B vitamins play a well-documented role in mood disorders, as they are essential for synthesizing mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, and may help prevent age-related cognitive decline. Several B-vitamins also support heart health by helping to lower homocysteine levels, since elevated homocysteine is a risk factor for heart disease.
The new study assessed the effects of a B-complex supplement on measures of work-related stress, personality, anxiety, and mood. For 12 weeks, 60 people were assigned to take either two tablets per day of a supplement containing a nutrient-herb blend, or a placebo. The supplement contained:
- the full spectrum of B vitamins;
- calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C, which are nutrients known to help with the stress response; and
- passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and oats (Avena sativa), which have been used historically to soothe the nervous system.
At the end of the supplementation period, personal strain levels improved 19% in people who had taken the supplement, whereas no change was noted in the placebo group. The supplement group also indicated decreases in feelings of depression/dejection, anger/hostility, and tension/anxiety, as well as less fatigue and confusion.
"Given the cost of workplace stress claims, the loss of productivity, and the personal cost, an analysis of the economic impact of B-vitamin supplementation in the workplace should be assessed," said lead study author, Con Stough of the Center for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.
Since the B-complex used in this study contained other ingredients, this study cannot tell us which constituents caused the beneficial effects, or whether this particular combination carries some specific effect. Future studies should focus on isolating the effects of these ingredients on stress relief.
Beyond the bottle
While taking a supplements may help lessen work-related stress, work in some of these other options to keep your stress levels in check and get the most from the naturally occurring B vitamins in your diet:
- Eat your B's. B vitamins are found in meat, tuna, whole grains, leafy greens (like collards, kale, and Swiss chard), lentils, beans, broccoli, potatoes, tempeh, miso, bananas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and oranges. (Note that processed grains have had much of the B vitamins and other nutrients, including fiber and healthy fats, stripped out.)
- Avoid B-depleting substances to help lower your stress. Birth control pills, caffeine, processed foods, and excessive alcohol intake can cause deficiencies of some B vitamins.
- Address underlying causes. Certain infections (like H. pylori, a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers), kidney disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and malabsorption syndromes may cause deficiency in some or all of the B vitamins.
- Exercise. To boost "happy" chemicals in the brain, a brisk 30-minute walk each day can help elevate mood and lower blood pressure, both of which may also help prevent heart disease.
- Always talk with your doctor before starting a new supplement. B vitamins in particular may interact with certain medications and even with each other.
(Hum Psychopharmocol Clin Exp 2011; doi:10.1002/hup.1229)