Other names: Pyridoxine, Pridoxine HCL
Used for: Improved mood, memory, sleep; neurotransmitter health, metabolism, improved oxygen circulation
Known side effects: numbness, muscle weakness, bone pain (with extremely high doses i.e. 200mg-5g)
Dosing: 1-2 mg daily (FDA), experts advocate as high as 100 mg
Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine is an essential vitamin and a primary constituent of the B-Complex family. This water-soluble vitamin is part of every single cell and as a coenzyme takes part in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.
The primary function of vitamin B6 is energy metabolism and the synthesis of several key neurotransmitters in the brain.
Low levels of B6 in the body can affect memory, mood, and lead to cognitive decline and supplementation is known to provide physical and cognitive health benefits.
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Vitamin B6, a remarkable water-soluble vitamin, is widely known for its ability to convert food into energy. This vitamin is of particular interest to the scientific community because of its chemical properties and the role it plays in maintaining our physical and mental health.
The vitamin was first discovered some eight decades ago by a Hungarian doctor. In 1938, four years after its discovery, the B6 vitamin was extracted from rice bran. Further research led to the understanding of its chemical structure in 1939, and six years later the researchers were able to establish two different forms of B6.
How Vitamin B6 Supports Cognitive Functions
Vitamin B6 Improves Mood: The vitamin helps tackle mood-related problems such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, etc. by promoting the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.
Vitamin B6 Stimulates Neurotransmitters: Pyridoxine acts as an enzyme cofactor. Hundreds of chemical reactions become imposable without the involvement of B6. This vitamin is also the key to the synthesis of several neurotransmitters responsible for mood, memory, alertness, and several other cognitive functions. Vitamin B6 is indispensable for the making serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, epinephrine, acetylcholine, and dopamine.
Vitamin B6 and Homocysteine Metabolism: Pyridoxine regulates the levels of homocysteine in the body. Although an essential amino acid, a high level of homocysteine is responsible for inflammation that can damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke, moreover, if the homocysteine levels go unchecked, the amino acid can cause brain volume decline and lead to Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.
Vitamin B6 and Oxygen Circulation: The role of B6 in the synthesis of several enzymes is quite well-known. In our body, one of its crucial functions is to help in the creation of the iron component of hemoglobin called Heme. Hence, taking the B6 supplement helps in boosting the production of red blood cells, which in turn promotes the circulation of oxygen throughout the body, including the brain.
The Dangers of Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Unless severe, the signs and symptoms of B6 deficiency are subtle and unrecognizable. According to a study (1), B6 deficiency was diagnosed even in participants who took the Recommended Dietary Allowance of the vitamin, which is less than 2 mg per day.
The amount of the vitamin that we absorb from the regular diet is often inadequate to fulfill the needs of our body and mind. Moreover, people undergoing specific medical therapy (treatment for renal diseases), taking drugs that interact with B6, and follow a vegetarian diet are often found to be deficient in B6.
Even mild forms of Pyridoxine deficiency can affect both the body and mind.
The most common symptoms of vitamin shortage that affects our cognitive health include low energy levels, decrease in concentration, difficulty in learning, decrease in memory, and decline in the ability to recall. Deficiency of the vitamin also affects mood by causing irritability, confusion, anxiety, and depression.
Severe signs of deficiency include age-related cognitive decline, inflammation, and brain volume shrinkage, and nerve damage. Nerve damage and deterioration in nerve function caused by B6 deficiency can lead to chronic pain, migraines, seizures, dementia, and other mental disorders.
The Benefits of Vitamin B6 Supplements
Vitamin B6 has a positive effect on our physical and mental health. Our concern here is primarily related to cognition; hence let’s learn the cognitive benefits first. The vitamin boosts the mental abilities through several different mechanisms.
Improves Memory, Mood, and Sleep
To say that B6 influences neurotransmitters – the chemicals that carry signals from one brain cell to another – would be an understatement. The vitamin plays an active role in the synthesis of melatonin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
Acetylcholine is considered the memory neurotransmitter. At higher levels, vitamin B6 ensures the user experiences improved information consolidation that results in excellent memory and quick recall of information. The vitamin also boosts working memory.
By increasing the release of the three catecholamines – serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – B6 improves mood, increases focus, and triggers the reward circuit of the brain.
Quality sleep impacts our physical and mental wellbeing, and vitamin B6 supplement ensures the users sleep well by stimulating the release of Melatonin. This neurotransmitter is responsible for maintaining healthy sleep patterns and normal working of the body’s biological clock.
A double-blind placebo-controlled test involving students was undertaken to study the role of vitamin B6 in promoting sleep and inducing vivid dreams. The participants were either given a placebo or B6 (daily dose of 100 or 250 mg) for five days. Based on their response, the individual dream-salience score of each participating student was computed. The researchers noticed a significant difference between the scores of the two groups. They also believe that the vitamin’s influence over sleep, dreams, and dream recall is related to tryptophan to serotonin conversion (2).
Vitamin B6 Fights Cognitive Decline
Certain amino acids in excess are detrimental to health; this is true in the case of homocysteine. This essential amino acid performs several vital functions in the body. But, excess of it can lead to inflammation and age-related brain shrinkage.
Use of vitamin B6 regulates the levels of homocysteine and prevents the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
A better result can be expected by recommending the combined use of B6, B9, and B12 vitamins.
A clear link between homocysteine and vitamins was established a decade ago. A thorough review of 77 studies, spanning over a decade, with nearly 34,000 participants was carried out in 2008. The researchers found definite proof of the relationship between homocysteine levels, dementia, and vitamin (B6, B9, and B12) levels in the body (3).
Scientists have also discovered that vitamin B6 fights the cognitive decline in ways not related to homocysteine. The researchers have concluded that Pyridoxine uses its antioxidant properties to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease (4).
Pyridoxine Reduces Panic Attacks
Vitamin B6 not only benefits the mood, but it also can reduce or even prevent panic attacks and hyperventilation; this according to a study done in Japan.
Patients who visited the Atago Hospital for panic attack treatment ware subjected to tests by the doctors. Various parameters including the tests to check the vitamin (B2, B6, and B12) and iron levels were carried out on 21 patients. The result was compared with the numbers of 20 healthy study participants. The doctors found a correlation between B6 and iron levels and hyperventilation and panic attacks (5).
The doctors believe the vitamin’s ability to prevent panic attacks is because of serotonin. Panic attacks and hyperventilation attacks are caused due to reduced levels of serotonin. And, vitamin B6 boosts the neurotransmitter levels by helping the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
Other Health Benefits of Vitamin B6
The presence of B6 in every cell helps the conversion of food to fuel and later into energy. So, taking Pyridoxine supplements can boost physical and mental energy. Its control over homocysteine discourages chronic inflammation and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. By controlling inflammation, this vitamin also helps those who have rheumatoid arthritis.
Used along with vitamin B9 (Folic Acid), B6 is effective in fighting retinal degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Both these vitamins – B6 and B9 – are prescribed to pregnant women. Vitamin B6 is believed to provide relief from morning sickness.
Recommended Dosage of Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, which has so many proven cognitive benefits, is found in several foods that are part of the regular diet. Plant and animal source of B6 include carrots, milk, cereals, yeast, bananas, soya beans, eggs, fish, turkey, chicken, and pork.
Although B6 makes a neat little dwelling for itself in every cell of the body, the chances of deficiency are quite high. The vitamin easily dissolves in water (i.e.) it’s water soluble; hence B6 is quickly eliminated from the body through urine.
As mentioned above, even a slight deficiency of B6 impacts the normal cognitive functions. So, supplementation of B6 vitamin becomes a must for most people. The chances of B6 deficiency shoots up in people who follow a strict vegetarian diet, women who are having their period, and those taking birth control pills.
The Mayo Clinic and FDA are quite conservative in their recommendation of the ideal dosage of vitamin B6. While the Mayo Clinic (6) recommends a daily dose of 1.3mg, the FDA favors a dose between 1 to 2 mg per day.
That said, some experts advocate a much higher daily dosage, as high as 100 mg of this vitamin. The daily dose of 100 mg is the upper limit that everyone agrees on; taking more increases the risk of nerve damage.
Possible Side Effects of Vitamin B6
The likelihood of experiencing side effects is low or negligible if the daily intake stays within the recommended dosage range. Vitamin B6 is non-toxic, safe, and well-tolerated. The common complications that might arise typically include loss of appetite, nausea, photophobia, abdominal pain, and skin rashes.
Extremely high doses of B6, taking more than 200 mg to 5 g per day for an extended period, can cause serious side effects such as balance disorder, numbness in the legs, muscle weakness, and bone pain. These symptoms of pyridoxine neuropathy subside after discontinuing the vitamin supplement (7) (8).
Vitamin B6, as a standalone supplement or part of a nootropic stack, helps the users achieve and sustain good physical and mental health. Its contribution to good cognitive health is indisputable and invaluable. It’s indispensable for the synthesis of neurotransmitters responsible for memory, mood, and sleep; it boosts physical and mental energy; and, it prevents brain shrinkage and cognitive decline.
- “Trends Of Vitamin B6 Status In US Population Sample Identified.” Science Daily, sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520103435.htm.
- “Effects of Pyridoxine on Dreaming: a Preliminary Study.” NCBI, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11883552.
- “The Worldwide Challenge of the Dementias: a Role for B Vitamins and Homocysteine?” NCBI, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18709889/.
- “Dietary Folate, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin B6 and the Risk of Parkinson Disease.” Neurology, http://n.neurology.org/content/67/2/315 .
- “Low Serum Concentrations of Vitamin B6 and Iron Are Related to Panic Attack and Hyperventilation Attack.” NCBI, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23603926.
- “Vitamin B-6.” Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-b6/art-20363468.
- “Sensory Neuropathy with Low-Dose Pyridoxine.” NCBI, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2993949.
- “Characteristics of Pyridoxine Overdose Neuropathy Syndrome.” NCBI, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3630649.
“Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine).” NootropicsExpert, https://nootropicsexpert.com/vitamin-b6-pyridoxine/ .
“Is Vitamin B6 the Most Important Brain Vitamin? [Nootropic Effects].” Nootriment, https://nootriment.com/vitamin-b6-nootropic/ .
“Vitamin B6 Review: Helps Beat the Blues for Overall Feel-Goods.” Nootropic Geek, http://nootropicgeek.com/vitamin-b6-review/ .