If you suffer from memory problems or you have Alzheimer’s disease, then there are certain vitamins and fatty acids that are known to help slow down the progression of or altogether prevent memory loss. There is a long list of vitamins, commonly referred to as brain vitamins that offer potential solutions for memory loss. But what exactly are brain vitamins, and can they really boost memory? Let’s find out.
What are Brain Vitamins & Can They Really Boost Memory?
The human brain utilizes more energy than any of the other organs in the body. So even though the brain only represents about two percent of the total body weight, it requires more than 20 percent of the total energy expenditure of the body.(1) When you consider vitamins for supporting brain health, it is essential to understand that your brain functions like a sponge, which soaks up whatever it can, in terms of nutrients from food as well as dietary supplements, in order to remain active and function optimally.
So regardless of whether you are suffering from cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, or you find yourself forgetting random stuff every now and then, there are certain brain vitamins that can help boost your brain functioning. There are many potential solutions such as vitamin B12, vitamin E, and many other supplements that can help boost your brain functions. However, can these brain vitamins really boost your memory?
Most of the scientific evidence has found that there isn’t too much of definite proof to suggest that these popular brain vitamins actually work. Let us see what the recent studies have to say about brain vitamins and whether they can boost your memory or not.
The relationship between vitamin B12 deficiency and memory loss has been studied extensively in recent years.(2) Having sufficient levels of vitamin B12 in the diet is known to improve your memory. However, there is no evidence to show that having a higher intake of B12 has any positive effects.
Nevertheless, some research has found that taking B12 regularly can slow down cognitive decline in people who have early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. But this is only effective when you take B12 together with omega 3 fatty acids.(3)
It is generally observed that B12 deficiency is most common in people who have stomach or bowel issues or those who are strict vegetarians. Additionally, the common diabetes drug, metformin, is also known to lower B12 levels.
It is possible to get sufficient levels of B12 naturally as well because it is easily found in poultry and fish. Fortified breakfast cereal is also a good option for getting B12, especially for vegetarians.
One of the links between B vitamins, in general, and brain health is associated with homocysteine. It is commonly known that high levels of homocysteine can contribute to poor overall health, which also includes poor functioning of the brain.(4) It is known that the intake of B vitamins helps keep the levels of homocysteine in the body in balance.
Another brain vitamin is the well-known vitamin C. Vitamin C is also known to help support healthy brain functioning because of its potent antioxidant activity. In 2017, a review of 50 studies carried out by the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia found that the most significant benefit for the brain-derived from vitamin C is for those people who are already deficient in this vitamin.(5)
In 2014, a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark published a paper in the Nutrients journal that showed increasing evidence of vitamin C being an important redox homeostatic factor in the central nervous system in humans. The study established a link between insufficient dietary intake of vitamin C to adverse effects on a person’s cognitive performance.(6)
This was found to be especially true in the case of elderly adults since deficiency of vitamin C is more commonly found in older people.
There is some evidence which points to the fact that vitamin E can help boost the mind and memory of older adults. In 2014, the Minneapolis VA Health Care System in the United States published a study in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association and it found that high amounts of vitamin E are effective in people who have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.(7)
The participants of this study were given doses of 2,000 international units (IU) every day. However, many medical experts believe that such a high amount of vitamin E is unsafe.(8) Taking more than 1,000 IU per day is said to be risky for those who have cardiovascular disease and are on blood thinners. This high level of vitamin E also increases the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Nevertheless, regardless of your medical condition or your age, it is still necessary to get sufficient vitamin E in your diet. It is rare to have vitamin E deficiency, but it may still happen in people who are on low-fat diets. If you are interested in taking extra vitamin E, then you should consult your doctor.
Naturally, vitamin E can be found in the following foods:
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetables such as bell peppers and spinach
- Dark-colored fruits such as avocados, blackberries, and blueberries
Similar to vitamin E, vitamin K is also said to have benefits for your brain health. Typically vitamin K is associated with strong bones, but at the same time, this vitamin is necessary for your brain as well.
Studies have shown that vitamin K has an influence on sphingolipids, which are a type of fatty acid compound found in the brain cell membranes. A study carried out by the Université de Montréal in Canada explored the role of vitamin K as an essential nutrient in brain function.(9)
In order to determine this association, the researching team looked at 192 people who were equal to or older than 65 years of age. The study, known as the CLIP study, found that an increased intake of dietary phylloquinone led to better cognition and behavior in elderly patients.(10)
The foundational vitamins of B, C, E, and K, are known to have many important roles to play in the body, including boosting your brain function. However, at the same time it is also important to follow a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and of course, having a healthy diet that includes whole and unprocessed foods.
Protecting and boosting brain function is important for all of us, not just the elderly. You can definitely benefit immensely from taking supplements of these brain vitamins, but only after consulting your doctor.
- Raichle, M.E., 2010. Two views of brain function. Trends in cognitive sciences, 14(4), pp.180-190.
- Health Quality Ontario, 2013. Vitamin B12 and cognitive function: an evidence-based analysis. Ontario health technology assessment series, 13(23), p.1.
- Rathod, R., Kale, A. and Joshi, S., 2016. Novel insights into the effect of vitamin B 12 and omega-3 fatty acids on brain function. Journal of biomedical science, 23(1), p.17. Ford, A.H., Garrido, G.J., Beer, C., Lautenschlager, N.T., Arnolda, L., Flicker, L. and Almeida, O.P., 2012. Homocysteine, grey matter and cognitive function in adults with cardiovascular disease. PloS one, 7(3).
- Travica, N., Ried, K., Sali, A., Scholey, A., Hudson, I. and Pipingas, A., 2017. Vitamin C status and cognitive function: a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(9), p.960.
- Hansen, S.N., Tveden-Nyborg, P. and Lykkesfeldt, J., 2014. Does vitamin C deficiency affect cognitive development and function?. Nutrients, 6(9), pp.3818-3846.
- Dysken, M.W., Sano, M., Asthana, S., Vertrees, J.E., Pallaki, M., Llorente, M., Love, S., Schellenberg, G.D., McCarten, J.R., Malphurs, J. and Prieto, S., 2014. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial. Jama, 311(1), pp.33-44.
- Publishing, H. (2020). Mind and memory supplement scorecard – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/mind-and-memory-supplement-scorecard [Accessed 22 Jan. 2020].
- Ferland, G., 2012. Vitamin K, an emerging nutrient in brain function. Biofactors, 38(2), pp.151-157.
- Chouet, J., Ferland, G., Féart, C., Rolland, Y., Presse, N., Boucher, K., Barberger-Gateau, P., Beauchet, O. and Annweiler, C., 2015. Dietary vitamin K intake is associated with cognition and behaviour among geriatric patients: the CLIP study. Nutrients, 7(8), pp.6739-6750.