Question: I have always been interested in natural remedies and I enjoy watching your show. I have to admit I am just getting around to inquiring about what I should be doing for prevention, as I am pretty healthy at 45 and not on any medications. Are there standard supplements you recommend for most people?
Answer: In the last two columns, I highlighted Vitamin D, high quality omega 3, magnesium, iron, selenium and iodine as some of the most common nutritional supplements that I would recommend. I will be finally wrapping up this response by touching on the importance of B vitamins and B6 in particular.
The B vitamins consist of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). While B vitamin deficiencies have been considered to be rare, recent studies in the US and Canada reveal that deficiency of certain B’s can be as high as 75 per cent in certain groups, such as B6 deficiency in those who take oral contraceptives.
Even marginal deficiency, determined by blood levels, can have huge physiological impact. Let’s take B6, the most common B vitamin deficiency, and consider that over 140 different reactions require B6, affecting every part of your body due to its role in neurotransmitter synthesis, immune function, hormone function, lipid, amino acid and glucose metabolism.
So, it makes sense to avoid deficiency and certain people are more at risk than others.
In one study of almost 8,000 Americans, women of reproductive age, especially current and former users of oral contraceptives, male smokers, non-Hispanic African American men, and men and women over age 65 were at higher risk of deficiency and required more than the RDA of B6.
A Canadian study found two out of three of seniors who did not supplement with B6 were deficient, but those who supplemented B6 were not.
Bananas, potatoes, acorn squash, watermelon, avocados and prune juice are all good plant sources of vitamin B6. Light meat poultry including chicken breast and turkey are good animal sources. Animal sources of B6 are higher in the most biologically active form of B6, PLP. When supplementing it is more efficient to use this form sold as P-5-P, which stands for pyridoxal-5-phosphate.
B6 deficiency is known to impair calcium and magnesium metabolism as well as the synthesis of niacin (B3) from tryptophan. Along with folic and B12, it works to regulate the metabolism of homocysteine. Elevated homocysteine levels are a known risk factor for heart disease. When supplementing with folic acid and B12, look for methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF) and Methylcobalamin respectively.
Fatigue, depression and cognitive dysfunction are common symptoms of B6 deficiency. It seems logical to rule out B6 deficiency before starting on antidepressant medication or any medication that alters brain chemistry.
Signs of vitamin B6 deficiency include sores or cracks at the corners of the mouth, swollen red tongue, canker sores and small cell type anemia.
Before supplementing with individual Bs, it is best to first try a B compound or multivitamin with these active forms of Bs as they complement each other.
Kali Simmonds, ND is a doctor of naturopathic medicine who practises in Charlottetown. The information provided is not intended to diagnose or substitute the advice of your healthcare professional. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes. She welcomes questions for this column, which is published every second Tuesday in The Guardian. She can be reached by mail at 34 Queen St., Charlottetown, C1A 4A3 or by email at email@example.com.