B-Vitamins have ubiquitous actions in the body and are involved in practically every metabolic reaction in cells.
They are key for physiological processes such as the proper formation of neurotransmitters, energy production, cellular respiration, and maintaining healthy DNA.
Moreover, extensive studies suggest that deficiencies in several of the B vitamins accelerate brain tissue atrophy and cognitive decline, which may explain why they are useful for managing anxiety and mood disorders.
Typical B-“complex” supplements used for nootropic purposes include the following:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
However, there are other B vitamins that are essential for life, including: vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B7 (biotin).
These vitamins have a variety of actions in the body but don’t appear to have any direct ramifications on cognition or anxiety levels.
If you’re curious why certain numbers are absent in the series of B vitamins, such as vitamin B4 (choline), B8 (inositol), and B10 (para-aminobenzoic acid/PABA), it’s because they’re no longer considered vitamins.
But, there appear to be nootropic effects from supplementing with choline and inositol.
Recent decades have brought an abundance of medical research focusing on the therapeutic effects of B vitamin supplements.
Findings thus far pinpoint how vital these vitamins are for your health and longevity, noting that deficiencies are correlated with increased risk for a variety of health complications.
In fact, recent research has even gone so far as to suggest that certain B vitamins (particularly B6 and B12) are effective for treatment of neurological disorders and other cognitive maladies.,
Read on as this article goes in depth on how B vitamins work, their research-backed benefits, how they may help reduce anxiety, how to supplement with them, and any potential side effects and safety concerns they may present.
How B Vitamins Work
As aforementioned, B vitamins play a multitude of roles in every body system, such as regulating cholesterol levels, cellular respiration (not to be confused with breathing through the lungs), neurotransmission, DNA repair, and creating new blood cells.
Due to the many roles each B vitamin plays in the body, we will discuss their mechanisms of action on an individual basis.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1 acts as a coenzyme, thiamine is primarily responsible for converting glucose (sugar) and amino acids into usable energy as well as the development of red blood cells.
Despite the deficiency of thiamine being particularly rare, alcoholics tend to be at most risk due to impaired absorption of thiamine via the intestines.
When thiamine deficiency is present, risk of type-2 diabetes increases rather significantly from erratic blood sugar regulation.
Furthermore, thiamine is an important component in the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter throughout the nervous system that promotes arousal, attention, cognition, and motivation.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin plays an important role in oxidation-reduction reactions, which are the basis of cellular respiration – the process by which cells convert biochemical energy from nutrients into ATP.
This vitamin is also largely responsible for regulating blood lipid levels by blocking the breakdown of fatty acids in the body; in turn, cholesterol synthesis is reduced (particularly low-density lipoproteins, aka “bad” cholesterol).
Moreover, niacin increases the production of a protein/growth factor in humans called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
This protein acts on neurons throughout the nervous system to encourage growth and replication, which is imperative for enhancing long-term memory, learning, and overall cognition.
Deficiency of niacin, which typically only occurs in malnourished individuals, is known to cause a disease called pellagra.
This disease is associated with major mental illness such as dementia. Thankfully, modest doses of niacin can reverse the condition.
VitaminB5 (Pantothenic acid)
Arguably the most important role in the body of pantothenic acid is its use in forming coenzyme A, which later becomes acetyl-CoA and is essential for energy production.
Pantothenic acid must first be converted to pantethine in the body – the active form of vitamin B5. At this time, there are no known disorders associated with pantothenic acid deficiency, but data does suggest that supplementation may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Similarly to thiamine, pyridoxine is involved in the metabolism of macronutrients and also used in production of red blood cells.
Moreover, there are at least 113 known essential reactions in the body that pyridoxal phosphate (the active form of vitamin B6) is involved in.
Pyridoxine deficiency is most common in alcoholics and can lead to depression, anemia, hypertension, insomnia, neuropathy, and a variety of other complications.
Pyridoxal phosphate is necessary for conversion of L-DOPA to dopamine, as well as conversion of glutamate to GABA and proper metabolism of L-tryptophan.
Thus, many of the cognitive declines noted in individuals deficient in this particular B vitamin are likely due to impaired neurotransmitter production.
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Folic acid works in conjunction with vitamin B12 to create and repair DNA, as well as form hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Folic acid is vital for nearly every physiological reaction in the body that involves a one-carbon transfer.
Deficiency of folic acid is quite rare as it is produced by intestinal bacteria; in extreme cases, malnourished individuals may suffer from anemia due to lack of this vitamin.
Moreover, the excessive folic acid in the body can interfere with zinc absorption and produce convulsions, so large doses of this vitamin are advised against.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Cobalamin is the most chemically complex vitamin and plays a key role in the brain and nervous system.
Along with folic acid, cobalamin works to create DNA and is involved in the metabolism of all the amino acids synthesized in the body.
Methylcobalamin is the most common form of this vitamin found in the body as it’s involved in methyl group transfer reactions (of which many are known).
Moreover, metabolism of cobalamin is highly complex, making it the most common B vitamin for humans to be deficient in.
Deficiencies of cobalamin can lead to serious, irreversible health consequences such as damage to the brain and nervous system or from pernicious anemia (lack of red blood cell production).
This is why doctors will commonly prescribe cobalamin injections to patients deficient in this vitamin.
