Vitamin B6: Sources & Benefits

b6-foodsVitamin B6, along with the other B vitamins, helps the body turn food into energy. On its own, vitamin B6 has many other uses that are important to maintaining a healthy body and developing a healthy brain. Vitamin B6 is so important it may have triggered the growth of the first living creatures on Earth.
Sources

“The fact that B vitamins are so important to our nutritional status coupled with the fact that they are “water soluble” — they are not stored in your body to any major extent — makes it quite easy to run dry on supplies,” said Dr. David Greuner, director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates.

Since the body can so easily run out of B6, it is important to consume foods that contain B6. Some of the best sources of B6 include beans, poultry, fish, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges and cantaloupe, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Bananas are another good source.

First breath

Vitamin B6 may have given rise to Earth’s first oxygen-producing organisms, according to researchers at the University of Illinois. Around 2.4 billion years ago, the planet experienced a huge spike in atmospheric oxygen levels. Scientists have long held that this rise in oxygen, called the Great Oxygenation Event, was tied to the arrival of the first photosynthetic organisms. (Oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis, which uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugary foods.) But nobody knew why these oxygen-producing organisms emerged in the first place.

Researchers found that the oldest oxygen-based process involved the production of pyridoxal, a form of vitamin B6, about 2.9 billion years ago, the same time that the enzyme manganese catalase appeared.

Manganese catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Early organisms may have come across this enzyme when trying to cope with environmental hydrogen peroxide, which some geochemists believe was abundant in Earth’s glaciers at the time and was released by the bombardment of solar radiation. The organisms essentially got the oxygen they needed to produce pyridoxal by breaking down the glacial hydrogen peroxide with manganese catalase.
Benefits

Besides producing energy for the body, the B vitamins also have several other uses. “B complex vitamins are often looked at as the metabolic enhancers of their group,” Greuner said. “They are responsible for the way your body unlocks the energy in food to be able to utilize the nutrients effectively, assist in hormonal optimization, cell health and energy utilization.” Furthermore, he said, without B6, the body wouldn’t be able to absorb vitamin B12.

Along with several other B vitamins, pyridoxine, a form of vitamin B6, controls levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, which may be key to lowering susceptibility to heart disease and stroke, according to HSPH, though studies have been inconclusive thus far.

B6, specifically, is a vitamin that is used to make several neurotransmitters in the brain, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. These chemicals are important for processing thought and healthy brain development. They are also responsible for telling the body to make hormones that influence mood and the body’s sleep cycles.

Vitamin B6 is also important for women’s and baby health, in particular. “During pregnancy and infancy, vitamin B6 is used in brain development and to support immune function,” said Dr. Sherry Ross, women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) also reports that administering pyridoxine intravenously is an effective treatment for controlling seizures in infants caused by pyridoxine dependence. Women also use vitamin B6 for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), depression related to pregnancy and the birth control pill, and symptoms related to menopause. A study by the State University of New York found that 30 mg of B6 may help reduce morning sickness.
Deficiency and dosage

Though a major deficiency in vitamin B6 is rare, many people may have a slight deficiency, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. People most likely to have a deficiency are children, the elderly, and those who take certain medications that can cause low levels of B6.

People who have trouble absorbing vitamin B6 from food or dietary supplements can develop a deficiency, as well. They include those with kidney disease, alcoholism, hyperthyroidism, autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease such as celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease, said Ross.

Symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency include weak immune system, anemia, itchy rashes, scaly skin on the lips, cracks at the corners of the mouth and a swollen tongue. Other symptoms of a very low vitamin B6 levels include depression and confusion, according to NLM.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult men and women up to the age of 50 is 1.3 milligrams daily. Men over 50 have an RDA of 1.7 mg, while women over 50 have an RDA of 1.5 mg, according to NLM. One cup of cooked kidney beans contains 0.2 mg of vitamin B6, while a large orange has about 0.1 mg.

Vitamin B6 causes interactions with some medications, so be sure to contact a medical professional before taking a pyridoxine supplement. For the most part, though, B6 is considered safe to consume naturally through foods and through moderate supplementation because it is a water-soluble vitamin. “In general, most vitamins fall into either one of two broad categories — water or fat soluble,” Greuner said. “Why is this important? Water soluble vitamins are for the most part eliminated daily, where fat soluble vitamins are stored within the body’s tissues.”

