Vitamin B-6, also known as pyridoxine, is important in the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Its functions also include production of red blood cells, maintenance of skin and nerves, and hormone production. Vitamin B-12, also called cobalamine, aids in the formation of blood and also helps maintain a healthy nervous system. This vitamin is also essential in preventing or managing some types of anemia.
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A vitamin B-6 deficiency can lead to skin disorders, confusion, insomnia and disturbance of the nervous system. Deficiency of vitamin B-6 is common in alcoholics but otherwise rare.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, a deficiency of vitamin B-12 can lead to mouth irritation, pernicious anemia and brain damage. But deficiency is rare, since the body can store several years' worth of vitamin B-12. If the body is unable to absorb vitamin B-12 from the intestinal tract, however, pernicious anemia can result. Vegans who are not taking in proper amounts through food or supplements may also experience B-12 deficiency.
Vitamin B-12 Sources
Vitamin B-12 cannot be made by animals or plants, so the B-12 content of animals and plants is dependent upon their ability to store this vitamin. Animals have a greater capacity to store vitamin B-12; therefore, animals contain more B-12 than plants. Calf's liver and snapper are especially high in B-12. Other good sources include beef, venison, shrimp and salmon.
Plants also offer B-12, but in smaller amounts. These include kelp, brewer's yeast and fermented foods such as tempeh, miso and tofu. Because plants are low in vitamin B-12, vegetarians and vegans are often advised to take B-12 supplements.
Vitamin B-6 Sources
Vitamin B-6 is abundant in the typical diet. Most foods have at least a small amount of it, so B-6 deficiency is less likely than B-12 deficiency. Foods with high B-6 content include whole grains, whole-grain cereals, liver, bananas, green beans, carrots, chicken, eggs, meat, fish, spinach, walnuts and sunflower seeds. The need for vitamin B-6 increases in proportion to the amount of protein consumed.
Points to Consider
The content of vitamin B-6 is significantly reduced when fruits are canned or frozen, when grains are processed and when fresh meat is converted to meat byproducts. For this reason, it's important to choose whole foods over processed foods and to avoid overcooking. But since most foods high in B-6 are not typically eaten in their raw state, one solution is to consume a variety of foods high in this vitamin to ensure adequate intake.
Vitamin B-12 can preserve well under most cooking conditions when it is from animal sources. The retention of vitamin B-12 in cooked plant-based foods has not been thoroughly researched.
People with certain conditions may especially benefit from plentiful vitamin B-12 intake. These conditions include alcoholism, arthritis, asthma, cancer, celiac disease, Crohn's disease and lupus. Vitamin B-6 may also have increased importance in the prevention and management of cardiovascular conditions, nervous system conditions, skin conditions, kidney stones and adrenal function.