The family of B vitamins, in particular, B12, B6, and folate, are all important brain vitamins. Boost your brain with all the B’s!
B12 is required for a cell process called methylation, a basic chemical process that all cells, including brain cells, require to thrive. Many important processes in the nervous system require methylation: cell communication, the production of neurotransmitters that control many aspects of cognition; and the production of myelin, which acts as insulation for neurons to help them fire more efficiently (similar to how plastic coating on a wire improves its ability to transmit an electric signal).
Without enough B12, cell communication can be compromised at any age. Researchers at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging (OPTIMA) have found that B12 protects against age-related atrophy of brain cells and against damage to the brain’s white matter (the tracts, or “wiring,” of the brain that allow cells to communicate with one another).
Dr. David Smith, the founding director of OPTIMA, explains that without enough B12, the communication between different parts of the brain is less efficient. Eventually, after someone has been B12 deficient for a number of years, memory impairment sets in and gradually gets worse, leading to dementia.
Two other B vitamins, B6 and B9 (folate), are also essential for brain function, though we tend to hear less about them. Many foods are fortified with folate because of its role in preventing neural tube defects during pregnancy. Folate is also found in leafy greens, citrus fruits, peas, and beans. Vitamin B6 is found in the highest quantities in potatoes, bananas, chickpeas, and oatmeal. Vitamin B6 and folate work in conjunction with vitamin B12 by regulating a compound called homocysteine, which inhibits the methylation reaction, mentioned above, that is so important in the regulation of the nervous system.
If you have any concerns about your B vitamin levels, it is a good idea to get a comprehensive test of your blood panels. If you find you’re having trouble getting enough B vitamins through food, you may want to consider high-quality supplements derived from plant sources like Sunwarrior RAW vitamins for Him and Sunwarrior RAW vitamins for Her
The Power of Flavonoids
Phytochemicals are chemicals derived from plant sources that act as antioxidants by scavenging free radicals. There are a number of types of phytochemicals, but a familiar and key group is the flavonoids, which the scientific community and the public alike have embraced as necessary constituents for health and longevity.
Flavonoids take part in multiple cellular processes depending on the type of flavonoid. They are responsible for many aspects of our brain function. Researcher Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, Ph.D., studies the effect of nutrition on the brain at the University of California, Los Angeles. He explains that flavonoids play important roles in repairing damage in the brain. They do this by influencing how neurons “talk” to each other and by increasing levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce damage to cells in the brain.
Some studies have found that extracts from blueberries, strawberries, spinach, and blackberries may reverse the normal cognitive changes and memory problems that accompany the aging process. They also appear to take part in cell functions that help the brain form memories in people of all ages. Flavonoids boost the brain’s ability to form new neurons, prevent brain cells from dying and enhance what researchers call “synaptic plasticity,” the ability of neurons to form and reform connections with each another. These processes—particularly synaptic plasticity—are thought to be the basis for learning and memory.
There is also some evidence that flavonoids can stave off not only cognitive decline but also protect the brain from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This may be because the compounds protect against oxidative damage by hydrogen peroxide, which has been linked to the beta-amyloid plaques that characterize Alzheimer’s.
Flavonoids (particularly the ones found in raw cacao beans) help boost blood flow to the brain. This may help protect against vascular disease like stroke. The anti-inflammatory properties of certain flavonoids can also suppress inflammation in the brain, which helps reduce the risk of a variety of diseases. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases may be a result of chronic inflammation, and certain flavonoids may offer protection against the kind of inflammation that accompanies them.
In addition to its role as a promoter of bone and oral health, vitamin D serves important functions in brain health. This sunlight vitamin is synthesized in the skin when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit skin cells and is thought to protect the brain against cognitive deficits that come with age.
There are vitamin D receptors spread throughout many areas in the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. Vitamin D also influences certain proteins that aid in neuron growth and development, and it takes part in many other important aspects of brain function, like synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, the activity of neurotransmitters, and specific motor processes. If you find you’re having trouble getting enough D vitamins through food, you may want to consider high-quality supplements derived from plant sources like Sunwarrior RAW vitamins for Him and Sunwarrior RAW vitamins for Her
Armed with the right knowledge (and nutrients) you can build a plant-based health regimen to keep your brain nourished, healthy and functioning for decades to come!