Do you ever stand in the vitamin aisle at your grocery store and feel completely overwhelmed? Or spend hours on the internet reading blog after blog and article after article about all of the vitamins and supplements you “should” be taking? Feeling confused?
Living in this age of information is both a blessing and a curse. It’s wonderful to have the ability to quickly find answers to your questions; however, literally anyone can post just about anything they want on the internet. You’re left to figure out who is correct and what information is relevant to you. So before I go any further on the subject, let me say this: whatever vitamins and supplements you want to add to your health routine, find a doctor to discuss it with. I like doctors who specialize in naturopathic medicine or functional medicine, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who will focus on a whole-person approach to health, or general practitioners who value the medicinal qualities of food and nutrition. I’ve been blessed with a doctor who is totally open to using food as medicine, so when it looked like I might have an underactive thyroid, he suggested a sea kelp supplement. Look for a doctor like that! It’s important to have a team of people supporting your health desires; you might think all vitamins and supplements are wonderful and bound to help, but some may interact negatively with your current medications or cause them to stop working. Don’t start taking anything new, even a vitamin, without first discussing it with your doctor.
There are some vitamins that are essential for good mental health. Adults and children alike have shown positive results when incorporating vitamins and minerals into their treatment plans for a range of mental health problems, from ADHD to Bipolar Disorder. Occasionally, you’ll hear that you can get all of the really essential vitamins from food. In a perfect world, that’s true. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Our reality is that stress is prevalent and inhibits the perfect absorption of nutrients from the food we eat, and our culture is one that commercially produces food deficient in the nutrients we need. Taking vitamins, minerals, amino acids and glandulars in conjunction with good nutrition can heal your body and prevent illness in general. This will be an ongoing discussion here, but today I want to look at one of the vitamins I recommend to almost everyone I work with: a B-Complex Vitamin.
A B-complex vitamin is a single pill that contains the whole spectrum of B vitamins. It’s water-soluble, so they are not stored in the body. They’re used and then the excess is expelled, which makes overdose very unlikely. The reason I recommend a B-complex to just about everyone is because B vitamins are essential in the treatment of everything from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder to substance abuse recovery, OCD and Alzheimers. Antidepressant medications require B-vitamins to have the best impact. Some SSRI’s and SSNI’s have folate (B9) added to them to improve their function. Medicines like aspirin, antacids, antibiotics, estrogens, anti-inflammatory medicines and more interfere with the body’s metabolism of B vitamins, so you definitely need to supplement! In support of your mental health, this complex promotes relaxation, neurological health and the development of healthy neurotransmitters. So let’s take a minute and look at each vitamin included in your B-complex.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – B1 helps convert food into energy. Alcohol abuse, diabetes and age can lead to a deficiency of this vitamin.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin and Riboflavin 5′-Phosphate) – This is essential for the body to synthesize folate and vitamin B6. If you are elderly, pregnant, on birth control, chronically ill or abusing alcohol, this is for you.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin, Niacinamide) – Used for depression and anxiety and alcohol recovery. Niacinamide in particular stimulates the receptors for the amino acid GABA, which makes it useful for mood stabilization and anxiety treatment. It can also be useful in the treatment of insomnia.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – This is essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and fatty acids in the body, and supports adrenal and digestive function.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine and Pyridoxal 5′-Phosphate) – This is necessary for your body to process all of the protein you’re eating! It also assists in the metabolism of essential fatty acids and in turning your amino acids into the nuerotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, and helps turn tryptophan into serotonin. If you are deficient in vitamin B6, you might be experiencing fatigue, joint pain, insomnia, high blood pressure and irritability. This will treat both depression and anxiety.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) – This one helps the body metabolize fatty acids and handle glucose for energy. It is also crucial for the healthy functioning of your intestinal tract.
Vitamin B8 (Inositol) – This one is important to include in the treatment of Bipolar disorder and OCD. It supports brain health, mood and the general functioning of your nervous system. It’s been shown to be effective in treating depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, and OCD as it improves the sensitivity of serotonin receptors.
Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic Acid) – There is a significant correlation between Vitamin B9 deficiency and depression. People with depression are probably deficient in folate and also non-responsive to traditional antidepressants.
Vitamin B12 – This vitamin is only found naturally in animal proteins, so it is not uncommon for vegetarians/vegans to be deficient. You may also have a deficiency if you have a digestive system disease (like Chron’s), chronic stress, or have had bariatric surgery. Medications like Metformin, birth control pills and antibiotics deplete your body of B12. It is useful in the treatment of depression, fatigue, anxiety and even psychosis!
Start with a general B-Complex vitamin for a few months and see what kinds of improvements you notice. If you’d like to see even more improvement, talk with your doctor about an additional supplement of one of these vitamins on top of what is included in the complex (i.e. taking additional niacinamide for the treatment of anxiety or depression). There are two B-Complex Vitamins I’d recommend: this one by Douglas Laboratories or this one by Country Life (which I have taken for years).
I hope this is an exciting addition to your nutritional adjustments in support of your mental health. I know my own off-and-on struggles with depression and anxiety have improved greatly since incorporating this complex into my daily routine. I’d love to hear your success stories!
Korn, L. E. (2016). Nutrition essentials for mental health: A complete guide to the food-mood connection. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.