The B vitamins complex, includes a class of water-soluble vitamins, in which have multiple roles (especially in terms of cell metabolism). Each vitamin shares a similar name, however, each vitamin is chemically distinct from the next.
When a supplement contains all eight vitamins, it is referred to as a vitamin B complex. When each vitamin is consumed on its own, it’s simply referred to by its specific name. The following are all eight B vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamins B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, or pyridoxal)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (various cobalamins)
B Vitamins and the Brain
B vitamins are related to the formation of brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. Each B vitamin has its own role regarding brain function. These vitamins work to preserve both brain function and mental performance.
Vitamin B9, which is better known folic acid, is essential for early development. There have also been studies conducted, showing the link between memory decline and low levels of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
B Vitamins and Preventing Brain Shrinkage
A study reported, that when individuals are taking daily tablets of certain B vitamins, it has been shown to halve the rate of brain shrinkage. This study focused on elderly individuals, who were suffering from mild memory issues. Since this study lasted two years, it is the largest of its kind (regarding vitamin B research, as it related to mild cognitive impairment).
The three vitamins mentioned above; folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, are known to control homocysteine levels. This is an amino acid found in the blood, which is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s when levels are too high.
The study looked at 168 participants, all over the age of 70, who were experiencing mild memory issues. Half of these individuals took high dose B vitamin tablets for two years, while the other half took a placebo. Through MRI scans, disease progression was examined across the two year period.
Those that took B vitamins, were found to have an average shrink rate of 0.76% per year. While those that took the placebo, experienced a brain shrinkage rate of 1.08%. Individuals that had the highest levels of homocysteine were shown to benefit the most. Also, those with a lower shrinkage rate, scored better in terms of cognition tests. This is encouraging, as it may slow down the progression and development of Alzheimer’s and other memory diseases.
A Closer Look at These Three B Vitamins: Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12
Since these three vitamins have been studied extensively, let’s take a closer look at the benefits they bring.
It has been found that when you consume enough folic acid, you are more alert, more focused, and experience improved memory. As we know from the study above, folic acid also reduces homocysteine levels, which are known to damage brain cells.
Folic acid is found within various fruits, leafy greens, beans, lentils, and whole-grain cereals. The foods with the highest levels are; pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, asparagus, spinach, and broccoli. You should be consuming around 400 micrograms daily. There are also folic acid supplements, so that you ensure your needs are met.
Vitamin B6 is essential for serotonin production, as it converts 5-HTP into this vital neurotransmitter. It also helps produce dopamine, which is another crucial neurotransmitter. Both of these play an essential role in one’s mood, as well as alertness.
You should be consuming anywhere from 2 to 10 milligrams per day if you supplement. Some of the foods richest in vitamin B6 are: tuna, kale, garlic, bell peppers, and cranberries.
Vitamin B12 plays various roles within the brain. One of it’s essential roles is the formation of myelin. This is what forms protective layers around nerve fibres, acting as insulation. Since vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products, vegetarians and vegans are often deficient.
A deficiency can potentially lead to memory loss, poor mood, decreased mental ability, and nerve damage. You should be consuming approximately 3 to 100 micrograms per day. If you are not getting enough in your diet, supplementation is highly recommended.