If you’re feeling anxious and under stress in these challenging times, you’re certainly not alone. While there are several ways to naturally reduce stress and anxiety, a team of doctors believes one B vitamin should sit at the top of your list.
Here’s the story…
When you’re feeling anxious, your body burns up its stores of B vitamins more quickly than usual. Especially if you’re consuming the kind of nutrient-deficient, ultra-processed foods that are a big part of the Western diet.
While you may take a vitamin-B complex supplement to compensate, recent research suggests that when it comes to anxiety, there might be an easier way…
One member of the B vitamin family could lower anxiety all by itself.
The B-Vitamin Secret Of British Marmite
In 2017 Dr. David Field, at the University of Reading in England, listened to a talk from a colleague about a study on the yeast spread, Marmite, one of the world’s richest natural sources of B vitamins. In case you’ve never heard of this savory food spread, Marmite is a sticky, dark brown paste that was invented in 1902. Its distinctive salty taste is illustrated in the marketing slogan “Love it or hate it.”
The researchers tested whether Marmite would make more gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits impulses between nerve cells in the brain. By doing so, GABA has a calming effect on the nervous system. The team tested their theory by hooking up volunteers to an EEG and measuring the electrical response to specific types of visual stimuli which are known to engage with GABA.
They found that when GABA increased, brain activity decreased. The researchers suggested vitamin B6 was responsible because it converts glutamate – an impulse-activating (excitatory) neurotransmitter – into GABA.
Dr. Field wasn’t convinced by their explanation because Marmite doesn’t contain that much B6. He therefore decided to conduct his own study to see whether B6 raised GABA, and if so, whether it lowered feelings of anxiety and depression.
Boosts GABA, Lowers Anxiety
For the double-blind trial, he and his research team recruited 478 adults with an average age of 23. Within this group 265 self-reported anxiety and 146 reported feelings of depression.
Researchers divided them into three different groups: The group taking placebo, the group taking 100 mg of B6, or the group taking 1,000 mg of B12 for a month.
The research team also tested levels of vitamin B12 because it’s found at high levels in Marmite and shares two of the excitation-reducing pathways used by vitamin B6. What’s more, vitamin B12 has roles of its own that may indirectly influence the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain that can affect mood and anxiety levels.
At the end of the trial researchers carried out visual tests that showed no difference between the placebo and B12 group. However, there was a significant increase in GABA in the B6 group.
Best of all, participants taking B6 also reported less anxiety and a trend towards reduced feelings of depression. It should be noted that when it came to depression only, the reduction was not considered statistically significant.
Dr. Field commented on his team’s findings, saying, “The functioning of the brain relies on a delicate balance between the excitatory neurons that carry information around and inhibitory ones, which prevent runaway activity.
“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.”
The question remains as to why Marmite had this effect in the earlier study when it’s low in levels of vitamin B6. The researchers speculated on the reason for this.
Minerals May Be The Key
The yeast spread not only contains many B vitamins but other nutrients such as zinc and magnesium that act on different metabolic pathways to B6. These could also have a calming effect and reduce anxiety.
An additive or synergistic effect of these combined nutrients is therefore believed to be the likely explanation, leading to a clinically meaningful response even when supplied in relatively low amounts compared to supplements.
This is backed up by another study that found adults who habitually consume vitamin B-rich yeast spreads report lower anxiety and stress than those who don’t.
Dr. Field told The Australian newspaper, “If I were a betting man, I would say a teaspoon of Marmite a day might reduce feelings of stress for some people. And so many of us are feeling more stressed about everything from exam results to COVID and finances to climate control that I think it would be worth a try.”
If you want to take up his suggestion, be warned. As the marketing states, Marmite has a strong taste which some people are very fond of, but others loathe. In the United Kingdom Marmite is so popular and has infiltrated the culture and language to such a degree that certain people are even depicted as being salty “like Marmite.”
For those who are repulsed by Marmite or don’t wish to try it, experimenting with a B-6 or vitamin B complex supplement is a more palatable alternative.
“Ultimately my hope,” he adds, “is that we will eventually identify all nutrients that work together to produce quite a substantial calming effect on the brain in a pill that might be clinically effective. And the beauty of that is it would be almost side-effect free.”