June 19, 2012 -- Low levels of vitamin B6 may be a key factor involved with chronic inflammation in the body. But don't go rushing to the supplement aisle just yet.
A new study shows a strong association between chronic inflammation and the essential vitamin found in foods such as lean meats, legumes, and vegetables.
Researchers found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin B6 in their blood had the highest levels of chronic inflammation, based on a wide variety of indicators. Those with the most vitamin B6 circulating in the bloodstream were also the least likely to have indicators of inflammation.
Temporary inflammation, such as redness and swelling after an injury, is generally a sign that the immune system is actively fighting infection.
But chronic inflammation is an emerging risk factor for a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Low Vitamin B6 Linked to Inflammation
In the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers compared blood levels of vitamin B6 and 13 different indicators of inflammation in 2,229 adults enrolled in the Framingham Offspring study.
Although previous studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin B6 with various signs of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), researchers say this is the first large-scale study to look at the relationship between the vitamin and a variety of inflammation indicators.
The results showed that people with the highest overall inflammation score based on the 13 different indicators had the lowest blood levels of vitamin B6.
The reverse was also true. Those who had the highest blood levels of vitamin B6 had the lowest levels of chronic inflammation.
Researcher Lydia Sakakeeny, PhD, who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Tufts University, says the findings give researchers a better idea of what is going on in the body with chronic inflammation. But it's much too early to say simply whether getting more vitamin B6 through food or supplements is enough to fight inflammation.
"The next step is determining the mechanism of the relationship between B6 and inflammation," she tells WebMD. "From there, it then may lead to new treatments or dietary recommendations."
Vitamin B6: Don't Get Too Much of a Good Thing
Experts say until more research confirms the role of vitamin B6 in chronic inflammation, people should focus on including sources of the vitamin in their diet to reap the other proven benefits of the nutrient, rather than taking a supplement.
"When research comes out like this, people often run to the supplement store rather than the supermarket," says registered dietician Joan Salge Blake, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Vitamin B6 is one of those nutrients that is present robustly in lean chicken breast and hamburger, fish, in very affordable legumes and pinto beans, and of course beautiful vegetables like red peppers and potatoes," Salge Blake tells WebMD.
Blake says vitamin B6 is vital to more than 100 enzyme processes in the body, mostly those involving the metabolism of protein.
But there can be too much of a good thing. Studies have shown taking large amounts of vitamin B6 (more than 500 mg a day) can cause nerve damage, difficulty walking, or tingling.
"Some is good. More is not better," says Salge Blake. "Just having a well-balanced diet will meet your needs."