Research & Education

B Vitamins and Overall Stress Response

Acute or chronic stress causes endogenous physiological changes in hormones, neurotransmitters, and nutrient status. Stress may also impair someone’s mood. Research in the last two decades has examined the influence of nutrition on brain health, including a person’s stress response. An adequate intake of all eight water-soluble B vitamins may be essential for optimal physiological and neurological function in the presence of stress. With the exception of vitamin B12, the B vitamins are not stored long-term in the body. Therefore, daily consumption is needed for clinically relevant benefits, and supplementation may be warranted. 

Since the B vitamins work interconnectedly in the body, it is more effective to supplement the entire vitamin B complex versus individual ones. For example, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, and riboflavin act as cofactors in DNA methylation and homocysteine clearance. Vitamin B deficiency can cause an accumulation of homocysteine, which has been deemed a risk factor for poor mood and cognitive function. B vitamins also act as cofactors in the synthesis and regulation of dopaminergic and serotonergic neurotransmitters, influencing the regulation of mood. 

One systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials determined that vitamin B supplements may support the stress response of healthy populations and those with suboptimal nutritional status or subclinical mood disorders (n = 958; standardized mean difference = 0.23; 95% confidence interval = 0.02, 0.45; p = 0.03). After 4 weeks of supplementation, all the studies found increased serum vitamin B levels and reduced homocysteine levels compared to a placebo. 

A randomized clinical trial (n = 56) examined vitamin B supplementation to minimize psychological stress after a natural disaster of flooding that occurred in Alberta, Canada, in June 2013. The impacted adults received either a vitamin D, a vitamin B complex, or a broad-spectrum mineral and vitamin supplement for 6 weeks. Compared to the vitamin D group, the vitamin B complex and broad-spectrum mineral and vitamin supplement showed equally significant improvements in self-reported stress and anxiety. The authors suggested the vitamin B complex efficaciously managed stress, as it was in both formulations. 

Furthermore, a meta-analysis (n = 1,076) studied the effects of multivitamin and mineral supplements on stress, mild psychiatric symptoms, and mood for at least 28 days. The multivitamin and mineral supplements significantly reduced perceived stress. Additionally, supplements with higher levels of the B vitamins (at least five times the recommended daily allowance) may be more effective in improving mood states versus supplements with lower levels. 

Stress is experienced by everyone at some point. More research is needed to fully understand how nutrition can influence a person’s stress response. The B vitamins may be helpful in supporting an individual’s stress response and overall mood. 

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN