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Vitamin B6 and Cancer

A recent study in the medical journal, JAMA, found that low levels of Vitamin B6 could indicate and increased risk for developing lung cancer. The finding was true for current smokers, past smokers, and people who have never smoked. But what is Vitamin B6 and how could it help to prevent cancer?

Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is part of the B complex of vitamins which include eight other B vitamins which are important for many body functions such as regulation of metabolism and immune function. Adequate nutrition with B vitamins obtained from the food, but not in tablet form, is important for the prevention of pancreatic cancer.

Deficiency of Vitamin B6 can lead to anemia, depression, skin disorders (dermatitis), high blood pressure, swelling (water retention), neurologic disorders such as seizures, and high levels of a chemical called homocysteine which increases a person’s risk of heart disease.

The recommended daily intake of Vitamin B6 can be obtained from vitamin tablets or fortified foods, and varies based on age and sex. Vitamin B6 is present in a variety of foods including fortified cereals, bananas, garbanzos beans, pork, avocados, milk, cheese and salmon, spinach, oatmeal and chicken breast. However, many people eating a western diet may be deficient in B vitamins, and mild Vitamin B6 deficiency is common.

On the flip side, taking too much Vitamin B6 from vitamin supplements can cause serious medical conditions as well including poor coordination, numbness, and fatigue.

But how could Vitamin B6 be able to prevent lung cancer? A lot of factors may lead to the development of lung cancer, and certainly being malnourished puts a strain on the body which could increase a person’s chances of developing lung cancer. Specifically, the immune system appears to play a critical role in the body’s ability to locate and destroy cancerous cells before they become large tumors. A deficiency of Vitamin B6 might be enough to suppress the immune system’s “immune surveillance” which is thought to be involved in locating and destroying cancerous cells. In addition, Vitamin B6 is also involved in the process of building DNA insides cells, and a defect in this process could lead a person to develop cancer.

However, doctors warn that while Vitamin B6 may decrease the risk of lung cancer in smokers, they still have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers. In addition, while lower levels of Vitamin B6 in lung cancer patients may indicate deficiency of another vitamin or other factor which predisposes a patient to lung cancer.

Nonetheless, Vitamin B6 has been thought to help prevent colon cancer, especially in women who drink alcohol. Thus in the future doctors may be paying more attention to Vitamin B6 levels, especially in those who are exposed to smoke or at higher risk of developing colon cancer.

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