A new study led by the University of Reading has found that taking high-dose Vitamin B6 tablets can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in young adults after taking these supplements for a month. These findings provide valuable evidence to support the use of vitamin supplements thought to modify levels of brain activity to prevent or treat mood disorders.
“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. 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,” explained study lead author David Field, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Reading.
“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.”
Although previous research has produced clear evidence that multivitamins can reduce stress levels, few studies have been conducted to assess which particular vitamins drive this effect. In the current study, over 300 participants were randomly assigned either Vitamin B6 or Vitamin B12 supplements 50 times higher than the daily recommended dose, or a placebo, which they had to take for a month daily.
The results revealed that, while Vitamin B12 had little effect compared to the placebo during the trial period, Vitamin B6 made a significant difference. According to the scientists, Vitamin B6 increased the body’s production of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), a chemical that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain, thus reducing feelings of anxiety and depression.
“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,” said Dr. Field.
“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.”
Further research is needed to identify other nutrition-based interventions that could benefit mental health and well-being in order to allow different dietary interventions to be combined in the future to provide greater results.
The study is published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental.