Is your tongue sore? Have you got sores around your mouth?

Inflammation of the tongue and sores around your mouth (especially in the corners) may be a sign of chronic Vitamin B6 deficiency – as can anaemia, pins-and-needles or numbness in hands or feet, dermatitis, depression, confusion and even convulsions.

Bananas are a good source of B6

Why do I need vitamin B6?

B6 is essential for the production of haemoglobin, and for the nervous system and immune system. It also helps maintain your blood sugar levels within a normal range. It is important in preparation for pregnancy, and rumour says that it can help with PMT, too. Vitamin B6 deficiencies have also been linked to heart disease and cancers of the breast, uterus and prostate.

So it is an important vitamin!

Severe deficiency is rare, though you might be deficient in B6 if you have undiagnosed coeliac disease, or malabsorption for other reasons. Even just a poor quality diet can lead to deficiency. People who drink too much alcohol may be deficient, because alcohol promotes the loss of B6 from the body. Women taking the contraceptive pill tend to have a low level of B6 too.

Note that if you are diagnosed with celiac disease, and maintain a strict gluten free diet, you may be low in other vitamins, but you are less likely to be low in B6 – as long as you maintain a healthy diet. A recent study showed that coeliacs are more likely to have poor vitamin levels than the rest of the population – but not of B6 – even after 10 years on a gluten free diet. Do you suppose celiacs eat more bananas – the gluten free snack that comes in its own packaging?

More than one million people take B6 here in the UK to fight stress and increase energy, and it is used in conjunction with magnesium to treat autism. Other suggested reasons to maintain a good level of B6 are: a family history of heart disease; nausea in pregnancy; to try to prevent osteoporosis; if you have sustained serious burns; depression; PMS; diabetes; HIV; ADHD; rheumatoid arthritis.

How much do I need?

Children

  • Under 6 months: 0.1 mg
  • Infants 7 months to 1 year: 0.3 mg
  • 1 to 3 years: 0.5 mg
  • 4 to 8 years: 0.6 mg
  • 9 to 13 years: 1 mg
  • Males 14 to 18 years: 1.3 mg
  • Females 14 to 18 years: 1.2 mg

Adult

  • 19 to 50 years: 1.3 mg
  • Men over 50: 1.7 mg
  • Women over 50: 1.5 mg
  • In pregnancy: 1.9 mg
  • When breastfeeding: 2.0 mg

Note that this is the recommended daily dose. The dose given for autism is significantly higher than this, as it is for other treatments – ask your doctor for advice. Note, too, that there can be a clash with other medicines, for example, B6 reduces the effectiveness of Levodopa, used to treat Parkinson’s disease, so if you are taking medicines, and decide to increase your B6 with a supplement, do check that they don’t counteract each other.

Where can I get it?

You can buy a supplement, but why not just check that you eat the right variety of foods?

This important vitamin is found in most food, but especially in poultry, fish and pork, whole grains (this includes brown rice, which is good if you’re coeliac and can’t eat other grains), bananas and avocados, carrots, seeds, pulses and nuts. Examples of good sources of B6 include:

  • Fortified cereals (not likely to be OK for coeliacs) – could be up to 100% of RDA (recommended daily allowance)
  • Baked potato (but you must eat the skin as well) – 34% RDA
  • Garbanzo beans (1/2 can) – 30% RDA
  • Chicken breast – 25% RDA
  • Oatmeal (only if you are OK with oats, and only if they are non-contaminated with gluten) – 20% RDA
  • Pork loin (3 oz) – 15% RDA
  • Sunflower seeds (1 oz) – 10% RDA
  • Salmon (3 oz) – 10% RDA
  • Tuna (tinned, 3 oz) – 10% RDA
  • Peanut butter (2 tablespoons) – 8% RDA

You can see that a normal gluten free diet could easily contain enough B6 to keep your levels up. Tuna and bean salad with a baked potato? You’re nearly there …