Can Vitamins B6 or B12 Help Reduce Anxiety Symptoms?

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Scientists have found evidence that certain B vitamins can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. berkpixels/Getty Images
  • Researchers studied the impact of vitamins B6 and B12 to see how well either vitamin can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Study participants took high doses of their assigned vitamin for about a month.
  • Participants who took vitamin B6 saw a statistically significant reduction in anxiety symptoms, indicating improved functioning of GABA, the neurotransmitter associated with calming and relaxation.

Everyone can sometimes feel anxious or sad. However, some people may regularly experience disturbing levels of these emotions, developing into a mental health disorder that requires treatment.

Researchers from the University of Reading in the UK studied the impact of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 on levels of anxiety and depression.

Vitamins B6 and B12 are found in foods such as chickpeas and tuna, but the research team tested the vitamins at levels much higher than those found in foods.

Their findings were published in the journal Human psychopharmacology: clinical and experimental.

Anxiety and mood disorders can affect people of all ages, from children to older adults. There are several types of disorders that fall under anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 31% of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Additionally, about the same percentage of young adults (ages 13 to 18) have an anxiety disorder.

The NIMH reports that approximately 8.4% of all adults in the United States experienced a depressive episode in 2020, making depression one of the most prevalent mental health conditions.

Medical providers often choose to treat anxiety and mood disorders with a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy are two popular treatment options.

There are a number of prescription treatments for anxiety, including benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Ativan) and buspirone. Also, some antidepressants can help treat both anxiety and depression, including SSRIs (such as Lexapro or Zoloft) and tricyclics (like Anafranil or Tofranil).

People with anxiety and depression also occasionally try natural treatments to improve their symptoms and use herbal supplements like ashwagandha and valerian.

The researchers wanted to know to what extent vitamins B6 and B12 can affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that can calm the nervous system and can contribute to the development of anxiety or depression in a person.

“Brain function relies on a delicate balance between excitatory neurons, which carry information, and inhibitory neurons, which prevent runaway activity,” explains Professor David Fieldlead author of the study and associate professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading.

The inhibition-excitation balance being turned off in the brain has been linked to anxiety, depression, autism and schizophrenia. Additionally, the authors write that some people may experience visual and other sensory disturbances in many of these mental health conditions, “and these are thought to be related to arousal-inhibition imbalances in the visual cortex. “.

According to the authors, “Vitamin B6 is involved in a number of other pathways that may reduce neuronal excitation.” Vitamin B12 shares two of the same pathways, so the researchers wanted to test it as well to see what effect it would have.

The researchers recruited an initial group of 478 participants who suffered from self-reported anxiety and/or depression. They were randomly selected to receive vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or a placebo.

The B6 tablets contained 100 milligrams of B6, while the B12 tablets contained 1,000 micrograms of B12. This far exceeded the daily dietary intake recommended by the Food and drug administrationi.e. 1.7 mg for B6 and 2.4 mcg for B12.

Researchers examined participants for anxiety and depression before and after vitamin or placebo regimens using the Screening for anxiety-related disorders in adults (SCARED) and Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ).

The researchers asked the participants to complete visual and tactile tests at the end of the trial.

Study results indicated that vitamin B6 may be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. B6 participants saw a significant reduction in their SCAARED and MFQ tests compared to the placebo group.

“Vitamin B6 helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect to reduced anxiety in participants,” says Professor Field.

Additionally, in testing at the end of the trial, the B6 group showed an increase in “surround suppression of visual contrast detection”. The authors write that this test “argues for an inhibitory underlying mechanism related to GABA”.

While participants in the vitamin B12 group reported a slight improvement in symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to the placebo group, the researchers did not consider it significant.

The authors noted that “it is possible that the one-month supplementation period in the present study was insufficient for the effects of B12 supplementation.”

The results of the study may be helpful to people with anxiety or depression in several ways.

First, vitamin B6 supplements are readily available over the counter at most pharmacies and other retailers.

“This could be a breath of fresh air for people with anxiety disorders who haven’t had new treatment options for a long time,” Dr. Tom MacLarena consultant psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health based in London, said in an interview with Medical News Today.

“Vitamin B6 is very widely available, and many people take it regularly, so it could be an easy way to boost the treatments they’re already taking.”
— Dr. Tom MacLaren

Another way the study may be helpful for people with anxiety or depression is that the results indicate that vitamin B6 can help with GABA.

“The authors highlight the role of vitamin B6 as a coenzyme in the synthesis of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA from glutamate”, Dr. David A. Merrillpsychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said DTM.

“It makes sense and becomes an important way to explain the results to patients and perhaps those who haven’t sought treatment but are struggling with high anxiety,” he said.

Additionally, while some people with anxiety or depression are able to decrease symptoms by using vitamin B6, they may be able to avoid side effects from prolonged use of certain medications.

“Some anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines have potential side effects like sedation, dizziness, or memory loss,” Dr. Merrill continued. “Benzodiazepines can also be overused to the point of ineffectiveness, or you can develop both a psychological and physiological dependence that makes it difficult to stop using the drugs.”

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