In the course of writing a book about wheat, I have been researching into why wheat reduces vitamin B6 levels in the body, and in the course of my rootlings about for information, have found out what an amazing vitamin B6 is, how hard it is to come by in the diet and a problem related to overzealous supplementation.
Vitamin B6 is a water soluble vitamin, and there are three types: pyridoxine, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine. The first, pyridoxine, is found in plants, the latter two in animals, birds and fish. The body converts its dietary source of B6 into pyridoxal 5′-phosphate and the preferred dietary source is pyridoxal from animals etc.
Vitamin B6 does many things, acting principally as a helper, largely by its importance in the manufacture of many enzymes or catalysts. Here are ten examples.
- Importance in mood. The enzyme that catalyses tryptophan to serotonin is B6 dependant, and many put depression down to low serotonin. B6 similarly helps the manufacture of dopamine, the neurotransmitter of wanting to get on with things; norepinephrine, one of the neurotransmitters that makes us bounce about; and GABA, the neurotransmitter of happiness.
- Physical energy. It helps release glucose from glycogen stores and helps convert glucose from protein stores, important in endurance events. It also helps synthesize heme (iron), so oxygen can get carried about in the blood.
- DNA/RNA. B6 is a co-enzyme for a key enzyme for manufacturing these nucleic acids.
- Immune function. Immune function is impaired in those short of B6, and B6 restoration normalises them.
- Antioxidant. The master antioxidant produced in all the cells is glutathione. We make our own glutathione from protein, using a process called methylation and for this process to work efficiently, we need B6. Here are a further three points: methylation is unbelievably complicated; in some of us, the process is broken due to a genetic fault; it is glutathione that is responsible for the above points 2,3 and 4.
- Kidney stones. B6 seems to decrease high levels of oxalate in the urine. Oxalate is the most common cause of kidney stones.
- Melanin. B6 is a precursor to the manufacture of melanin, the pigment in the skin that tans us.
- Liver detoxification, by allowing the synthesis of glycine, an amino acid important for liver detoxification.
- Fat burning, by allowing the synthesis of carnitine, which enables us to burn our fat for energy.
- Brain and eyes, by allowing the synthesis of the amino acid, taurine.
This list is not exhaustive, but gives the general idea of how important this vitamin is. Here are six things that increase the need for B6: high protein intake (B6 helps the guts process the proteins); taking the contraceptive pill (this interferes with the metabolism of B6); overactive thyroid; liver disease (where most B6 is made ready for use in the body); trauma and stress.
So we all need a good supply of vitamin B6 – after all, very few can truly say they are not stressed at the very least. As already mentioned, B6 is present in both meats and plants, yet we really can be short of this vital nutrient. The next blog will go into why.