It’s no secret that anxiety and depression go hand in hand. And if you suffer from anxiety and depression, you’re probably familiar with the physical and emotional toll it takes on you. It’s so much more than being sad or worried all the time. Oftentimes the extra symptoms that go along with it are even more difficult to manage.
Those who suffer from anxiety and depression may experience symptoms like:
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor memory
- Restlessness or difficulty waking
- Muscle tension
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness
If you’ve spoken with your doctor about anxiety and depression in the past, they may have recommended you take an SSRI or an SNRI in addition to therapy.
An SSRI is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy) in the brain by blocking its reabsorption. SNRIs work in a similar way, except they block both serotonin and norepinephrine (the neurotransmitter that responds to stress) from being reabsorbed.
For some, these medications work great in addition to therapy and other self-care practices. But for some, medications don’t always work right away. More research is needed to fully define B-vitamins’ role in depression and anxiety, but some studies show that there is a correlation and a warrant for further investigation. But before we delve into the hypotheses of current research, let’s take a look at what each of the B-vitamins are, and what they do.
What Are B-Vitamins?
In order for your body to function properly, it needs enough vitamins and nutrients. Without enough of the right vitamins and nutrients, your body may keep moving, but it won’t be able to function at its highest capacity.
One group of vitamins that’s necessary for your body’s peak performance is B Vitamins. B Vitamins include:
- Thiamine B-1 – Helps the body to break down sugar from food and in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, hormones, and fatty acids
- Riboflavin B-2 – Necessary for energy production, converts tryptophan into niacin (B-3), and B-6 into its coenzyme form so it can be used by the body
- Niacin B-3 – Reformats energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins so it can be used by the body, assists in the metabolization of cells and communications between cells, and also helps create the neurotransmitter serotonin
- Pantothenic acid -B-5 – Creates coenzymes, proteins, and fats to assist with metabolism and energy
- Pyridoxine B-6 – Forms and breaks down amino acids, breaks down carbohydrates and fats, aids in immune function, aids in the synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine, and helps convert the amino acid tryptophan into niacin (B-3)
- Biotin B-7 – Breaks down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and aids in the communication of cells
- Folic acid B-9 – Metabolism of vitamins and amino acids, DNA replication, and cellular division
- Cobalamin B-12 – Necessary for the metabolism of fats and proteins, proper neurological function, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell production.
Each of these vitamins is water-soluble – meaning they can not be stored in fat and need to be replenished each day. Each of these is also included in a B-Complex vitamin.
It’s important to note, however, that B-Vitamins are naturally found in many foods including :
- Milk and cheese
- Meat, fish, and shellfish
- dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- vegetables, such as beets, avocados, and potatoes
- whole grains and cereals
- kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas
- nuts and seeds
- fruits, such as citrus, banana, and watermelon
- wheat germ
As you can see, B-vitamins are quite prevalent in many foods and as such, deficiency of B-vitamins is not common – although it does occur. Those most at risk for a B-vitamin deficiency include people who have:
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Kidney conditions
- Alcohol dependence
- Old age
Those who are strict vegetarians or vegans may need to seek out additional B-vitamins as well, though each case varies.
What are the Symptoms of a B-vitamin Deficiency?
- Skin rash
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Abdominal cramps
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Numbness or tingling in extremities6
Many of the symptoms listed above could be attributed to a B-vitamin deficiency, or to another unrelated disease or condition. So if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms it’s important to discuss any supplementation or medication changes with your doctor.
B-Vitamins’ Role in Anxiety and Depression
Adding B-vitamins to your diet can’t cure your anxiety and depression. But it could help with certain symptoms.
Though more research is needed, B-vitamins’ role in cognitive function is evident. A lack of B-vitamins or a lessened ability to absorb B-vitamins could play a part in symptoms such as low energy levels and difficulty concentrating.
Folate (vitamin B-9) has shown a strong correlation in studies to depression and anxiety. One study, in particular, found that persons with low levels of folate had a much higher rate of severe depression than those with normal levels of folate.
Another study showed very positive results when a folate supplement was taken in addition to an antidepressant which was previously ineffective. In fact, 93.9% of women in the study showed a positive response to the folate supplement when taken with their antidepressant compared to 61.1% of women who took a placebo.
And as mentioned earlier, an increase in serotonin levels in the brain is the first choice in medication for those who suffer from depression and anxiety disorder, so it’s possible that a lack of niacin could contribute to a lack of serotonin.
With further studies, scientists will be able to determine if a niacin supplement would be beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Studies of B-12 also show a strong correlation between deficiency and depression.
One study found that approximately ⅓ of depressed patients in the study were deficient in B-12. It also showed that participants who were deficient in B-12 were more than twice as likely to experience depression than those who had adequate levels of B-12
This correlation could indicate that increasing B-12 levels could lower depression and anxiety symptoms, though more research is needed for this to be verified.
Adding a B-Complex Vitamin to your daily routine can’t cure your anxiety or depression, but much of what B-vitamins help with is related to symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s possible you could find some relief from certain symptoms such as fatigue or concentration issues with supplementation, but it’s not a good idea to rely solely on a B-vitamin Complex supplement for depression and anxiety treatment.
Keep in mind it’s never ok to stop taking your medication without your doctor’s supervision and always be sure to discuss any over the counter supplements you’re thinking of taking before implementing those changes.
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