Vitamin B6 and COVID
A recent study titled, “Potential Role of Vitamin B6 in Ameliorating the Severity of COVID-19 and Its Complications” (Front. Nutr., 29 October 2020) is rich with clinical reference points to support its thesis. Often, those I consult with tell me how their doctor maintains that vitamins have no scientific validity. I wish these physicians would look at studies like this one. This study is loaded with clinical references to many previous studies done on vitamin B6, and the ailments to be discussed. (Study)
COVID-19, along with other coronaviruses and influenza, can cause lethal lung injuries and death from “acute respiratory distress syndrome”. Such viral infections induce in the body a “cytokine storm,” which leads to endothelial cell inflammation in the lungs, increased oxidative stress, and “neutrophil infiltration” (neutrophils are white blood cells, an important part of our immune system). It has also been established that the vast majority of those suffering and/or dying from COVID-19 have pre-existing chronic diseases, the most common being hypertension, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and diabetes.
Therefore, our intrepid researchers came to the conclusion that any agent which “can moderate immune function and inflammation, maintain endothelial cell integrity, and ameliorate chronic diseases may be useful in reducing the severity of and/or curing COVID-19”. And, the agent they chose to study was simply vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin found in various foods such as fish, organ meats, whole grains, and bananas.
Why Study Vitamin B6?
“There is growing evidence that vitamin B6 exerts a protective effect against chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and diabetes by suppressing inflammation, inflammasomes, oxidative stress, and carbonyl stress. Additionally, vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with lower immune function and higher susceptibility to viral infection.”
So, they set about reviewing previous research, postulating a “potential role of vitamin B6 in ameliorating the severity of COVID-19 and its complications”. Let’s have a brief look at what they discovered.
“Evidence suggests that a low dietary intake of vitamin B6 is associated with a high risk of mortality from CVD, and vitamin B6 supplementation reduces this risk.”
Vitamin B6 deficiency has been found to be associated with diabetes, and “studies have demonstrated that vitamin B6 supplementation reduces the incidence of diabetes and its complications”.
“Vitamin B6 supplementation improved immune function in both human and animal studies, and vitamin B6 deficiency led to impairment of various facets of immunity. It improves the immune response, causing increased antibody production, and enhances communicative interactions between cytokines and chemokines. Thus, its deficiency may lead to suppressed immunity predisposing patients to infections.”
Inflammasomes are a component of our immune system, responsible for the activation of inflammatory responses. “NLRP3 inflammasome plays a central role in chronic diseases, including CVD, diabetes, and acute viral pneumonia.”
Since they found studies indicating that vitamin B6 can inhibit NLRP3 inflammasomes, they believe that B6 can “suppress hyperinflammation, limiting virus spread and cytokine storm”, thus playing a “therapeutic role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 and its complications”.
Around 20 years ago it was established that vitamin B6 plays a role as in free radical scavenging, with evidence indicating “an inverse association between vitamin B6-deficient status and higher oxidative stress. Studies indicate that B6-vitamers can reduce superoxide radical and lipid peroxide levels...in vascular endothelial cells. Thus, vitamin B6 may help to maintain a healthy defense system for the body to fight oxidative stress associated with virus infection.”
Infection with COVID-19 begins when the virus enters the upper respiratory tract. As the virus multiplies, the infection can progress to the lungs, and if this happens, it’s possible to develop pneumonia. As far back as 1949, vitamin B6 was determined to have a preventive effect against viral infection, when mice fed a vitamin B6-deficient diet were found to be more susceptible to infection of murine pneumonia virus than control mice. The authors of our present study “suggest that vitamin B6 may ameliorate the severity of COVID-19 by exerting its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory actions in the lung, a primary target organ for COVID-19 virus infection”.
“Here, we summarized the available evidence suggesting the potential role of vitamin B6 in suppressing the severity of COVID-19 possibly through ameliorating complications of chronic diseases such as hypertension, CVD, and diabetes. Clinical studies in COVID-19 patients are urgently needed to confirm these possibilities.”
“Severe vitamin B6 deficiency is relatively uncommon, but some individuals might have marginal vitamin B6 deficiency. Vitamin B6 can be easily available as a dietary supplement with low cost and health risk. Accumulating evidence suggests that vitamin B6 supplementation may be useful for COVID-19 patients with low vitamin B6 status.”
How Much B6?
In North America the recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 for adults is roughly 1.5 mg daily (slightly more or less depending on age and gender). (Source)
Of course, those of us in the nutrition industry would consider this woefully inadequate, and, as with most of the recommended daily allowances, the amounts recommended are only sufficient to prevent deficiency diseases, not an amount determined to provide optimal health.
Those who have read my books and blogs know that I am wary of regularly ingesting too much of the B vitamins, as they are all pharmaceutically-produced, synthetic nutrients, and thus can be hard on the liver (which must process all chemical compounds). (For those who think “whole food” vitamins are a different story, that is just not true, as I pointed out in this older newsletter.)
And, too much vitamin B6 can be counterproductive. In fact, ingesting 200 mg, or more, daily, has been linked to nerve damage. Interestingly, the symptoms one gets from too much vitamin B6 are much the same as those acquired from being seriously deficient in this vitamin. (Reference)
Nonetheless, I do believe in supplementing with a reasonable amount of the B vitamins, and I also firmly believe that for therapeutic purposes the B vitamins can be used at high doses, and are still much safer than pharmaceutical drugs. (See this newsletter on the work of Dr. Abram Hoffer.)
In most cases, alternative nutritional practitioners feel that 15 to 30 mg of vitamin B6 is sufficient maintenance dose for the average person. And, indeed, in some studies, taking only 25 mg of vitamin B6 (along with folic acid and B12) daily, is sufficient to reduce homocysteine levels. (Source) (High homocysteine puts one at risk for atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart disease.)
Our NutriPods and NutriPods for Men (multivitamin and mineral packets), includes 30 mg of vitamin B6, while the NutriPods for Women contains 50 mg of B6 (since women need more B6 for treating hormonal imbalances, either during PMS or menopause). These packets also provide sufficient zinc and selenium to aid in preventing upper respiratory tract, and viral infections, from taking hold in the body.
As always, I recommend people take nutrients only 5 days of the week. This allows the body to use up any excess of a nutrient we might have ingested, and reminds it that we are not always in an environment rich in any given nutrient, thus inducing the body to store, and utilize, nutrients in the most efficient manner possible.
Finally, I will reiterate that one should not take any B vitamin (except B12) in isolation. So don’t run out and buy a vitamin B6 supplement while overlooking the rest of the family of B vitamins. These vitamins depend on each other, and after a length of time ingesting high amounts of only one B vitamin, it will start to deplete the body of some of the other B’s. As well, B vitamins require minerals to help transport them throughout the body, and so the best way to get the B’s is in a multivitamin, where the minerals are also present. (Or, ensure that you have a mineral supplement to back up your vitamin B complex.)