Vitamin B6: It's More Than Just the Heart Health Vitamin
Vitamin B6 - By now, everybody knows about the dangers of cholesterol, smoking, and a high-fat diet. Not everybody knows about the potential of B6.
Vitamin B6 is vital in your daily supplementation routine because it fights another culprit in cardiovascular illness, namely homocysteine. Time and time for over 10 years scientists have shown that even mildly elevated levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream raise the risk of heart disease.
Homocysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid. By itself, it's not bad. It's even part of the process the body uses to make its own SAM-e. But when there's not enough B6, B12, and folic acid, homocysteine builds up in the blood and causes arterial damage.
High homocysteine levels may be even more damaging than high cholesterol levels, but taking vitamin B6 protects your heart.
A clinical study in Poland found taking just 300 mg of B6 every day for two months (along with adequate amounts of vitamin B12, that is, 1000 micrograms weekly, and folic acid, 5 mg daily) cut homocysteine levels in half.
And this B-vitamin combo also reduced levels of thrombin, the clotting agent that sets the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
Protecting your heart against the perils of homocysteine is simple, but most people don't do it. A researcher at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, Godfrey P. Oakley, Jr., MD, MSPM, says "approximately 70% of the adult population in the United States is exposed to a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, an elevated plasma homocysteine concentration, that can be easily avoided simply by consuming a B vitamin supplement."
But if you know the truth about B6 and heart health, you can protect your heart for just pennies a day. And you will also get protection for your brain.
When homocysteine levels are high, your body can't make SAM-e. This is the same SAM-e you see in supplement outlets for everything from depression to fibromyalgia. When you take B6, your body can convert excess homocysteine into this mood-lifting, brain-protective compound.
Getting enough B6 may help protect you against Alzheimer's disease, depression, memory loss, and even fibromyalgia and insomnia.
So how much B6 should you take for your heart?
In the USA, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin B6 is 2 mg. Researchers at Harvard University studied a group of 80,000 nurses and found that the amount of B6 needed for heart protection is more than twice that amount, at least 4.6 mg a day. You can round that number up to 5 mg a day for ease in checking labels.
For even better results, take B6 with B12 and folic acid. A number of studies have shown that this triple combination not only lowers homocysteine, it restores blood vessel function so that arteries open wide to allow normal flow of blood during stress.
If all B6 could do for you was protect your heart, you certainly should take it. But vitamin B6 is also beneficial for other hard-to-treat health conditions:
Side effects of oral contraceptives - Doctors sometimes prescribe up to 150 mg of B6 a day to counteract the side effects of high-estrogen oral contraceptives, for example, depression, dizziness, irritability, nausea, and vomiting.
Vitamin B6 only compensates for these side effects; it does not correct them. Your best bet is to take just a small dosage of B6, no more than 5 milligrams a day, and to make sure your diet provides all the needed amino acids (especially tryptophan) and your sugars are neither too high nor too low.
PMS - When doctors had success treating the side effects of high-dose oral contraceptives with B6, they started using it to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms of PMS most readily responsive to treatment with B6 are breast tenderness, fluid retention, and fatigue, although some women report that it also helps with mood swings. Dosages of up 100 milligrams a day may be of value.
Depression - It's possible that vitamin B6 might help relieve depression. It's a key component of the enzyme that makes serotonin and norepinephrine, the neurotransmitters that support alertness and pleasure. Higher doses, however, may not be better. Just be sure you get your minimum 2 milligrams a day of B6 if you suffer mild to moderate depression.
Morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum, or nausea and vomiting in pregnancy) - Doctors have used vitamin B6 since 1945 to treat nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Vitamin B6 is safe for baby - The dosage needed is about 25 milligrams every 8 hours for 3 days, or 10 milligrams every 8 hours for 5 days. Morning sickness can go away without any treatment at all, but the added B6 may be needed if morning sickness lasts for more than a week, and you get the benefits sooner if you take the supplement sooner.
Carpal tunnel syndrome - Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain, weakness, and numbness in the hand and fingers due to compression. The condition usually results from repetitive stress to the wrist, although it also may be a complication of pregnancy or hypothyroidism.
Taking 100 to 200 milligrams of vitamin B6 a day for 90 days can help relieve pain, tingling, and waking up at night. An important cautionary note: Your vitamin B6 will work better if you do NOT take supplemental vitamin C.
Can you get too much B6? Yes, but you have to really work at it. Doses of more than 1,000 milligrams a day for more than 90 days can cause tingling, numbness, or burning in the fingers and toes.
Vitamin B6 interacts with medications for tuberculosis, seizure disorder, and Parkinson's disease. These medications create a deficiency of vitamin B6, but they also don't work as well if you take supplemental B6. If you take cycloserine, Isoniazid, phenytoin (Dilantin), L-dopa, or any other medication for seizure disorder, consult with your physician before taking vitamin B6.