It’s almost impossible to get all the vitamins your brain needs to be in shape without supplementation. That’s not only because it’s not always easy to have a varied and balanced diet. But also because certain factors such as stress and food medication or the consumption of sugar, caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol increase the body’s need for vitamins.
Yet, numerous research and studies have shown that certain vitamins can improve brain function and protect it from mental decline. A vitamin deficiency therefore has harmful consequences for the body. While all vitamins are necessary for optimal brain health and function, there are a few vitamins that are particularly noteworthy.
So, which vitamins help to keep your brain performing?
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most popular vitamins for several good reasons. It is safe to eat, inexpensive and has many benefits for the body. However, those on the brain are often overlooked. Here are just a few of the many reasons why vitamin C is one of the best vitamins to help the brain function properly.
It contributes to the production of neurotransmitters.
The brain has about 86 billion neurons that communicate with each other through brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters affect just about every aspect of the body’s life. They affect the ability to concentrate and remember information. They also control mood, cravings, addictions and sleep. Vitamin C is essential in the production of these neurotransmitters.
It helps to improve the mood
Vitamin C can make you happy! In a recent study, subjects (randomly selected) who took vitamin C reported feeling happier, often even after just one week of consumption.
Vitamin C is a cofactor necessary to synthesize serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, three neurotransmitters essential for good mood.
It helps defend the body against neurodegenerative diseases.
The brain is particularly sensitive to free radical damage due to its high oxygen utilization. You can observe free radical damage when you cut an apple and watch it turn brown.
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidant vitamins. Just dip an apple in lemon juice and see the discolouration stop. The same goes for vitamin C, which protects the brain from free radical damage.
Since neurodegenerative diseases generally result in high levels of oxidative stress, the effects of vitamin C appear promising for the treatment of ischemic stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
The antioxidant power of vitamin C can be further enhanced with vitamin E. A meta-analysis of studies has shown that a diet rich in vitamins C and E leads to a 20 to 25% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
It helps to detoxify the body
The brain accumulates toxic heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum. Mercury enters our systems from seafood and amalgam (“silver”) dental fillings. Aluminum, on the other hand, often comes from the use of aluminum cookware; it is also found in deodorants and antacids.
Vitamin C acts as a powerful detoxifier that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to remove these metals from the brain.
It helps to reduce excess glutamate
Glutamate is a natural brain chemical, but too much of it is harmful to the brain. In excess, it becomes an excitotoxin – it literally excites brain cells to death.
An excess of glutamate then contributes to many neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin C protects the neuroreceptors that control the release of glutamate.
It contributes to a better blood circulation
By helping to build collagen (which keeps arteries flexible), vitamin C improves blood flow. Better blood flow provides more oxygen and nutrients to the brain, keeping it well nourished.
What are the best dietary sources of vitamin C?
When we think of foods rich in vitamin C, we usually think of citrus fruits. But there are many other excellent sources of vitamin C, whether fruit (kiwi, mango, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon…) or vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, winter squash…).
Is it necessary to take vitamin C as a dietary supplement?
If you’re not sure whether to adjust your diet or supplement your vitamin C, consider these factors:
- Vitamin C is fragile and destroyed by heat. How many raw products must be eaten each day to achieve the desired dose of vitamin C?
- Do you smoke? Smokers need more vitamin C.
- Are you under a lot of stress? Stress increases your need for vitamin C.
2. Vitamin D
Getting the minimum amount of vitamin C that your body needs is quite simple: just eat fruits and vegetables. But for vitamin D it’s a bit more complicated.
First of all, vitamin D is technically not a vitamin, it is a pre-hormone. And, unlike other vitamins, we rarely get it from the food we eat. In fact, vitamin D is synthesized by the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight.
In addition to having protective effects against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, vitamin D plays a major role in the brain.
Promotes brain development and health
The brain needs vitamin D at all stages of life.
Pregnant women, for example, need enough vitamin D during pregnancy for their baby’s brain to develop properly. Afterwards, children must continue to have enough vitamin D to allow their brains to develop normally. Finally, vitamin D can prevent cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It helps to improve mood
Some studies have shown that an insufficient level of vitamin D contributes to the depression that many people often experience in winter.
How do I get enough vitamin D?
Getting Vitamin D from food? We forget! The usual source of vitamins is food, but in the case of vitamin D, it’s almost impossible to get everything you need from food.
Few foods contain vitamin D3, the form best used by the body. By far the best food source is cod liver oil or fish oil. Some foods such as fortified milk or mushrooms contain vitamin D2, but this form is poorly used by the body.
The only way to obtain vitamin D naturally is therefore exposure to the sun. If you spent most of your time outdoors, as our ancestors did, getting an adequate intake of vitamin D wouldn’t be a problem.
But these days it’s complicated to rely solely on sun exposure to get this essential brain vitamin – even if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Several factors such as age, skin pigmentation, use of sunscreen, living in a region with little sunlight or high pollution levels affect the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D.
This is why taking vitamin D as a dietary supplement is a necessity for most of us. It is recommended to take vitamin D3 1000 IU, the form best assimilated by the body, as a supplement.
3. B vitamins
The term vitamin B actually includes a set of 8 vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin, folic acid and cobalamin (B12).
Essential for good brain health, B vitamins are sometimes nicknamed “happiness vitamins” or “anti-stress vitamins”. By participating in the formation of neurotransmitters, B vitamins help increase energy levels and improve stress tolerance. They also help improve memory and prevent brain aging.
Are all B vitamins the same?
B vitamins are all essential for your health. But three of them, B6, B12 and folic acid (B9), are especially important for brain health.
Studies have shown that these three vitamins work synergistically to help prevent mental decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. An Oxford University study showed that taking B6, B12 and folic acid together reduces brain atrophy, improves brain function and significantly reduces brain shrinkage in the part of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Beware of vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest itself as memory loss or the feeling of being constantly in a state of brain fog. Vitamin B12 deficiency is quite widespread in France, especially among the elderly (who are unable to absorb it properly) and vegetarians (since only foods from animal or marine sources contain this vitamin). A study has moreover shown that 90% of vegetarians are deficient in vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiency should not be taken lightly as it can lead to serious neurological symptoms: memory loss, dementia, depression, brain atrophy….
Where to find B vitamins in food?
Let’s look at the best food sources for these 3 vitamins essential to brain health:
- Vitamin B9: vegetables and lemon.
- Vitamin B6: avocado, banana, vegetables, beef, pork, almonds and grains.
- Vitamin B12: meat, fish, eggs and milk.
Is it necessary to take vitamin B in the form of supplements?
Although it is possible to get enough vitamin B through a varied and balanced diet, some people are at increased risk of deficiency, especially those over 50 years of age or those with celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or other digestive disorders.
People who have undergone weight loss surgery, drink alcohol regularly, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or are pregnant may also be prone to deficiency.
Supplementation with B vitamins thus avoids any risk of deficiency.