Are Vitamins Triggering Your Anxiety? Here Are 3 To Look Out For
It's common knowledge that large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants have the potential to promote a state of unease characterized by nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, etc. My time working in medical pharmacology has led me to the conclusion that certain vitamins you'll find in vitamin B complex (i.e., vitamin B6, folate, and other nutrient stimulants) can lead to a similar state of worry, fear, and anxiety.
This is due to the fact that many popular vitamin supplements affect the same metabolic pathways that stimulants like caffeine do. Here are a few that could potentially cause unpleasant side effects like anxiety.
The first of the supplements that could cause anxiety 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 serotonin1. The problem here comes if a formula is unbalanced and provides high amounts of B62 relative to the other B-vitamins. Too much vitamin B-6 can increase the possibility of side effects such as restlessness, irritability, and numbness.
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 already sensitive to stimulants.
Different people react to stimulants differently: Individuals with a COMT mutation (as opposed to a MTHFR mutation) may be particularly sensitive to B vitamins.
Most people associate B12 with health, energy, and vitality, so it's another vitamin found in high concentrations in many energy formulas. Like B6, high doses of B12 (>1,000 mcg) increase neurotransmitter levels3, and as a result, have stimulating properties. This can be beneficial for people experiencing mood disorders like depression, though it can sometimes result in an "overshoot" and cause restlessness, anxiety, worry, and difficulty sleeping.
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. If you do take vitamin B12, look for the form methylcobalamin, which is easier to absorb4 than the more common and less expensive form, cyanocobalamin.
Like B6 and B12, folic acid promotes neurotransmitter production and release, and in high amounts (greater than 400 mcg per day) it can be activating to the body and brain. Be wary of taking a synthetic (oxidized) form of folic acid, especially in higher doses (> 400 mcg/day) since it’s been associated with negative side effects5 such as immunosuppression, hunger dysregulation, and skin rashes. Instead, try to get your folate from natural sources such as green leafy vegetables and fruits.
At the end of the day, all vitamins are metabolic activators so it's always best to start out with a low dose to see how your body responds.
Timothy M. Marshall, M.A., PhD, is a professor of chemistry and pharmacology in Tucson, AZ. He has a Bachelor's degree in biochemistry, a Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry, and a doctorate in Medical Pharmacology—all from the University of Arizona. He is the author of Enlightened Nutrition: 18 Ways to Survive and Thrive in a Toxic World. His passions include yoga, long walks in the fresh outdoor air, small turbocharged cars, eastern philosophy, and helping others achieve greater levels of health and happiness in their lives.