Our brains are one of our most sensitive organs and often are left deficient from a major nutrient to them – be it a vitamin, an energy-source or even water. In most cases, the diet we are on is sufficient to cover most of our bodily needs, and with that the needs of our brains. Still, people often do not cover the full vitamin spectrum needed to maintain a healthy consciousness and brain function. This is why I decided to create this article where I discuss which are the best vitamins for your brain and which are the ways and mechanisms they affect it.
Some of the vitamins that are the most beneficial for your brain’s health are:
- Thiamine (B1)
- Folic Acid (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- Vitamin E
Apart from vitamins, the brain also thrives on some major minerals which we can supplement additionally, such as Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc. Having a healthy diet full of these substances can give you the much needed daily boost in cognitive function and overall mood.
Before I dive in each of the vitamins and minerals I planned to discuss, I want to add a little disclaimer. Supplementing additional vitamins and minerals is never a logical replacement for a healthy diet. This is why I will point out the foods which contain these substances. Of course, getting the much needed vitamins from supplements is better than not getting them at all but don’t lose your motivation to eat healthily and have a diverse diet.
Now, let’s start with the first vitamin of my list…
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Typically, all vitamins from the B-group are considered important to our brains’ health. Still, some are of more importance than others, and a prime example of that is Thiamine (B1). It can be found in all of our nerve tissues and the brain itself in great abundance. This is because it plays a major role in nerve impulses and their conduction.
One of its major effects is that it boosts the immune system, helps patients maintain a positive mental attitude, and increases overall energy levels. It also greatly enhances one’s learning abilities, and works against memory loss. Athletes also take it to increase their performance and concentration. People with digestive issues also benefit from supplementing with vitamin B1.
It can be found in:
- Cereal foods
- Meat (any)
The lack of Thiamine can lead to Korsakoff Syndrome which is a chronic disorder affecting primarily the memory of the patient. It can be seen in alcoholics and AIDS patients.
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
The term folic acid refers to the substances known as folates. This is a water-soluble B vitamin which occurs naturally in all sorts of foods including:
- Leafy veggies (spinach, lettuce, broccoli, and others)
- Meat (most in beef liver)
- Tomato and Orange juices
Since 1998 this vitamin has been artificially added to foods such as cereals, flour, pasta, bakery foods, cookies, and other similar consumables. This process is also known as folic acid food fortification.
Vitamin B9 plays an important role in nerve creation and nerve tissue regeneration. It is stored in our livers and this is the prime reason liver damage can lead to B-vitamin deficiency. Apart from being a memory booster, it also helps with people suffering from depression. There are other non-neurological issues that folic acid helps with such as low blood levels, anaemia, malabsorption, ulcerative colitis, liver diseases, etc. Women who want to prevent miscarriages also take folic acid on a strict program before they conceive.
This vitamin is often supplemented in a B-complex form combined with a lot of other vitamins.
For a long time now the medical world has been seeking an exact correlation between vitamin B12 and memory functions. Low levels of cobalamin (vit. B12) have been proven to slow down cognitive functions. Having sufficient B12 in our diets can improve our memory, especially the long term one. However, since it is a water soluble vitamin, you can’t really load up on it, as it will get flushed by the body when not used, therefore higher intakes aren’t exactly needed.
There is research that indicates that B12 slows down cognitive decline in patients with Dementia. Supplementing with B12 before going to bed has also shown to improve sleep quality in all of the sleeping stages.
You can find Cobalamin in foods such as:
- Dairy products
- Foods fortified with vit. B12
In general, all animal based foods have B12 in them.
Deficiency of B12 is found mostly in people with bowel issues or people on a strict vegetarian/vegan diet. People suffering from diabetes, using the drug metformin also experience dips in their vitamin B12 levels.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
The highest concentration of Vitamin C are found exactly in our brains. The pituitary gland has the whopping 400mg/kg which is the highest out of any other body part or gland. Generally, there is no need to supplement vitamin C, unless you are on a diet which is poor on citrus fruits and green veggies.
This vitamin helps with the synthesis of dopamine, which is a key neurotransmitter. It also protects our brains from oxidative stress. Just like B12, Ascorbic acid cannot be stored in our bodies and any excess amounts are flushed through our urine. This is why you should try supplementing it daily or include vitamin C sources into your diet.
There has been study after study proving that vitamin E in high doses helps with people that have Alzheimer’s. Still, in those studies, the doctors used an unhealthy amount of vitamin E (2000 IU). The daily limit according to most physicians shouldn’t exceed 1000 IU (international units).
Foods that include vitamin E are:
- Dark Fruits (blueberries, blackberries)
- Bell Peppers
Now, let’s take a look at some of the Minerals that our brains need to function properly:
Calcium is very important when it comes to proper brain function. It plays a major role in nerve cell messaging and neurotransmission. Calcium is rarely low in our bodies since we have a large amount of it in our bones and can use it whenever outside sources are depleted. Still, there are drugs known to dip the calcium levels.
Magnesium actually has a tight connection to the B-group vitamins. It helps our bodies convert them from their passive form to their active form in which they can play their role. This shows how taking a single supplement (or vitamin) is often useless as it will thrive only under supplement-rich conditions. Supplementing magnesium helps greatly with how our brains function and improves pretty much every aspect of our brains. Mg and Ca have to be in balance in order for them to work good in our bodies. Have less or more of one of them relative to the other can lead to neurological issues.
Zinc deficiency isn’t fully studied but it causes an array of neurological and psychological issues such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It is found in the zinc-containing neurons which are found only in the front parts of our brains. Zinc can naturally be found in beef, shrimp, and pumpkin seeds.
Another type of supplements which help the brain are the nootropic supplements. Learn more about them and find out the best nootropic stacks on this Buyer’s Guide!
What vitamins help with anxiety?
Some of the most important vitamins for people who want to tackle their anxiety issues are Vitamin B5, B9, and B12. Vitamin B5 will help the adrenal glands and they, on their part, will reduce stress and anxiety levels. B12 and B9 are important to balance out depressive conditions and mood swings.
For women dealing with premenstrual syndrome, a combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium is proven to work against the anxiety that comes with this syndrome.
Can a vitamin deficiency cause anxiety?
More often than not, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and cognitive impairments. Vitamins such as the B-group vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium and iron are needed for our nervous system to function properly.
Knowing which are the best vitamins for your brain and in which foods to find them is a good first step into the right direction. It also is a step towards a life with better cognitive capabilities and a stronger memory. Hopefully, you can put this information to use and feel the effects of proper supplementing as soon as possible. For more information on how our brains function and what to do in order to help them, visit the “Helpful Tips” section on the website.