Vitamin B6 deficiency

Adolescents, the elderly, people with heart disease, those on restricted diets and alcoholics are at risk of vitamin B6 deficiency. Others at risk include women on oral contraceptives, those under stress, those whose diets are high in sugar and fat and those taking certain medications. People who exercise heavily and athletes often have low vitamin B6 levels. Exercise causes vitamin B6 blood levels to increase during an exercise session possibly because of the release of vitamin B6-dependent enzymes from muscle storage or the transfer of the vitamin from the liver to the muscles. As vitamin B6 is involved in a wide range of body functions, the symptoms of deficiency are widespread.

Elderly people

Low vitamin B6 levels are common among elderly people and may lead to increased risk of several disorders including heart disease. In a study published in 1996 Dutch researchers studied the vitamin B6 intake and blood levels in 546 elderly Europeans, aged from 74 to 76, with no known vitamin B6 supplement use. They also examined links with other dietary and lifestyle factors, including indicators of physical health. The results showed that 27 per cent of the men

and 42 per cent of the women had dietary vitamin B6 intakes below the mean minimum requirements. Twenty-two per cent of both men and women had low blood levels.

In a French study published in 1997, researchers assessed vitamin B6 levels in elderly patients with infections during hospitalization. During infection, vitamin B6 levels were much lower than in healthy patients.

Vitamin B6 deficiencyBrain and nervous system

Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause the mental symptoms of irritability, weakness, drowsiness, depression and poor appetite. Even a marginal deficiency can affect enzymes involved in the metabolism of several brain neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 deficiency causes convulsions in young children.

In a study published in 1996, US Department of Agriculture researchers investigated the effects of blood levels of the amino acid, homocysteine and vitamins B12 and B6 and folate, on performance in cognitive tests of 70 men, aged 54 to 81 years. The results showed that higher concentrations of vitamin B6 were related to better performance on memory tests.


Low levels of vitamin B6 in pregnant women can affect the development of a baby's nervous system. Deficiency may also contribute to water retention, morning sickness, pre-eclampsia and birthing difficulties. It may also lead to diabetic and blood sugar problems in pregnancy.


Vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to greasy inflammation of the skin around the nose, eyebrows and hairline, and cracking of the lips and tongue.

Immune system

Immune response is adversely affected by vitamin B6 deficiency. Many different aspects of the immune system are affected, including the quality and quantity of antibodies and the number of infection-fighting white blood cells. Some immunosuppressive drugs affect the activity of a vitamin B6-dependent enzyme and vitamin B6 supplements may help to counter some of the side-effects of these drugs.


Vitamin B6 deficiency is common in HIV-infected people. In a 1991 study, University of Miami researchers examined the relationship between deficiency and immune dysfunction. The results showed that while CD4+ and CD8+ cell numbers were not affected, other measures of immune system function were.


Vitamin B6 deficiency may also play a role in the development of some kinds of kidney stones.

Cardiovascular disease

Vitamin B6 deficiency can raise the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. One theory of the development of atherosclerosis links high levels of a compound known as homocysteine to damage of the cells lining the arteries. A deficiency of vitamin B6 leads to an accumulation of homocysteine and may also lead to defects in artery wall formation. Several studies, including the Framingham Heart Study, have confirmed the link between low pyridoxine levels and high homocysteine levels Researchers analyzed blood samples from the study participants to assess levels of homocysteine and the relationship between B vitamins and carotid artery narrowing, which increases the risk of heart attack. The results showed that low intakes of folate and vitamin B6 were associated with high homocysteine levels. Those with the highest homocysteine levels were twice as likely to have carotid artery narrowing when compared with those in the lowest homocysteine group.

Another study, published in 1998 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation provides further evidence of the importance of vitamin B6 in preventing heart disease. Researchers involved in a study done in several centers in Europe compared 750 patients with vascular disease and 800 control subjects of the same ages and sex. They measured blood levels of homocysteine, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. The results showed that those with high blood homocysteine concentrations had a high risk of vascular disease. In addition, low concentrations of folate and vitamin B6 were also associated with increased risk. In this study, the relationship between vitamin B6 and atherosclerosis did not appear to be solely due to increased homocysteine levels, suggesting that vitamin B6 may have other important roles in heart disease prevention.

Intake of folate and vitamin B6 above the current recommended dietary allowance seems to be important in the prevention of coronary heart disease among women. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health investigated the links between intakes of folate and vitamin B6 and the incidence of heart attacks in 80,082 women taking part in the Nurses' Health Study. The women had no previous history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, high

cholesterol levels or diabetes when they entered the study. During the 14 years of follow-up, there were 658 nonfatal heart attacks and 281 fatal ones. The results showed that those with the highest intakes of vitamin B6 had just over 30 per cent less risk of heart attack than those in the low intake group. Women in the group with the highest intakes of both folate and vitamin has just less than half the risk of women in the lowest intake group. Risk of coronary heart disease was reduced among women who regularly used multiple vitamins, the major source of folate and vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 deficiencyLow vitamin B6 levels are linked to an increased risk of heart attack. In a study published in 1996, researchers studied the links between homocysteine, vitamins B12, B6 and folate levels, and the risk of heart attack. The cases were 130 hospitalized heart attack patients and 118 healthy people. The results showed that average homocysteine levels were 11 per cent higher in cases compared with health people. Dietary and blood levels of vitamin B6 and folate were lower in cases than in controls.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Several small studies have found low vitamin B6 levels in sufferers of the carpal tunnel syndrome, a neurological disorder of the wrists and hands which causes pain and stiffness.

Other symptoms

Vitamin B6 deficiency also leads to anemia and may play a part in the accelerated joint degeneration seen in osteoarthritis. It may also be linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, recurrent yeast infections, the worsening of some types of seizure disorders, the development of diabetes associated cataracts, and certain forms of cancer including cervical cancer.

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Pantothenic acid
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