Vitamin B6 is one of the water-soluble B-complex vitamins you can get from various vitamin B6 foods or supplements.
Interestingly, vitamin B6 is not just one vitamin but a generic name for a group of vitamin compounds that possess vitamin B6 activities.
The term ‘vitamin B6’ includes pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, pyridoxal 5-phosphate (PLP), and pyridoxamine 5‘-phosphate (PMP). Pyridoxine is the alcohol form, pyridoxal is an aldehyde, and pyridoxamine contains an amino group.
Furthermore, pyridoxal 5‘-phosphate (PLP) and pyridoxamine 5‘-phosphate (PMP) represent the active vitamin B6 coenzyme forms.
The following article covers the essential vitamin B6 functions, the most valuable vitamin B6 foods and sources, and other relevant information about this vitamin.
Let‘s have a look.
A Brief Vitamin B6 History
The discovery of vitamin B6 dates back to the early 20th century. In 1934, Paul György and his colleagues discovered that this substance played a massive role in treating rats for acrodynia, a rare dermatological condition.
György named this substance vitamin B6. However, it wasn’t until a few years later that the B6 vitamin benefits were truly appreciated.
Samuel Lepkovsky isolated vitamin B6 from rice bran and crystallized it in 1938. Only a year later, in 1939, Leslie Harris and Karl Folkers came up with the structure of pyridoxine. That same year Richard Kuhn, a Nobel-prize-winning biochemist, and his associates also came up with vitamin B6 structure in an independent study.
Vitamin B6 Function
Vitamin B6 is essential for the proper function of the body. It plays a vital role in over 100 enzymatic reactions, particularly the ones related to protein metabolism.
One of its forms, PLP, is involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Additionally, this form is in charge of amino acid metabolism together with PMP.
It also plays a role in maintaining normal glucose levels in the blood by playing a pivotal role in gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis.
Furthermore, vitamin B6 is involved in neurotransmitter synthesis. Together with vitamin B9 and B12, it helps keep the homocysteine levels within normal limits, which is a very important vitamin B6 function.
Increased homocysteine levels can lead to hypercoagulation, which may lead to excessive blood clot formation and thrombosis. By keeping homocysteine within normal limits, vitamin B6 helps promote optimal cardiovascular function.
Besides heart, vitamin B6 supports eye health. Namely, research shows that high blood levels of homocysteine that pyridoxine may help reduce can also increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Finally, we‘ll mention another vital vitamin B6 function—the production of hemoglobin (the protein within red blood cells in charge of carrying oxygen from the lungs to other organs and tissues in the body).
Vitamin B6 Benefits
Vitamin B6 can be used for treating and preventing various diseases and conditions:
- Seizures: Vitamin B6 can successfully treat seizures caused by pyridoxine deficiency in newborns.
- Sideroblastic anemia: Vitamin B6 supplementation proved effective against sideroblastic anemia—a condition that prevents the body from using iron to produce hemoglobin.
- Vitamin B6 deficiency: Oral vitamin B6 supplements can quickly restore pyridoxine levels to normal.
- Morning sickness: Research shows that 30 mg of pyridoxine can help reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Though these are characteristic pregnancy symptoms, they may become a cause of concern if they‘re persistent.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): There‘s some evidence that taking oral pyridoxine supplements can improve PMS symptoms. However, more research is required to corroborate these claims.
There are various natural dietary sources of vitamin B6, which is 75% bioavailable in a mixed diet. Vitamin B6 foods include fish, liver, meat, potatoes, vegetables, and non-citrus fruit. Vitamin-B-fortified cereals are also a rich food source of vitamin B6 in the US.
Chickpeas are so high in vitamin B6 that they rank first on the vitamin b6 foods list. One cup of canned chickpeas provides a whopping 1.1 mg (65% DV) of vitamin B6.
These legumes are also packed with protein and fiber.
Black-eyed peas belong to the category of good vitamin B6 foods for vegetarian diet followers. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas provides 10% DV for vitamin B6.
Black-eyed peas are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B3, protein, etc.
Pistachios are one of the top vitamin-B6-rich nuts. Only one cup of pistachio nuts provides a whopping 2.09 mg (105% DV) of vitamin B6.
Pistachios are also a rich source of microminerals such as iron and potassium.
