Main Topics:
 

Calm Clinic Review: B-Vitamins for Anxiety

Natural health is a popular choice for those that are looking to remedy their mental health issues. Few people want to deal with the time and effort of therapy, and fewer still want to use the rapid but side effect rich medicinal treatments that are prescribed extremely fast in today's medicine oriented community.

Many believe that vitamins and nutrition are the key to improving anxiety. That's because deficiencies in important vitamins appear to cause anxiety symptoms, so it stands to reason that improving our intake of these vitamins should have the opposite effect and decrease the amount of anxiety we experience.

There's some good news and bad news. The good news is that if you are deficient in any vitamin, such as B-Vitamins, it's likely that adding these nutrients to your diet (in terms of supplements or in food) will decrease your anxiety symptoms. The bad news is that very few of those with anxiety are deficient, and adding MORE than your daily recommended amount is unlikely to have any effect.

Why Vitamins Do Not Usually Work

The reason that most vitamins have little effect on your anxiety is simple: when your body doesn't need the vitamin, it trashes it. Your digestive system doesn't keep nutrients that it doesn't need. It turns them into waste, and you expel them every time you go to the bathroom.

Thus adding more than the daily amount you need into your diet is unlikely to have an effect, because your body would filter it out before it has a chance to make a difference in your mental health.

Furthermore, most people aren't truly deficient. The body finds these vitamins in all sorts of foods, and in some cases can create the vitamin on its own through your diet even if you aren't technically consuming the vitamin itself. In other words, you probably have enough of the vitamin already, and so supplementation is unlikely to make up for any deficiencies.

It's also important to note that some researchers think supplementation may increase the risk of side effects, due to overdose of the vitamins.

Exploring B-Vitamins and Anxiolytic Benefits

Despite what natural health promoters will tell you, vitamins for anxiety are simply unlikely to have much benefit. However, that doesn't mean they all have no benefit – only that most don't.

In order to find out which vitamins may have an effect on anxiety, you need to explore the research for what's known as the "anxiolytic" effect, which translates to "anti-anxiety" effect. An anxiolytic vitamin is going to be a vitamin that appears to have anti-anxiety properties when given in higher doses to those that do not already have a deficiency in the vitamin.

B-Vitamins are one of the most commonly linked vitamins to reducing anxiety. Many experts argue that these vitamins are powerful tools for anxiety relief, and that supplementation can cure or reduce your anxiety symptoms. Rather than listen to what people say online, the best thing to do is go to the research and see what studies have to say about the anxiolytic properties of B-Vitamins.

For a study to be considered viable for this exercise, it is going to have to show the following:

  • Be completed by an unbiased researcher.
  • Show a strong sample size.
  • Use a control group.
  • Be tested on those with anxiety or severe stress.

Research anything enough and by luck you're bound to find that you eventually get anxiolytic properties even if they're not really there, so there also needs to be studies by more than one researcher, or show more than one published paper.

So let's look at the following B-Vitamins and see if the research argues that a larger dose could show anxiolytic effects. The following are all of the vitamins that are still considered vitamins (some, like B4, are no longer considered vitamins in the Vitamin B complex).

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Thiamine affects nerve function, and plays a role in the creation of energy and DNA. A study in Vietnam did appear to link Thiamine intake to an improvement in anxiety levels for those with generalized anxiety disorder. However, when looking at the study further, it appears that it only involved 9 people, all nine were low in thiamine, they were all over the age of 50, and there was no control group. Generally it's best to assume that studies this small are meaningless overall.

There do not appear to be any other studies that link thiamine to a reduction in anxiety or stress, with the exception of those that are thiamine deficient.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Riboflavin is linked to energy production and oxidation of fatty acids. Many claim that Riboflavin may reduce the symptoms of stress, and that higher doses of riboflavin could improve immune system function, which may reduce stress.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence of these claims, let alone the claim that an improved immune system reduces anxiety at all. Stress itself weakens the immune system as a response to a release of stress hormones. It seems unlikely from a logical perspective that a vitamin could counter that effect, let alone that anxiety would be reduced as a result.

Riboflavin has been linked to a reduction in migraines, so it's conceivable that if anxiety is causing your migraines that riboflavin could have some benefit, but this benefit is likely minimal.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Niacin can actually be created from tryptophan, so consuming niacin itself may not even be necessary to ensure you're not deficient. However, niacin cannot be stored, so deficiency is possible. Niacin plays a role in your skin health, conversion of energy from carbohydrates, and possibly cholesterol production.

Many believe niacin produces serotonin, or plays a role in serotonin production. This does not appear to be true. Rather, tryptophan – an amino acid – is used by the body to create both niacin and serotonin. Niacin has also been partnered with other drugs because it appears to cross the blood brain barrier, but there is currently no research that confirms that niacin alone has any anxiolytic properties.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid

Pantothenic Acid is one of the lesser known B-Vitamins, but it's still an important one. It plays a role in the creation of the acetylcholine neurotransmitters, oxidizes fatty acids, and more. It also produces CoEnzyme-A.

It's rare to be deficient in B5. The name itself translates almost literally to "from everywhere" because it's found in nearly every type of food. It's so rare to be deficient that it's barely studied, because it tends to only affect those suffering from severe starvation.

