But does that mean we should now rush out and buy B6 supplements?
Some call it a “forgotten vitamin” but vitamin B6 seems to be much more essential than you might think. At least that’s what a study published in July in the scientific journal Human Psychopharmacology suggests, the results of which show that vitamin B6 reduces anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Not surprisingly, B vitamins are essential for the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system. We also know that vitamin B12 helps prevent anemia and strengthen bones, while vitamin B9 (folic acid) is recommended during pregnancy, being necessary for the growth and development of the fetus.
However, vitamin B6 is considered the “forgotten vitamin” among the B vitamins, as described in statements to the New York Times Reem Malouf, neurologist who is dedicated to the study at the University of Oxford on the effects of B6 on the cognitive level.
A study developed at the University of Reading, UK, sought to fill this gap through an experimental trial involving 478 adults, aged 18-58. The participants were randomly assigned and for about a month, one group received placebo pills, another group received 100 milligram vitamin B6 pills, while the third received 100 milligram vitamin B12 pills.
Participants who received the vitamin B6 supplement admitted to feeling less anxiety, and the results suggest that this vitamin “induced a tendency towards reduction in symptoms of depression”, while vitamin B12 “produced tendencies towards changes in anxiety and visual processing”.
“Our results suggest that high-dose vitamin B6 supplementation [100mg] increases GABAergic inhibitory neural influences, which is consistent with its known role in GABA synthesis, i.e. how drugs work in our bodies, can be read in the study.
It should be taken into account that the sample of this study is small and therefore not representative. The conclusions of the remaining scientific studies on the effects of vitamin B6 on mental health are also very limited and it is not always possible to identify a causal link. This is because it is very difficult to measure how vitamins are absorbed into the bloodstream.
And now, should we go running to buy B6 supplements?
Speaking to CNN Portugal, the president of the Portuguese Association for Rational Food and Food Supplements, Pedro Lôbo do Vale, agrees that “vitamins are a bit forgotten” in the medical world, admitting that nowadays doctors “prescribe little”.
In theory, the natural nutrients and vitamins contained in food “should be sufficient”, but “of course they are not”, argues the doctor specializing in general and family medicine. An example of this is the need for folic acid supplementation during pregnancy, regardless of the diet level of pregnant women.
With advancing age, the need for supplementation also increases, adds the doctor: “Older people eat less well – many only eat a pen of milk and a bun, etc. -, absorb fewer nutrients and the need for supplementation is greater”.
In young people, the doctor’s recommendation is no longer so general – those who play sports or who are “very nervous and stressed” with school exams or other situations should resort to supplementation, even if they have a “Very varied diet”.
Regarding the study from the University of Reading, Pedro Lôbo do Vale urges caution, noting that anxiety and symptoms of depression or memory problems “do not disappear with vitamin B6”, requiring other therapies in this sense, like psychotherapy, for example.
Katherine Tucker, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, believes, on the other hand, that most healthy adults can get more than enough vitamin B6 from their diet because it “is widely available in whole foods”. Tuna, salmon, chickpeas, poultry, bananas, oranges, melons and nuts are some examples of such foods, he points out.
One of the authors of the University of Reading study, PhD student in nutritional psychology Jessica Eastwood, also agrees with Katherine Tucker: “I always advocate a food-first approach. They contain B6,” so it maybe it’s time to look to eat more B6-rich foods,” he said, quoted by the New York Times.