The Three Functions Of Vitamin B6
By Tyler Woodward
Vitamin B6 is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes and is necessary for the body to function properly.
- What Is Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B6 Discovery
- Functions Of Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B6 Deficiencies
- Who Is At Risk Of A B6 Deficiency
- Best Vitamin B6 Sources
What is Vitamin B6?:
Vitamin B6 is one of eight vitamins in the B vitamin complex. All eight of the B-vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that they dissolve in water. This is beneficial, as it makes the B-vitamins difficult to consume too much of resulting in a vitamin toxicity, but it also means the B-vitamins must be consumed almost daily as they are not stored to meet our dietary needs.
It’s also worth noting that Vitamin B6 is concentrated 100 fold in the brain compared to the blood.
There are a number of six different forms or ‘vitamers’ of vitamin B6 including:
- Pyridoxal 5’ phosphate (PLP)
- Pyridoxamine 5’ phosphate (PMP)
- Pyridoxine 5’ phosphate (PNP)
The latter three forms of vitamin B6 are the active forms of the vitamin, so the body must convert B6 into these forms (usually in the liver) for them to be used.
Vitamin B6 Discovery:
In the 1930s scientist Rudolf Peters found that rats on a semi-synthetic diet that was supplemented with only Vitamin B1 & B2 developed a condition known as Rat Acrodynia. The lack of Vitamin B6 caused rats to develop lesions on their skin and this same deficiency was soon found to cause convulsions (seizures) in rats, pigs, and dogs.
In 1934 Paul Gorgy discovered the ‘acrodynia vitamin’, vitamin B6 but the compound itself wasn’t isolated until 1938 by Samuel Lepovsky.
Read More: The Importance Of Micronutrients
Functions Of Vitamin B6:
Vitamin B6 like most of the B vitamins acts as a coenzyme. Coenzymes are the transport mechanism that allow your enzymes to process the material correctly from form A to B.
You can imagine this like the mailman delivering your mail to your house. Without the mailman you can order all the packages you want, but they’re useless if they never arrive in the correct location.
Vitamin B6 has three major functions:
- Glycogen Myophosphorylase
Transamination is the process of adding an amine group to a keto acid. This process is a necessary step in gluconeogenesis, the process of converting amino acids into glucose. Glucose is your body’s primary fuel sources and as soon as you run out of glucose and glycogen stores in your liver your body must produce glucose from its own amino acids.
Without glucose and gluconeogenesis certain tissues in your body like the brain, thyroid and liver will not be able function.
Decarboxylase is the process of removing CO2 from a compound. CO2 is an extremely important gas that is released in the process of energy metabolism. Without CO2 your cells cannot absorb oxygen from the blood, so your metabolic rate will be severely limited without this.
Decarboxylation is also extremely important in producing the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine/epinephrine, melatonin, and GABA. GABA’ is the the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter which allows your body to stop and relax. It’s for these reasons that a B6 deficiency is associated with seizures, depression, anxiety, ADHD & sleep disorders (Nutrient Power, William J Walsh).
3. Glycogen Myophosphorylase
Your muscle cells store glycogen (stored sugar) to use as energy during exercise. In order to break down this glycogen back into glucose to be used in cellular respiration (cell breathing) for energy, the enzyme, glycogen myophosphorylase, is necessary. This enzyme is the first step in breaking down the muscle glycogen back into glucose to be used as energy.
B6 is also necessary to produce Heme, the precursor to hemoglobin (the active protein in red blood cells), dopamine, epinephrine, serotonin, melatonin, Vitamin B3, GABA, and sphingomyelins (the proteins that make up the myelin sheath in nerve cells). To say the least, it’s extremely important to consume enough Vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 has also been proposed as a medicine in a number of health conditions including:
- Heart Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Reduced Cognitive Function
- Premenstrual Syndrome
- Morning Sickness
Vitamin B6 Deficiencies:
Vitamin B6 deficiencies are the cause of numerous diseases including:
Dermatitis & Neuropathy - A B6 deficiency in adults can cause dermatitis, red rashes occurring on the skin and if severe enough, neuropathy or nerve pain in your extremities.
Pyridoxine-Dependent Epilepsy - This is usually a genetic condition, but can also result in vitamin B6 deficiency that inhibits your body’s ability to utilize vitamin B6 properly. This is most commonly found in infants and can generally be treated with supplemental vitamin B6.
Sideroblastic Anemia - Vitamin B6 is essential for making the “heme” protein in red blood cells which allows the blood to bind to iron. If you are deficient in Vitamin B6 you cannot make enough of the heme protein, resulting in more iron going into your tissues and red blood cells, but it is not usable. This can result in a low red-blood cell count, aka anemia.
As stated before, Vitamin B6 deficiencies are also associated with irritability, depression, anxiety, ADHD, sleep disorders, poor short-term memory, insomnia & psychosis.
Read More: Nutrition 101 - Why Do We Eat?
Who Is At Risk Of Deficiency:
Vitamin B6 deficiency are most common in:
- People taking SSRIs, benzodiazepines, & anti-epileptic medications
- People with intestinal disorders
- People with impaired renal function
- People with autoimmune conditions
Best Vitamin B6 Sources:
Luckily, Vitamin B6 deficiencies are relatively rate due to its abundance in a variety of foods and B6 deficiencies are often accompanied by other B vitamin deficiencies.
Vitamin B6 can be found in high concentrations in:
- Organ meats
- Muscle meats including beef, poultry & pork
- Fruits like avocados, bananas, mangoes, pineapples
- Potatoes & sweet potatoes
- Many species of fish
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My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups or on Instagram @tylerwoodward__. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good
B.S. Physiology and Neurobiology