Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Vitamin B Boosts Teenage Mental Health

By Stephen Luntz

Parents of teenagers should give their children vitamin B-containing foods if they wish to reduce the behavioural issues commonly associated with those years, a new study suggests.

Ms Carly Harbison of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research says her work confirms previous research showing a relationship between low vitamin B intake and internalisation of mental health issues such as depression. Moreover, for the first time it finds a correlation between externalising bad behaviour, including aggression and substance abuse, and inadequate consumption of B1, B2, B5, B6 and folate.

“B vitamins are essential for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which modulates behaviour in humans and can contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness,” Herbison says.

The study investigated the food intake of 2868 17-year-olds over 3 days and parental reporting of their behaviour. The nutritional content of 212 food items were collated to provide an estimate of total intake of each of the B group vitamins as well as other micronutrients.

“We were able to control for exercise, socioeconomic status and even a family history of emotional problems,” Herbison says.

While externalising behaviour was associated with multiple deficiencies, only B6 and folate showed a significant relationship with internalising emotional mental ill health. “B6 is probably most related, possibly because B6 is the vitamin that is most needed in the brain for production of neurotransmitters,” Herbison says.

Intake from supplements was included in the total consumption measured in the study, but Herbison says she is now investigating whether supplements make a difference.

The work was published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine and fits with studies showing vitamin B supplements help people cope with stressful events (AS, October 2012, p.12).