Vitamin B6 is the topic of this article and we’ll take a look at what it does and what happens when there is a deficiency.  Vitamin B6 is one of those B vitamins that has many functions and we won’t be able to cover all of them here.  We’re primarily concerned with how B6 affects mood and energy levels.

A little background in vitamins helps to understand a little bit more about vitamin B6.  Vitamins are classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble.  B vitamins are classified as water soluble.  In general, B vitamins can be further classified by their function.  Some B vitamins are involved with energy releasing, others are involved with red blood cell production and still others perform many functions that are quite varied. 

In general, B vitamins play the role of coenzymes.  Coenzymes are coupled with enzymes.  The enzyme is generally in an inactive form.  They require an appropriate coenzyme to become active .    Coenzymes generally bind to an active site on the enzyme changing the shape of the active site allowing for substrate to bind.  When the substrate is processed the coenzyme will drop off remaining otherwise unchanged and can be used in other chemical processes.  The thing to concentrate on here is that B vitamins are soluble in water which means they are found throughout the body and easily removed by the kidneys and end up in urine.  That means they have to be replaced regularly.  So maintaining the proper amount of B vitamins is important to run all these metabolic pathways.  Vitamin B6 is known to perform over 100 different functions.  Deficiencies can be seen quickly if you diet is poor in B vitamins or you are not supplementing.

Vitamin B6 is involved with processing fats, proteins, amino acids and sugars.  It is a major component of many metabolic reactions.  It is important for maintaining neuronal function and making red blood cells.  It is also used to remove the amino acid homocysteine.  This is important because high levels of homocysteine has been known to generate heart attack, stroke and blood clots.  Clearly, a deficit in vitamin B6 will decrease red blood cell production and lead to anemia generating fatigue.  It is also important for the production of the neurotransmitter glutamate which is the most prevalent excitatory transmitter in the brain. 

Vitamin B6 deficiencies have a whole host of symptoms because it is involved in so many functions.  Fatigue, insomnia, skin inflammation, many different neurological deficits including seizures, kidney dysfunction and heart disease and this list is by no means exhaustive.  Without B6 or low levels of it, L-Tryptophan and niacin (Vitamin B3) synthesis slows down tremendously.  Individuals who are more likely to have this deficiency include:  the elderly, newborns/infants, those taking pharmaceuticals and those who have a high alcohol intake.

Vitamin B6 is involved with the making of a number of neurotransmitters

Vitamin B6 deficiencies are known to generate neurological problems that involve depression and loss of cognitive function.  B6 is involved with the making of a number of neurotransmitters including glutamate, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA.  Glutamate is the most abundant excitatory transmitter in the brain.  Serotonin is known as the feel good transmitter responsible for keeping an elevated mood and normal weight and inhibiting addictive behaviors.  GABA is the most common inhibitory transmitter and responsible for keeping the brain calm.  Dopamine has many functions but in particular punishment and reward behaviors.Norepinephrine affects alertness, arousal and influences reward systems.  So, it would not be surprising that a B6 deficiency would generate depression, confusion, obesity, mental fatigue, mood swings, lack of focus and concentration and general cognitive loss.Recent studies indicate that vitamin B6 deficiencies are common in the U.S. so as is depression.  Anti-depressants are the most often prescribed drugs in the U.S.  Perhaps all that is needed is vitamin B6.  Interestingly, omega 3 fatty acids deficiencies are also linked to depression.  It is good to know that vitamin B6 can be measured in the blood.  So if you have a deficiency, a blood test is all that is needed.

Lack of B6 can also cause physical fatigue.  B6 is required for the production of red blood cells.  Not producing enough red blood cells means that you are anemic and can’t carry enough oxygen to your tissues and organs.  Low levels of oxygen slow down glucose metabolism and the production of ATP.  Lack of ATP bogs down all your metabolic pathways.  It’s no wonder that if this continues you simply pass out from being so tired.  Both your body and brain cease to function.