Though typically safe, too much B6 isn’t a good thing. “Symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to sunlight and nerve damage can occur when people regularly take over 250 mg daily, but can occur at even 100 mg every day,” said Dr. Kristine Arthur, internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Persistent consumption of excessively high doses of B6 can cause severe sensory nerve damage, leading to numbness, sensory changes and loss of control of bodily movements. The NLM rates B6 as possibly unsafe for long-term use in high doses.

Compounds in Flax & Sesame Seeds May Prevent Weight Gain

flazEating a plant-based diet is known to be good for your waistline, but now a new study has zeroed in on specific plant compounds — found in foods such as flax and sesame seeds — that may help prevent or slow weight gain.

The study found that women who consumed high levels of these compounds, called lignans, tended to weigh less and gain less weight over time, compared with women who didn’t consume these compounds in high amounts.

The findings are preliminary, and more studies are needed to confirm the results in larger populations, the researchers said. Still, these findings “support the notion that increased lignan consumption might potentially lead to less weight gain,” the researchers, from Harvard School of Public Health, wrote in the Aug. 18 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Earlier studies in animals have suggested that lignans may play a role in regulating weight. Flax and sesame seeds are rich in lignans, but the compounds are also found in lower amounts in other plant-based foods, including whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea and wine, the researchers said.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from about 1,000 women, who gave urine samples at the study’s start, and then were followed for about 10 years. The urine samples were analyzed for two compounds, called enterodiol and enterolactone, which are formed when bacteria in people’s gut break down lignans in foods.

At the start of the study, the women with the highest levels of these compounds in their urine had the lowest body mass index (BMI). For example, among women with the highest levels of enterolactone, the average BMI was 24.6, compared to an average BMI of 27.5 among women with the lowest levels of enterolactone. [Lose Weight Smartly: 7 Little-Known Tricks that Shave Pounds]

In addition, having higher levels of these lignans was linked with less weight gain over time. Women with the highest levels of enterodiol in their urine gained about 0.6 pounds (0.27 kilograms) less per year than those with the lowest levels of enterodiol, the study found.

“Our data suggest that higher urinary excretion of lignan metabolites, especially enterodiol, is associated with modestly slower weight gain,” the researchers said.

It’s not clear exactly how these lignans may act to prevent weight gain. But these lignans are similar in structure to the hormone estrogen, and may be able to influence body weight by binding to the receptors for estrogen, the researchers said.

The researchers noted that the study assessed lignan levels in urine at one point in time, and future studies should examine levels more than once. In addition, because the study involved women who were mainly of European ancestry, future studies are needed to see if the results apply to men and people of other ethnicities, the researchers said.

What Is Fiber?

 

foodDietary fiber is a plant-based nutrient that is sometimes called roughage or bulk. It is a type of carbohydrate but, unlike other carbs, it cannot be broken down into digestible sugar molecules. Therefore, fiber passes through the intestinal tract relatively intact. However, on its journey, fiber does a lot of work.

The term “dietary fiber” refers to the indigestible parts of plant-based foods. In other contexts, “fiber” might refer to plant-based cloth, but when speaking of nutrition, the terms “fiber” and “dietary fiber” are often interchangeable.

Fiber is important to digestion and regularity, weight management, blood sugar regulation, cholesterol maintenance and more, according to Paige Smathers, a Utah-based dietitian. It has also been linked to longevity and decreasing the risk of cancer.

The Institute of Medicine has set a recommended daily amount (RDA) for fiber intake. Men ages 50 and younger should consume 38 grams of fiber per day, and men 51 and older should consume 30 grams. Women ages 50 and younger should consume 25 grams per day, while their older counterparts should have 21 grams. Most Americans do not consume enough fiber, according to the institute.
Soluble fiber vs. insoluble fiber

Fiber can be put into two categories: soluble and insoluble fiber, according to Colorado State University.

Simply put, Smathers said, soluble fiber, such as pectin, gum and mucilage, dissolves in water; insoluble fiber, such as hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin, does not. In the body, soluble fiber dissolves and becomes a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber mostly retains its shape while in the body.

Both soluble and insoluble fibers have important benefits, according to Smathers. Soluble fiber is known to help decrease blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. It also helps lower blood cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, speeds up the passage of food through the digestive system. This helps maintain regularity and prevent constipation. It also increases fecal bulk, which makes stools easier to pass.