Furthermore, cobalamin is needed for the body to convert homocysteine to methionine; methionine is necessary for the formation of S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe), which is involved in the synthesis of catecholamines and various neurotransmitters.
In this sense, cobalamin is integral to regulating mood and cognition – via SAMe – as deficiencies can lead to depression and high levels of anxiety.
Benefits of Supplementation with B Vitamins
Over-the-counter B vitamin supplements have been popular for decades, and their use only continues to grow as time moves forward.
As noted in the previous section, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, in particular, appear to have strong implications in reducing anxiety and maintaining healthy neurological function.
Moreover, vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B9 are crucial for DNA maintenance, energy production, cellular respiration, hormone production, regulating blood lipids, and a variety of other processes.
To summarize, the most pertinent research-backed benefits of supplementation with the B vitamins discussed herein include:
- Natural anxiety and stress-reducing properties
- Potent anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties
- Promotes calmness/relaxation
- Appears to boost the immune system and fight illness (especially when stressed)
- Strongly inhibits cortisol/stress hormone production
Use of B Vitamins for Improving Anxiety Symptoms
All of the B vitamins discussed herein have implications on mood and anxiety due to their role in the nervous system and neurotransmitter production.
That being said, vitamin B6 and B12 are arguably the most important as they are necessary for production of key mood-regulating neurotransmitters (e.g. GABA, dopamine, epinephrine, etc.)
This is not to say the remaining B vitamins aren’t worthwhile supplements for anxiety, as they can certainly have synergistic effects with each other (especially considering folic acid works in concert with cobalamin).
In fact, research has shown that supplemental folic acid combined with cobalamin is effective for treating clinical depression.
Furthermore, low levels of vitamin B6 are associated with major depressive episodes, which can be reversed upon restoration of nominal B6 levels in the body.
Hence, vitamin B6, B9 and B12 are likely the most effective three B vitamins to supplement with for anxiety purposes.
With this in mind, do not replace any of your current anxiety medications with B vitamin supplements until you’ve consulted with your licensed physician.
Ideally, use of these vitamins should be monitored by the physician/specialist you work with if you’re using them for anxiety/mood disorders.
Recommended Forms and Dosages
The amount and potency of B vitamin supplement(s) you should use will depend on the desired benefits you want and conditions you wish to treat.
B vitamin “complex” supplements tend to be the best in terms of price efficacy, but they may rely on inferior forms of certain B vitamins which are not well absorbed by the body.
In general, the most bioavailable forms of the B vitamins discussed herein include:
- Vitamin B1 (as Benfotiamine)
- Vitamin B3 (as Inositol Hexanicotinate)
- Vitamin B5 (as Pantethine)
- Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate)
- Vitamin B9 (as Levomefolic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (as Methylcobalamin)
The dosage suggestions (assuming you’re using the forms listed above) are as follows:
For Reducing Anxiety and Enhancing Mood: 100mg vitamin B6, 1000mcg vitamin B9, and 1000mcg vitamin B12, taken once daily with or without food. A “B-Complex” supplement with adequate doses of these three B vitamins will also suffice.
For Enhanced Cognition and Neuroprotection: 50mg vitamin B1, 300mg vitamin B3, and 50mg vitamin B6 taken one to two times daily, with or without food. A “B-Complex” supplement with adequate doses of these three B vitamins will also suffice.
For Proper Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Regulation: 25mg vitamin B1, 200mg vitamin B3, and 200mg vitamin B5, taken one to two times daily, prior to meals. A “B-Complex” supplement with adequate doses of these three B vitamins will also suffice.
Safety and Potential Side Effects
B vitamins tend to be a well-tolerated and safe for over-the-counter supplementation, particularly when used in proper doses.
In fact, toxicity from many of the B vitamins is highly unlikely as they are water-soluble vitamins and readily excreted through urine when excessive levels are present in the body.
Of particular note is that vitamin B6 should not be used in quantities greater than 200mg per day as high doses of this vitamin can cause neurological pain.
Also, vitamin B3 (when found as nicotinic acid) will cause flushing of the face and skin.
Extremely high doses of B vitamins may induce acute side effects such as:
- Frequent urination
- Gastrointestinal distress
Most of these side effects will be rather uncommon unless using upwards of 10g of B vitamins per day (which is unfathomable if following the doses in this guide).
If you begin to feel undesirable side effects after taking B vitamins, simply stop further use and they will go away. You can then try using a lower dose and see how you respond.
B vitamins present arguably the most mainstream over-the-counter option for reducing anxiety, and their extended health benefits are well-researched.
It appears that the most worthwhile B vitamins for cognitive enhancement and anxiety relief are vitamin B12 (used with vitamin B9) and vitamin B6, but research is ongoing to uncover the mechanisms behind B family vitamins as nootropic agents.
Furthermore, the B vitamins discussed herein provide holistic health and well-being benefits on top of their anxiety-reducing role, making their use tough to argue against as they can help in many ways.
Thanks to their affordability and myriad health-promoting properties, B vitamins are a superb introductory option to enhance cognition, fight anxiety, and stay generally healthy.
B-Vitamins are just one of many over the counter supplements that can help your anxiety, to find out about others get our free Anxiety Supplement Guide by clicking the button below!