In a 2008 research review in the "Nutrition Journal" exploring the role of dietary factors in the development of various mental disorders, the authors conclude that not only can a nutrient deficiency contribute to mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, but that supplementation of the missing vital nutrients can reduce symptoms as well. The authors further contend that a lack of B vitamins is the most common vitamin deficiency found in mentally ill patients. If you have OCD, or believe that you do, check with your mental health care professional to find out if vitamin B-6 may be an appropriate part of your treatment.
OCD is a psychiatric illness classified as a type of anxiety disorder marked by unwelcome recurring thoughts, called obsessions, or repetitious behaviors, called compulsions, or both. A person with OCD may feel plagued by persistent unwanted thoughts or images or feel an uncontrollable urge to perform a certain task or activity habitually. In 2005, according to that year's National Comorbidity Survey-Replication study, approximately 2.2 million Americans had OCD. Traditional treatment for OCD generally involves prescription medication, with some patients finding additional stress-relieving benefits from some form of counseling, either individually or in a group setting.
The body relies on vitamin B-6 for protein and red blood cell metabolism, blood sugar regulation and the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, among many other vital functions. As your body cannot produce its own vitamin B-6, you need to obtain it from dietary sources. Foods high in vitamin B-6 include meat and fish, whole grains, and several fruits and vegetables, notably potatoes and bananas. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the recommended daily dose of vitamin B-6 for most adult men and women 19 to 50 years of age is 1.3 mg.
To treat OCD, doctors commonly prescribe an antidepressant medication to improve the body's use of serotonin, a neurotransmitter commonly nicknamed the "happiness hormone" or "feel-good hormone" for its involvement in calming the mind and body and elevating mood. Serotonin is involved in a number of other biochemical functions as well, including will power and social behaviors.
One of the forms of vitamin B-6, called pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, or PLP, is the primary coenzyme form of B-6, meaning it binds to certain enzymes to facilitate their activity. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, around 100 different enzymes depend on PLP for their functioning, including the enzyme that catalyzes the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.
The 2008 "Nutrition Review" report on "Nutritional Therapies for Mental Disorders" confirms that nutrients that raise serotonin levels reduce OCD symptoms. The report cites an April 2007 "Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy" report documenting evidence that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors do indeed benefit OCD patients.
Vitamin B-6 Deficiency and Toxicity
A water-soluble vitamin, B-6 is not stored in the body in large amounts; rather, it is flushed out in the urine. As such, the NYU Langone Medical Center advises including vitamin B-6 sources in your daily diet. A deficiency in vitamin B-6 can cause a range of symptoms, from physical symptoms like fatigue, dermatitis and anemia to psychological symptoms like confusion, depression and nervousness. The NYU Langone Medical Center also reports that the tolerable upper intake level for B-6 is 100 mg per day, with symptoms from potential overload, or vitamin B-6 toxicity, including impairment of the reflexes, muscular lack of coordination and numbness in the feet or hands.
- "Nutrition Journal"; Nutritional Therapies for Mental Disorders; Shaheen E. Lakhan, et al.; 2008
- National Institutes of Health Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B6
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University; Vitamin B6; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; February 2002
- "Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy"; An Update on the Pharmacological Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; L.F. Fontenelle, et al.; April 2007