Among the increasingly common mental health challenges facing the western world population are panic and anxiety disorders. However, there is a growing body of evidence showing that these so-called ‘mental’ health issues are not purely mental – that nutrition and other areas of health are in fact linked to our mental and emotional state. Imagine that! Proof that perhaps the whole body is linked, rather than separated into distinct ‘brain’ and ‘everything else’ categories.
One such piece of evidence emerging from Okayama University, Japan, has shown an interesting link between low serum vitamin B and iron levels, and panic or hyperventilation attacks. The study took place at Atago hospital, which sees approximately 7,800 critical care patients every year . During the study period, some 44 patients who fit the inclusion criteria presented with a panic attack or hyperventilation attack. 21 of them agreed to be part of the study.
All of the patients were premenopausal women diagnosed with panic attacks or hyperventilation attacks and presenting at the Atago emergency department with symptoms. Ten of them were panic attack patients and eleven were hyperventilation attack patients. Age did not vary significantly between groups.
While the patients’ medication status varied, with some taking oral contraceptives and others taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, their serum Vitamin B6 and iron levels were all significantly lower than the control group comprised of healthy volunteers.
Serotonin has long been recognised as significant factor in anxiety disorders. When discussing the results, the researchers explained that:
“Serotonin is synthesized from the precursor tryptophan. In the serotonin synthesis of the brain, Vit B6 is a coenzyme for tryptophan hydroxylase, which is involved in the conversion of tryptophan into 5-hydroxytryptophan, and iron serves as a cofactor for aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase involved in the formation of serotonin from 5-hydroxytryptophan. Therefore, a reduction in Vit B6 and iron levels can suppress the progression of the serotonin synthesis .”
The authors of the study concluded that “low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are involved in panic attacks and hyperventilation .” It is a preliminary study with relatively low participant numbers, and the authors concede that further studies are needed to clarify the mechanisms that link such anxiety and hyperventilation attacks with B6 and iron deficiencies .
Still, it did give some conclusions worthy of bearing in mind when dealing with anxiety disorders, and provided yet more evidence that we can’t isolate the mental state from the state of the body. They are inextricably connected.
 Mikawa Y, Mizobuchi S, Egi M, Morita K (2013), “Low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are related to panic attack and hyperventilation attack.” Acta Med Okayama, 2013; 67(2): pp 99-104 http://www.lib.okayama-u.ac.jp/www/acta/pdf/67_2_99.pdf retrieved 2 June 2017
 Benson, J (2013), “Panic attacks, anxiety linked to low vitamin B and iron levels: study,” Natural News http://www.naturalnews.com/040563_vitamin_B_deficiency_panic_attacks_iron.html retrieved 2 June 2017