Vitamins B6 and B12 are involved in metabolic processes that decrease neural excitation and increase inhibition. This is an important role because an equilibrium shifted too far towards excitation has been implicated in several neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression.
A new study by the University of Reading offers significant evidence to support the use of Vitamin B6 supplements thought to modify brain activity levels for preventing or treating mood disorders. Scientists measured the impact of high doses of Vitamin B6 on young adults. They found that they reported feeling less anxious and depressed after taking the supplements every day for a month.
Dr. David Field, lead author from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, said: “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.
“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.”
In the current trial, more than 300 participants were randomly assigned either Vitamin B6 or B12 supplements far above the recommended daily intake (approximately) 50 times the recommended daily allowance) or a placebo, and took one a day with food for a month. Vitamin B12 had little effect compared to placebo over the trial period, but Vitamin B6 made a statistically reliable difference.
Visual tests performed at the trial’s end showed that those who had taken vitamin B6 supplements had higher GABA levels, confirming the theory that B6 was the cause of the decrease in anxiety. The visual performance showed minor, safe variations consistent with managed brain activation levels.
Dr. Field said: “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 affect mood positively.”
“It is essential 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 the medication. However, nutrition-based interventions produce far fewer unpleasant side effects than drugs, 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 the future to provide greater results.”
“One potential option would be to combine Vitamin B6 supplements with talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to boost their effect.”
- David T. Field, Rebekah O. Cracknell et al. High-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and strengthens visual surround suppression. Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental. DOI: 10.1002/hup.2852