Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States, and affect people across age groups and cultures, according to the Surgeon General. You may have heard about vitamin B12, and its purported affect on the various anxiety disorders. There are a tremendous number of positive and negative effects attributed to all vitamins, including B12, so separating out fact from fiction can be challenging. There is scientific study on the effectiveness of B12 when used for anxiety and mental disorders that can help you, in close consultation with your doctor, determine if B12 is right for you.
The Definition of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders include general anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are other conditions that have anxiety-related symptoms, as well. Anxiety disorders can manifest in different ways, but they commonly affect not only the way you think, but also the way you behave and the way your body operates. Anxiety is often associated with increased worry, avoidance, restlessness, irritability, tension, headaches, increased heart rate, nausea, shaking, tiredness and an inability to fall asleep.
B12 in the Body
Vitamin B12 is responsible for making red blood cells, neurological function and the production of DNA. Most people acquire enough vitamin B12 through the food they eat. B12 is taken into the stomach, where it is separated from proteins by hydrochloric acid, added to another protein called intrinsic factor, and then absorbed into your blood stream. Adults need about 2.5 mcg of vitamin B12 a day, found in many types of animal products and in products that have been fortified with vitamins. Beef liver and clams have the highest amounts of B12, but it can be found in meat and fish in general, as well as in eggs, dairy products and nutritional yeasts.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest as irritability, memory impairment, depression, psychosis and heart irregularities. These symptoms were reported in "New England Journal of Medicine" in 1988, a study that is often cited by researchers and health care professionals. In other words, a lot of the symptoms of not getting enough vitamin B12 are similar to the symptoms of anxiety. People who are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency include those who have conditions that inhibit the absorption of nutrients in the stomach and intestines, including people who have had weight loss surgery and those who have celiac and Crohn's disease, those who bodies do not make enough intrinsic factor to absorb B12 in the stomach, known as pernicious anemia, those who are over age 50 and whose bodies may not be producing enough hydrochloric acid to absorb B12 in the stomach, and those who are vegetarians and vegans and who thus are not exposed to animal products. Remember that only animal products naturally contain vitamin B12.
In 2009, Polish researchers published in "Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski" a study that supported the claim too little B12 contributes to various mental disorders. B12 supports the functioning of the nervous system, which includes neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Neurotransmitters play a large role in regulating your mental and emotional state. A 2002 study in "Archives of General Psychiatry" showed low levels of B12 were related to depression, but didn't see a statistically significant relationship to anxiety, and a 2005 study in "Journal of Psychopharmacology," which reviewed previous studies on B12 and neurological function, found that B12 had been shown to help with depression and with the affect of depression medication, though again not specifically with anxiety. In short, there is evidence that B12 is very important to your body, that not enough of it can help cause mental disorders, and that increasing levels of it in your body can help alleviate symptoms of mental disorders, such as depression. More research needs to be done to evaluate its affect specifically on anxiety, however.
As with all supplements, consult your doctor if you are considering adding a new vitamin or mineral to your regular dietary routine. If you suffer from anxiety, speak with your doctor and mental health care professional to determine what treatment options will work best for you. Vitamin B12 may be one thing you can do to help mitigate the effects of an anxiety disorder.
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet
- Surgeon General: Anxiety Disorders
- "New England Journal of Medicine"; Neuropsychiatric Disorders Caused by Cobalamin Deficiency in the Absence of Anemia or Macrocytosis; Lindenbaum J, et al; 1988
- "Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski"; Does Diet Affect our Mood? The Significance of Folic Acid and Homocysteine; Karakula H, et al; 2009; PMID: 19388520
- "Archives of General Psychiatry"; Folate, vitamin B12, homocysteine, and the MTHFR 677C->T polymorphism in anxiety and depression: the Hordaland Homocysteine Study; Bjelland I, et al; 2003; PMID: 12796225
- "Journal of Psychopharmacology"; Treatment of Depression: Time to Consider Folic Acid and Vitamin B12; Coppen A. and Bolander-Gouaille C.; 2005; PMID: 15671130