It is common to hear that eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables, can help us lose weight and reduce the risk of heart related diseases. What is not so common is to hear that, in addition to these benefits, there are others that affect our brain: improves memory, increases concentration , and may even prevent Alzheimer’s disease .
Vitamins and Brain Health
In recent years, researchers have gained a better understanding of which vitamins improve brain function and will have the greatest impact on health. Here are some of the benefits that vitamins bring to our brain:
There is evidence to suggest that vitamin E may benefit memory in older people. A recent study by the American Medical Association found that high levels of vitamin E prevent and delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease .
For a long time it was thought that the component of vitamin E called alpha tocopherol was the most important, but another one called gamma tocopherol is “definitely the one that has the neuroprotective properties,” says Aimee Shunney, the coordinator of the Wellness Education Program at the University Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
When you eat foods rich in vitamin E, such as asparagus , almonds , tomatoes , nuts or olive oil , you eat amounts of both alpha and gamma tocopherol.
Regardless of age, it is important to take the proper amount of vitamin E. Deficiency of this vitamin is not common , but can occur in people with a low-fat diet.
Vitamin B9 plays an important role in the formation of dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and serotonin, neurotransmitters in the brain. In fact, each B vitamin plays a key role in preserving brain function and mental acuity . Starting with folic acid (vitamin B9), which is essential in the premature development of the brain, these vitamins help our body and our brain in many ways.
Several studies have associated memory impairment with inadequate levels of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Low levels of vitamin B9 are associated with high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid produced in the human body. High levels of homocysteine in the blood can damage the lining of the arteries and cause the blood to clot more easily than it should. This increases the risk that the blood vessels will become blocked due to the formation of a clot (thrombus) inside the vessel. A thrombus can move through the bloodstream and become stuck in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), in the brain (stroke), or in the heart (heart attack).
Vitamin B12 has a number of roles in the body including the formation of myelin , a layer that coats the axon of some nerve cells. In general, a neuron with myelin-coated axons transmits nerve impulses about a hundred times faster than an amyelinic neuron, producing greater efficiency in the functioning of the body.
Vitamin B12 is mostly found in meat and fish , and therefore, vegetarians are more likely to have deficits. This deficit can cause memory loss, mental slowing, or negatively affect mood.
Vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan to serotonin, a chemical found in the brain. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and obsession . Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause confusion, depression, memory loss, a faster rate of brain degeneration, difficulty paying attention, fatigue, and insomnia. Therefore, an adequate intake of vitamin B6 can lead to increased mental energy, motivation, clarity of thought, better memory formation, improved concentration and health of neurons, as well as better quality of sleep (promotes the creation of melatonin).
Furthermore, studies seem to indicate that this vitamin is also involved in the formation of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and GABA. The latter neurotransmitter plays an important role in reducing stress and anxiety, and helps to calm and relax the brain.
Finally, vitamin B6 is also important in the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory coding, information consolidation and working memory functions.
Among the foods rich in vitamin B6 we can find chicken , salmon , tuna , green pepper , spinach , broccoli , peanuts , wholemeal bread , or lentils .
Vitamin C is famous for its importance in preventing cancer, colds or cardiovascular disease, but its benefits in relation to the brain and mind are not as well known. A study by the Medical Research Unit at McGill University in Canada found that vitamin C increases serotonin levels, and consequently improves mood.
For Jean Carpenter, author of the book Your Miracle Brain, “it’s smart to take vitamin C, and vitamin C could make you smarter. Carpenter argues that taking vitamin C can improve memory and cognitive functions, and therefore improve scores on intelligence tests.
Like vitamin E, vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants. The combination of these vitamins has a preventive effect on the development of Alzehimer and Parkinson’s. Some sources of vitamin C are: orange , strawberries , broccoli , spinach , or grapefruit .
Vitamin D is mainly obtained by the action of ultraviolet rays (sun rays). Hence the importance of rational and adequate sunbathing, especially in the case of children, where vitamin D deficiency can lead, among other consequences, to tooth decay and bone malformations. In addition, this vitamin can also be found in some fish such as salmon or sardines.
According to research, vitamin D is necessary for normal brain development and may prevent multiple sclerosis (MS). Research agrees that it is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, regulating it and suppressing the proliferation of inflammatory cells related to MS activity. It appears that vitamin D supplementation in MS patients may be beneficial and therefore recommended given the few adverse effects it entails.
On the other hand, the joint research of the University of Pittsburg (United States) and the Technical University of Queensland in Australia, concluded that vitamin D could have a regulatory role in the development of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This disorder is a type of depression related to seasonal changes and is thought to affect about 10% of the population, depending on the geographical location.