Like pistachio nuts, chestnuts are some of the valuable B6 vitamin foods belonging to the nut category. Dried chestnuts provide 1.02 mg (51% DV) of vitamin B6 per cup. Roasted chestnuts provide lower pyridoxine amounts—up to 0.71 mg (36% DV).
They’re also a good source of other B-complex vitamins such as vitamin B9 and vitamin B3.
Potatoes are one of the best vitamin-B6-rich foods among vegetables. One cup of boiled potatoes offers 0.4 mg (25% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, mashed potatoes offer much higher pyridoxine content per cup—1.77 mg (89% DV).
Incorporating potatoes (especially mashed potatoes) into your diet once or twice a week is an excellent way to get your vitamin B6 levels within normal limits.
Sweet potatoes are also good natural sources of vitamin B6. Raw sweet potatoes offer relatively low pyridoxine content per cup—0.28 mg (14% DV).
Thermal processing significantly increases their vitamin B6 content, so baked sweet potatoes with skin provide 0.57 mg (29% DV) per cup.
Apart from delicious sweet taste and decent amounts of vitamin B6, sweet potatoes offer a host of other nutrients. They‘re good dietary sources of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin A.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables, featuring copious amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Most importantly, it‘s also one of the top vitamin B6 vegetables.
One cup of raw spinach provides a meager 0.06 mg (3% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, boiled spinach offers a much higher vitamin B6 content per cup—0.44 mg (22% DV).
Besides being a rich source of beta carotene and fiber, carrots are one of the best vitamin B6 vegetables. They can be especially beneficial for vegetarians and vegans who might not get enough of this vitamin through diet, given that they don‘t consume plenty of animal-based products.
You can consume them raw, cooked, or blended in a fruit juice mixture, receiving varying pyridoxine content. One cup of raw chopped carrots provides 0.18 mg of vitamin B6 (9% DV). On the other hand, boiled carrots offer a slightly higher vitamin B6 content—0.24 mg (12% DV) per cup.
If you’re looking for foods that have vitamin b6 in them and that are simultaneously a good spice for your dishes, be on the lookout for onions.
A single serving of raw onions weighing roughly 5 oz added to your food can provide 0.19 mg (10% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, sauteed onions offer 0.18 mg (9% DV) of vitamin B6 per cup.
Acorn squash is another one of the fantastic foods rich in vitamin B6. One cup of raw acorn squash offers 0.22 mg (11% DV) of vitamin B6, while baked acorn squash yields almost double the amount—0.4 mg (20% DV) per cup.
Additionally, acorn squash is rich in vitamin A, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. What‘s more, research shows that acorn squash can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and even skin cancer due to the abundance of antioxidants in it.
Just like acorn squash, butternut squash also belongs to the category of foods with vitamin B6. One cup of raw butternut squash cubes provides up to 0.22 mg (11% DV) of vitamin B6.
Baking can slightly increase pyridoxine levels, so unsalted baked butternut squash offers 0.25 (13% DV) of vitamin B6 per cup.
Marinara sauce is also one of the good sources of vitamin B6. It provides up to 0.4 mg (25% DV) of pyridoxine per cup. Furthermore, marinara sauce helps promote skin and bone health due to its high vitamin C and potassium content.
Salmon is one of the best foods high in vitamin B6. However, pyridoxine levels vary among different salmon species and varieties.
For example, wild Atlantic salmon offers higher vitamin B6 levels than the farmed variety. Furthermore, chinook and chum salmon provide lower amounts of pyridoxine than Atlantic salmon.
Namely, 1/2 fillet (5.43 oz) of fried wild Atlantic salmon offers 1.45 mg (73% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, 1/2 fillet of fried farmed Atlantic salmon (6 oz) provides 1.15 mg (58% DV) of vitamin B6.
Besides being an excellent B6 vitamin food item, this nutritious fish is an excellent source of protein, potassium, and selenium. Furthermore, it‘s packed with omega-3 fatty acids vital for optimum cardiovascular function.
Tuna is another fish you should try if you’re looking to elevate your vitamin B6 levels while getting a hefty amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna, like salmon, is one of the best pyridoxine foods when it comes to seafood. Yellowfin and albacore species are particularly rich in this essential nutrient.
