READING, England — Taking high-dose vitamin B6 supplements may help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, a new study reveals. Researchers from the University of Reading in England report that young adults taking a dose 50 times the recommended daily dose reported feeling less anxious and depressed after a month.
What is vitamin B6?
Vitamin B6 helps the body turn protein and carbohydrates into energy and it also plays an important role in the nervous system. It also increases the body’s production of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), a chemical that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain.
Vitamin B6 is found naturally in a variety of foods, including salmon, tuna, chickpeas, and bananas.
“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 Dr. David Field from the University of Reading in a media release. “Recent theories have connected mood disorders and some other neuropsychiatric conditions with a disturbance of this balance, often in the direction of raised levels of brain activity. 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.”
The study provides evidence lacking in previous studies as to what exactly drives the stress-reducing effects of marmite and multivitamins.
More than 300 participants took either a placebo or Vitamin B6 or B12 supplements at 50 times the recommended amount – around 70mg. Each participant took one tablet a day with food. Vitamin B12 had little effect compared to the placebo, but B6 showed a statistically reliable difference.
Is there a risk from taking too much?
Visual tests at the end of the trial confirmed the raised levels of GABA in participants taking Vitamin B6, supporting the hypothesis that the supplements reduced anxiety.
The team also detected subtle but harmless changes in visual performance, consistent with controlled levels of brain activity. Health officials in the United Kingdom recommend that people do not take too high a dose – more than 200mg a day – as it can lead to a loss of feeling in the arms and legs. In a few cases, this has become permanent in people who have taken very large doses for several months.
“Many foods, including tuna, chickpeas and many fruits and vegetables, contain Vitamin B6. However, the high doses used in this trial suggest that supplements would be necessary to have a positive effect on mood,” Dr. Field continues. “It is important to acknowledge that this research is at an early stage and the effect of Vitamin B6 on anxiety in our study was quite small compared to what you would expect from medication. However, nutrition-based interventions produce far fewer unpleasant side effects than drugs, and so in the future people might prefer them as an intervention.
“To make this a realistic choice, further research is needed to identify other nutrition-based interventions that benefit mental wellbeing, allowing different dietary interventions to be combined in future to provide greater results,” the study author concludes. “One potential option would be to combine Vitamin B6 supplements with talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to boost their effect.”
The study is published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental.
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.