Vitamins are substances your body cannot make on its own and must be obtained from your diet. Vitamins are divided into two groups: water soluble and fat soluble. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin your body only needs in small amounts, but is nonetheless essential for good health.
Vitamin B6 performs a number of important functions in your body. It acts as a coenzyme to help metabolize protein. It is also necessary in the formation of the precursor to hemoglobin. Vitamin B6 also metabolizes tryptophan, an amino acid, and assists its conversion to niacin. Vitamin B6 also helps release the energy your body stores in its liver and muscles and it is necessary for the conversion of linoleic acid into the biologically active arachidonic acid.
In addition to its basic functions, vitamin B6 also plays an important role in immune health through its roles in protein metabolism and cellular growth. It helps your immune system by maintaining health of the organs responsible for making white blood cells, including the thymus, spleen and lymph nodes. A vitamin-B6 deficiency may decrease your ability to make antibodies and lower your immune response, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Maintain Blood Sugar
When your caloric intake is low, your body uses vitamin B6 to help convert the stored energy in your muscles and liver, known as glycogen, into glucose. This helps keep your blood sugar levels even, preventing them from going too low. Very low blood sugars can be dangerous and can cause you to go into a coma. An inadequate intake of vitamin B6 will limit your body's ability to convert its stored energy into glucose. However, taking vitamin B6 in excess will not further improve your blood sugar.
Needs and Sources
You only need vitamin B6 in small amounts, but your needs do increase as you get older. Adult men and women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1.3 mg of vitamin B6 a day. Men 51 and older need 1.7 mg of vitamin B6 a day, and women over the age of 51 need 1.5 mg a day. Eating a 3/4-cup serving of fortified breakfast cereal can meet 100 percent of your daily vitamin B6 needs. Baked potatoes, garbanzo beans, bananas and chicken are also sources of this vitamin.
- "Krause's Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy"; L. Kathleen Mahan, Sylvia Escott-Stump; 1996
- Office of Dietary Supplements; Vitamin B6; August 2007