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 the main cause 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 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 [1]

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.

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What are the symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency?

Vitamin B6 deficiency may present different signs and symptoms [2], 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 hemoglobin, 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 anemic, meaning your body lacks healthy red blood cells.

Being anemic is associated with low energy or tiredness, weakness, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. 

Aside from the tiredness you feel from being anemic, 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 anemia [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 that 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 synthesizing 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 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.

Mood changes and depression
Photograph: katemangostar/freepik

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 synthesizing collagen, which is a skin-boosting and anti-aging 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 [1], [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 [6].

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 [7]. 

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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 [8]. 

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 enough vitamin B6. However, nerve problems from vitamin B6 toxicity can be hard to treat.

Feeling of tingling and pain in hands and feet

What happens if you have a vitamin B6 deficiency?

When a deficiency in this essential nutrient occurs, it can lead to a range of health consequences and complications.

Understanding these potential outcomes is crucial for appreciating the importance of maintaining adequate Vitamin B6 levels. 

Nerve damage and cognitive impairment

Prolonged deficiency can damage peripheral nerves, leading to symptoms like numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities. This condition is known as peripheral neuropathy.

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters [9], and its deficiency may result in cognitive issues, including memory problems and difficulty concentrating.

Skin problems

Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause skin inflammation and a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis, which often involves red, scaly, and itchy patches on the skin.

Dry and cracked lips, along with a sore or inflamed tongue, can also be signs of Vitamin B6 deficiency.

Anemia

Vitamin B6 is essential for hemoglobin production, which carries oxygen in the blood. Deficiency can contribute to a type of anemia called sideroblastic anemia, leading to fatigue, weakness, and pale skin.

Hormonal imbalances

Vitamin B6 is involved in the regulation of certain hormones, including those related to the menstrual cycle. Deficiency may contribute to hormonal imbalances and irregular menstruation in women.

It’s important to note that the severity of these health consequences can vary depending on the extent and duration of the deficiency.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency and addressing it promptly through dietary changes or supplementation is essential for maintaining overall health.

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.

FAQs

What are the symptoms of low vitamin B6?

The symptoms of low Vitamin B6 may include numbness and tingling in the extremities, skin problems like dermatitis, mood disturbances, fatigue, and impaired cognitive function.

How common is vitamin B6 deficiency?

Vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively rare in developed countries but can occur in specific populations with poor dietary choices or certain medical conditions.

Can vitamin B6 deficiency be cured?

Yes, milder cases of Vitamin B6 deficiency can often be reversed by incorporating Vitamin B6-rich foods into the diet or taking supplements under medical guidance.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470579/ 
[2] https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/vitamins/vitamin-b6-deficiency 
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11207460/ 
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29033988/ 
[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320053 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6230633/ 
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28367454/ 
[8] https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/6015/chapter/9 
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29685187/

Photograph: xb100/Freepik
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