Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) is another of the water-soluble B-complex vitamins, involved in a number of important functions, including the body's metabolic activity. It metabolizes sugars, fats and amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Another important function is its role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, and in the creation of DNA, heme (part of red blood cells) and the phospholipids that make up our cell membranes.
Without sufficient B6 we would not be able to process carbohydrates properly. Our bodies require that the glycogen in our muscle cells be broken down so as to provide us with energy, and vitamin B6 plays a key role in this breakdown. This can be especially important for athletes who require increased strength and endurance. It is also an essential vitamin for tissue repair. Another of the benefits of vitamin B6 is that it helps control excessive inflammation.
Because of its use in healthy brain and nerve function, it also helps to regulate mood. It is important for the development of serotonin and norepinephrine, hormones that help guard against depression, and has been used to treat both Alzheimer's and general memory loss.
Vitamin B6 works in conjunction with folic acid and vitamin B12 to help keep homocysteine levels low. Elevated homocysteine is linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. It has been successfully used in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome and premenstrual syndrome, and has been shown to help prevent attacks of asthma by lowering histamine levels in the blood.
The major dietary sources of B6 are meat, eggs, liver, fish, whole grains, legumes (peas and beans), potatoes, brewer's yeast, avocados and dairy foods. Due to its water-solubility, it can't be stored in the body's fat cells, so we need to ingest it on a regular basis. And as B6 is necessary in order to break down proteins, the more protein you eat, the more B6 you need.
Although a deficiency in vitamin B6 is not common, it can lead to anemia, feelings of numbness or pins-and-needles in hands and feet, a sore red tongue, and confusion, depression and irritability. This deficiency is most often found in alcoholics and those with chronic fatigue syndrome or women who use oral contraceptives.
It is recommended that adults get 1.6 mg per day of vitamin B6 for optimal functioning. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding require more, about 2 mg per day. Because it naturally occurs in a wide range of foods it's not likely you will need a supplement if you eat well. However, it may be useful if you suffer from one of the conditions noted above, for which a doctor can give you a recommended dosage.