Vitamin B6 Foods – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


One afternoon last week I got a phone call from a young IC patient who was having a terrible symptom flare. Sounding very unsure of herself, she said that since I was a local IC support group leader, maybe I could help her with a dilemma. It seems one of her doctors had told her to take vitamin B6 supplements, which she did. She was careful to buy a brand that had no preservatives, fillers or dyes her bladder was sensitive to. Nonetheless, she said, she was sure the vitamins were actually making her bladder pain worse, not better. “Has anyone else had this problem, …or am I just crazy?”, she asked.

No, you’re not crazy I thought, remembering my own excruciating experience with vitamin B6. “Just believe in your own experience”, I told her. “Your doctor no doubt had good reasons for his advice, but some of us with IC have had problems with the pyridoxine hydrochloride form of vitamin B6. Perhaps you could ask him about getting your B6 from food, or trying supplements with B6 in a form other than the hydrochloride.”

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is an essential water-soluble vitamin. Among the many things it does, vitamin B6 helps form antibodies that fight infection. It also helps the body manufacture serotonin, a chemical messenger that regulates the transmission of pain messages and other kinds of nerve impulses to the brain. (One of the ways that tricyclic antidepressants are thought to work on IC symptoms is that they affect serotonin).

Vitamin B6 also aids in the manufacture of “non-essential” amino acids such as arginine. (Non-essential doesn’t mean they aren’t needed, it just means that the body can make them if you don’t get them in food. Essential amino acids must be obtained from food because they can’t be made by your body.) One form of arginine, L-arginine, has been found to help some IC patients’ bladder symptoms when taken as a dietary supplement (see other sections of this web site for details). Though not for everyone, recent research has revealed that L-arginine may be particularly helpful for those IC sufferers with a history of bladder infections.


An excessive intake of B6 over time can cause nerve damage, an unlikely event if you get all of your B6 from food sources, but possible if you take large amounts as a dietary supplement. (The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 100 mg. daily). As a dietary supplement pill, vitamin B6 is usually sold as pyridoxine hydrochloride. For unknown reasons, B6 foods usually do not cause bladder flares for people with IC, whereas the B6 pills often do.

As you age, you need more vitamin B6. One reason is that levels of homocysteine (a substance implicated in heart disease) rise and B6 helps reduce it. For adults under 50, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 1.3 mg. daily. After age 50 the RDA rises to 1.5 mg for women and 1.7 mg. for men.

Fish is very high in vitamin B6. Two other bladder-friendly food sources are chicken and pork (about 1.0 mg. and 0.8 mg respectively, in 6 ounces). Whole grains and legumes (i.e., lentils) supply less, but are still a fairly good source. Cashews (about 0.07 mg per ounce) and almonds (about 0.1 mg. per ounce) have some vitamin B6 too. Halibut, light meat chicken, and almonds by the way, are also good dietary sources of arginine.

[1] A Randomized Double-Blind Trial of Oral L-arginine for Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis; G.E. Korting, S.D. Smith, M.A. Wheeler, et al.; Journal of Urology, Feb. 1999. Food Values from USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Rel. 12 and Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, 1997-98.]

Almond Chicken

– serves 3 or 4

  • 1 c. Health Valley Low-fat Chicken Broth *
  • 1/2 tsp. onion salt *
  • 2/3 c. fresh carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp. Oriental sesame oil *
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 /2 c. sliced almonds
  • 1/4 c. water
  1. Bring chicken broth and onion salt to a boil in a saucepan, add carrots, cover, and turn heat to low. Cook 5 minutes, then turn off heat. Meanwhile, cut chicken into cubes, about 3/4-inch in size. Stir cornstarch into water in a cup and set aside.
  2. In a skillet, heat sesame oil and stir-fry chicken over medium heat until meat is cooked. Add carrots and broth, then almonds, while stirring continuously. Scrape up any bits of meat clinging to the pan. Add the cornstarch water to the skillet and cook while stirring until sauce is thickened. Good served with steaming hot brown rice.

Per serving: 430 calories, 23 g. total fat, 0 g. cholesterol, 3 g. fiber, 0.9 mg. vitamin B6 (69% of the RDA for males and females under 50.)

Notes: It’s important to use a chicken broth that has no added MSG, or ingredients that may contain MSG. (Manufacturers have learned that a lot of people avoid foods that list monosodium glutamate on the label– so they add it in another form. To our bladders though, it doesn’t matter what form it’s in.) Most brands have some form of MSG. Although onions tend to be problematic for IC patients, onion salt in small amounts seems to be pretty safe– unless you have a food allergy to onions. If so, substitute garlic salt or plain salt. Be sure to use the dark Oriental sesame oil (it has the color of molasses), not light-colored regular sesame oil.

This article originally published October 1999, revised and updated by the author December 2003.