– Does vitamin B6 improve mental health?
When we talk about B vitamins, you’re probably most familiar with vitamin B12, which helps prevent anemia and maintains bone health, and vitamin B9 (folic acid), which is needed for a healthy pregnancy.
But vitamin B6, in some ways, is “the forgotten vitamin,” said Dr Reem Malouf, a neurologist at the University of Oxford who has studied vitamin B6’s effect on cognition.
As with other B vitamins, such as B12 and B9, it is an essential nutrient, but how it affects mental health is not fully understood by scientists and is less well known than others.
That doesn’t make it any less crucial to the body’s functioning, said Katherine Tucker, nutritional epidemiologist at UMass Lowell.
Vitamin B6 is involved in a number of chemical reactions important to the nervous system and brain function, including the synthesis of proteins, amino acids and chemical messengers in the brain, as well as the proper functioning of the immune system.
It is also essential for pregnancy and postnatal care, helping to relieve morning sickness and is necessary for fetal and infant brain development.
And vitamin B6 deficiencies have been linked to several neuropsychiatric disorders, including seizures, migraines, anxiety, depression and memory problems.
— What role does vitamin B6 play in mental health?
“Vitamin B6 affecting mental health is not a new concept,” said Jess Eastwood, a PhD student in nutritional psychology at the University of Reading in Britain.
In a study of nearly 500 college students published in July, for example, Eastwood and colleagues found that those who took high doses of vitamin B6 (100 milligrams daily for about a month) reported feeling less anxious than those who were taking a placebo.
Their findings also suggested that B6 may play a role in reducing the increased brain activity that can occur with certain mood disorders.
But the sample size for this study was small, and there hasn’t been much research overall on how B6, whether supplemental or dietary, causes changes in mental health, added Eastwood.
The conclusions of these studies, including this one, are often limited and do not prove causation.
It can also be difficult to study the effect, if any, of a B6 supplement on mental health, in part because it is difficult to measure how well the vitamins are absorbed into the bloodstream.
— Should we all rush to buy B6 supplements?
Probably not, according to experts.
For most healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B6 is 1.3 to 1.7 milligrams.
As with other essential vitamins, the body cannot make B6 on its own, so you can only get it from foods or supplements.
However, most healthy adults get more than enough vitamin B6 from their diet alone, Tucker said.
“It’s widely available in whole foods,” he said, including tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, chickpeas, poultry, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, oranges, cantaloupe and walnuts.
A cup of canned chickpeas, for example, provides 1.1 milligrams of vitamin B6, while 85 grams of grilled chicken breast provides 0.5 milligrams.
Most dietary supplements also tend to contain more than you need in a day; for some B6 supplements on the market, for example, it can be 20 to 200 times more.
Taking such high doses of B6 supplements probably won’t cause any negative short-term side effects, Tucker said, but the National Institutes of Health recommend adults take no more than 100 milligrams per day.
Taking much more than that, around 1,000 milligrams or more each day for long periods of time, could cause weakness, numbness, and pain in the hands and feet; loss of muscle control; and nausea, although most symptoms go away once you stop taking such high doses.
Experts say that if you’re worried that you’re not getting enough vitamin B6 in your diet, ask your doctor for a blood test.
If you are borderline or mildly deficient, you may have only minor or no symptoms and no complications.
But if the deficiency becomes severe or prolonged, it could lead to more serious conditions, such as microcytic anemia, depression, confusion, fatigue, and weakened immunity, which may resolve after vitamin B6 levels recover.
Certain medications or lifestyle habits can also contribute to vitamin B6 deficiency.
“The diabetes drug metformin, some high blood pressure drugs, and certainly alcohol, tend to cause the body to lose B6, so you end up retaining less B6 than you need. “, said Tucker.
Heavy drinkers, smokers and those taking certain medications need to be much more aware of their vitamin B6 levels, he added.
People with kidney or malabsorption syndromes such as chronic kidney disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease may also be prone to vitamin B6 deficiency.
People who are deficient in B6 also tend to be deficient in other B vitamins, Tucker said, so if you need to supplement your diet, you’re better off taking a B-complex supplement, which typically contains all eight B vitamins in one. . a single dose.
But if you’re not deficient, Tucker added, you probably don’t need to take a supplement.
“I would always support a food-first approach,” Eastwood said.
“If you may be feeling more tired, not feeling quite like yourself, and know that you may not be eating a lot of B6-containing foods,” this could be a sign that you need to turn to foods richer in B6. food.