Dr. Hanna Ian
Vitamin B6 has emerged from obscurity as a major vitamin for women’s health. Over the past decade numerous reports in medical literature demonstrate the value of a B6 supplement for the treatment of many women’s health problems.
Women today need far more of this important vitamin than their grandmothers did, as there appears to be an epidemic of B6 deficiency in modern society. The high consumption of refined sugar, white flour and over-processed foods in the “standard American diet” are the major culprits that have touched off this epidemic. 72% of vitamin B6 is lost in the refinement of whole wheat flour to white flour. In addition, the canning of meats, poultry and vegetables results in vitamin B6 losses of 45-75% and the vitamin B6 of frozen vegetables is 37-45% less than fresh vegetables.
Changes in our environment, particularly exposure to chemical pollution and environmental toxins, have also affected the way the body utilizes this vitamin. The manufacturing of petroleum products and metal fabrication create environmental residues that interfere with vitamin B6 utilization. Jet fuels, agricultural herbicides, tobacco smoke and food dyes have also been found to inhibit the body’s use of vitamin B6. In addition, naturally occurring estrogens within a woman’s body, as well as estrogens from oral contraceptives and hormonal replacement therapy, are additional factors that diminish the body’s ability to use this vitamin efficiently.
B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that is not readily stored in the body and must be taken daily through both dietary sources and supplements. Vitamin B6 is involved in more bodily functions than any other single nutrient, and for this reason, when deficient, it will have an effect on both physical and mental aspects of a woman’s well-being.
Depression: Vitamin B6 plays an important role in the functioning of a healthy nervous system. It is needed for the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia and irritability. For women who suffer from mild depression, vitamin B6 therapy may be beneficial in stabilizing moods. Vitamin B6 is also responsible for the conversion of tyrosine to the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which plays a major role in creating energy and a positive mental outlook.
Low blood sugar: Vitamin B6 facilitates carbohydrate metabolism and the cellular conversion of glucose to usable energy. A deficiency in B6 impairs glucose tolerance and causes greater fluctuations in the blood sugar levels. With a diminished B6 supply, women are at risk for hypoglycemia as the stored glucose cannot be released and utilized.
Endocrine metabolism: Vitamin B6 is needed for the production of thyroxin from the combination of the amino acid tyrosine with iodine. The effects of aging, as well as excess estrogen, can diminish supplies of B6 in the body, which in turn can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones and may contribute to hypothyroidism, with its accompanying fatigue.
Morning sickness: Vitamin B6 is helpful in the treatment of the nausea and vomiting women experience during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is believed that B6 helps with both the changes in hormone levels as well as the anxiety and tension that accompany some pregnancies. Intravenous or intramuscular injections of Vitamin B6 result in improvement within 6 to 24 hours after the first injection.
Toxemia of pregnancy: This is a serious complication of pregnancy caused by a metabolic disturbance that only occurs during second trimester. Toxemia occurs in 6-7% of all pregnancies and is characterized by high blood pressure, swelling, and the excretion of protein in the urine. While the dosage among women will vary, B6 therapy may control and prevent the occurrence of swelling, eliminating the need for salt restriction and diuretics.
Premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cramps: Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that regulate every function in the human body at the cellular level. Vitamin B6 is needed to convert the fatty acid linoleic acid (omega 6) to gamma linolenic acid (GLA) in the production of the beneficial type 1 and type 2 prostaglandins. Prostaglandins have a calming effect on mood, relax smooth muscle tissue, decrease inflammation and boost immune function. B6 will also play a role in minimizing the emotional tension during the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle and diminish the severity of menstrual cramps.
Heart disease: Vitamin B6 along with B12 (found in animal protein) and folic acid (found in green leafy vegetables) helps convert the sulfur amino acid homocysteine into a form the body can use. When B6 is deficient, homocysteine accumulates at high levels in the blood. Recent research indicates that high formation of homocysteine concentrations and low B6 levels are risk factors for coronary artery disease. Adding B6 to the diet appears to reduce the risk for heart disease.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: This syndrome is characterized by numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers, often accompanied by pain, tightness and clumsiness. The intensity of symptoms frequently causes one to awake from sleep during the night. It is thought that carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by the accumulation and swelling of fluid creating a compression on the nerve to the hand and wrist. Vitamin B6 helps with the balance of fluid in the body.
In summary, vitamin B6 is utilized in more bodily functions than almost any other single nutrient. There are however, eleven different B vitamins and they all need to be present in the body at the same time, as each one works best in the presence of all the others. An inadequate intake of any one of the B vitamins can impair the effectiveness of the rest. In addition to the “standard American diet,” B6 deficiencies can be caused by numerous drug therapies. Some common drugs that that can increase the need for B6 are antidepressants, corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatories, hypertension medications and diuretics, antibiotics, phenobarbital and other anti-convulsants, oral contraceptives and estrogens.
Adequate B6 is needed for optimum health as well as the prevention of disease. Increasing consumption of foods rich in B6 will help contribute to the total vitamin needs of the body.
The appropriate intake of B6 depends on overall health, age, amount of exercise, diet and lifestyle. For women’s health, a B-complex vitamin, with a minimum of 50 mg B6 should be taken every day. For the relief of symptoms three to six times as much B6 may be needed but do consult with your physician to help determine the right amount of B6 and other nutrients which will be beneficial to treat women’s health issues or to achieve optimal wellness.
The best sources of vitamin B6
- Whole grains
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Steel-cut oats
Other sources include:
- Fish and shellfish
- Dried beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Blackstrap molasses
Vegetables and fruits high in B6:
- Sweet potatoes
Herbs that contain B6
- Oat straw