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Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is commonly recommended as a PMS treatment, but there's only limited evidence to support that recommendation, at least as far as standardized medicine is concerned. In addition, much vitamin B6 has some potentially serious side effects.

Fact

Vitamin B is a complex of several vitamins that includes B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cyanocobalamin), pantothenic acid, and biotin. Although it was once thought to a single vitamin, research showed that vitamin B was a complex chemically distinct vitamins. As a result, the name shifted from B to the B vitamins or to B complex.

On the plus side, vitamin B6 may relieve breast pain and and PMS-related depression, while vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements may relieve PMS-related anxiety. On the minus high doses of the vitamin can lead to sensory neuropathy, in which a person feels pain and numbness in the extremities and may even have difficulty walking. However, these effects occur in doses that exceed 1,000 milligrams a day, and all evidence of negative effects are from vitamin B6 supplements not from sources. Because of its potential toxic effects, the recommended maximum dose is 100 milligrams daily.

Alert

Many natural supplement retailers sell vitamin B6 in high dosage packages. Some also recommend that women with PMS take between 100 and 200 milligrams in the two weeks before their periods. Women taking higher doses of vitamin B6 may experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headache.

In 1990, researchers reviewed twelve studies in which vitamin B6 was compared to a placebo (neither study participants nor researchers knew who was taking the vitamin or the placebo) and concluded that evidence of a beneficial effect was weak.

A British review of twenty-five studies (sixteen of which were excluded because of poor or marginal quality) that together involved 940 women found that vitamin B6 was up to twice as effective as a placebo in relieving PMS. The study, published in the British Medical Journal,also found that very high doses, such as 600 milligrams, were no more beneficial than lower doses. The investigators recommend women start with a dose of 50 milligrams a day and take no more than 100 milligrams per day. However, they also stressed that because none of the studies they’d reviewed were randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of clinical testing), they could not definitively conclude the vitamin B6 was effective treating PMS.

Food Sources of Vitamin B6

A balanced diet will provide you with enough vitamin B6. On average, women in the United States get 1.5 milligrams of vitamin B6 from the foods they consume. In contrast, the recommended dietary allowance is 1.3 milligrams for adult women aged nineteen to fifty. However, because some plant foods contain a type of vitamin B6 called pyridoxine glucoside, which is absorbed and used by the body only half as well as other forms of the vitamin, women may still need to boost their intake of foods rich in vitamin B6. The following foods are good sources: whole-grain cereals, bananas, potatoes, bell peppers, turnip greens, nuts, turkey, liver, avocados, green beans, chicken, spinach, and salmon. Strict vegetarians may need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B6 or take supplements to ensure they don't develop a nutritional deficiency.

Essential

Even though some foods contain more than the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B6, only about 75 percent of it is or usable to the body.

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