News media outlets have been publishing excellent articles on staying mentally healthy during the pandemic. All their suggestions are valuable, from the importance of friendship to the value of eating well.
At a time like this, we need to also consider the benefits of nutrient supplements, especially B vitamins. At least eight randomized controlled trials have shown that people feel less stressed and more resilient when given a daily B complex. The studies have come from the U.K., Germany, New Zealand, China, South Africa, Australia – and Calgary, Alberta – that’s right, from our own backyard. The results worldwide have been especially strong for populations under stress from natural disasters such as the 2013 southern Alberta flood, as well as the 2010-2011 earthquakes in New Zealand.
Following our flood, people randomized to receive either a daily B complex or a broader spectrum of minerals and vitamins had more than a 50 per cent drop in depression, anxiety and stress in only six weeks. And we know that the improvement was not due to just the passage of time or a placebo effect, because of the comparison group included in the study. The message from this research merits our attention — nutrient supplements can improve mental resilience here in Alberta. Similarly, the post-earthquake studies found the number of people with probable PTSD dropped from 62 per cent to 19 per cent in just four weeks.
These results make sense because there are at least 30 minerals and vitamins that act as “cofactors,” enabling our brains to create the chemicals we need there. It is easy to spot the importance of B vitamins if you look at any diagram of brain metabolism.
For instance, I describe a tiny piece of the complex pathways that create and break down a very familiar brain chemical, serotonin, in this four-minute video.
The video shows how many different nutrients are needed in this tiny section of our brain’s metabolic pathway: four different vitamins and seven different minerals — 11 nutrients! — for optimal function. And since serotonin is so important for our mental health, we all want peak performance of every one of those metabolic steps. These same types of pathways and metabolic steps are necessary for the synthesis and breakdown of all neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, adrenaline and GABA.
This is probably making you think: Have I been getting enough B vitamins today? Government data shows that more than half of us are not.
Buying a B complex over the counter is cheap, easy and safe. Consider taking one every morning after breakfast, never on an empty stomach. And don’t be alarmed if your urine turns a brighter yellow — that’s just vitamin B2, riboflavin.
Unfortunately, here in Alberta, we know what happens if people are not given this information. After the Fort McMurray fires of June 2016, Alberta Health Services rejected our request to educate the evacuees about the value of a daily B complex to improve their mental resilience. Then, in the summer of 2018, our provincial health statistics were published for that period. Was there a 50 per cent drop in mood and anxiety symptoms as has been shown from the studies mentioned above in people who were given supplements? Sadly, the answer is no. In that two-year period, average physician visits in Fort Mac for mood and anxiety symptoms increased by about 50 per cent. Think of the impact on our health-care costs.
During this very stressful COVID-19 crisis, let’s make use of the scientific evidence from around the world. Help your family improve diet quality as much as possible: eat more vegetables and fruits, especially dark, leafy vegetables for B vitamins. And don’t hesitate to supplement the adults in your family with at least a B complex — it’s good for your brain, and one tablet a day is safe. (For children, follow the recommendations on whatever product you select.)
Surely, this is a time for every mental-health clinic and every family physician’s office to educate their clients about the how and why to eat vegetables and fruits every day. And we should all also consider B complex and/or a broad-spectrum nutrient formula on a daily basis to strengthen our mental resilience.
Read column on Calgary Herald website.