New study suggests B6 supplements could help to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression

Photo credit: Catherine Falls Commercial - Getty Images
Photo credit: Catherine Falls Commercial - Getty Images

Considering one in four UK adults experiences mental illness at some point during their lifetimes, you’d have thought we’d have a more robust knowledge of prevention and treatment methods. But, despite the best efforts of many to make mental illness more mainstream and high-priority where research is concerned, its intricacies – causations, and so on – largely remain a mystery.

However, a new study, published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, points to B6 supplements as a possible method for helping with anxiety and depression symptom management.

B6 is a naturally-produced vitamin that you’ll find in many of your favourite foods, including tuna, chickpeas, fruits, and veggies. Our bodies use it to utilise and store energy from protein and carbs in foods, and also create haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body.

The study, which saw over 300 participants assigned – at random – either a 100 mg Vitamin B6 supplement, a 1,000 mg Vitamin B12 supplement or a placebo tablet, indicated that there is, indeed, reason to believe that high-dose B6 supplements could help to support mental health.

Whilst those taking the B12 supplements and placebo tablets experienced little to no changes to their mental wellbeing throughout the study period, participants taking the B6 reported feeling less anxious and depressed after one month. How? Possibly, due to a rebalancing of chemicals.

‘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,’ said Dr David Field, lead author of the study. ‘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.’

Study results also suggest that high-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation could increase GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) production. GABA, essentially, decreases nervous system activity by blocking and inhibiting certain brain signals, and is known for producing a calming effect that can help with processing stress and anxiety.

It’s worth noting, though, that the dose of B6 given to participants during the study far exceeds the daily allowance recommended by the NHS, which is 1.2mg for women. The NHS currently advises against taking more than 200mg of Vitamin B6 a day, as it can result in a loss of feeling in the arms and legs.

Whilst the evidence does indeed look promising where anxiety and depression treatment is concerned, more research is needed in this area – and supplementation should in no way replace therapy and/or medication.

‘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,' Dr Field adds. ‘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 future to provide greater results.'

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