As a nutritional psychiatrist, I always value a balanced diet. A lot of this has to do with making sure I’m getting the right vitamins, mostly because it’s important for preventing cognitive decline.
And since the risk of neurological diseases increases with age, I often get the question from my patients, “What is the best vitamin to protect our aging brain?”
Each of our microbiomes is like a thumbprint, so a truly effective nutrition plan is tailored to an individual’s unique needs. But the group of vitamins that I prioritize the most to keep my brain young and healthy are the B vitamins.
The brain benefits from B vitamins
Depression, dementia and intellectual disabilities are often associated with B vitamin deficiencies, a study by the Wayne State University School of Medicine found.
“B12 vitamin deficiency as a cause of cognitive problems is more common than we think, particularly among older people who live alone and do not eat properly,” says Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, psychiatrist and lead author of the study.
There are eight different B vitamins, each with their own primary health benefits:
1. Boost your energy.
Vitamin B1or thiamine, is critical to the basic functioning of our cells and the metabolism of nutrients into energy.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active organs in your body, which means it needs the support of thiamine to prevent the deficiencies that can lead to neurological problems later on.
2. Depletion of drugs.
Vitamin B2or riboflavin, acts as a helper for enzymes in our cells that carry out important reactions, such as in the body and brain.
It also helps cells grow, produce energy, and break down fats and external materials like drugs.
3. Reduction of inflammation.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, works with more than 400 enzymes to produce materials like cholesterol and fat that are needed in the body and to convert energy for all of our organ systems. Niacin is also an antioxidant that helps reduce excessive inflammation.
4. Support your overall brain health.
Vitamin B5or pantothenic acid, is important for making a molecular compound called coenzyme A, which helps our body’s enzymes break down and break down fatty acids for energy.
It also helps our cells create acyl carrier proteins, which contributes to the production of necessary fats. The brain is made up mostly of fat, so pantothenic acid is one of the most important vitamins to support brain health.
5. Fight diseases.
Vitamin B6or pyridoxine, is notable for its role in disease prevention, as adequate levels of this vitamin are associated with a reduced risk of a number of cancers.
In addition, pyridoxine helps with many chemical reactions in the body that support immune function and brain health.
6. Help cells to communicate better.
Vitamin B7, most commonly known as biotin, regulates cell signals for fast and efficient communication throughout the body. In the brain, it is crucial for cellular signaling via neurotransmitters.
7. Keeping you balanced.
Vitamin B9or folate, is a popular dietary supplement and a key vitamin to support brain and neurological health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced mental health.
Another benefit is that it helps promote cellular detoxification.
8. Help your heart.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is an essential vitamin for the formation of red blood cells and DNA and supports the development and function of the nervous system.
B12 also supports the breakdown of homocysteine, a protein that has a negative impact on cardiovascular health and can lead to dementia when in excess.
The best vitamin B foods
I’m a food first person, so I always encourage people to include foods containing these vitamins in their meals. However, our diet is not perfect, so there may be instances where supplements can help. If that’s the case, my simple advice is “test, don’t guess” – and consult your doctor first.
The good news is that B vitamins are the easiest to incorporate into your diet, as foods rich in one B vitamin often contain many, if not all, of the B vitamins when consumed as whole foods.
Here are six vitamin B-rich foods I eat every day:
1. An egg contains a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B7, but also contains small amounts of many other B vitamins.
2. Yogurt is rich in vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, as well as natural probiotics that support both gut health and mental health. I like plain Greek yogurt for the added protein.
3. Legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, edamame and lentils all help improve your mood and brain health. They are an excellent source of vitamin B9 and contain small amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6.
4. Salmon is naturally rich in all B vitamins, especially vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Be aware of where your seafood comes from, and remember that frozen or canned salmon is also a budget-friendly option.
5. Sunflower seeds are one of the best plant sources of vitamin B5. You can get 20% of the recommended daily value of this vitamin from just one ounce of seeds!
6. Leafy greens such as spinach, chard and cabbage are a great source of vitamin B9. This is the first food I suggest to patients who want to improve their bad mood.
dr Uma Naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She is also Director of Nutrition and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the bestselling book “This is Your Food Brain: An Essential Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” keep following her Twitter and Instagram.
Do not miss: