The supplement industry is always buzzing about B-complex vitamins, and for good reason. But a special type of B-vitamin is making people rethink their routines: P5P.

Short for pyridoxal-5-phosphate, P5P is the active form of vitamin B6. Normally, when you ingest vitamin B6 through food or supplements, your liver has to convert it to P5P so it can be put to use. But when you take P5P in its purest form, it doesn’t have to be metabolized, meaning you might benefit more from it.

Speaking of benefits, P5P plays a critical role in your metabolism, muscle repair, brain function, sleep regulation, and more. Don’t have the time (or patience) to sift through the scientific literature around P5P? No worries—keep reading to learn what it does, how much you need, and whether a P5P supplement is worth adding to your daily regimen.

What Is P5P? 

Pyridoxal-5-phosphate, also known as pyridoxal-phosphate or simply P5P, is the biologically active coenzyme form of vitamin B6. 

The “6” in vitamin B6 refers to six organic compounds. The first three are pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxine; while the remaining three are their corresponding 5′-phosphate forms, pyridoxine-5′-phosphate, pyridoxal-5′-phosphate, and pyridoxamine-5′-phosphate. 

(Yes, it’s a mouthful).

P5P is an all-around catalyst for more than 140 other enzymes in the body. It’s used to synthesize amino acids and fatty acids, neurotransmitters, and glucose—your brain’s main energy source. By facilitating these core chemical reactions, P5P helps promote our cognitive development and the overall health of our nervous system and immune system. 

P5P vs. Vitamin B6: What’s the Difference?

Like all other B vitamins, P5P is water-soluble and easily absorbed into the bloodstream. The difference is that P5P is more easily absorbed into the body than regular vitamin B6.

As the active form of vitamin B6, P5P doesn’t require metabolic activation and is often considered more potent and effective. 

However, the availability of studies comparing P5P vs. vitamin B are still relatively few, and further research is needed to get more clinical evidence.

5 Potential Benefits of P5P Supplements

P5P supplements can help you maximize the health benefits of vitamin B6. Here are six examples: 

1. Increases Energy Levels 

P5P facilitates energy metabolism in the cells throughout your body. Accordingly, supplementing with P5P can curb fatigue and help you feel more energized. If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue, you could have a deficiency of vitamin B6—and by extension, P5P.

2. Aids Memory and Learning Capacity 

Thanks to its role in amino acid and glucose biosynthesis, P5P is the main source of energy production for the brain. It also increases our learning capacity by synthesizing two major neurotransmitters: dopamine and acetylcholine. 

Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system, controlling the feelings of pleasure often referred to as a ”dopamine hit.” This also gives us the motivation needed to sustain attention and learning. 

Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter that sends neural signals between the central and peripheral nervous system. These signals facilitate motivation and our ability to pay attention, learn, and memorize information

3. Increases Ability to Focus 

P5P is required for the synthesis of epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine.

While the two hormones are mostly associated with the body’s flight-or-fight response to stress, they also impact our sleep-wake cycle. In the brain, epinephrine and norepinephrine help you wake up and increase focus when performing tasks. 

4. Improves Mood and Mental Health

Two neurotransmitters entirely dependent on P5P are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin. During high levels of anxiety or stress, GABA puts a stop to our neuron circuits and creates a calming effect on our brains. 

Serotonin also works to regulate our mood, and is known as the body’s “feel good” chemical. Maintaining normal levels of GABA and serotonin is proven to lift and stabilize people’s emotions and increase feelings of happiness.

5. May Improve Heart Health

P5P is essential in reducing elevated homocysteine levels, an amino acid that can cause inflammation, damaged blood vessels, or cardiovascular disease. 

Working in tandem with Vitamin B12 and folate, P5P breaks down excess homocysteine into other chemicals, like cysteine and methionine. These byproducts then serve to protect the heart and other organs from oxidative stress, DNA damage, and resulting atrophy. 

6. May Lower the Risk of Some Cancers

Maintaining adequate levels of P5P could lower the risk of some types of cancers, especially for women. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that women with plasma P5P concentrations in the highest quartile had a 30% reduced risk of invasive breast cancer compared to the women in the lowest quartile.

Another study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded that 26% of the pancreatic cancer cases studied could have been preventable with P5P supplementation prior to contracting the pancreatic cancer.

How Much P5P Do You Need Per Day?

The recommended dosage of P5P varies between 25-50 mg per day, depending on the specific deficiency or medical condition you want to treat. 

Taking higher doses of P5P, especially for extended time periods, may result in nerve damage, loss of coordination, extreme skin sensitivity, bone pain, muscle weakness, and other severe medical conditions. In rare cases, even a single dose over 100 milligrams can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or nausea.

Instead of large doses of P5P, it’s recommended to take smaller amounts on a regular basis. Any P5P not used by the body is excreted in urine, and should be replenished with daily intake.

Some factors further contribute to low levels of P5P in the body. For instance, women who are menstruating or taking birth control pills typically have vitamin B6 deficiency

Long-term use of NSAIDs or other drugs, including anti-tuberculosis medication, anticonvulsants, phenobarbital, and methylxanthines, also inhibit P5P metabolism and are likely to result in low levels. 

How to Increase Your P5P Levels

Bananas are a rich source of P5P.

The human body doesn’t produce vitamin B6 (or the active form, P5P) on its own. Instead, you have to get it through food and supplements. 

The richest food sources of vitamin B6 and P5P are bananas, beef liver, chicken, chickpeas, potatoes, salmon, tuna, and fortified cereals. But even with this wide variety, it’s challenging to sustain the recommended amount of P5P solely from food. In a mixed diet of meat and plants, only 75% of vitamin B6 is bioavailable. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also doesn’t require companies to include vitamin B6 content per serving size on nutrition labels unless vitamin B6 has been added to the food.

A simple, efficient way to guarantee daily P5P intake is through supplementation. Available in capsules (typically vegetarian capsules made of cellulose), liquid, and powder form, P5P supplements break down and are absorbed by the body in the same way as food sources.

For the optimal dosage according to your current health and lifestyle, discussing P5P dietary supplements with a healthcare professional is best. 

Is It Time to Add P5P Supplements Into Your Routine?

If you have a vitamin B6 deficiency (also called a pyridoxine deficiency), taking a P5P supplement could be a quick way to correct it, thanks to its ultra-high bioavailability. 

There are several risk factors for this type of deficiency, including:

  • Following a vegan or vegetarian diet
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
  • Being on your menstrual cycle

Keep in mind, like any supplement, you should speak with a medical professional before taking P5P to make sure it’s the right fit for you.