Did you know that the human brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body? While the brain represents only 2% of total body weight, it accounts for more than 20% of the body’s total energy expenditure. (1) When considering vitamins that support brain health, we need to understand that the brain is like a sponge soaking up what it can — including nutrients from food and dietary supplements — to remain active. Fortunately, there are many key vitamins that can help patients maintain, and even enhance their brain function.
Addressing deficiency with the best vitamins for brain health
Like many patients, you too may be interested in supporting brain function from a cognitive and mental health standpoint. After all, the brain never takes a break, it works round the clock. Explore the vitamins that support this strong and active organ.
When it comes to B vitamins, you could say that the B stands for the brain. As it turns out, the best vitamins for brain health are B vitamins. Vitamin B12, in particular, is one of the best vitamins for brain health. In fact, research has confirmed that there is a direct correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and poor brain health. (2) One connection between the B vitamins and brain health is with homocysteine. It is widely known that high homocysteine levels can contribute to poor health, which includes poor brain function. (3) It is also scientifically accepted that B vitamins help keep homocysteine levels in check.
Did you know?
The B vitamins that participate in one-carbon metabolism include folate, vitamin B12, and B6; deficiency or congenital defects in enzymes involved in the metabolism of these B vitamins are associated with impairment in brain function. (4)
In addition to their role in homocysteine metabolism, B vitamins are intimately involved in catabolic energy production in the cells. The B vitamins are also known to easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, specific cellular uptake mechanisms dictate distribution, and, whilst the B vitamins all have high turnovers, ranging from 8% to 100% per day, their levels are tightly regulated by multiple homeostatic mechanisms in the brain. (5)
There are many key vitamins that can help boost your brain health and enhance your cognitive function.
In addition to the B vitamins, vitamin C can also help support brain health because of its high anti-oxidant activity. According to a 2017 review of 50 studies, the primary brain benefit that comes from vitamin C accrues to those of us who are deficient in the vitamin. (6) According to a 2014 paper published in the journal Nutrients, “Increasing evidence is pointing to vitamin C as an important redox homeostatic factor in the central nervous system, linking an inadequate dietary supply of vitamin C to negative effects on cognitive performance.” (7) This is especially true with aging adults as vitamin C deficiency is more common among older persons.
Vitamin E has a mechanism similar to vitamin C and brain health because it too is a powerful anti-oxidant. Also similar to vitamin C, research demonstrates that low vitamin E levels can contribute to poor brain function. (8) Preliminary animal studies also suggest that vitamin E supplementation can have a protective effect on brain function. (9)
When we think of vitamin K we typically think of strong bones, but we should also be thinking about brain health. Regarding brain function, studies have shown that vitamin K influences sphingolipids, which are fatty acid compounds in brain cell membranes. (10) To determine the association between vitamin K status and brain function, researchers evaluated 192 people equal to or older than 65 years. This was known as the CLIP study and the researchers concluded, “The main finding of this cross-sectional study is that, irrespective of all measured potential confounders, increased dietary phylloquinone intake was associated with better cognition and behavior among geriatric patients.” (11)
It’s important to note that some common drugs can cause deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K. Learn about nutrient depletions associated with common medications, here.
Regular exercise is good for your brain’s health as it enhances memory and cognition.
Consider lifestyle factors for brain health
These foundational vitamins—Bs, C, E, and K—can help support health on many levels, including brain function. But when it comes to maintaining, enhancing, and protecting brain health, it’s also important to remind patients of these three basic and critical lifestyle factors:
Research shows that exercise doesn’t just help your body stay fit, it helps your brain too. There are many brain-boosting benefits from exercise, including enhanced memory and cognition.
Getting enough sleep is critical to health in general but it’s also important to brain health. While the body sleeps, the glymphatic system kicks in to start detoxifying the brain of neurotoxic waste proteins such as β-amyloid. (12)
The bottom line
Protecting and enhancing brain function is important to all of us. As mentioned above, you can benefit immensely from a proactive brain health plan that includes basic lifestyle advice coupled with vitamin deficiency prevention, and supplementation with vitamins that promote brain health.
You’re now well on your way to “soaking up” all these benefits to power your super brain!