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 B-Vitamins only work for a select group of people, depending on your nutritional intake.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
Natural treatments like B-Vitamins are better for mild anxiety. The more severe your anxiety, the more you need additional support. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety symptoms, compare your anxiety to others, and find recommendations for treatments.
Vitamins Are Not Medicine - But They Can Work
Natural health enthusiasts have been promoting the idea of vitamins for anxiety in years. Sometimes there is a benefit. Magnesium, for anxiety, may help with anxiety, and proper nutrition is crucial for maintianing optimum health, including stress control. But vitamins do not work for everyone, and simply adding vitamins to your diet may not have much of an effect. If you haven't yet, make sure you take our free 7 minute anxiety test today to score your anxiety severity.
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. 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.
In addition, it may be harmful to frequently consume vitamins that you do not need. That is why 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 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 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.
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.
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: More Research Necessary_
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.
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.
_Verdict: More Research Necessary_
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: Unlikely to Affect Anxiety - More Research Needed_
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.
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: More Research Needed_
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.
_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: More Research Needed_
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. That means that it's possible that B-Vitamins could improve anxiety levels.
The problem is not with B-Vitamins. The problem is the lack of true studies that control successfully for B-Vitamin's affects on anxiety symptoms. There is very little research into B-Vitamins and anxiety except in those that are deficient.
However, it's not advised to simply start taking B-Vitamins and hope that they improve anxiety. Instead, consider supplementation in addition to behavioral treatments, such as those you acheive with our anxiety test, and talk to your doctor about whether or not they think taking these supplements is safe or effective.
B-Vitamins could benefit your anxiety. But they shouldn't necessarily be taken alone. Consider B-Vitamins in addition to some type of non-vitamin based treatment and let the combination affect your anxiety levels.
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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%20therapy%20for%20premenstrual.pdf)." 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.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.