Several studies have revealed that B vitamins strengthen the nervous system and reduce symptoms of stress. However, very few studies have looked at how the individual B vitamins work. A new placebo-controlled study that is published in the science journal, Human Psychopharmacology, appears to show that high-dosed vitamin B6 boosts the body’s formation of a certain neurotransmitter that blocks the exchange of undesirable impulses between brain cells, and this has a calming effect. In addition, vitamin B6 seems to reduce symptoms of depression.
All the different B vitamins work together as a biological team in the body and have a key role in many different processes that are essential for energy turnover, the nervous system, and brain function. This also includes the important balance between activation and inhibition of various neurotransmitters in the brain. It turns out that increased activation of the neurotransmitter, glutamate, is involved in various neurological disturbances such as anxiety and depression. Earlier studies have shown that high doses of B vitamin may be effective for blocking certain neurotransmitters. However, very few studies have looked at how the different B vitamins affect this part of the central nervous system. In the new study, scientists looked at vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 that have crucial roles.
- Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit signals from one neuron to another, from muscle cells, or from glandular cells.
- Glutamate stimulates neurons. Having normal glutamate concentrations is important for brain functions such as learning and memory. On the other hand, high concentrations result in elevated neuronal activity that can cause unrest, neurological disturbances, and neuronal damage.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain
- Serotonin is important for mood and for interneuronal communication.
- Dopamine is important for mood, learning, memory, and movement
Vitamin B6 reduces anxiety and depression by way of several mechanisms
The new double-blinded and placebo-controlled study included 478 adults aged 18-58 years. For several years, the participants were given placebo or supplements of vitamin B6 and B12 with doses that were much higher than the recommended daily allowance (the RDA levels in the United States are similar to those in Denmark). On a daily basis, the participants were given 100 mg of vitamin B6 (the RDA level is 1.3 mg) and up to 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B12 (the RDA level is 2.5 mcg).
During the course of the study, the scientists assessed symptoms of anxiety with reference to a scale known as SCAARED (Screen for Adult Anxiety-related Disorders). The symptoms of depression were assessed by using another scale called MFQ (Mood and Feelings Questionnaire).
The scientists also carried out various vision tests that looked at the participants’ ability to distinguish color contrasts and patterns, as this can be related to levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.
They found that the high doses of vitamin B6 lowered the participants’ self-reported anxiety and depression. Also, it appeared that the participants were better at identifying color contrasts when they got more B6. The scientists therefore assume that high-dosed vitamin B6 increases the brain’s synthesis of GABA, which blocks undesirable interneuronal impulses. More specifically, B6 inhibits glutamate that activates neurons. In other words, it is vital to have the right balance between glutamate and GABA.
Vitamin B6 is also able to activate the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine, both of which are important for our mood. According to the study, vitamin B12 supplements had a minor effect on anxiety and vision. It’s long been assumed that dysfunctions in the body’s production of GABA and serotonin is related to symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
The scientists also address the fact that vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 help the body convert homocysteine into other amino acids. Elevated homocysteine levels may result in damaged blood vessels and neurons.
Moreover, vitamin B6 amplifies the body’s utilization of magnesium, which is also important for the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine. Several studies have already shown a clear link to the many different mechanisms through which magnesium affects our mood, sleep quality, and ability to prevent anxiety and depression.
- Vitamin B6’s role in the brain and mood
- Contributes to the maintenance of the balance between glutamate and GABA
- Contributes to the activation of serotonin and dopamine
- Contributes to the breakdown and conversion of homocysteine
- Amplifies the body’s utilization of magnesium
Vitamin B6 sources and why deficiencies are so common
Vitamin B6 is found in meat, fish, vegetables, bananas, wholegrains, eggs, and dairy products. The vitamin is destroyed by heat and light.
Deficiencies and poor utilization may be caused by unhealthy diets, overweight, ageing, alcohol and stimulant abuse, hormone pills, and certain types of medicine. Patients with autoimmune diseases or liver and kidney disorders also risk becoming vitamin B6-deficient.
David T. Field et al. High-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and strengthens visual surround suppression. Human Psychopharmacology. 19 July 2022
Abigail Roberts. B6 and Dopamine: Everything You Need to Know. Mindlabpro. 2021
Mary J. Brown et al. Vitamin B6 Deficiency. StatPearls October 3. 2020
Tim Newman. Could this chemical help explain anxiety? MedicalNewsToday 2019
Gerry K. Schwalfenberg and Stephen J. Genuis. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Carro) 2017
Megan Ware. Why do we need magnesium? Medical News Today. 2020
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