As a nutritional psychiatrist, I always strive to maintain a well-balanced diet. A lot of that has to do with making sure I’m getting all the right vitamins, especially since it’s essential for preventing cognitive decline.
And since the risk of neurological diseases increases as we age, a question I often get from my patients is, “What is the best vitamin to protect our aging brains?”
Each of our microbiomes is like a fingerprint, so a truly effective eating plan is customized to each 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 of B Vitamins
Depression, dementia, and mental decline are often associated with a deficiency of B vitamins, found a study from Wayne State University School of Medicine.
“Vitamin B12 deficiency as a cause of cognitive problems is more common than we think, especially among the elderly who live alone and do not eat properly,” says Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist and lead author of the study.
There are eight different B vitamins, each with their own primary health benefits:
1. Increase your energy.
vitamin B1or thiamin, is crucial for the basic function of our cells and the metabolism of nutrients for energy.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active organs in your body, which means it needs the support of thiamin to prevent deficiencies that can lead to neurological problems later in life.
2. Drug breakdown.
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 build cells, produce energy, and break down fats and foreign materials such as medicines.
3. Reduce inflammation.
vitamin B3Niacin, or niacin, works with more than 400 enzymes to make materials like cholesterol and fat that the body needs, and to convert energy for all of our organ systems. Niacin is also an antioxidant, which helps reduce excess inflammation.
4. Support your overall brain health.
vitamin B5or pantothenic acid, is essential for producing a molecular compound called coenzyme A, which helps our body’s enzymes make and break down fatty acids for energy.
It also helps our cells make acyl carrier proteins, helping to make needed fats. The brain is primarily fat, which is why pantothenic acid is among the most important vitamins for supporting brain health.
5. Fight diseases.
vitamin B6or pyridoxine, stands out for its role in disease prevention because adequate levels of this vitamin are associated with a lower risk of several types of cancer.
Additionally, pyridoxine supports many chemical reactions in the body that support immune function and brain health.
6. Help cells communicate better.
vitamin B7, more commonly known as biotin, regulates cellular signals for fast and efficient communication throughout the body. In the brain, it is crucial for cell signaling through neurotransmitters.
7. Keeping yourself balanced.
vitamin B9or folate, is a popular supplement and key vitamin for supporting brain and neurological health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced psychological health.
Another benefit is that it helps promote cellular detoxification.
8. Help your heart.
B12 vitamin, 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 can negatively affect cardiovascular health and lead to dementia when in excess.
The best foods with vitamin B
I am a “food first” person, so I always encourage people to incorporate foods containing these vitamins into their meals. However, our diets are not perfect, so there may be cases where supplements can help. If that’s the case, my simple advice is to “test, don’t guess” and check with your doctor first.
The good news is that B vitamins are among the easiest to incorporate into your diet because foods that are high in one B vitamin often contain many, if not all, of the B vitamins when consumed as whole foods.
Here are six foods rich in B vitamins that I eat every day:
1. Egg it contains a third of the recommended daily value of vitamin B7, while also containing trace amounts of many of the other B vitamins.
2. Yogurt It is high in vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, as well as natural probiotics, which support both gut health and mental health. I like plain Greek yogurt for the added protein.
3. Legumes like black beans, chickpeas, edamame, and lentils all help improve mood and brain health. They are an excellent source of vitamin B9 and include small amounts of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, and vitamin B6.
4. Salmon it is naturally rich in all the B vitamins, especially vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Consider the source of your seafood, and remember that frozen or canned salmon is also an affordable option.
5. Sunflower seeds They are one of the best vegetable sources of vitamin B5. You can get 20% of the recommended daily value of this vitamin from just one ounce of seeds!
6. Green leafy vegetables 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 low mood.
Dr Uma Naidoo is a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She is also director of lifestyle and nutritional psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the best-selling book “This is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Amazing Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” follow her on Twitter Y Instagram.
Do not miss: