Are Vitamins Triggering Your Anxiety?


By Dr. Timothy Marshal, PhD

In my study of neurochemical “affectors” — which are basically any chemical, nutrient, or drug that can affect our neurochemistry, I came to this great epiphany after observing the effect of various supplements on myself and my clients through the years: certain vitamins (i.e. vitamin B6, folate, and other nutrient “stimulants”) have the potential to promote a state of worry, or what some people would call a subtle sense of “uneasiness,” fear, or anxiety.

Now, you’re probably thinking, Where’s the proof?

Well, in this case the proof is truly in the pudding — within you and how you feel.

If you allow yourself to slow down, and REALLY feel your body and tune in to your thoughts, I bet you’d see there’s a definite difference in the quality and nature of your thoughts when taking various supplements compared to when you’re not.

We all know that caffeine or any stimulant in high enough amounts has the potential to promote a state of “unease” characterized by nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety or worry, but what about the supplements we’re taking?

Many of the vitamin supplements people take every day affect the same metabolic pathways that the stimulants like caffeine do, but surprisingly, this is an area almost no one discusses.

From my own experience taking nutritional supplements over the years for a variety of health-promoting and performance enhancing effects, and evaluating the effect of these supplements in my clients, there are a few supplements you definitely want to be aware of, especially if you value a calm and relaxed mind and a general state of ease.

Vitamin B6

The first of these supplements is vitamin B6. This vitamin is used in most energy supplements because it can increase the production and release of various energizing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

The problem here it that many formulas are “unbalanced” and provide high amounts of B6 (relative to the other B-vitamins), which greatly increases the possibility of side effects such as restlessness, irritability, anxiety (worry, general state of uneasiness).

Even if the B-vitamins are well balanced, as in a B-50 supplement, you still need to be aware that these substances are metabolic stimulants and could take you away from that cherished Zen state, particularly if you’re sensitive to stimulants or taking doses higher than what your body needs.

Vitamin B12

This is another one that is found in high amounts in many energy formulas, and because most people associate B12 with health, energy, and vitality – never suspect that such a health-promoting nutrient could potentially cause a variety of undesirable effects as well.

Like B6, high doses of B12 (>1000 mcg) increase neurotransmitter levels, and as a result, has stimulating properties.

Due to this increase in vital neurotransmitters, B12 can be especially beneficial for someone experiencing depression, though just like the antidepressant drugs (SSRIs such as Prozac, Lexapro, etc), this same boost in neurotransmitters can sometimes result in an “overshoot” for that individual, and cause restlessness, anxiety, worry, and difficulty sleeping.

The most common form of B12 is cyanocobalamin, which is the least expensive form. It’s not recommended because it’s poorly absorbed and contains a small amount of cyanide, which you don’t need. The better form is methylcobalamin, which is easily absorbed and has greater biological activity.

For most people, this isn’t a supplement you need to take every day unless you have a diagnosed deficiency, or are using it therapeutically for chronic fatigue or another condition.

Folic Acid

The last of these “stimulants in disguise,” as I like to call them, is folic acid. Like B6 and B12, folic acid promotes neurotransmitter production and release, and in high amounts — greater than 400 mcg (RDA) per day — can be activating to the body and brain.

You want to be wary of the synthetic (oxidized) form of folic acid, which is found in most supplements, especially in higher doses (> 400 mcg/day) because it’s poorly utilized by the body and has a variety of negative effects (ie. immune suppression, hunger dysregulation, skin rashes) associated with it.

Getting your folate from natural sources such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, and vegetables is truly the best way to go!

Some additional thoughts…

The thing you want to keep in mind is that ALL vitamins are metabolic activators, especially the ones discussed above.

As you increase the dose, vitamins begin acting more like a drug. Since everyone is a little different in this respect, it’s always best to start out at a low dose to see how your body responds, and how you feel. Only makes sense, right?

Eating natural whole foods, and being mindful and careful with the supplements we take is truly the BEST approach for a calm and centered mind, and vibrant health and wellness.

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