Vitamin B6 deficiency: What signs and symptoms to look for?

Have a feeling that you may have vitamin B6 deficiency? It is easier for you to find out if you know its common signs and symptoms! Generally, when you have a vitamin B6 deficiency, your body can’t absorb vitamin B6 properly despite its being found in most foods. 

With your body’s inability to absorb vitamin B6, you may experience different unusual disruptions in your everyday function; worse, it may affect your overall health, causing fatal diseases. If you aim to extend your longevity, you better start to know about vitamin B6 and its deficiency. 

What is vitamin B6 deficiency? 

Let’s start first with the basics of this water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is important for metabolism or the processing of carbohydrates, amino acids and fats. It plays a significant role in normal nerve function and healthy red blood cell formation. 

Plus, it also helps in maintaining healthy and glowing skin–perfect for reducing the signs of aging. As widely present in many foods, vitamin B6 is easy to consume if your body can take it well. The primary sources of vitamin B6 are salmon, chicken liver, milk, eggs, sweet potato and tuna [1]. 

People with vitamin B6 deficiency have inadequate levels of pyridoxine in their bodies due to low intake on a daily basis. Also, if a person lacks other B vitamins, namely cobalamin (vitamin B12) and folic acid (vitamin B9), they are most likely to fall short of vitamin B6 as well.

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Causes of vitamin B6 deficiency 

How does vitamin B6 deficiency occur to someone, you may ask? It may occur due to severe malnutrition, as it is all about not getting enough vitamin B6. Also, it could happen to a person when the diet consists of foods with extensive processing, resulting in the removal of vitamin B6 from them. Furthermore, people with vitamin B6 deficiency commonly have severely low levels of protein and calories in their bodies as well.  

Additionally, vitamin B6 deficiency can be because of the major causes below:

  • Impaired absorption of food or called malabsorption disorders
  • Disorder in alcohol use
  • Excessive loss of vitamin B6 during hemodialysis
  • Depletion of vitamin B6 stored in the body due to certain drug intake [2]

Some people are more susceptible to vitamin B6 deficiency because of their health conditions, specifically those with autoimmune disorders, health issues resulting in malabsorption like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease and kidney disease. Others have become prone because of their lifestyle choices, like alcohol dependence or abuse of substances. 

Causes of vitamin B6 deficiency 
Photograph: katemangostar/freepik

6 signs and symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency 

Vitamin B6 deficiency may present different signs and symptoms, depending on individual levels. The following are the common ones you should look out for.

1. Low energy

Vitamin B6 plays a role in your body’s haemoglobin, referring to a protein found in red blood cells. It is responsible for circulating oxygen from your lungs throughout your whole body. 

When you have low levels of vitamin B6, you may become anaemic, meaning your body lacks healthy red blood cells. Being anaemic is associated with low energy or tiredness, weakness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. 

Aside from the tiredness you feel from being anaemic, it may also be doubled from the vitamin B6 deficiency as it has a role in producing melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. However, the good news is that supplementing your body with the most active vitamin B6, called pyridoxal 5′-phosphate, can resolve anaemia [3]. 

2. Mood changes and depression 

On top of being physically down, you may also feel down. Having a vitamin B6 deficiency may affect your mood or cause depression. It happens because vitamin B6 essentially produces several neurotransmitters which are involved with your moods, particularly serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Both serotonin and GABA aid in controlling anxiety, depression and feelings of pain.

Vitamin B6, among the other B vitamins, is responsible for converting and synthesising tryptophan into serotonin. Tryptophan refers to an amino acid you acquire from the food you eat. Hence, if you lack vitamin B6, your body may not function well in converting the tryptophan you consume into serotonin. 

Furthermore, research suggests that taking 50 to 80 mg of vitamin B6 supplements every day can help deal with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, specifically moodiness, irritability, anxiety and depression [4]. Vitamin B6 is helpful for people experiencing PMS because it contributes to making serotonin. 

