Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vitamin B6 A “New Drug”? Oh My!

Recently, the FDA declared pyridoxamine, a naturally occurring form of vitamin B6, “a new drug”. I find this incredibly troubling. Don’t you? The FDA was given “regulatory functions” as a result of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 whose purpose was to protect the American people from dangerous drugs and food. Some of the important things they do include evaluating new drugs, medical devices, as well as additives to food and baby formulas. Their employees inspect food manufacturing facilities to ensure food safety. When I see harmful drugs, like Vioxx, get approved by the FDA and cause tens of thousands of heart attacks, I begin to think that these guys must be stretched pretty thin. Then when you see hundreds of people get sickened by peanut butter made in “inspected” facilities that knew there was salmonella in their product, it makes me feel that the FDA has really taken their eye off the ball! So with all of the critical issues facing food and drug safety today, why would the FDA spend OUR money on declaring vitamin B6 a “new drug”?

It’s not a secret that the FDA would like to see more nutritional supplements regulated and the drug companies would like these relatively inexpensive substances all be declared drugs. There’s a lot more profit in prescription drugs and the drug companies may feel that they are losing out to what’s become a multi-billion dollar nutritional supplements industry. A week doesn’t go by that you don’t see an article trying to discredit the benefits of vitamins. Just this week, the New York Times wrote a piece, “Vitamin Pills: A False Hope”? What’s troubling is that this war between the holistic community and the traditional medical community has cause tremendous confusion, not to mention distrust. I must admit, when I see an article like this, my first response is, “what drug company paid for this study”? But then I read it trying my best to extract the truth.

Many of the vitamin studies are difficult to decipher. If you track multivitamin users, as they did with the 161,000 older women in the Women’s Health Initiative study depicted in the New York Times article, you aren’t really sure what they took. All multivitamins are not created equal. Some are synthetic with incredibly high doses of isolated nutrients and some, more recently developed supplements, are based on organic whole foods which contain smaller doses of more naturally occurring forms of these vitamins and minerals. One wouldn’t expect the results from these different multivitamins to be the same.

So with all of this confusion, what’s the best thing to do? Like everything else, become your own nutritionist. Become informed. Find out what you need and if you are getting it. Ask your doctor for a blood test to measure your level of vitamins and minerals. I was recently surprised when my naturopath told me that my blood test indicated that I was low in vitamin D. She recommended I immediately increase my vitamin D3 supplementation. Without a blood test, you are shooting in the dark. Many vegans are deficient in vitamins D and B12, since there is no source of these vitamins in the plant kingdom, and unfortunately don’t realize it until they become seriously deficient. Whether or not you can correct your deficiencies with wholesome food or supplements, it’s always good to get the proper data.

So how does this new FDA approval affect you? The RDA (Recommended Daily Requirement) for vitamin B6 is 1.3 mg for adult men and women. It increases to 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women over the age of 51. Although this vitamin is found in many different foods, it is not very highly concentrated in any of them. Some of it is also lost in the cooking process so many people may need to supplement in order to get sufficient amounts. Vitamin B6 plays a key role in amino acid metabolism, as well as maintaining proper balance of sodium and potassium which allows the proper functioning of the nervous and muscular system. It also supports red blood cell metabolism. Deficiency symptoms include water retention (B6 is often found in water pills used to reduce bloating), anemia, nervousness, depression, skin inflammation, confusion and convulsions.
Here are some good food sources for this important vitamin:

Amount, % RDA
Wild Atlantic Salmon:
4 oz cooked, 92%
½ cup, 64%
Chicken Breast:
4 oz broiled, 62%
California Avocado:
½ cup, 51%
Crude Rice Bran:
2T, 46%
Garbanzo Bean:
½ cup, 42%
Baked Potato:
1 medium, 38%
1 cup, 38%
Pistachio Nut:
1 ounce, 34%
Sweet Red Pepper:
1 cup raw, 33%
4 large, 31%
1 cup cooked, 23%

If the drug companies actually do go after companies making nutritional supplements containing pyridoxamine, you will either have to go to a doctor for a prescription in order to acquire this vitamin, or make sure you eat foods like those mentioned above. Hopefully it will not get to the point that our local pharmacies start dispensing bananas, but you never know!

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