Data on vitamin B6 levels lacking, despite the vitamin’s importance

Study looks into whether women in Vancouver have suboptimal vitamin B6 levels, which may warrant more research and interventions.

Vitamin B6 plays a key role in keeping the human body healthy. Although research shows that dietary intake of vitamin B6 among Canadians is low, no clear data exists as to whether Canadians are living with suboptimal or deficient vitamin B6 biochemical status levels. And this is a point of concern for Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute affiliated investigator Dr. Yvonne Lamers, especially when it comes to women’s health.

“Suboptimal vitamin B6 status has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and cancer. Specifically, there is a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer and breast cancer, which puts women into special focus,” says Dr. Lamers, Canada Research Chair in Human Nutrition and Vitamin Metabolism and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia.

Commonly found in food including meat, fish, poultry, whole-grain cereals, nuts and seeds, vitamin B6 works together with folate and vitamin B12 in cell metabolism. Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency are similar to those of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency and include anemia. Severe vitamin B6 deficiencies are very rare, but symptoms are serious and include difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, depression, and convulsions.

“Vitamin B6 has not been studied much but there’s emerging literature suggesting that we should keep an eye on it, particularly in older women,” says Dr. Lamers. 

Vancouver women to create new knowledge

“Of course we want to increase awareness of vitamin B6 – that it is an important nutrient found in certain foods and a low concentration in our blood has been linked to high risk in certain chronic diseases,” she says. “However, we’re also assessing the rate of deficiency locally to see if we need to investigate vitamin B6 status in Canadians on a larger population-based scale.”

Dr. Lamers also hopes to find determinants of the vitamin’s deficiency, assuming first that dietary intake plays the most significant role, but also considering possible socio-demographic factors such as lifestyle and ethnicity.

Dr. Lamers and her team are hoping to recruit approximately 200 women between the ages of 51 and 70 over the next few months. Participants will attend a single hour-and-a-half visit during which they will complete two questionnaires and provide a fasting blood sample. Women who participate will receive their blood B-vitamin levels and dietary intake after study completion. A gift card will be provided as an honorarium for taking part.

“Knowing the rate of vitamin B6 deficiency and suboptimal vitamin B6 status in Vancouver women will allow us to phrase research hypotheses for the conduct of large-scale surveys, to create potential intervention strategies, and to increase awareness about optimal diet and healthy food choices including those containing vitamin B6.”

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