B Vitamins and Mental Health: What Does The Research Say?

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
August 9, 2021

B vitamins are essential nutrients involved in numerous metabolic processes that play a significant role in brain health. Due to the increasing number of individuals with mental health issues, researchers are looking more and more at nutrients to help combat this.

In a new review published Monday in Nutrients, researchers investigated the effects of B vitamin supplementation on mood, depression, anxiety, and stress.

This review, which included over 2000 participants over the age of 18, consisted of 18 studies (minimum study duration of 4 weeks) that involved a B vitamin supplement containing at least 3 B vitamins. The rationale is that multiple vitamins would be more efficacious than single nutrients. Only studies published after 1999 were accepted. All of the studies used supplements containing B6 and B12, and all but one study included folate. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B5 were included in 16 of the 18 studies. Biotin was the least included and was only in 10 of the studies. Most of the supplements contained twice the recommended daily value of B vitamins and some exceeded the intake by 10 to 300 times. Eleven of these studies demonstrated a positive effect of B vitamins for overall mood. Eight of these studies were in an ‘at-risk’ population and five were found to have a significant benefit on mood. B vitamin supplementation was also shown to have a positive effect on stress.

The research team also investigated B vitamin supplementation’s effects on depression and anxiety. As a result, a benefit on depressive symptoms did not reach clinical significance and there was no effect on anxiety. Thus, this review demonstrates the benefit of B vitamin supplementation in healthy and at-risk populations on mood and stress, but not for depression or anxiety.

Previous research has reported that up to 30% of patients that suffer from depression have elevated homocysteine; therefore, B vitamin supplementation would support lowering these levels and improving mood.

An interesting study published January 6, 2016 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that B vitamins had no effect on cognitive decline in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) when omega-3 levels are low. However, when omega-3 levels are in an upper normal range, B vitamins help slow cognitive decline and brain atrophy. These findings suggest that a combination of fish oil supplements and B vitamins may help to improve cognition, demonstrating the importance of synergy, as dysfunction and symptoms are often due to multifactorial causes.

We should also consider natural alternatives to antidepressants such as Sceletium tortuosum and Saffron flower. Sceletium tortuosum has attracted increasing attention over past few decades for promoting a sense of wellbeing and helping with depression, while saffron flower has demonstrated positive outcomes on mild clinical depression and has gone head to head with SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants demonstrating the same efficacy.

Previous research has also demonstrated that probiotics, specifically multispecies formulations, can have beneficial effects on mood and cognition. There is a strong gut-brain relationship in the body, as the gut and brain communicate through the nervous system, immune system, and hormones. Hence, the gut microbiome plays a role in supporting brain health and function.

Source: Lauren M Young, Andrew Pipingas, et al. A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals. Nutrients. 16 September 2019, 11(9), 2232.

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