What are B vitamins good for? From supporting brain health to helping with mood – benefits

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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One of the claims commonly levelled alongside B vitamins is that they can help with mood.

On this Dr Brewer said: “Vitamin B12 and B6 play a role in the production of brain chemicals such as serotonin which affects mood and other brain functions.

“Low levels of Vitamin B12, B6, and folate have also been associated with depression. An extensive systematic review and meta-analysis found that supplementing with B vitamins was beneficial for healthy people and at-risk populations for stress and that supplementation may benefit people with a poor diet or poor mood status.

“A more recent study published in the journal Human Psychology: Clinical and Experimental looked at vitamin B6 and B12 supplementation to help relieve anxiety and depression.”

Dr Brewer’s comments are reflected by a recent study conducted by the University of Reading which suggested vitamin B6 could be used alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help treat anxiety and depression.

Vitamin B6 was found to boost the production of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) which blocks impulses between the nerve cells in the brain.

Lead author on the study Dr David Field said vitamin B6 “helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect with reduced anxiety among the participants”.

While this study and others show positive outcomes, more research is required before vitamin B6 can be prescribed in coalition with CBT.

B vitamins can also help with brain health, or rather the lack of them can detrimentally affect it.

Dr Brewer said: “Low levels of certain nutrients within the B complex, including B6, B12, and folate (B9), may affect how well the brain functions with ageing. Recent studies have suggested that all the nutrients in this group have a role in supporting brain health.

“They act together to enable neurons (our brain cells) to work more efficiently. B vitamins also help to remove cell waste allowing cells to function optimally.

“This waste is mainly in the form of proteins which, if left, can form clumps that are toxic to the brain.”

What is the best way to maintain a healthy intake of B vitamins?

The best method is through the diet; B vitamins can be found in a wide range of foods.

However, if this isn’t possible, supplements can also be used to boost levels, particularly if one is deficient in the vitamin.

Should this occur it is important to know the symptoms so prompt action can be taken.

What are the symptoms of a B vitamin deficiency?

It depends on which vitamin one is deficient in, one of the most common is a B12 deficiency.

Symptoms of this are:
• A pale yellow tinge to the skin
• A sore and red tongue
• Mouth ulcers
• Pins and needles
• Changes in the way people walk and move around
• Disturbed vision
• Irritability
• Depression
• Changes in the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves
• A decline in mental abilities e.g., memory, understanding, and judgement.

These can also be symptoms of other conditions such as dementia.

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