Supplements: Taking high levels of a certain pill ‘can cause severe nerve damage’

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The Mayo Clinic says that vitamin B6 is “important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous system and immune system healthy”. It notes that food sources of vitamin B6 include poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas, bananas and fortified cereals. The NHS says vitamin B6 helps the body to use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates in food.

“Vitamin B6 can also be taken as a supplement, typically as an oral capsule, tablet or liquid,” explains the Mayo Clinic.

It says: “A healthy and varied diet will provide most people with enough vitamin B-6.

“However, for people with kidney diseases, malabsorption syndromes and certain other conditions, a vitamin B6 supplement may be necessary.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says: “Vitamin B6 is a vitamin that is naturally present in many foods.

“The body needs vitamin B6 for more than 100 enzyme reactions involved in metabolism. Vitamin B6 is also involved in brain development during pregnancy and infancy as well as immune function.”

It says that the amount of vitamin B6 you need depends on your age.

The NHS says that the amount of vitamin B6 adults aged 19 to 64 need is about 1.4mg a day for men and 1.2mg a day for women.

It warns: “Do not take more than 10mg of vitamin B6 a day in supplements unless advised to by a doctor.”

The NIH states: “People who don’t get enough vitamin B6 can have a range of symptoms, including anemia, itchy rashes, scaly skin on the lips, cracks at the corners of the mouth, and a swollen tongue.

“Other symptoms of very low vitamin B6 levels include depression, confusion, and a weak immune system.

“Infants who do not get enough vitamin B6 can become irritable or develop extremely sensitive hearing or seizures.”

Nonetheless, you can also have too much. The organisation says “people almost never get too much” vitamin B6 from food or beverages, “but taking high levels of vitamin B6 from supplements for a year or longer can cause severe nerve damage, leading people to lose control of their bodily movements”.

Fortunately, the site says: “The symptoms usually stop when they stop taking the supplements. Other symptoms of too much vitamin B6 include painful, unsightly skin patches, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, and heartburn.”

The Mayo Clinic notes that taking too much vitamin B6 from supplements can cause:

  • A lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements (ataxia)
  • Painful, disfiguring skin lesions
  • Heartburn and nausea
  • Sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity)
  • Numbness
  • Reduced ability to sense pain or extreme temperatures

It also says that you should check with your doctor before taking vitamin B6 if you’re using any medications, as there are a number of possible drug interactions.

The NHS notes: “You should be able to get all the vitamin B6 you need from your daily diet.

“The bacteria that live naturally in your bowel are also able to make vitamin B6.”

It also warns: “In a few cases when people have taken large amounts of vitamin B6, particularly for more than a few months, the effect can be permanent.”

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