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Vitamin B6 supports many functions

- but is heavily overrated in energy beverages and breakfast cereals

Vitamin B6 supports many functions Vitamin B6 is essential for the energy turnover, nervous system, hormone balance, and a number of other important functions. Vitamin B6 has been added to many energy beverages and breakfast cereals as an “energy booster” or a way of telling consumers that the product is healthy. But don’t be fooled. The same products often contain loads of sugar and caffeine, which burdens the blood sugar balance and the nervous system. It is therefore far better to get vitamin B6 by eating a balanced and healthy diet, possibly topped off with a supplement if necessary. Those who are likely to benefit from a supplement are strict vegetarians and vegans, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and seniors.

The consumption of energy beverages is ever increasing, especially among younger people. Red Bull is the top-selling product of all. Vitamin B6 has been added to many energy beverages. A single 250 ml can of Red Bull contains 5.6 mg of the nutrient, which is four times more than the daily reference intake (RI) level of 1.4 mg. Vitamin B6 and other B vitamins are marketed as being very important for the body’s energy turnover, but the actual energy boost comes from the massive amounts of sugar and caffeine that affect the blood sugar balance and the nervous system. When blood sugar plummet afterwards, it is followed by a drastic reduction of the energy levels, which vitamin B6 is unable to compensate for. Then comes the sudden need for quick “energy fix”, and before you know it you are in the middle of a vicious cycle.
Breakfast cereals such as Frosties also contain loads of sugar. In order to cover this up and make the product look healthy, vitamin B6 and a few other vitamins and minerals have been added. That does not change the fact that the product is unhealthy, low in fiber and high in sugar, and it puts a massive strain on the blood sugar balance, thereby leeching the body’s stores of chromium and other nutrients.
Most people are normally able to get sufficient amounts of vitamin B6 by eating a healthy and balanced diet. Let’s take a look at this nutrient, what sources we get it from, its functions in the body, and who may benefit from taking a supplement.

Did you know that a single can of Red Bull contains around 14 sugar cubes and the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee? Also, did you know that a package of Frosties contains the same amount of sugar as you get from 87 sugar cubes?

Vitamin B6 has many essential functions

Vitamin B6 is also called pyridoxine and is converted to its active forms (pyridoxal phosphate and pyridoxamine phosphate). Vitamin B6 was isolated in 1930 for the very first time. The nutrient is water-soluble and does not get stored in the body, which means we depend on a regular intake of this vitamin. Vitamin B6 supports over 100 different enzyme processes, which are primarily related to the body’s energy turnover. Vitamin B6 is also important for cognitive functions via the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is destroyed by heat and exposure to light.

Vitamin B6 is important for

  • The energy turnover – especially protein and glycogen (sugar stored in the liver and muscles)
  • Blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine
  • The nervous system and the mental balance
  • The immune system
  • The hormone system
  • Utilization of magnesium

Reference intake and primary sources

The official reference intake (RI) level for vitamin B6 in Denmark is 1.4 mg for children aged 11 years and older and for adults. In the United States, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is slightly lower, whereas it is a little higher for pregnant (1.9 mg) and breastfeeding (2 mg) women. People older than 51 years of age are also advised to consume more vitamin B6, yet this is not the case in Denmark. Anyone who eats a balanced diet with liver, meat, fish, eggs, legumes and other good sources should be able to get enough vitamin B6. It is also important to prepare the food carefully, as large amounts of the nutrient are lost when you cook, bake or heat your food. It can be a challenge for strict vegetarians and vegans to get enough vitamin B6 from their diets.

Content of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) in mg per 100 gram of food

  • Wheat bran 1.38
  • Garlic 1.24
  • Cold smoked salmon and raw beef liver 1.0
  • Chicken, raw 0.8
  • Egg yolk 0.5
  • Cabbage, avocado, broccoli, red bell pepper, banana, sunflower seeds 0.3
  • Cheese and rye bread 0.2
  • Apple 0.05

Does vitamin B6 really give you energy?

As told, vitamin B6 is added to many energy beverages, breakfast cereals, and other products, and the nutrient is also found in food supplements. It is allowed to make health claims that are approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, it is often heavily overrated and misleading when manufacturers claim that various B vitamins, including vitamin B6, contribute to normal energy-yielding metabolism. The energy-providing substances are calories such as carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and the process of metabolizing these into energy requires not only B vitamins but a host of different nutrients such as iron, chromium, selenium, and coenzyme Q10. Each and every one of these nutrients helps oxygen and calories into the cells, where a myriad of enzyme processes take place before calories can be converted into ATP, the molecule that stores energy in its chemical form.
It therefore does not make much sense so focus on vitamin B6 alone, although it is trendy to add this nutrient to all kinds of foods that are stripped of nutrients. If you really lack energy, you are better off eating a balanced diet and perhaps taking a vitamin B6 supplement.

