THE MYSTERIOUS VITAMIN B6
By Dr. Russ Ebbets
Off The Road Column
11 KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL DISTANCE RUNNING PROGRAM
If you were asked to list the
most commonly needed vitamins by the body most would include vitamins C, E,
maybe B12 and vitamin D. Many nutritionists believe that the most widely
utilized vitamin in the body is B6. It’s a safe bet B6 would not have made
many lists. In fact it’s a pretty safe bet most people have never heard of
B6. How could this be?
B6 (also called pyroxidine) is a water soluble vitamin that plays a critical role for mental and physical well being. Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and need to be replenished on a daily basis. Natural sources of B6 include Brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, organ meats, cabbage, molasses, milk, eggs and beef. Generally speaking fast foods are not a good source of B6.
Deficiencies of B6 can be subtle and may be readily dismissed as one of the nuisances of aging, a family trait or a personal idiosyncrasy. Headaches, flaky skin, a weak memory or fatigue probably affects everyone at one time or another. But if these symptoms are also seen with anemia, depression, nausea, a sore tongue or tingling sensations somewhere in the body one’s dietary habits might warrant closer inspection.
The most important function B6 plays is in the repair and optimal function of the nervous system. The nervous system controls the function of all the systems and organs in the body. This has consequences whether one is an athlete or simply maintains an active lifestyle. The key is nerve transmission. B6 plays a critical role in the production of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that aid nerve transmission from the brain to a limb and vice versa. For an athlete this has application for speed actions and powerful movements. For the active person this may decrease headache symptoms, fatigue or tingling sensations.
A second important function of B6 is that it works synergistically or in cooperation with other vitamins and minerals to boost the effectiveness of that vitamin or mineral. Of particular note is B6’s actions with B12 that work together to create a healthy nervous system and boost one’s energy.
Other general functions of B6 include its role as an anti-oxidant (fighting cancer causing agents). B6 also produces anti-bodies to help fight general disease. B6 helps in protein metabolism and particularly aids growth in children. Red blood cell (RBC) formation depends on the presence of B6. RBC’s carry oxygen. Decreased levels of RBC’s may contribute to fatigue, headaches and depression. Finally B6 fights the formation of kidney stones, one of life’s most painful ordeals.
Women, in particular, may find B6 a useful addition to their diet. B6 is a natural diuretic. This fact may explain, in part, B6’s effectiveness with carpal tunnel syndrome and pre-menstrual syndrome. Both these conditions are worsened by water retention. Oral contraceptives use can also create an increased need for B6. Morning sickness can be eased with the use of B6 but it is recommended pregnant women check with their doctor before beginning a program of prolonged use.
Lifestyle changes such a high protein diet to lose or to gain weight or increased alcohol use will increase the need for B6. Diabetics can decrease their need for insulin with regular doses of B6.
While the telltale symptoms of headache, fatigue and forgetfulness mentioned above are a way to tell if a B6 deficiency may be present a simple mechanical test will also give one hints of a deficiency. Holding the hand palm-up a healthy person should be able to touch the palm of the hand with the finger tips without bending the knuckles. I don’t have a good explanation for why this works but I’d bet it has something to do with water retention.
The recommended daily dose for B6 is 50mg. All health food stores carry this vitamin and this is the most commonly sold dose size. Patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or other peripheral nerve injuries are recommended to take 200mg/day for up to two months then decrease the dose back to 50mg. It usually takes two months before one starts to notice significant results.
Contrary to most other water soluble vitamins mega doses of B6 can be too much of a good thing and pose a health threat. The "more is better" philosophy falls flat and can lead to neurological problems. Mega-dosing is in the range of 2000-10,000mg per day, but it is not recommended to exceed 500mg per day. Symptoms of too much B6 include night restlessness and vivid dream recall. As mentioned, pregnant patients should avoid prolonged use as should patients being treated with L-dopa for Parkinson’s disease.
The concept of synergy can make the average dose of B6 all the more effective. B6 should be taken with a good multivitamin. Read the label and make sure the multi contains potassium, the B complex vitamins and vitamin C. When combined together these nutrients have a Gestalt action, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Vitamin B6 is a crucial nutrient in the larger health picture of virtually everybody. The importance of this vitamin is not clearly recognized by the general public. This point is underscored by one survey that found one-half of all Americans were deficient in this nutrient. The addition of this nutrient to the diet can significantly affect the quality of one’s life, accelerate the recovery process or enhance the performance of a competitive athlete.