The No. 1 Vitamin to Keep Your Brain ‘Young and Healthy’ – and Foods to Eat Every Day

As a nutritional psychiatrist, I always make it a point to eat a balanced diet. A lot of it has to do with making sure I’m getting the right vitamins, especially since it’s essential to prevent cognitive decline.

And since the risk of neurological disorders increases as we age, a question I often get from my patients is, “What’s the best vitamin to protect our aging brains?”

Each of our microbiomes is like a thumbprint, so a truly effective eating plan is personalized to an individual’s unique needs. But the vitamin group that I give the most priority to keep my brain young and healthy are B vitamins.

The Brain Benefits of B Vitamins

Depression, dementia and mental disorders are often associated with vitamin B deficiency, a study from the Wayne State University School of Medicine found.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency as a cause of cognitive problems is more common than we think, especially in elderly people who live alone and do not eat well,” said Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist and the lead author of the study.

There are eight different B vitamins, each with its own primary health benefits:

1. Increasing your energy.

Vitamin B1or thiamine, 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, meaning it needs the support of thiamine to prevent the deficiencies that can lead to neurological problems later on.

2. Break down medicines.

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 cells grow, produce energy, and break down fats and external materials such as drugs.

3. Reduction of inflammation.

Vitamin B3niacin, or niacin, works with more than 400 enzymes to produce materials such as cholesterol and fat needed in the body, and to convert energy for all of our organ systems. Niacin is also an antioxidant, which helps reduce excessive inflammation.

4. Support your 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 generate acyl carrier proteins, thereby producing the necessary fats. The brain is primarily fat, so pantothenic acid is one of the most important vitamins in supporting brain health.

5. Fight against diseases.

Vitamin B6or pyridoxine, is known for its role in disease prevention because proper levels of this vitamin are associated with a lower risk of a number of cancers.

In addition, pyridoxine aids many chemical reactions in the body that support immune function and brain health.

6. Help cells 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 in balance.

Vitamin B9or folic acid, is a popular supplement and an important vitamin for supporting brain and neurological health, optimal neurotransmitter function, and balanced psychological health.

Another benefit is that it promotes 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 can negatively impact cardiovascular health and lead to dementia in excess.

The Best Vitamin B Foods

I am a “food-first” person, so I always encourage people to include foods with these vitamins in their meals. However, our diet is not perfect, so there may be instances where supplements can help. If so, my simple advice is “test, don’t guess” – and see your doctor first.

The good news is that B vitamins are among the easiest to incorporate into your diet because 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 one-third of the recommended daily value of vitamin B7, while also containing small amounts of many of the other B vitamins.

2. Yogurt is rich in both vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, as well as natural probiotics, which support both gut and mental health. I like plain Greek yogurt for the added protein.

3. Legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, edamame, and lentils all help boost 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. Consider the origin of your seafood 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 an ounce of seeds!

6. Leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard and cabbage are a great source of vitamin B9. This is the first food I recommend to patients who want to stimulate a bad mood.

dr. Uma Naidoo is a nutrition psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She is also the director of Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the best-selling book “This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” follow her Twitter and Instagram.

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