Could B Vitamins Make You Happier?

Do you know your Bs? You’ll probably have heard of folic acid, an important member of the B vitamin family, but do you know there is also B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 – plus a few others? All are vital for many functions in your body, and none more so than a process called methylation.

Methylation is how your body keeps thousands of neurotransmitters, hormones and other essential biochemicals in balance. This is quite a feat; there are something like a million ‘methylation’ reactions every second. So your methylation ability is a critical factor in determining your mood, motivation, concentration and ability to deal with stress. Faulty methylation is linked to a number of mental states and conditions – it’s known to predict depression, concentration and the ability to stay in touch with reality.

So, ascertaining your ‘methyl IQ’ is important. Luckily, it’s easily done by measuring the level of homocysteine – a toxic amino acid – in the blood. Homocysteine predicts depression The higher your homocysteine level, the more likely you are to feel low and de-motivated. The ideal is 7 or lower. If you have a high level, above 15, you dramatically increase your chances of being depressed. For example, a study of women who were tested for homocysteine levels found that a high level doubled the likelihood of depression.

In another study, more than half of those with severe depression were found to have high homocysteine levels. One of the main reasons for having a high homocysteine level is that you are not receiving sufficient B vitamins, but how much you need partly depends on the genes you inherit. Most important of the B vitamins are B6, B12 and folic acid. Low levels of these are also an excellent predictor of low mood. For example, a recent study reports that men with the highest blood levels of folic acid – that’s the B vitamin found in greens and beans – have half the risk of depression. More importantly, lowering your homocysteine level and increasing your intake of these critical nutrients improves mood. Are you genetically programmed for low moods? Some people are much more prone to high homocysteine levels and low moods, and consequently need more B vitamins.

This is largely to do with the genes that they inherit. Approximately one in three of us inherit a variation of a gene that makes us less efficient at lowering homocysteine. But you can help to counter this by taking more B vitamins. In one landmark study from the University of California, giving extra B vitamins ‘corrected’ the deficiency in four out of five inherited ‘negative’ variations. You can actually test for these gene variations as well as your homocysteine level – and I explain how in my book, The Feel Good Factor. How many Bs do you need? Although there are RDAs (recommended daily allowances) for nutrients, we are all different, and these levels don’t take into account genetic individuality. They are therefore only useful as a basic guideline to make sure that you are not going to develop scurvy if you only eat cornflakes, for example, but are not as useful as a guide to what you need to stay healthy and happy.

So, how do you know what you need in the way of B vitamins? You can test for each one, but if you don’t have enough of any of them, your homocysteine level is going to be high. So the best single indicator is to check your homocysteine level. If it’s high (ie over 9), then you know you need more. Again, I explore this in more detail in The Feel Good Factor and give optimal levels for each of the essential B vitamins according to your homocysteine score. I can also tell you more about methylation, homocysteine and B vitamins in person if you come along to my Feel Good Factor Tour. I’ll be visiting cities in South Africa starting this week and throughout the UK and Ireland during March.