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Chronic agitation is sometimes caused by a lack of vitamin B-6.
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Agitation has a wide variety of causes, including certain deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin B-6, which is also known as pyridoxine. Short-term agitation is not usually anything to be too concerned about, but chronic agitation can increase your stress levels and potentially lead to mood disorders such as depression. Vitamin B-6 is found naturally in many types of food and is generally safe to eat as such in large amounts, but caution should be taken with synthetic B-6 supplements because of toxicity risks.
Agitation is an unpleasant mental state characterized by restlessness, increased tension and irritability, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Agitation can be transient and last for only a few minutes or it can develop into a chronic condition lasting for many weeks or months. Pain and stress are common causes of short-term agitation, whereas chronic agitation is often caused by alcohol and drug abuse, caffeine intoxication, nicotine withdrawal, chronic illness, insomnia, mental health issues, hyperthyroidism or vitamin B-6 deficiency.
Vitamin B-6 Function
Vitamin B-6 is involved in a wide variety of bodily functions, because it acts as a coenzyme for more than 100 chemical reactions and is necessary for the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters. The vitamin is also needed for healthy metabolism, energy production and immune function. Normal blood plasma concentrations of B-6 should be at least 20 nanomoles per liter and preferably greater than 30 nanomoles per liter, according to the National Institutes of Health. Your doctor can assess your B-6 status with a simple blood or urine test.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mild B-6 deficiency is common and principally affects the peripheral nerves, skin, mucous membranes and blood, although the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that irritability, nervousness, mood swings, depression and agitation are also possible. A lack of B-6 can trigger agitation and other mood problems, because the vitamin is needed to make serotonin and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
Sources and Recommendations
Good food sources of B-6 include poultry, fish, beef, dairy products, beans, most leafy greens such as spinach, carrots, brown rice, sunflower seeds and whole-grain flour. The recommended daily requirements for B-6 range from 1.5 to 2 milligrams for adults -- depending on gender, age and pregnancy -- although supplement doses are usually much higher because the vitamin isn't particularly well-absorbed. According to the UMMC, you should limit B-6 supplement intake to less than 100 milligrams daily as taking much more than that increases your risk of toxicity and potential nerve damage.
A lack of B-6 is not the first thing you should consider if you feel a little agitated from time-to-time -- job or family stress are more likely causes. However, if your agitation lasts for many weeks or months and involves any of the mentioned symptoms, then consult your doctor and inquire about determining your current B-6 status. Supplementation or dietary changes may be all you need to start feeling less agitated.