What's interesting is that one study actually linked supplementation in very high doses to an increase in panic attacks, not a decrease, although these doses were so high that it's difficult to know of its relevance.

While Pantothenic Acid may help with a variety of unfortunate and painful conditions, it does not appear to play any role in anxiety or stress whatsoever. More research is necessary, however.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

Pyridoxine synthesizes neurotransmitters and amino acids, and can be stored in the body. High doses may actually damage nerves and possibly lead to neurological disorders, so any supplementation would have to be completed very carefully in order to ensure you're not going far over the recommended amount.

There is currently no research on whether or not Pyridoxine has any anxiolytic effects. But a study on monkeys did find that an increase in Pyridoxine appeared to increase serotonin levels. It also appeared to decrease anxiety in those with premenstrual syndrome, and a deficiency in B6 appeared to increase psychological stress in grieving men.

While interesting and useful, no research has currently confirmed the idea that an increase in B6 will lead to anxiolytic properties, so more research is needed before confirming its use.

Verdict: Plausible, But Highly Suspect and Possibly Dangerous. More Research Needed.

Vitamin B7 – Biotin

Biotin is a vitamin that helps process and metabolize lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. It's essential for transferring carbon dioxide, and may help prevent diabetes.

It's extremely unlikely that biotin helps improve anxiety because excess amounts of biotin are actually produced on a daily basis in the intestines by bacteria. Every day you have more biotin than your body traditionally needs. There is also no evidence that biotin has any effect on anxiety, although a fascinating article actually stated that LOW levels of biotin improved stress resistance in some flies. It likely has no effect on humans, however.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid

Folic Acid, or "Folate," is a vitamin that needs to be consumed in food. Folate helps synthesize DNA, repair DNA, and prevent anemia. Folic acid deficiency is still fairly rare in most Western diets.

Folic acid does have a variety of useful purposes, and doctors may recommend folic acid supplementation. Studies have found that folic acid deficiency may lead to anxiety and depression, and some studies claim that folic acid may reduce depression when taken in conjunction with vitamin B12. But other studies found no link between folic acid and an improvement of mood when compared to placebo.

Verdict: No Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B12 - Cobalamin

Vitamin B12 plays a role in the development of anemia, nerve disorders, and cognitive deficits. Its status as one of the B vitamins that affects the brain and nerves the most has made it a popular choice of supplements for those trying to treat their anxiety with Vitamin B. B12 is also difficult to absorb in the elderly so it's a popular supplement choice for those over 55.

Deficiency can lead to mood problems, including depression and anxiety. It can affect nerve tissue and affect memory. There are also a few studies that indicate that low B12 levels are more common than previously believed and may have an effect on mental health even if they don't reach the point of deficiency.

Several studies have shown that B12 may be helpful for those suffering from depression, including one study conveniently titled: "High vitamin B12 level and good treatment outcome may be associated in major depressive disorder." But these studies indicate that B12 itself may be unlikely to have an effect alone, and instead may simply improve treatment outcomes.

No studies currently show anxiolytic effects. B12 is primarily believed to assist in nerve health, and may potentially be useful for those with unusual nerve-related anxiety symptoms, but otherwise there is not much evidence of anxiolytic benefits from respectable researchers.

Verdict: Plausible, But Highly Suspect. More Research Needed.

Overall Impressions of the B-Vitamins and Anxiety Reduction

It would be fantastic if someone could take something as simple as a vitamin and find that their anxiety disappears. But according to current research, it is unlikely that any of the B-Complex vitamins are going to provide those benefits. There is nearly no research supporting the idea that any of the B-Vitamins have anxiolytic or anti-stress effects, and most are filtered out of the body long before they would have a chance to reach the brain.

Now, that doesn't mean that B-Vitamins should be avoided, or that they can't have secondary anxiety benefits. If you are deficient or suffering from some type of issue related to B-Vitamin use, those issues can cause anxiety (both as a result of dealing with physical symptoms and as a symptom of deficiency), and that may indicate a need to start taking B-Vitamins regularly.

But the likelihood of that is slim. It's best to talk to your doctor and see what they recommend. Don't believe everything you read online about potential vitamin cures for anxiety, because if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

References

vinh qu?c Luong, Khanh, and Lan Thi Hoàng Nguy?n. "The Impact of Thiamine Treatment on Generalized Anxiety Disorder." International Journal 2 (2011).

Dalton, K.; Dalton, M. J. T. (1987). "Characteristics of pyridoxine overdose neuropathy syndrome". Acta Neurologica Scandinavica 76 (1): 8–11.

Hartvig, P., et al. "Pyridoxine effect on synthesis rate of serotonin in the monkey brain measured with positron emission tomography." Journal of neural transmission 102.2 (1995): 91-97.

Kashanian, M., R. Mazinani, and S. Jalalmanesh. "Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) therapy for premenstrual syndrome." International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 96.1 (2007): 43-44.

Malouf, R., J. Grimley Evans, and A. Areosa Sastre. "Folic acid with or without vitamin B12 for cognition and dementia." The Cochrane Library (2005).

Hintikka, Jukka, et al. "High vitamin B12 level and good treatment outcome may be associated in major depressive disorder." BMC psychiatry 3.1 (2003): 17.

Share