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One small study out of Japan may provide an important insight into the connection between nutritional deficiencies and mental health, revealing that low levels of vitamin B6 and iron may actually trigger the chemical changes in the brain responsible for panic attacks, hyperventilation and other forms of anxiety.
The research team analyzed the nutritional levels of 21 participants with varying levels of anxiety, panic attacks, and hyperventilation episodes. While some experienced minor attacks, manageable at home, others were severe enough to result in emergency room visits. They tested these participants for a number of different nutritional deficiencies or abnormalities in the hope of identifying a pattern. At the same time, they ran a similar set of tests on a control group of 20 people, comparing the two.
The data showed that those who were experiencing anxiety were found to have lower levels of B6 and Iron than those in the healthy group. Why is this important? One of the most accepted theories regarding the development of anxiety is that it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, with serotonin seen as a key player. This is due to the fact that serotonin is one of the ‘happiness hormones’, responsible for triggering the reward and pleasure centers of the brain.
Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, and both iron and vitamin B6 play an important role in this process. Therefore, an absence of these nutrients can, ultimately cause a decrease of serotonin levels. In fact, many of today’s antidepressant drugs work on this same theory, by boosting serotonin levels in order to regulate mental health.
The study’s authors wrote, “These results suggest that low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are involved in PA (panic attacks) and HVA (hyperventilation). Further studies are needed to clarify the mechanisms involved in such differences.”