When symptoms of anxiety and depression crop up, it can be difficult to pinpoint their cause. Issues of mental health are often a result of multiple factors — including brain chemistry, personal life, and work stressors. However, there’s one factor that we don’t often consider, which could play a big role in our mental well-being. Research suggests that deficiencies in B vitamins — vitamin B1 and B6 specifically — may aggravate or trigger anxiety, panic attacks, or feelings of depression.
Most of us know that B vitamins and zinc are important for our overall health. But what do they do exactly, and why might they help improve our mental health? Learning how these essential nutrients work in the body can help us understand their importance and how best to incorporate them into our diet.
Vitamin B1 may help fight depression and anxiety.
As demonstrated by a growing body of research, vitamin B1 (thiamine) plays an important role in regulating blood sugar. A 2012 review from the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, for instance, pointed out that thiamine deficiency in young children can lead to hyperglycemia. In addition, benfotiamine — a synthetic form of thiamine — counteracts the damage that high blood sugar does to cells in our arteries, veins, and capillaries (very small, delicate blood vessels).
Why is this important? Well-balanced blood sugar can reduce the likelihood of experiencing depression. According to the University of Michigan, symptoms of poor blood sugar regulation include irritability, anxiety, and worry. The brain thrives on sugar, so it makes sense that too much or too little sugar at any given time could cause mood swings.
Furthermore, vitamin B1 is often called an “anti-stress vitamin” because it has a calming effect on mood. The reason? The body needs it to transform sugar into usable energy. Thiamine may also boost our body’s coping capabilities in times of stress.
Vitamin B6 may ease depressive thoughts and mood swings.
A deficiency in vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is also linked to depression and confusion. Harvard Health notes that a mild and temporary deficiency of this B vitamin likely wouldn’t cause any symptoms, but a prolonged deficiency could be debilitating for mental health.
Research supports this fact. In a 2021 study from the Stress and Health Journal, for example, participants with anxiety and depression saw a significant improvement in their symptoms when they took a daily supplement of vitamin B6 and magnesium. In addition, those who took magnesium alone didn’t see as much improvement as those who took both.
The Neuroscience Center also reports that vitamin B6 is vital to the function of neurotransmitters, our body’s chemical messengers that send information between neurons (the cells of our nervous system). Thus, without B6, your mood might become more unstable than normal.
How much vitamin B1 and B6 do you need?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that women aged 19 to 50 consume about 1.4 milligrams of vitamin B1 daily, while women aged 51 and up should take 1.1 milligrams daily. They also recommend that women aged 19 to 50 consume 1.3 milligrams of B6 daily, and those aged 51 and over should take 1.5 milligrams per day.
In effect, it doesn’t take much to reach your daily goals! Just ½ cup of white, long-grain rice gives you 117 percent of your daily value (DV) of vitamin B1. A ½ cup of cooked black beans gives you 33 percent of your DV. For vitamin B6, one cup of canned chickpeas contains about 65 percent of your DV, and three ounces of salmon will give you 35 percent.
For this reason, you might not need to take supplements containing B vitamins. And of course, there are a wide variety of factors that can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression — including environment, genetics, and stress. Taking B vitamins may not necessarily help you feel better — and some research suggests that when it comes to mental health, vitamins and supplements don’t have as much impact as we might think.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to speak to your doctor about potentially taking B1 or B6. Your doctor will be able to offer you the best advice on which supplements are right for you. With the right resources, knowledge, and guidance, hopefully your mental health symptoms will lift.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.