The best known neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain which regulate mood, memory, cognition, and cell signaling) are are serotonin and adrenaline (aka norepinephrine and epinephrine). Other neurotransmitters include dopamine, glycine, GABA, glutamate, histamine, and melatonin. I wrote here on how these neurotransmitters impact mood.
In many cases of anxiety and depression, I’ll test neurotransmitter levels, and supplement any neurotransmitters that are low with their amino acid precursors. If a given neurotransmitter is too high, I’ll instead support the enzyme that helps break it down by supplementing with that enzyme’s cofactors (vitamins or minerals necessary to make the enzyme work). Sometimes, a one-time fix is all that’s needed; perhaps the imbalance occurred due to an acute stressor which is now resolved. In that case, once neurotransmitters are back in balance, they’ll stay that way, barring some other anomalous event.
But sometimes, left alone, neurotransmitters return to their previous set points of too low or too high. This might be due to a genetic cause, or it may be due to deficiency in one of the vitamin and mineral cofactors. Since Vitamin B6 is the most ubiquitous cofactor in neurotransmitter production, it’s a good place to start looking.
Vitamin B6 Necessary for Neurotransmitter Metabolism
While methylation is critical for production of many of the neurotransmitters involved in mood and sleep (as I wrote about here), Vitamin B6, peripherally related to methylation, is even more so.
The chart below demonstrates that this is a critical cofactor for production of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glycine, and histamine, as well as many of the breakdown products of these neurotransmitters besides. Pyridoxal 5-phosphate (P5P) is the activated form of Vitamin B6.
Why You Might Be Low in Vitamin B6
Stress is probably the biggest one: progesterone is the precursor for cortisol, the stress hormone, and progesterone is synthesized in part by B6. If you’re stressed, you’ll deplete your levels of both progesterone, and B6.
Birth control disrupts gut flora and decreases nutrient absorption, including Vitamin B6. And of course, there are many, many other possible cause for malabsorption as well.
Alcohol depletes B vitamins in general. If you have more than a few drinks per week, you might want to either cut back, or supplement.
Conventional labs will test for Vitamin B6 levels, so you can find out if this is a factor for you relatively easily.
Dosing with Vitamin B6
You can be intentional about getting Vitamin B6 from your food: it’s found in trout, blueberries, organ meats, molasses, green leafy veggies, and whole grains.
Or, you can take a supplement. Be aware that it is possible to overdose on Vitamin B6; if you do, you’ll get tingling and numbness in fingers and toes that reverses when you stop or lower your dose.