The 3 must-have vitamins for brain longevity that most people don't get enough of
Thanks to modern lifestyles marbled with stress, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, over-prescribing of pharmaceuticals, and diets leading to poor digestion, it’s become nearly impossible to keep the brain healthy through nutrition alone these days. Fortunately, we each have ready access to high-quality supplements these days, online if not locally.
I've compiled a list of three must-have vitamins that act as powerhouses for keeping the brain in tip top shape. From improving memory quality, focus, and mood to guarding against mental decline and disease, I highly recommend the process of incorporating these bad boys into your wellness regimen.
There are few things this powerhouse vitamin can’t do, but its benefits as the most important vitamin for the brain are less widely-known.
Essential in the production of neurotransmitters, which are used to help the 100 billion neurons in the brain communicate with each other; impacting your ability to concentrate and helping to balance mood, addictions, and sleep.
Vitamin C is especially proven to increase the neurotransmitter serotonin (aka the happy molecule) helping it to act as nature’s very own natural antidepressant.
Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidant vitamins. The brain is the most susceptible to free radical damage due to its high oxygen usage (image watching an apple quickly brown when cut open and exposed to air). Therefore, just as squeezing lemon juice on a cut apple keeps it from browning, so does that of Vitamin C in protecting your brain from free radical damage.
Aluminum has long been suspected of contributing to Alzheimer’s, as the brain is known to be a place for heavy metal accumulation. Thankfully, Vitamin C acts as a potent detoxifier, helping to efficiently remove such metals from the brain.
Sources of Vitamin C
There's more to Vitamin C than orange juice (or g*d forbid, sugar-laced Airborne and Emergen-C)! Other fruits and veggies that act as excellent sources include:
citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes)
bell peppers (any color)
potatoes (sweet and white)
cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower)
berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries)
Info for supplementation
When deciding whether you should supplement, consider these factors:
Unless regularly eat the recommended 9 servings and fruit and vegetables per day, it’s a supplement that you almost certainly would benefit from.
Do you smoke? Smokers need more vitamin C.
Stress increases your need for Vitamin C, as your body uses it to suppress cortisol (the stress hormone) production. Large doses have been proven to considerably reduce the stress response.
The USDA recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg for men...but these numbers are widely considered extremely low for even "good" health, especially since the RDA is the amount required to prevent diseases like scurvy (outdated much?) but not the amount needed for optimal health.
Many experts recommend taking more. I recommend reaching out to your holistic wellness physician to see what they suggest for you based on your lifestyle and current health-specific needs.
Unlike Vitamin C, we rarely get Vitamin D from what we eat. We actually "eat" it through our skin by way of sunlight! If we spent a majority of our days outdoors like our ancestors did, getting adequate vitamin D would not be an issue. But the majority of us don't. In fact, in spite of its great importance, vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions with up to 75% of Americans not getting enough.
Simply put: Vitamin D is an essential brain vitamin, having profound effects on the brain during all stages of life. And most of us are deficient.
Vitamin D has been found to prevent against various forms of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Getting enough Vitamin D during pregnancy is imperative to the brain development of babies and continued development in young children.
It can act as a mood elevator, especially during the winter when sunshine exposure is less accessible.
Improving memory and increase problem-solving ability, adequate vitamin D can ward off cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
Sources of Vitamin D
I'll cut to the chase and say that it's nearly impossible to get all of the Vitamin D that you need through diet. Nonetheless, the following are a few food options that contribute to the intake of Vitamin D3, the best-utilized form:
fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna; with sardines trailing far behind
cod liver oil (oof. Told ya so.)
As far as sun exposure goes, the suggested guideline is “20 minutes of sun twice a week” on large surfaces area of your body - such as arms or legs, for adequate vitamin D formation. But just being in the sun is no guarantee you’re actually manufacturing vitamin D. Huh? Yeah.
We now have other external factors that keep us from being able to utilize the fuel of the sun's Vitamin D doses the way humans once could. Those factors include:
Sunscreen. If you use it, not only are you very likely exposing your skin to a magnitude of harsh and harmful chemicals, but you'll receive little, if any, Vitamin D.
If you live north of the imaginary line drawn from San Francisco to Richmond, Virginia, the sun's rays are too weak to activate Vitamin D production outside of summer.
Regardless of where you live, only when the UV index is greater than 3 are the UVB wavelengths present in sufficient enough amounts to produce vitamin D. You can check the stats for your region here anytime.
If you have dark skin, more sun exposure is needed to keep Vitamin D levels up than is necessary for light-skinned people.
Info for supplementation
The bottom line is that most people in North America (and Europe) need Vitamin D supplementation. Invest the time to research the source of your supplements.
"A study on 55 brands of vitamin D supplements found contents diverged wildly from what was stated on the label. Brands in the study contained between 9% and 146% of what was listed on the label." -Critical Health News
The only way to know for sure how much Vitamin D you need is to have a blood test ran to check your "25-hydroxy" level, which you can purchase yourself from a lab like True Health Labs...or see your holistic wellness physician.
"Complex" B Vitamins
As the "s" suggests, this section is about a group of B vitamins (especially B6, 12, and 9), often known as "happy" or "anti-stress" vitamins. The "B" could totally stand for Brain Vitamins if it really wanted to.
The B vitamins can fend off aging of the brain, reduce symptoms of both acute and chronic depression, and can even increase overall longevity.
Circling back to those neurotransmitters, B vitamins help with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.
Low serotonin can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, insomnia, and self-harming thoughts; low GABA levels can show up as increased irritability and anxiousness as well as susceptibility to over-stimulation and overwhelm; low dopamine levels show up as lacking overall energy and motivation.
A recent study done by Oxford proved that combining B6, 12, and 9 (folic acid)
reduces the brain's atrophy, especially in the areas most affected by Alzheimer's.
We're back to food-accessibility when it comes to Vitamin B supplementation (you're welcome, sun-avoiders). Some sources of the above-highlighted B vitamins include:
leafy green vegetables
legumes (black-eyed peas, chickpeas, beans, lentils)
Fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso have some B12 to offer, but it's a less-reliable source due to the methods of processing.
Info for supplementation
There are a lot more options here with Complex B vitamins, but the same goes as it had with C and D above...do your research on the source of your supplements, and I highly suggest reaching out to your holistic wellness physician to determine together what type and dose is best for your personal makeup.
So while all vitamins are important for balanced, overall health, the above-mentioned stand out above the rest when it comes to defending the well-being of the brain.
"Family history" and stigmas around aging do not have to define what your brain's health will look like as you go. Give yourself the chance to learn that for yourself. Supplement wisely.
By Sam Jump