By Anne Becker, published on May 27, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
It's no secret that B vitamins are nutritionally important –
they're necessary to process certain amino acids and manufacture red
blood cells. Study after study has shown them to be power healers,
preventing maladies from heart attacks to certain birth defects. Now add
chronic pain treatment to the list of the B vitamins' healing
A recent study out of Texas showed that a combination of B vitamins
brings relief to chronic back pain in as little as 30 minutes.
“We found an immediate [pain relieving] effect not reported
previously,” said Xuejun Song, M.D., Ph. D., associate director of
basic science research at Parker College Research Institute in Dallas.
“This is very important and if it's true, anybody can use the
vitamins to relieve pain.” No prescription needed.
Doctors have used B vitamins clinically to treat various painful
conditions such as lumbago, sciatica and facial paralysis, but previous
research had not clearly shown that B vitamins were effective in
relieving chronic neuropathic pain, pain generated not from some physical
cause, but by the nerves themselves. It's pain that often does not easily
Neuropathic pain (from the Greek neuro, meaning nerves, and pathy,
meaning abnormality) affects some 86 million Americans a year and causes
businesses about $90 million in losses to sick time.
The body feels pain, whether acute or chronic, when special nerve
endings, called nociceptors, sense something wrong. These nociceptors,
located throughout the body, use nerve impulses to send messages to other
nerves, which move the messages on to the spinal cord and the brain at
Chronic pain occurs when the nerve fibers themselves are damaged or
injured and start sending incorrect signals to other pain centers in the
body. It lasts beyond the typical healing time and can be the result of
diseases like diabetes and shingles, or trauma or surgery, or no
identifiable cause at all. Anticonvulsant and antidepressant drugs and
various pain relievers are effective in mitigating some cases of chronic
pain, but doctors are often puzzled as to how to bring relief to
Song originally set out to determine whether B vitamins provided
long term protection to nerve injuries. He replicated the human condition
of chronic low back by inserting a steel rod at the base of lab rats'
spinal cords, compressing the lumbar nerve. He then injected the rats
with vitamin B1 (thiamin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalamin) and a
combination of the three.
Song expected to see pain reduction within weeks or months. Instead
he got a pleasant surprise: the vitamins reduced the severity of the
rats' pain within 30-60 minutes and the effects lasted 6-12 hours.
Each B vitamin worked individually to reduce the pain, but the
combination of the three was the most effective. And the longer the
animals took their B vitamins, the shorter their pain lasted.
B vitamins might work so effectively to reduce chronic pain by
inhibiting a key signaling pathway inside nerve cells that works
biochemically to make them long-term hyperexcitable.
“When you have a fever you take medication. That medication
activates something in the body that relieves the pain – not the
drug itself,” Song said. “The B vitamins' inhibition of the
pain is mediated by this pathway.”
Daily doses of vitamin B are usually around 1 mg., but pain may up
the requirement. Based on his experiments, Song estimates that doses
around 200-500 mg would be necessary to achieve the pain-reducing effect
in humans. Unlike high doses of painkillers, however, high doses of B
vitamins have no negative side effects.