Do you lack vitamin B6?

There are certain factors that may increase your need for vitamin B6 such as pregnancy, stress, birth control pills, and alcohol abuse. The same goes for antibiotics, chemotherapy, and the use of hydralazine (anti-hypertensive drug) and anti-epileptic drugs. A vitamin B6-deficiency increases the risk of

  • fatigue
  • mouth ulcers and glossitis (tongue inflammation)
  • confusion and depression
  • monocytic anemia
  • compromised immune defense
  • convulsions as seen with seizures
  • various symptoms caused by poor utilization of magnesium
  • digestive problems (children)

Did you know that magnesium is important for your bones, nervous system, and blood sugar balance – and that vitamin B6 is important for your ability to utilize vitamin magnesium?

Different studies of vitamin B6

Blood sugar

Vitamin B6 controls blood sugar levels and insulin levels in laboratory mice, according to a study published in Diabetes Research (in 2015)

Immune system

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of white blood cells, which fight infections in the body. A study from Taiwan shows that vitamin B6 supplements help improve the immune system in critically ill patients.

Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis

Studies show that patients with Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which are autoimmune conditions, may be deficient in vitamin B6. This may be a contributing factor to the chronic inflammation that characterizes both ailments.

Brain health

Studies of pregnant and breastfeeding women have shown that maternal vitamin B6 deficiency may have a negative impact on neurotransmitters that are important for the child’s ability to learn and remember. A study from 2012 suggests that being deficient in vitamin B6 and folic acid is associated with depression in old age.

Hip fracture

Large quantities of vitamin B6 (40 mg daily) may lower the risk of sustaining a hip fracture by 42%, according to a study from 2017. The study is published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Protects against oxidative stress

Vitamin B6 even functions as an antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress is involved in e.g. atherosclerosis and many other diseases.


Studies suggest that high doses of vitamin B6 taken orally may counteract nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Such supplements must be prescribed by a physician or the midwife.


Vitamin B6 supplementation may reduce PMS and subsequent depression

Diet and supplementation

It is best to cover your need for vitamin B6 by eating a balanced diet. Supplements may be necessary for those, who are deficient. It is normally advisable to take vitamin B6 supplements in conjunction with other B vitamins and not together with antacids. If you take large quantities of vitamin B6, make sure to even them out with several meals, as all B vitamins are water-soluble. Excess vitamin B6 in the bloodstream is easily excreted in the urine.

Overdosing – side effects

Overdosing is rarely seen with vitamin B6, as the nutrient is water-soluble and not stored in the body. In cases where very large doses (10 grams or more) are ingested at once, it may cause reduced coordination of movement and reduced sensation in arms and legs. The same symptoms may also occur after prolonged use of daily doses of 100-200 mg of vitamin B6.


Anprisninger af vitaminer og mineraler. Miljø- og Fødevareministeriet.

U.S. Department of agriculture National Nutrient Database, Energy Drink Red Bull 2018.

Vudhivai N el al. Vitamin B1, B2, and B6 status of vegetarians. Europe PMC 1991

Liu Z et al. Vitamin B6 Prevents Endothelial Dysfunction, Insulin Resistance, and Hepatic Lipid Accumulation in Apoe (-/-) mice with High-fat Diet. J. Diabetes Res 2016

Maria Garcia Lopez, B Vitamins and Hip Fracture: Secondary Analyses and Extends Follow-up of Two Large Randomized Controlled Trials. JBMR 2017

Effects of Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) and B Complex Preparation on Dreaming and Sleep. Perceptual and Motor Skills 2018

Binqjun Qian et al. Effects of Vitamin B6 Deficiency on the Composition and Functional Potential of T Celle Populations. Journal of Immunology Research 2017

Krishnaswamy, Sushil K Jain. Effect on vitamin B6 on oxygen radicals, mitochondrial membrane potential, and lipid peroxidation in H2O2-trreated U937 monocytes.

Pan WH et al. Co-occurrence of anemia, marginal vitamin B6, and folate status and depressive symptoms in older adults. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 2012

Sahakian V et al. Vitamin B6 is effective therapy for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: a Randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Obstet Gynecol 1991

Wyat KM et al Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review. BMJ 1999

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