Most plant-based foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, but the amounts of each vary in different foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. Good sources of soluble fiber include beans, lentils, oatmeal, peas, citrus fruits, blueberries, apples and barley. Good sources of insoluble fiber include foods with whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, brown rice, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers. Some foods, like nuts and carrots, are good sources of both types of fiber.
Benefits of fiber

Digestion

“Dietary fiber aids in improving digestion by increasing stool bulk and regularity,” said Smathers. This is probably fiber’s best-known benefit. Bulkier, softer stools are easier to pass than hard or watery ones, which not only makes life more comfortable, but also helps maintain colorectal health. According to the Mayo Clinic, a high-fiber diet may help reduce the risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulitis (small, painful pouches on the colon).

Heart health

Fiber also helps lower cholesterol, said Kelly Toups, a registered dietitian with the Whole Grains Council. The digestive process requires bile acids, which are made partly with cholesterol. As your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid, thereby reducing the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Blood sugar regulation

A meta-analysis of studies regarding the relationship between fiber and blood glucose (blood sugar) levels published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that increased fiber intake can reduce blood glucose levels during the standard fasting blood glucose test (a test of blood sugar levels after an overnight fast).

The article showed that levels of HbA1c also decreased with increased fiber. HbA1c refers to glycated haemoglobin, which occurs when proteins in the blood mix with blood sugar. It is associated with increased risk of diabetes complications. Soluble fiber is especially helpful in this regard.

Possible cancer prevention

The research has been mixed regarding the link between fiber and colorectal cancer prevention. While the National Cancer Institute asserts that a high-fiber diet does not reduce the risk to a clinically significant degree, a 2011 meta-analysis from the British Journal of Medicine found an association between cereal fiber and whole grain intake and reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

A more recent animal study suggested that fiber might only cause this benefit if a person possesses the right kind and amount of gut bacteria. Fiber naturally reacts with bacteria in the lower colon and can sometimes ferment into a chemical called butyrate, which may cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Some people naturally have more butyrate-producing bacteria than others, and a high-fiber diet can help encourage the bacteria’s growth.

Longevity

According to some scientists, fiber could actually help people live longer. A meta-analysis of relevant studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded, “high dietary fiber intake may reduce the risk of total mortality.”

One recent study suggests that cereal fiber, from foods like whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta, is especially effective. Over a 14-year period, those who ate the most cereal fiber were 19 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.

Food allergies and asthma

New research suggests that fiber could play a role in preventing food allergies, the existence of which has long puzzled scientists. Again, this theory comes down to the interaction between fiber and bacteria in the gut.

Scientists theorize that people are not producing the right gut bacteria to tackle foods commonly associated with allergies, like peanuts and shellfish. Without the right bacteria, particles of these foods can enter the bloodstream via the gut. Fiber helps produce a bacterium called Clostridia, which helps keep the gut secure.

The same reasoning explains why fiber might help people with asthma. Unwanted particles escaping the gut and entering the bloodstream can cause an autoimmune response like asthmatic inflammation. A 2013 animal study found that mice eating a high-fiber diet were less likely to experience asthmatic inflammation than mice on a low- or average-fiber diet.
High-fiber foods

“Fiber is found in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables,” Smathers said. It is often found in higher concentration in fruit and vegetable skins.

She suggested a diet incorporating the following high-fiber foods:

Lentils, which have 16 grams of fiber per cup, cooked
Bran flakes, which have 7 g of fiber per cup. Bran muffins are also a good choice
Berries like raspberries and blackberries, with around 7 g per cup
Apples with the skin on (4.4 g)
Pears with the skin on (5.5 g)
Split peas are full of fiber with 16.3 g per cup, cooked
Black beans, which have 15 g per cup, cooked
Lima beans bring in 13.2 g per cup, cooked
Pearled barley, with 6 g per cup, cooked
Popcorn’s 3.5 g per 3 cups make it a fiber-full snack
Artichokes: a medium one has more than 10 g of fiber
Broccoli has 5 g of fiber when boiled
Turnip greens have 5 g of fiber when boiled
Green peas have almost 9 g per cup, cooked

Fiber supplements

People struggling to get enough fiber in their diets often turn to supplements. While Smathers reported that supplements are not as good as fiber from whole foods, fiber supplements can be helpful for people looking to regulate their bowel movements or who suffer from constipation. They also have the same cholesterol-lowering and blood sugar stabilization effects — if you can get enough of them. A supplement does not carry nearly as much fiber as a fiber-rich food like lentils or peas, so merely sprinkling powder on your yogurt probably will not get you the fiber you need.

Furthermore, fiber-rich foods are wildly high in other vital nutrients, which you won’t get if you add supplements to nutritionally void foods.

