Anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions affecting individuals worldwide. In the UK, 6 out of 100 people suffer from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), while 1 in 10 people will experience depression in their lifetime . In the US, similar statistics are also seen, with 1 in 10 people experiencing depression in their lifetime and 3 out of 100 suffering from GAD .
Several treatments have been examined and found to effectively reduce signs and symptoms of depression. However, a recent study  revealed the potential of high-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation in reducing anxiety and depression. The authors, researchers from the University of Reading, concluded that Vitamin B6 and, to a lesser degree, Vitamin B12 could reduce self-reported anxiety and depression.
Let’s look at how B vitamins can play a role in depression and anxiety and how the study  supported the idea that B vitamins can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What are the B vitamins?
B vitamins are a group of essential nutrients involved in many bodily and organ systems. Currently, there are eight well-known B vitamins. There is widespread interest in Vitamin B6 from these B vitamins for their role in maintaining brain and neural health.
Vitamin B6, or Pyridoxine, is an essential nutrient that directly benefits the central nervous system and its metabolism. One of its roles includes the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine .
Is Vitamin B6 level associated with depression?
One study  investigated the levels of vitamin B6 in 140 patients and whether deficiency of this vitamin is associated with depression.
The study’s findings indicated that low levels of pyridoxal phosphate (PLP), the phosphate derivative of vitamin B6 in the plasma, were significantly associated with depression scores in the Major Depression Inventory test.
Although clinical trials were conducted in the past examining the effectiveness of vitamin B6 supplementation in reducing depression, these trials did not yield positive results . However, an examination of past clinical trials showed that these studies had small sample sizes. This means that the study did not have an appropriate sample size for investigators to examine the effects of Vitamin B6 on depression.
One study  showed that Vitamin B6 supplementation might have protective effects against the development of depression. In this study, 300 older men who were not diagnosed with depression participated. The participants were divided into experimental and control groups. In the experimental group, participants were given supplements of Vitamin B6, B9 and B12. At the end of the two-year study, those who received the Vitamin B complex supplementation were less likely to develop symptoms of depression compared with those in the placebo group.
The study  demonstrated that the Vitamin B complex might prevent the development of depression in older adults. Since investigators only recruited older adults, it isn’t easy to apply findings to younger adults. However, the study added evidence on how B6, B9 and B12 vitamins could prevent depression.
What is the latest evidence on Vitamin B6 and depression and anxiety?
It is only in recent years that treatment with Vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. As the lead researcher from the University of Reading  pointed out, Vitamin B6 is a cofactor in producing neurotransmitters that have calming effects on the brain.
Since the brain’s functioning relies on the delicate balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurons, this balance must be maintained. It has been shown that disturbance of this balance can lead to raised brain activities, resulting in neuropsychiatric conditions. These can include the development of depression and anxiety.
In the clinical trial, 478 young adults were randomly assigned to the placebo group and the Vitamin B6 or Vitamin B12 experimental groups. Individuals in the Vitamin B6 and B12 groups received high doses of their respective vitamins for one month. However, the amount was 50 times higher than the recommended daily dose for Vitamin B6 or B12.
Findings showed that those who received Vitamin B6 supplementation showed significant reductions in levels of depression compared with the placebo group. In the Vitamin B12 group, the reduction in depression was also lower compared with the placebo group but not as significant as in the Vitamin B6 group.
It is suggested that since Vitamin B6 acts as a cofactor in the production of GABA, this can reduce the excitation of the neurons, reducing depression and anxiety in patients taking the supplement. However, it is unclear if the very high dose of Vitamin B6 does not lead to toxicity. There were no related toxicities in the study due to Vitamin B6 supplementation.
The findings are promising since this is amongst the few studies that established a relationship between intake of Vitamin B6 and reduction in self-reported scores on anxiety and depression. Further, the patients were relatively young adults. Previous studies have focused only on older patients. Hence, this is the first study to show a clear association between Vitamin B6 supplementation and a reduction in depression and anxiety in young adults.
What are GABA and its role in the brain?
The study  showed that Vitamin B6 might benefit patients with anxiety and depression; it was explained that Vitamin B6 might work in managing mood disorders by controlling GABA production.
GABA is described as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and a chemical messenger that is found in the brain. GABA plays a critical role in calming the nervous system. During anxiety, excitatory neurons fire messages in excess that, when left unmanaged, can result in feelings of anxiousness, nervousness and feelings of doom. GABA helps calm the nervous system by slowing brain activity. This is done by blocking specific impulses between brain cells or neurons. When brain activity is slowed down, this has a calming effect on the individual, resulting in relief from fear, anxiety and stress.
In the study conducted by researchers at the University of Reading, it was found that patients enrolled in the Vitamin B6 supplementation group had higher levels of GABA than those in the Vitamin B12 and the placebo groups. It is noteworthy that participants in the Vitamin B12 group also improved their anxiety levels. However, this was not as remarkable as those in the Vitamin B6 group.
Is it safe to take Vitamin B6 supplementation for depression and anxiety?
One of the commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression includes benzodiazepines. These drugs are effective in treating depression and anxiety and other similar conditions. However, benzodiazepines are also associated with several side effects. Some effects recorded include rebound anxiety, dependence, discontinuation syndrome and memory impairment .
In contrast, Vitamin B6 could be safely administered and used daily as a supplement to manage mood disorders, anxiety and depression. Although more studies are required to examine the general safety and effectiveness of Vitamin B6 in treating and managing anxiety and depression in the long term, initial findings of the recent study  indicate that this vitamin has the potential to treat these disorders.
It should be noted that many individuals like you may prefer nutrition-based interventions to manage anxiety and other related disorders. More people are now concerned with the side effects of most drugs or medicines used to treat anxiety and other mood disorders.
To make nutrition-based intervention a viable option, future clinical trials are still needed to verify initial findings on the effectiveness of Vitamin B6 in treating depression or anxiety.
In the future, other nutrition-based interventions that could complement Vitamin B6 supplementation may be used to optimize the treatment of depression and anxiety.
One of the therapies used to address anxiety and depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This form of treatment also called talking therapy, helps individuals learn behavioural techniques to manage their anxiety and depression. Vitamin B6 supplementation with CBT might be used to treat depression and anxiety in the future.
Can low levels of Vitamin B6 lead to anxiety or depression?
A large study  reported that individuals who exhibited anxiety and depression had a lower intake of Vitamin B6 per day compared with those who did not show fear and depression. This suggested that the lower the intake of Vitamin B6, the more likely an individual is at risk of developing anxiety and depression.
The findings of the study by Kafeshani and colleagues  are essential since this is the first to demonstrate a positive and significant correlation between low intake of Vitamin B6 and the risk of anxiety and depression.
Although the findings of the studies cited are all critical, caution should still be taken when interpreting the results of these studies. For example, the survey by Kafeshani and colleagues did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between Vitamin B6 and depression and anxiety. Instead, it only showed correlations or relationships between low intake of Vitamin B6 daily and depression and anxiety. Examining this relationship through clinical trials could strengthen the results of these studies.
Overall, Vitamin B6 supplement is a promising nutrient-based intervention for anxiety and depression. Harnessing the effects of this vitamin in improving your mental health would ensure that you are optimizing the benefits of this vitamin. So start talking to your doctor for more information on how this vitamin can help improve your mental health and well-being!