• Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RD

How to avoid vitamin B6 deficiency

It may be hard to imagine that we don’t get enough nutrition despite an abundance of food available 24/7. But it’s true. Here's how to avoid vitamin B6, one of the top five nutrients many of us need more of.


How can we be nutrient deficient with so many foods fortified with vitamins and minerals? The types of food Americans choose most of the time are not packed with nutrition. In fact, according to the CDC, only a small portion (food pun here!) of the U.S. has a diet that meets their nutritional needs. Close to one-third of Americans are deficient in one or more vitamins and minerals, or have anemia.


vitamins on a plate
Avoiding vitamin B6 deficiency starts with food

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The difference is startling. Those who eat a well-balanced diet show a 16% lower risk of being deficient in any vitamin or mineral. But among those eating a less nutritious diet, 57% may have a nutrient deficiency. This cuts across many different populations. The chance of a deficiency is stronger in women, Blacks, under or higher weight and older individuals, and low-income households.


Should you be concerned about being low in one or two vitamins or minerals? In a word, yes. That’s because vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal health. Being low may not cause immediate symptoms, but it puts you at risk for many serious diseases that can affect your brain, heart, blood, immune system, metabolism, bones, mental health. We also see a link between this deficiency and a higher risk of stomach cancers and esophageal cancers.


Is there a link between vitamin B6 and breast cancer? Unfortunately, yes. Women who have a higher amount of vitamin B6 show a 29% lower risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. This effect was not seen in premenopausal, women.


Nutrients are key pieces to keeping all of your systems in good working order. Missing just one or two pieces can throw off the delicate balance you need to be healthy and feel great. That’s because most nutrients don’t have just one vital role to play within the body, they play many, many vital roles.


How would you even know if you’re at risk for a nutrient deficiency? It’s not always obvious. Sometimes symptoms aren’t felt for a long time and sometimes they’re very vague and non-specific. For example, fatigue, irritability, aches and pains, decreased immune function, and heart palpitations can be signs of many things, including a nutrient deficiency.


This article goes over the most commonly deficient nutrient—vitamin B6—and some of the more obvious symptoms, along with foods that are high in the vitamin so you can get enough.


Vitamin B6 deficiency

The most common nutrient deficiency in the US is vitamin B6. Those particularly at risk for vitamin B6 deficiency include older adults. This vitamin is important for your blood, brain, and metabolism.


Vitamin B6 helps the formation of hemoglobin in the blood (the part that carries oxygen around). It also helps to maintain normal levels of homocysteine (high levels of homocysteine are linked with heart disease).


This vitamin plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers allowing nerve cells to communicate with each other). Not to mention the fact that it’s also involved with over 100 enzyme reactions in the body, mostly for metabolism.


Some of the main symptoms of a serious deficiency in vitamin B6 includes confusion, convulsions, and a type of anemia called “microcytic” anemia. Symptoms of a less serious deficiency are no less serious. They include increased risks for heart disease and Alzheimer’s.


But being deficient in vitamin B6 is also linked to inflammation, depression, and some cancers. Chronic inflammation may increase the destruction of vitamin B6 in the body. Chronic inflammation is also linked to breast cancer. (See my previous blog post, Foods that fight inflammation and breast cancer.) These wide-ranging health effects are why vitamin B6 is so essential for health.


Spinach salad offers vitamin B6
A spinach salad may hold the key to avoiding a vitamin B6 deficiency

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These are the foods to avoid vitamin B6 deficiency

Vitamin B6 is found in different amounts in all food groups. People who eat high-fiber cereals tend to have higher levels of the vitamin because cereals are often fortified with it.


Vitamin B6 is also found in high quantities in plant foods such as avocado, spinach, non-citrus fruits (e.g., bananas), beans, and other non-starchy vegetables. Potatoes are one of the best sources. The vitamin is also found in various animal-based foods including white-meat turkey and chicken, and salmon.


Supplements are usually unnecessary, unless medically appropriate, and may have risks with long-term use. The RDA for vitamin B6 is 1.3 mg daily for all genders ages 19-50 years old. More is necessary for those over 51, and pregnant and breast feeding women.


Bottom line

Up to one-third of people in the US are at risk for at least one nutrient deficiency. Most commonly, that deficient nutrient is Vitamin B6, but there are also many people deficient in vitamins B12, C, and D, as well as the iron mineral. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because everybody needs them on a regular basis for good health. Lacking in any one nutrient can have far-reaching consequences.


Eating a nutrient-rich diet with a variety of foods can help everyone achieve their health and nutrition goals. Want inspiration on how to meet your health goals through a nutritious diet? Book an appointment with me to see if my service can help you.


If you’d like a strategy designed to help you meet your nutritional needs, enrollment is now open for my self-paced courses, Take your next steps to your best health after breast cancer.