Vitamin B6 and its role in fighting inflammation
- and preventing cancer from spreading
Vitamin B6 is needed for over 150 enzyme processes and has an overlooked role in the prevention of inflammation, which is a common thread in most chronic diseases, including cancer. Severe vitamin B6 deficiencies are rare, but scientists believe that even moderate deficiencies of the nutrient can increase the risk of many diseases. Deficiencies and poor utilization are a result of unhealthy diets, ageing, stimulant abuse, hormone pills and certain medical drugs, which means that many people are at risk of lacking this important vitamin.
Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxin and is converted to the active form known as pyridoxal 5-phosphate, which can be measured with a blood test. Vitamin B6 is water-soluble, and because it is not stored in the body, we need to consume the vitamin regularly.
Vitamin B6 functions as a coenzyme by serving as a catalyst for over 150 different enzyme processes that are important for, among other things, the energy turnover, the nervous system, the immune system, hormone activity, and for the formation of red blood cells.
For many years, vitamin B6 was considered an important antioxidant with the ability to neutralize free radicals, which are aggressive molecules with the potential to attack cell membranes and cell DNA in biochemical chain reactions. Everyone is exposed to free radicals, and our exposure is increased tremendously by things like stress, inflammation, ageing, poisoning, tobacco, and radiation.
|Most carcinogenic substances have one thing in common, which is that they either function as free radicals or cause the body to produce free radicals. Our only source of protection against free radicals is antioxidants, including vitamin B6.|
Vitamin B6, free radicals, inflammation, and cancer
For more than a decade, scientists have tended to believe that vitamin B6 has the ability to prevent inflammation and inflammatory conditions, including cancer.
It is the immune defense that is responsible for fighting infections. Here, acute inflammation is an advantage. However, chronic inflammation, which can be caused by many different things, is much more problematic and potentially dangerous because it bombards the body with free radicals.
This is why need adequate amounts of antioxidants to protect our cells against oxidative stress.
Still, scientists have not yet managed to explain why a vitamin B6 deficiency increases the risk that a healthy cell turns into a cancer cell. What they do know, however, is that vitamin B6 is important for the cells’ ability to utilize magnesium and for the body’s production of the amino acids, tryptophan and taurine that both have numerous biochemical roles.
Vitamin B6 is also important for healthy cells and their DNA synthesis and oxygen utilization, which takes place inside the mitochondria. Therefore, science plans to look closer at how vitamin B6 interacts with pro-inflammatory compounds and specific cell receptors that are involved in the development of cancer.
Vitamin B6 needs to be activated in the blood before it is able to prevent cancer
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer form among women and men. Most studies of vitamin B6 from the diet and from supplements and its role in preventing colon cancer have shown different results. Nonetheless, it turns out that having high levels of the active form of vitamin B6 (pyridoxal 5-phosphate) is associated with a 30-50% lower risk of colon cancer compared with having low levels of the nutrient.
Scientists still do not understand why there are differences between vitamin B6 intake from diet and supplements and the levels of active vitamin B6 in the blood, but this discrepancy is likely due to some of the many factors that influence our uptake and utilization of the nutrient.
The actual need and factors that inhibit the uptake and utilization of vitamin B6
Science is also uncertain about how much to focus on vitamin B6 deficiency in connection with inflammation and cancer. Some of the best sources of vitamin B6 are meat, fish, garlic, vegetables, bananas, whole grain, eggs, and dairy products, but researchers are beginning to doubt whether the official recommendations for vitamin B6 intake are optimal. First of all, vitamin B6 has extremely many functions that are important for our health. Secondly, there are a lot of factors that can increase our need for the nutrient.
For instance, it is known that vitamin B6 deficiencies and poor utilization of the essential nutrient are caused by bad diets, lack of zinc, heating, ageing, overconsumption of alcohol and other stimulants, birth control pills and hormone pills, certain medical drugs, and oxidative stress. Many people are likely to be deficient in vitamin B6, especially the active form of the nutrient.
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Marcelina Parra et al. B6 and Its Role in Cell Metabolism and Physiology. Cells. Published online 2018
Zhang XH et al. Vitamin B6 and colorectal cancer; current evidence and future directions. World Gastroenterol 2015
Choi SW, Friso S. Vitamin B6 and cancer. Subcell Biochem 2012
Boylan LM, Spallholz JE. In vitro evidence for a relationship between magnesium and vitamin B6. Magnes Res 1990
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