Supplements
Fact Checked

B Vitamins that ACTUALLY Work for Anxiety

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
B Vitamins that ACTUALLY Work for Anxiety

Natural health remedies are a popular choice for those that are looking to improve upon their mental health issues without medicine. Few people want to deal with the time and effort of therapy, and fewer still want to use the medicinal treatments that are not only prescribed extremely fast in today's medicine-oriented community - they also have a lot of side effects.

Many believe that vitamins and nutrition are the key to improving anxiety. That's because deficiencies in important vitamins appear to precipitate anxiety symptoms, so it is possible 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) can potentially decrease your anxiety symptoms. The bad news is that B-Vitamins only work for a select group of people, depending on their nutritional intake.

Vitamins Are Not Medicine - But They Can Work

Natural health enthusiasts have been promoting the idea of vitamins alone as a treatment for anxiety in years. Sometimes there is a benefit. There is some early evidence that magnesium supplements may help with anxiety, for example. There is also some belief that a proper diet is may be useful for coping with stress. But taking vitamin supplements may not work for everyone, and simply adding vitamins to your diet may not have much of an effect.

The reason that most vitamins have little effect on your anxiety is simple: when your body doesn't need the vitamin, it usually removes them. This is true of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, and several minerals. Your digestive system is unlikely to keep nutrients it doesn't need. Instead, it turns them into waste, and you expel them every time you go to the bathroom.

Some vitamins and minerals, like calcium, do build up in the body. But usually, this is considered a bad thing - not a good thing. Too much Vitamin A, for example, can become toxic. 

That is why some experts believe it may actually be harmful to frequently consume vitamins that you do not need. If you are going to add vitamins to your diet, you first need to be selective - talk to your doctor, and try to understand what your dietary needs may be. That is the case with B-Vitamins - a common vitamin that is often recommended on several blogs and natural health websites for those with anxiety.

Exploring B-Vitamins and Anxiolytic Benefits

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 natural health “experts” online argue that these vitamins are powerful tools for anxiety relief, and that supplementation can cure or reduce your anxiety symptoms. Rather than listening 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:

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. That means the study is not credible. 

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. Yet not enough research has been completed.

Verdict: Totally Unsubstantiated

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.” However, it should be noted that it does not reduce mental health-related stress. Instead, it reduces oxidative stress, which is unrelated. 

It's unclear if there is any benefit to an improved immune system on anxiety. Stress itself weakens the immune system as a response to a release of stress hormones. It seems unlikely that boosting the immune system will reduce stress levels.

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 the likelihood of that is slim to none. .

Verdict: No Evidence

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Niacin can actually be derived 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 natural health supporters claim 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: Not known to Affect Anxiety

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid

Pantothenic Acid is one of the lesser known B-Vitamins to the average individual, as it is not commonly used as a natural health supplement. 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.

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. 

Verdict: No known benefit

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

Pyridoxine synthesizes neurotransmitters and amino acids, and cannot be stored in the body. 

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.

Verdict: Plausible, But 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 unlikely that biotin helps improve anxiety because excess amounts of biotin are produced on a daily basis in the intestines by bacteria. Every day you have more biotin than your body traditionally needs. It is unclear if Biotin supplementation would improve anxiety levels.

Verdict: No known benefit

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.

Verdict: Possible Effect on Anxiety

Vitamin B12 - Cobalamin

Vitamin B12 is the most promising of all of the B-Vitamins.

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."

Verdict: Possible Benefits on Anxiety.

Overall Impressions of the B-Vitamins and Anxiety Reduction

Anecdotally, many people struggling with anxiety have noted that they have seen a decrease in their anxiety levels after taking B-Vitamin Complex. But it is more likely to be an example of the placebo effect. There is not yet any research indicating that B-Vitamins reduce anxiety. 

It would be useful if more research was conducted. There is a lack of true studies that control successfully for B-Vitamin's effects on anxiety symptoms. However, it's not advised to simply start taking B-Vitamins and hope that they improve anxiety. There is currently no reason to believe it will have much benefit.

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