Continuing my spotlight on nutrients series, which so far has looked at NAC and magnesium, I wanted to discuss the many benefits of vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) – including the major roles it plays in neurotransmitter and hormone development and balance.
Something incredibly interesting about this nutrient, if you’re a science geek like me, is that it may have been one of the fundamental nutrients involved in the rise of the Earth’s first oxygen producing organisms, billions of years ago. According to researchers, 2.4 billion years ago the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen levels got exponentially higher. This Great Oxygenation Event occurred because Earth started growing photosynthetic plants. Plants’ production of oxygen involved the use of pyridoxal (a form of vitamin B6) – the enzyme manganese catalase used B6 to turn hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Without it, we may never have been here… That’s cool, right?
But aside from its incredibly interesting history (selling it hard), B6 has an even more amazing number of roles to play in the human body. A really simple, and smart, way to think about what it is that B vitamins do is to think of them as metabolic enhancers. They are the key that unlocks the energy in food in order for the body to utilize the nutrients effectively, optimize hormones, restore cellular health and produce energy.
- energy production: like other B vitamins, pyridoxine plays a role in ATP generation in the body. Because it assists in the metabolism of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen through the blood (oxygen is needed to complete the metabolism of ATP), in a round-about way B6 contributes to energy production. ATP = cellular energy. Low levels of B6 can lead to a reduction in hemoglobin synthesis, and cause microcytic anemia.
- B12 absorption: B12 is likely the most popular B vitamin, as deficiency is really common and it plays a major role in energy production pathways. However, without B6, the body can’t absorb (or use) B12.
- homocysteine regulation: pyridoxine (along with B9 and B12) controls the levels of homocysteine in the blood, an inflammatory amino acid that has been linked to heart disease and stroke risk. Deficiency in pyridoxine may allow homocysteine levels to rise, which causes damage to blood vessel linings (setting the stage for plaque buidup and increasing heart attack/stroke risk).
- cognition and neurotransmitter generation: in the brain, B6 is used to make several different neurotransmitters (NT), like serotonin and dopamine. NT are chemicals that carry messages from cell to cell, and they are important in healthy brain development, mood balance, and sleep cycles. It’s thus extremely important for women trying to conceive – as B6 plays a role in baby’s brain development in utero. Researchers believe that NT imbalances may aggravate the symptoms of ADHD, and B6 may benefit children with learning and behavioural disorders. And new research suggests that taking B6 may decrease the risk of late-life depression.
- immune function: synthesis of antibodies by the immune system, which fight infections, involves the use of B6-dependent enzymes. Deficiency thus dampens the immune response to infection. B6 also plays an extremely important role in the immune system’s tolerance of a pregnancy, becoming a key nutrient to investigate in women who suffer pregnancy losses.
- hormonal balance: women who suffer from intense premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like breast tenderness, nausea, fatigue, headaches and acne, often benefit from B6 supplementation. This is likely because B6 plays a role in hormonal balance in the body, and the production of pain-mitigating neurotransmitters. Research has shown that PLP (a form of B6) can interact with RIP140/NRIp1, a repressor of nuclear hormone receptors known for its role in reproductive biology – in English, that means that B6 affects the receptivity of cells to hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Not only is this important in fertility and reproductive health, but it may also influence one’s risk of diseases driven by steroid hormones, like breast and prostate cancer.
Poor vitamin B6 status is more common that we’d like to think. Though an overt B6 deficiency is rare, around 90% of women and 70% of men in North America have a low B6 intake in their diet. Even those who do consume the American RDA for B6 have insufficient levels of B6 in their systems. Any woman who has used hormonal contraception will have low B6. Teenagers, and men and women over 65 are also at risk of deficiency because of the changes in their metabolic rates. Pollutants and other medications deplete B6, and anyone with a digestive disorder will have poor absorption.
Vitamin B6 must be obtained through the diet or via supplementation, because humans can’t synthesize it. I’ve included a chart found on Dr. Axe’s website (Dr. Axe, Food Sources of B6) of the highest dietary sources of B6. However, through processing of foods, B6 levels become extremely depleted (it is unstable in alkaline conditions, to light, oxygen and high temperature) – cooking meat destroys B6 content [30-40 percent is destroyed from boiling (more is lost if the broth is not consumed), and between 15-50 percent from roasting or broiling].
In light of the above, one of my favourite ways to boost B6 levels is through IV micronutrient treatments. B6 absorption through the gut is impaired in digestive disorders, and demands for B6 are higher in women trying to conceive, those on hormonal contraception, in teenagers and in men and women over 65. When we use IV therapy, we bypass all of these issues and deliver pyridoxine directly to the cells of the body.
If you think you may require a boost in B6, book in with us on TGIV Fridays for your custom-tailored micronutrient IV. You can also call the clinic if you’d like to discuss nutrient deficiencies with me.
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND