Like most of the other B vitamins, B6 helps to produce energy in the body. It’s also vital for our immune and nervous systems to function normally and helps to keep us feeling well mentally.
It’s needed to make red blood cells, can help to stop us feeling tired and regulates the activity of some of our hormones.
What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 is found in a wide range of foods so it’s easy for most of us to get enough. Indeed, figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveal that men have a daily average of 2.5mg vitamin B6 from food, and women 1.9mg – both more than the amounts recommended to stay well.
A deficiency of vitamin B6 is usually due to another health problem, such as kidney disease, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or alcoholism. Symptoms include anaemia, itchy rashes, scaly skin on the lips, cracks in the corners of the mouth and a swollen tongue. A severe deficiency can cause depression, confusion and poor immunity.
How much vitamin B6 do I need each day?
The Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) for vitamin B6, which you’ll see on food labels, is 1.4mg. But there are more detailed guidelines in the UK for vitamin B6 needs at specific ages and stages in life:
Take care with supplements
Taking very large doses (more than 200mg a day) in supplement form can cause loss of feeling in the arms and legs. This is usually reversible, but unless you’ve been advised to do so by a doctor, avoid having more than 10mg vitamin B6 in supplement form.
The main sources of vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is found in a wide range of foods, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, milk, potatoes, vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals and peanuts.
There’s evidence to suggest good amounts of vitamin B6 may help to ease the symptoms of PMS, such as irritability, bloating and anxiety. More research is needed, but if you suffer, you could try a supplement containing up to 10mg a day.
Some research shows people with higher blood levels of vitamin B6 have a better memory, but the jury’s out on whether taking supplements can help with memory loss linked to ageing.
In a study, elderly women with the highest intakes of vitamin B6 from food were found to be 43% less likely to become depressed. Again, more research is needed, but eating more B6-rich food can’t harm your mood.
Related article: Why we need folate