Fiber supplements can interact with certain drugs, like aspirin, carbamazepine and warfarin, according to the Mayo Clinic. They can also cause bloating and gas — just like the real thing.
High-fiber diet

In order to get all the benefits of fiber, many people adopt a high-fiber diet. When incorporating more fiber into your diet, start slowly, adding 5 g a day for two weeks, the University of Michigan recommends. If consumed too fast or in excess, fiber can cause bloating, cramps and even diarrhea. Let your body get used to having more fiber.

The University of Michigan also advises balancing non-caffeinated drinks with caffeinated ones. Because caffeine is a diuretic that causes loss of fluids, adding excess caffeine to a high-fiber diet can cause constipation. Aim for two cups of non-caffeinated fluids for every cup of caffeinated ones.

Smathers recommended the following tips for a successful high-fiber diet:

Add fruit (especially berries) to every meal.
Start the day with bran cereal or oatmeal and berries.
Add beans or legumes to a lunchtime salad or soup, or have a bean or lentil burger rather than one with meat.
At dinner, add high-fiber vegetables like broccoli, corn and turnip greens to meat sauces. Combine with whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.

Low-fiber diet

Sometimes, medical situations require people to adopt a low-fiber diet, at least for a time. Those undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or surgery often need to give their intestinal tract a rest, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. People suffering from Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis often maintain a low-fiber diet for a longer time.

People on a low-fiber diet should avoid high-fiber foods that make the intestinal tract work harder, like legumes, beans, whole grains and many raw or fried vegetables and fruits, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Refined grains, many cooked vegetables and ripe melons, peaches, plums, bananas and apricots are still okay. But also avoid spicy foods, fried foods, tough or processed meat, caffeine, cocoa from cocoa powder and nuts.

‘McWhopper’ Mega-Burger Would Have Mega-Calories

BurgerBurger King is proposing a one-day truce with its fast-food competitor McDonald’s to create the “McWhopper,” a combination of the Big Mac and the Whopper, the most popular burgers at the respective chains. But just how many calories would this giant assemblage of beef and toppings have?

Neither restaurant has released information about the exact nutritional value of the hypothetical mega-burger, which Burger King wants to sell in honor of World Peace Day in September. However, it’s possible to come up with a ballpark estimate using information from the fast-food chains’ websites.

According to the Burger King proposal, the McWhopper would be 6 parts Big Mac and 6 parts Whopper. That is, the sandwich’s top half would include the Big Mac’s top bun, beef patty, cheese, lettuce, special sauce and middle bun, while the bottom half would consist of the Whopper’s tomato, onion, ketchup, pickles, beef patty and bottom bun.

To start our McWhopper calculation, let’s first look at how many calories are in each burger separately: The Big Mac has 540 calories, and the Whopper has 650 calories.

For a simple estimate of the McWhopper calories, we would divide the calories in the Big Mac and Whopper each by two, and add them together, giving us 595 calories. However, this underestimates the calories in the McWhopper, because the mega-burger contains two of the three buns found in a normal Big Mac, so it actually has more than half of that burger’s usual calories. [9 Snack Foods: Healthy or Not?]

To get a more precise estimate, we used the nutrition calculators on the Burger King and McDonald’s websites, which allow one to add or subtract ingredients to each burger. By doing this, we figured out that each bun on the Big Mac contains about 73 calories, and so two buns contain 146 calories. The two patties on a Big Mac contain 170 calories, and so one patty would contain 85 calories. The cheese slice has 50 calories, and the lettuce has 10 calories. The glob of special sauce on a Big Mac contains 90 calories, and if we assume that only about half of that would be used on the McWhopper, that means 45 calories. Add all that together, and we get 336 calories for the Big Mac part of the McWhopper.

For the Whopper, we find that each bun contains 110 calories, the patty contains 250 calories, the ketchup has 20 calories, and the tomato, onion and pickles together have 10 calories. Add that together, and we get 390 calories for the Whopper part of the McWhopper.

Combine the two parts, and we get 726 calories for the two burgers together, or about one-third of a person’s total recommended daily calories.

Using a similar method, we can also figure out the amount of fat in the McWhopper: The Big Mac part contains 16.5 grams of fat, and the Whopper part contains 19.5 grams, for a total of 36 grams of fat, or about 54 percent of what’s considered the maximum amount a person should eat in a day.

It remains unclear if the McWhopper will come to fruition. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook responded to Burger King’s proposal by saying he would be “in touch” with the fast-food rival. “We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference,” Easterbrook said on Facebook.