Reading University study says regular intake of B6 and B12 vitamins can treat depression, anxiety disorders

Reading University study says regular intake of B6 and B12 vitamins can treat depression, anxiety disorders


Everyone may feel anxious or sad at times. However, some people may experience life-disrupting levels of these emotions on a regular basis, developing into a mental health disorder that requires treatment.

Researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom studied how vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 may impact anxiety and depression levels. Vitamins B6 and B12 are present in foods such as chickpeas and tuna, but the research team tested the vitamins at much higher levels than those found in food.

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

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 31 per cent of adults in the United States experience any anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Additionally, around the same percentage of young adults (ages 13-18) experience an anxiety disorder.

The NIMH reports that around 8.4 per cent of all adults in the U.S. experienced a depressive episode in 2020, making depression one of the most prevalent mental health conditions.

Medical providers often opt to treat anxiety and mood disorders with a combination of therapy and medications. Cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy are two popular therapy options.

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

People with anxiety and depression also occasionally try natural treatments to improve their symptoms and use herbal supplements such as ashwagandha and valerian. The researchers wanted to learn to what degree vitamins B6 and B12 can affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) processing. GABA is a neurotransmitter that can calm the nervous system and may contribute to someone developing anxiety or depression.

“The functioning of the brain relies on a delicate balance between the excitatory neurons that carry information around and inhibitory ones, which prevent runaway activity,” says Prof David Field, lead author of the study and associate professor at the University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.

The inhibition-excitation balance being 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 excitation-inhibition imbalances in the visual cortex.”

According to the authors, “Vitamin B6 is involved in a number of other pathways that are likely to reduce neural 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 had self-reported anxiety and/or depression. They were randomly chosen to receive vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or a placebo.

The B6 tablets contained 100 milligrams of B6, while the B12 tablets had 1,000 micrograms of B12. This far exceeded the daily dietary allowance recommended by the Food and Drug Administration, which is 1.7mg for B6 and 2.4mcg for B12.

The researchers screened the participants for anxiety and depression before and after the vitamin or placebo regimens using the Screen for Adult Anxiety Related Disorders (SCAARED) and Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ). The researchers had the participants complete visual and tactile tests at the end of the trial.

The study results indicated that vitamin B6 can be helpful in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. The 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 with reduced anxiety among the participants,” says Prof Field.

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

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

The authors noted that “it is possible that the 1-month supplementation period in the present study was insufficient for the effects of B12 supplementation.”

The study findings may be helpful to people with anxiety or depression in multiple ways. First, vitamin B6 supplements are readily available over-the-counter at most drug stores and other retailers.

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

Dr MacLaren explained, “B6 vitamins are very widely available and many people take them regularly, so it could be an easy way to boost treatments that they are already taking.”

Another way the study may be helpful to people with anxiety or depression is that the findings indicate vitamin B6 may 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. Merrill, a psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Centre at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre in Santa Monica, California, said.

“This makes sense and becomes an important way to explain the findings to patients and perhaps those who have not sought out treatment but are struggling with high anxiety,” he said.

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

“Some anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines have potential side effects like sedation, imbalance, or memory loss,” Dr Merrill added.

  • A Medical News Today report
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