As a nutrition psychiatrist, I always want to maintain a well-balanced diet. A lot of this has to do with making sure I’m getting all the right vitamins, especially since it’s essential to prevent cognitive decline.
And as the risk of neurological disease 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 meal plan is tailored to an individual’s unique needs. But the vitamin group I give the highest priority to keep my brain young and healthy is the B vitamins.
The brain benefits from the B vitamins
Depression, dementia and mental impairment are often associated with a deficiency of B vitamins, uncovered a study from Wayne State University School of Medicine.
“A vitamin B12 deficiency as a cause of cognitive problems is more common than we think, especially among older adults who live alone and don’t 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. Increase your energy.
Vitamin B1or thiamine, is critical to 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 thiamine support to prevent deficiencies that can lead to neurological problems across the board.
2. Break down the drugs.
Vitamin B2or riboflavin, acts as an assistant to enzymes in our cells that carry out important reactions, such as in the body and brain.
It also helps in growing cells, producing energy and breaking down fats and external materials such as drugs.
3. Reduce inflammation.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, works with more than 400 enzymes to produce materials such as cholesterol and fat that are needed within the body and to convert energy for all of our organ systems. Niacin is also an antioxidant, which helps reduce excess inflammation.
4. Support your support for overall brain health.
Vitamin B5or pantothenic acid, is essential for making a molecular compound called coenzyme A, which helps our body’s enzymes build and break down fatty acids for energy.
It also helps our cells to generate acyl carrier proteins, helping to produce the necessary fats. The brain is mainly fat, so pantothenic acid is among the most important vitamins for supporting brain health.
5. Fight disease.
Vitamin B6or pyridoxine, is known for its role in disease prevention because adequate levels of this vitamin are associated with a lower risk of a number of cancers.
Additionally, pyridoxine helps 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 critical for cellular signaling via neurotransmitters.
7. Keep yourself balanced.
Vitamin B9or folate, is a popular supplement and key vitamin for supporting neurological and brain health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced psychological health.
Another benefit is that it helps encourage cellular detoxification.
8. Help your heart.
vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is an essential vitamin for forming red blood cells and DNA and supporting the development and function of the nervous system.
Vitamin B12 also supports the breakdown of homocysteine, a protein that can negatively impact cardiovascular health and lead to dementia if in excess.
The best vitamin B foods
I am a “food first” person, so I always encourage people to incorporate foods containing these vitamins into their meals. However, our diets aren’t perfect, so there may be cases where supplements can help. If this is the case, my simple advice is to “test, not guess” and see your doctor first.
The good news is that B vitamins are some of the easiest to integrate into your diet because foods rich in a 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 value of vitamin B7, while it also contains small amounts of many other B vitamins.
2. Yogurt It is rich 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 such as black beans, chickpeas, edamame and lentils all help improve 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 it is naturally rich in all the B vitamins, in particular vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Be aware of 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 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 vegetables such as spinach, chard and kale are an excellent source of vitamin B9. This is the first food I suggest to patients who want to improve their mood.
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutritionist psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member of Harvard School of Medicine. She is also the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of the best-selling book. “This Is Your Brain On Food: An Indispensable Guide To Amazing Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and more.” Follow her Twitter And Instagram.
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