Canned tuna offers considerable amounts of vitamin B6, but tuna steaks are the best pyridoxine sources. Namely, 3 oz of cooked yellowfin tuna provides 0.88 mg (44% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, white tuna canned in oil provides 0.77 mg (39% DV) of vitamin B6 per can.
Turkey is another excellent vitamin B6 source. Only 3 oz of turkey meat provides about 0.69 mg (35% DV) of vitamin B6.
Turkey meat is also rich in vitamin B3, vitamin B2, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, and vitamin B5.
Chicken liver is delicious, inexpensive, and highly nutritious. It‘s a valuable source of protein, vitamin B9, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and, most importantly, an excellent vitamin B6 source.
Only one slice of pan-fried chicken liver contains 0.37 mg (19% DV) of vitamin B6. Simmered chicken liver offers slightly lower pyridoxine content—0.33 mg (17% DV) per slice.
Although red meat is often linked to the increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues, it can be highly nutritious and beneficial if taken in moderation. For example, beef is one of the good sources of vitamin B6, protein, and iron.
Different cuts provide different vitamin B6 content. For example, broiled sirloin contains up to 2.44 mg (122% DV) of vitamin B6 in roughly 13 oz, while grilled rib-eye steak weighing about 11 oz offers up to 1.91 mg (96% DV).
It‘s also important to note that beef from grass-fed cows is of higher quality and provides higher levels of nutrients (vitamin B6 included) than conventionally grain-fed ones.
Milk is an excellent vitamin B6 food source packed with protein and other nutrients necessary for proper growth and development.
Regular nonfat cow‘s milk, one cup of sheep milk, or whole cow‘s milk amount to 0.15 mg (8% DV) of vitamin B6.
Besides being packed with vitamin B6, milk is a rich source of calcium for bone and teeth strengthening. For this reason, breastfeeding women and children are advised to include milk in their diet.
This cheese, consisting predominantly of pyridoxine-rich whey protein, is another vitamin B6-rich food. One cup of whole milk ricotta cheese provides 0.11 mg (6% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, part-skim ricotta offers only 0.05 mg (3% RDA) of vitamin B6.
This means that enjoying ricotta-packed Italian pancakes, lasagna, or cheesecake may help you elevate your B6 levels, among other beneficial nutrients.
One cup of mashed bananas provides about 0.83 mg (42% DV) of vitamin B6. It’s also important to note that these delicious vitamin-B6-rich fruits contain a significant amount of potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber.
Avocados are also one of the rich vitamin B6 sources. Their pyridoxine content may vary depending on the variety.
For example, one cup of pureed Florida avocados provides up to 0.18 mg (9% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, pureed California avocados offer much higher vitamin B6 content, with 0.66 mg (33% DV) of pyridoxine per cup.
Besides vitamin B6, they‘re high in fiber, vitamin B3, and vitamin C.
One cup of mangoes provides 0.2 mg (10% DV) of vitamin B6. Additionally, mangoes are also a rich source of vitamin C and vitamin A.
When looking for good pyridoxine sources, you shouldn’t leave out pineapples from your list. One cup of raw extra sweet pineapple chunks provides 0.19 mg (10% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, the frozen concentrate of unsweetened pineapple juice offers 0.55 mg (28% DV) of vitamin B6 per can (6 fl oz).
Additionally, pineapples are also a rich source of fiber, vitamin C, and various microminerals.
This juicy fruit that used to be a source of water for forest dwellers is also one of the foods that contain vitamin B6. One cup of watermelon provides up to 0.1 mg (6% DV) of vitamin B6.
Watermelon also plays a role in preventing cardiovascular diseases, relieving muscle aches, and reducing inflammation, due to the high content of L-citrulline, vitamin C, and lycopene.
Apricots are another valuable vitamin B6 food source. One cup of raw apricots provides only about 0.08 mg (4% DV) of vitamin B6. On the other hand, dried apricots offer a much higher vitamin B6 content—0.62 mg (32% DV) per cup.
Apricots are also a good source of vitamin A and potassium and promote optimum eye, heart, and skin function.
Grapes, well-known raw materials for making wine, are also vitamin-B6-rich fruits whose vitamin B6 content depends on the variety. Only 3.5 oz of muscadine grapes provides about 0.39 mg (16% DV) of vitamin B6 per cup. On the other hand, Thompson seedless grapes offer 1.13 mg (5% DV) of this vitamin per cup.
