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5 sneaky signs of vitamin B6 deficiency, including low energy and dry skin

Ashley Laderer,Kailey Proctor   

5 sneaky signs of vitamin B6 deficiency, including low energy and dry skin

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  • Vitamin B6 deficiency happens when adults get fewer than 1.3 mg of vitamin B6.
  • B6 deficiency can cause symptoms like depression, cracked skin, weakened immunity, and low energy.

Being deficient in even just one nutrient, such as vitamin B6, is enough to cause noticeable symptoms.

Depending on factors like your age and how deficient you are, a vitamin B6 deficiency can cause problems that range from mild, like low energy, to dangerous, like an increased risk for cardiovascular problems.

Here's how much vitamin B6 you need, where to get it, and warning signs you may be deficient.

What is vitamin B6?

Vitamin B6 is one of the eight water-soluble B vitamins that your body needs, and it can be found in food or taken as a dietary supplement, says Luis Rustveld, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Rustveld says vitamin B6 is involved in various bodily functions, including:

  • Amino acid metabolism
  • Development of the brain, nerves, and skin
  • Immune system function

How much vitamin B6 you need daily depends on your sex and age, says Dr. Perla del Pino-White, a primary care physician at Memorial Healthcare System. The National Institutes of Health's guidelines are as follows:


Daily needed B6 in milligrams (mg)

Infants up to six months old

0.1 mg

Infants seven to 12 months old

0.3 mg

Children one to three years old

0.5 mg

Children four to eight years old

0.6 mg

Children ages nine to 13 years old

1 mg

Teen girls ages 14 to 18 years old

1.2 mg

Teen boys ages 14 to 18 years old

1.3 mg

All adults under 50

1.3 mg

Women over 50

1.5 mg

Men over 50

1.7 mg

Pregnant women

1.9 mg

Breastfeeding women

2 mg

While you can take vitamin B6 in supplement form, it's ideal to get the nutrient from foods. "The human body is designed to absorb maximum nutrition from healthy foods. Nutrients, including vitamin B6, are dependent on other ingredients in foods to function well," Rustveld says.

Some common foods packed with vitamin B6 are:

  • Chickpeas: 1.1 mg in a 1 cup serving (65% daily value)
  • Fish
    • Tuna: 0.9 mg in a 3-ounce serving (53% daily value)
    • Salmon: 0.6 mg in a 3-ounce serving (35% daily value)
  • Meat
    • Beef liver: 0.9 mg in a 3-ounce serving (53% daily value)
    • Chicken breast: 0.5 mg in a 3-ounce serving (29% daily value)
    • Turkey: 0.4 mg (25% daily value)
    • Ground beef: 0.3 mg in a 3-ounce serving (18% daily value)
  • Starchy vegetables
    • Potatoes: 0.4 mg in a 1 cup serving (25% daily value)
    • Sweet potatoes: 0.6 mg in a 1 cup serving (35% daily value)
  • Fruit
    • Bananas: 0.4 mg in a medium-sized banana (25% daily value)
    • Avocados: 0.4 mg in one avocado (25% daily value)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals: 0.4 mg in a serving (25% daily value)

Signs of a vitamin B6 deficiency

In the United States, vitamin B6 deficiency is rare in healthy adults. However, certain medical conditions make you more susceptible, such as:

  • Alcohol dependency/abuse
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Conditions that result in malabsorption (such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease)
  • Kidney disease
  • Pregnancy

If you do have a vitamin B6 deficiency, it's likely you're also deficient in other B vitamins, too. In this case, B complex vitamins can be beneficial to help you get enough of every B vitamin.

Five signs of a B6 deficiency are:

1. Low energy

Vitamin B6 is necessary for your body to make hemoglobin, a protein found in your red blood cells. This protein is responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs throughout your whole body.

Del Pino-White says if your body doesn't have enough vitamin B6, it may not be able to make enough hemoglobin, causing you to be anemic, which means you lack healthy red blood cells.

As a result, oxygen is not efficiently carried to tissues throughout your body, causing low energy and tiredness. Other potential anemia symptoms include lightheadedness or struggling with shortness of breath.

2. Depression

Vitamin B6 is important for the synthesis of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood.

B vitamins, including B6, are responsible for converting tryptophan into serotonin, says del Pino-White. Tryptophan is an amino acid you get from the food you eat. So if you're deficient in B6, your body may not be able to convert the tryptophan you consume into serotonin as well as it should.

"When vitamin B6 is low in the body, there is also a deficiency of our important neurotransmitters, which can cause or worsen depression," del Pino-White says.

3. Cracked, inflamed skin

Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of collagen, which is a protein that's found in skin. Oftentimes it's referred to as a building block of skin.

"Collagen is what gives our skin its strength and elasticity. It's a fibrous protein that helps skin cells bind to one another," del Pino-White says.

But when your body is lacking collagen, you might experience dermatitis rashes (dry, cracked, inflamed skin) or cheilitis (scaly chapped lips or inflamed cracks in the corners of the mouth), says del Pino-White.

4. Weakened immune system

Vitamin B6 plays a role in the production of white blood cells, which your immune system needs to fight off infections, says del Pino-White. More specifically, the vitamin helps produce T lymphocytes (AKA T cells) and interleukins, which are both crucial for immune function. Interleukins also play a role in the body's inflammatory response.

"When there's a decrease in vitamin B6, our white blood cell production and function will decrease, which makes us prone to more infections," del Pino-White says.

5. Elevated homocysteine levels

Since vitamin B6 is responsible for regulating levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a deficiency can lead to high levels of homocysteine in your blood, which can be dangerous, says Rustveld. This can increase your risk of:

  • Damage to your arteries' lining
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack

Insider's takeaway

Vitamin B6 is a necessary nutrient our body needs to function. It can be found in foods such as meat and fish, or it can be taken in supplement form. If you don't get enough vitamin B6, you can experience symptoms ranging from tiredness to an increased risk of heart attack due to high levels of homocysteine.

Blood tests can determine your vitamin B6 levels. If you are concerned you might be deficient in vitamin B6, particularly if you have an underlying condition that would make you susceptible, talk to your doctor about testing.