Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is one of the clusters of B vitamins that helps your body to store energy from the protein and carbohydrates in your food. Vitamin B6 also helps your body to form haemoglobin — the protein that transports oxygen in your blood.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1.4mg for men and 1.2mg for women. Most people can get enough vitamin B6 from their diet, although it can also be made by bacteria in your bowel. Because most people can hit their RDA this way, vitamin B6 deficiency is rare.
However, it’s worth knowing that when researchers studied the blood levels of vitamin B6 in America, they found that 24% of people were deficient. This has led some to argue that the RDA should be increased.
Who is at risk of vitamin B6 deficiency?
There are certain groups of people who are more at risk of vitamin B6 deficiency:
- people who are obese
- pregnant women (especially those with eclampsia and pre-eclampsia)
- people who are alcohol-dependent
- people with impaired renal function:
- end-stage renal disease
- chronic renal insufficiency
- people on kidney dialysis
- people on peritoneal dialysis
- people who have had a kidney transplant
- people with autoimmune disorders, including:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- inflammatory bowel disease
What are the signs and symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency?
Pica is one of the most common, albeit unexpected, pyridoxine deficiency symptom. People with pica crave non-food items such as dirt, clay, rocks, paper and ice. Pica can be a sign of microcytic anaemia, which is a condition where the body’s tissues and organs don’t get enough oxygen.
Vitamin B6 is important in making haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body. If your levels of B6 are low, it can lead to microcytic anaemia and pica.
Vitamin B6 is essential for skin development and maintenance because vitamin B6 supports the production of collagen in the skin. Collagen is a vital protein that helps skin to maintain its structural integrity. That’s why losing collagen can result in the skin becoming weaker, which in turn can cause skin problems like seborrheic dermatitis.
3. Scaly Lips with Cracks at the Corners of the Mouth
Vitamin B6 is important for oral health. Pyridoxine deficiency can lead to problems with the mouth. One of these is something called angular cheilitis, which is also known as angular chelilosis, angular stomatitis or perleche. It’s characterised by the following symptoms:
- inflammation of the lips
- lips that are dry and red
- cracks on one or both corners of the mouth (which can be itchy and painful)
- white scabs
Angular cheilitis can also be caused by a deficiency in other B vitamins, as well as by external factors like wind and cold weather. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re eating enough of all the important vitamins and that you take care of your lips if you want to avoid this condition in the long term.
4. Swollen Tongue (Can Also Be Smooth and Glossy)
A vitamin B6 deficiency causes a condition called glossitis. The tongue becomes inflamed and its colour and texture can also change. This happens because the small bumps that you have on your tongue begin to shrink causing the tongue to appear as shiny and red. Your tongue may also burn or itch, which can make it difficult to speak, eat or swallow.
Glossitis can be caused by a deficiency in iron. Since vitamin B6 is important in making haemoglobin (which carries oxygen throughout the body), being deficient in vitamin B6 can lead to iron deficiency and ultimately to glossitis.
5. Low Mood
One of the more surprising vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms is low mood or even depression. Levels of B6 in the blood are measured by looking at plasma pyridoxyl-5′-phosphate (PLP) concentrations. When researchers measured PLP levels in a group of 251 people, they found that low levels of PLP were associated with higher depression scores.
This is likely because of the important role vitamin B6 has in forming neurotransmitters in the brain. When your levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are low, it can lead to low mood or even depression.
6. Getting Ill a Lot
Because of this, vitamin B6 deficiency can influence the process of diseases and even the growth of tumours. If you don’t have enough pyridoxine, this means that your immune system is not able to respond as well to disease. This could mean that you will get ill more often, or your illnesses will be more severe.
Giving vitamin B6 to patients with critical illnesses improves their immune responses, so increasing your levels of B6 could help you stay well.
7. Tiredness and Weakness
There are more vitamin B6 deficiency signs caused by microcrytic anaemia (iron deficiency). Microcrytic anaemia is a result of low haemoglobin levels in the red blood cells, which in turn causes less oxygen to be transported throughout the body. Symptoms of microcrytic anaemia include weakness, tiredness and fatigue.
It’s worth remembering that even though anaemia is an iron deficiency, increasing your intake of iron is not enough to avoid it. Instead, making sure you’re hitting your daily B6 intake can help prevent the condition.
8. Tingling in the Hands and/or Feet
Because of its role in a number of metabolic reactions, vitamin B6 is important for the functioning of the peripheral nervous system. Vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is when the peripheral nervous system (the nerves outside of the spinal cord and brain) become damaged. The main symptoms are:
- numbness and tingling in the feet or hands
- burning, stabbing or shooting pain in the limbs
- loss of balance and coordination
- muscle weakness (especially in the feet)
Other Symptoms of Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Vitamin B6 deficiency can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. In one study, patients taking vitamin B6, vitamin B-12 and folic acid (as folate) had a lower risk of mortality from stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.
Another study found that people with kidney disease also had low pyridoxine levels. The researchers concluded that increase B6 intake could prevent kidney disease.
Vitamin B6 is also one of the most effective vitamins and minerals for regulating the level of homocysteine in your body. Research has found that vitamin B6 deficiency can cause abnormally high homocysteine levels. High homocysteine can lead to damaged blood vessels and nerves.
Vitamin B6 is important for the functioning of the immune system. It’s also fundamental to transporting oxygen around the body and to the proper functioning of the peripheral nervous system. Not to mention that pyridoxine is effective for morning sickness in pregnant women.
Though rare, vitamin B6 deficiency can cause many health issues, with symptoms including pica, rashes, scaly and cracked lips, low mood, weakened immune system and tiredness.
Geting enough pyridoxine from your diet is fairly easy. A great source of vitamin B6 is fish, which is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other food sources include:
- some fish
- soya beans
- some fortified breakfast cereals
READ ALSO: 15 Vitamin B6 Sources for Everyone
Too much vitamin B6 can be dangerous. While it’s almost impossible to get too much in your diet, taking a vitamin B6 supplement increases your chances of overdose and overdose side effects. That’s why taking a B complex supplement instead is recommended to avoid possible imbalances between B vitamins in the body. Always check with your GP before taking a vitamin supplement as he’ll be able to provide more accurate medical advice based on your medical history.