular degeneration in women: the Women's Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):335-41.

10. Sideroblastic anemia. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

11. Jeon J, Park K. Dietary Vitamin B6 Intake Associated with a Decreased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study. Nutrients. 2019 Jun 29;11(7):1484.

12. Bird RP. The Emerging Role of Vitamin B6 in Inflammation and Carcinogenesis. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2018;83:151-194.

13. Vitamin B-6. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 17, 2022.

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