Here’s another note to take: if a person has a vitamin B6 deficiency, he or she may also experience seizures. It happens following the neurotransmitter GABA that this vitamin produces. GABA actually calms your brain and prevents it from becoming overstimulated. 

Seizures may cause symptoms, including muscle spasms, rolling eyes and jerky arms or legs. In some cases, people may experience rapid, uncontrollable shaking, convulsions or loss of consciousness.

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3. Unhealthy skin and mouth 

Aside from being physically down and feeling down, your skin health may also degrade. Vitamin B6 has a role in synthesising collagen, which is a skin-boosting and antiaging protein. 

Collagen is essential for your skin as it gives strength and elasticity. When you lack vitamin B6, your body may not take collagen well despite consuming a high amount. 

Low levels of collagen in the body can cause dermatitis rashes, such as dry, cracked and inflamed skin or cheilitis, referring to scaly, chapped lips or inflamed cracks in the corners of the mouth [5]. 

Other rashes may appear on your scalp, face, neck and upper chest. It is known for its oily and flaky appearance with swelling or white patches. Experiencing cheilitis is very painful and can make eating and talking difficult.

There are some remedies to ease the skin issues brought on by a vitamin B6 deficiency. First, you should add foods rich in vitamin B6 to your diet or take supplements to increase your intake level easily. Secondly, you can also use vitamin B6 facial creams to improve the rashes. 

On the other signs, specifically in the mouth, you may experience glossitis, a condition where your tongue may become inflamed, swollen, sore, smooth or reddened. 

Due to the loss of papillae in the tongue from vitamin B6 deficiency, it becomes glossy and smooth. This condition can cause problems in chewing, swallowing and talking. Taking enough vitamins B6, B12 and folate can resolve glossitis if it is the only cause. 

4. Weakened immune system

As involved in the production of white blood cells, your immune system may be weakened if you lack vitamin B6 in your body. White blood cells are needed by your immune system to do its job of fighting different infections and inflammations. 

Particularly, vitamin B6 helps produce substances like T lymphocytes (AKA T cells) and interleukins that are crucial for immune function; hence, ensuring you have enough vitamin B6 is a must for optimal health, or else you may become prone to diseases. 

Your immune system can help your body fight off oxidative stress, infections and inflammations that can further lead to various cancers, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and more [6]. 

5. Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases 

Another function of vitamin B6 in your body is to regulate the levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Homocysteine comes from the process of protein digestion, and without vitamin B6 and other B vitamins, your body may find it difficult to process it. 

Lacking vitamin B6 can cause disruption, increasing the levels of homocysteine in your blood which is dangerous to your health. It increases your risk of damaging the lining of arteries, having blood clots and experiencing a heart attack. 

To regulate this symptom of vitamin B6 deficiency, you must take more foods or dietary supplements with vitamin B6, B12 and folate. You can also do regular exercises to improve your body’s process of homocysteine.

6. Feeling of tingling and pain in hands and feet

Vitamin B6 deficiency can also cause nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. When you have peripheral neuropathy, you may experience burning, shooting and tingling pain, particularly in your arms, legs, hands and feet. 

People who have experienced it may describe the feeling as pins and needles touching your skin. The nerve damage may cause you to have balance problems and difficulty walking [7]. 

Surprisingly, consuming too many inactive forms of vitamin B6 like pyridoxine HCl from dietary supplements can also lead to peripheral neuropathy. The condition occurs in this situation because large amounts of inactive vitamin B6 can compete with and block the active PLP form of vitamin B6 in your body. 

Fret not, as nerve problems caused by vitamin B6 deficiency are reversible, just ensure to intake enough vitamin B6. However, nerve problems from vitamin B6 toxicity can be hard to treat. 

The bottom line

If you have vitamin B6 deficiency, you also lack other B vitamins; hence, eating foods and taking supplements with a complete list of B vitamins is ideal for improving your condition. 

The common signs and symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency can be a guide to help you with your health worries. However, they do not guarantee that you may have the condition. It is still best to consult with a health professional regarding your health. 

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.