Grapes are also rich in vitamin C and many natural chemicals that can help protect against cancer.
Recommended Dietary Intake
The following table shows the recommended vitamin b6 dosage for different age and gender groups.
|0–6 months||0.1 mg||0.1 mg|
|7–12 months||0.3 mg||0.3 mg|
|1–3 years||0.5 mg||0.5 mg|
|4–8 years||0.6 mg||0.6 mg|
|9–13 years||1.0 mg||1.0 mg|
|14–18 years||1.2 mg||1.3 mg||2.0 mg||1.9 mg|
|19–50 years||1.3 mg||1.3 mg||2.0 mg||1.9 mg|
|50+ years||1.5 mg||1.7 mg|
Vitamin B6 Deficiency
This form of deficiency rarely occurs on its own. Its occurrence is commonly related to other vitamin deficiencies (deficiency in other B vitamins in particular).
Other causes of pyridoxine deficiency include kidney diseases, ulcerative colitis, Crohn‘s disease, homocystinuria, and the use of antiepileptic drugs. Additionally, this type of dietary deficiency is low in developed nations due to quality nutrition.
Deficiency affects the circulatory, nervous, integumentary, and immune systems, causing various abnormalities. The symptoms include:
- Vitamin B6 deficiency anemia (microcytic anemia)
- Cognitive issues
- Glossitis (tongue swelling)
- Cheilosis (scaling of the lips and cracking of the corners of the mouth)
- Weakened immune system.
Vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms usually become apparent in individuals with severe deficiency. Individuals with mild vitamin B6 deficiency are typically asymptomatic and may remain so for months or even years.
It’s also important to mention that pyridoxine deficiency tends to get more severe in infants than in adults since it may cause seizures and convulsions, hearing anomalies (acute hearing), and irritability.
Vitamin B6 Toxicity
There’s no evidence that the excess intake of vitamin B6 from food causes toxicity. Nevertheless, continuous daily administration of 1–6 g of vitamin B6 supplement for 1–3 years can lead to adverse side effects and toxicity.
The main symptom of toxicity is progressive sensory neuropathy, ultimately leading to ataxia—the lack of control over muscle movement. Other symptoms of B6 toxicity include painful skin lesions, nausea, heartburn, and increased sensitivity to light.
There‘s no doubt that a well-balanced diet can provide you with adequate amounts of vitamin B6 for optimal body function. Try to incorporate various vitamin B6 foods into your daily diet to promote your immune function and brain health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and reap other health benefits of this essential vitamin.
If taking vitamin B6 supplements, follow your doctor’s advice concerning dosage to avoid supplement toxicity.
What does vitamin B6 do?
Vitamin B6 performs a variety of functions in the body. It plays a quintessential role in many metabolic processes (mainly protein metabolism). This vitamin also has a vital role in immune function, bone health, brain function (especially in the elderly), and nervous system function.
Besides regulating various body processes and reducing the risk of many diseases (heart disease, some types of cancer, etc.), pyridoxine is used for treating PMS symptoms and nausea during pregnancy.
Does vitamin B6 help you sleep?
Some studies indicate that vitamin B6 may play a role in the production of melatonin and serotonin, the hormones that help regulate mood and the sleep-wake cycle. However, more research is required to prove the connection between the two.
What foods contain vitamin B6?
There are various food sources of vitamin B6. Some of the most common food sources of vitamin B6 include fish (salmon), meat and meat by-products (beef, chicken liver), vegetables (potatoes, chickpeas), dairy (milk), and non-citrus fruit (mango, banana).
What are the symptoms of too much vitamin B6?
Taking high doses of vitamin B6 short-term usually doesn’t produce adverse side effects. However, prolonged excessive intake (vitamin B6 dosage of 1–6 g a day over 12–40 months) may lead to peripheral sensory neuropathy and ataxia (loss of control over motor function).
Other toxicity symptoms include sore disfiguring skin lesions, nausea, increased sensitivity to light, and heartburn.
What are the symptoms of low vitamin B6?
Clinical manifestations of vitamin B6 deficiency include microcytic anemia, cognitive issues, depression, confusion, glossitis (tongue swelling), dermatitis, cheilosis (cracked lips and corners of the mouth), and a weakened immune system.
To avoid deficiency, make sure to include plenty of vitamin B6 foods in your diet.