B Vitamins Influence Behavioural Outcomes; Reduce Anxiety And Depression

June 08, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and induces a trend towards reduced depression, moreover, it increased surround suppression of visual contrast detection, as identified in research published in Human Psychopharmacology. The study further said that Vitamin B12 supplementation produced trends toward changes in anxiety and visual processing.

As part of the study, researchers wanted to study the involvement of Vitamins B6 and B12 in metabolic processes that decrease neural excitation and increase inhibition. They conducted a double-blind study, that investigated the effects of supplementation for 1 month with a high dose of B6 or B12, compared to placebo, on a range of behavioural outcome measures connected to the balance between neural inhibition and excitation.

B vitamins are essential for the nervous system and brain function

B vitamins play an integral role in many anabolic and catabolic cellular processes that are essential for the nervous system and brain function, including several that help to maintain an appropriate balance between neural inhibition and excitation by up-regulating inhibition and down-regulating excitation, says the report as part of the introduction.

The role of B vitamins is important because an equilibrium shifted too far towards excitation has been implicated in several neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, says the study.

In this context it was proposed that high-dose B vitamin supplementation might be an effective strategy for enhancing behaviourally observable effects of neural inhibition, and for damping down excessive neural excitation. Hence the study took the hypothesis that Vitamins B6 and B12 may exert an effect via modification of the inhibition-excitation balance.


The experiment was conducted over the course of 5 years by successive cohorts of BSc and MSc student experimenters. As part of the study, 478 young adults were recruited over five linked phases. Self-reported anxiety (N = 265) and depression (N = 146) were assessed at baseline and after supplementation.

Several sensory measures acted as assays of inhibitory function and were assessed post-supplementation only; these were surround suppression of visual contrast detection (N = 307), binocular rivalry reversal rate (N = 172), and a battery of tactile sensitivity tests (N = 180).

B6 supplementation and increased visual contrast

The study found that B6 supplementation increased visual contrast thresholds when a suppressive surround was present, but this did not occur in the absence of the surround. As part of the discussion, the report suggests that the finding points very specifically to an increase in neural inhibition by increasing GABA levels because the effect of the suppressive surround on thresholds is caused at least in part by the action of inhibitory GABAergic interneurons. On the other hand, if the other potential actions of B6 in the brain had been responsible this would also have elevated thresholds when the surround was absent because those mechanisms act to reduce excitation.

B6 supplementation reduced self-reported anxiety symptoms

The second key finding of the research was that B6 supplementation reduced self-reported anxiety symptoms, with a larger effect size for GAD symptoms. Dysfunction of the GABA system has long been associated with anxiety; drugs that positively modulate GABA receptors are generally anxiolytic, and drugs that negatively modulate GABA receptors are generally anxiogenic. “This suggests that an increase in GABA levels explains the reduction we found in anxiety, or this mechanism may offer a partial explanation with additional contributions being made by the three potential pathways to reduced neural excitation,” stated the discussion of the study.

A high dose of a single vitamin (B6) can influence behavioural outcomes

In conclusion, the research stated that supplementation with a high dose of a single vitamin (B6) can influence behavioural outcomes such as self-reported anxiety. High-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation increases inhibitory GABAergic neural influences, which is consistent with its known role in the synthesis of GABA.

“In the case of B6, we also found that it increased the surround suppression of visual contrast detection, which argues for an inhibitory GABA-related underlying mechanism. Given that surround suppression is found to be abnormal in many patient groups, this suggests that the efficacy of high-dose Vitamin B6 should be determined in these groups; for example, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is effective as a treatment for severe migraine (Chen et al., 2021), but also one RCT found that B6 given alone is also effective for migraine with visual symptoms, and several other RCT’s have produced positive results for B6 as part of a combination supplement for migraine (Liampas et al., 2020),” stated the study.

Furthermore, measuring the effects of other candidate micronutrients on the same outcome variables as those employed here may identify a list of micronutrients that could be combined and tested as a ‘nutritional psychiatry’ treatment for conditions such as anxiety and depression, the report further stated.

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