These Are All the Vitamins for Brain Health You Need in Your Diet “Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links.”
When it comes to keeping your brain healthy as you age, your diet plays a big role. Eating a variety of foods is critical to getting the vitamins and nutrients your brain needs to keep performing at its best. But the best vitamins for brain health may help.
Research has found that “certain nutrients, flavonoids, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids are associated with slower cognitive decline and reduced risk of dementia ,” says Puja Agarwal, Ph.D. , a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
Meet the Experts: Puja Agarwal, Ph.D. , a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago; Mirella Díaz-Santos, P.h.D., an assistant professor in the Mary S Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research; Robin Foroutan, M.S., R.D.N. , a functional dietitian; Gill Livingston, M.D. , a professor of psychiatry at University College London.
Although eating whole foods is the best way to get those brain-boosting nutrients. supplements for brain health can be a helpful option in specific circumstances. “In general, supplements aren’t often useful for brain health unless you have a deficiency in certain nutrients, which happens but is rare,” says Gill Livingston, M.D. , a professor of psychiatry at University College London whose research focuses on dementia prevention, intervention, and care.
So, which vitamins support brain health ? And how can you get more of those essential vitamins into your diet? Ahead, experts share everything you need to know. Vitamins for brain health
Omega-3 fatty acids
If you’ve ever wondered why fatty fish like salmon and tuna are always touted as part of a healthy diet, here’s one reason: They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat that has a brain-protecting anti-inflammatory effect and is a building block of cell membranes in the brain. Shop Now Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega amazon.com $32.49 Nordic Naturals More Omega-3s have also been linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid, a type of protein found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s-related damage. “Omega-3 fatty acids easily penetrate the blood-brain barrier and are essential for the brain’s structure and functioning,” explains Dr. Agarwal.
Foroutan adds there has been some research that indicates high doses of omega-3 fatty acids after a concussion or other traumatic brain injury may have protective effects on lasting damage
Where to find it: Besides fatty fish, good sources of omega-3s include nuts and seeds and some fortified foods such as eggs and yogurt. If you’re someone who doesn’t eat seafood often, check with your doctor about taking an omega-3 supplement if bloodwork indicates you’re deficient, says Mirella Díaz-Santos, P.h.D., an assistant professor in the Mary S Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA’s Department of Neurology and Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement partner. Vitamin E
This vitamin functions as an antioxidant in the body, and it protects cells from oxidative stress , a type of damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules in the body), even in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress, which increases during aging and is a major contributor to cognitive decline .
Vitamin E is also anti-inflammatory, which helps to keep DNA healthy and replicating correctly while maintaining the structure of healthy brain cell membranes, says Robin Foroutan, M.S., R.D.N. , a functional dietitian.
Where to find it: Vitamin E can be found in dark leafy greens, avocado, red bell pepper, asparagus, mango, pumpkin, and nuts and seeds. B Vitamins
When it comes to brain health, focus on the three B’s: vitamins B6, B12, and B9 ( folate ). “These three types of B vitamins are necessary for the brain’s normal functioning ,” says Dr. Agarwal, “and any deficiency in them may increase the risk of memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline.”
The reason: These vitamins help boost the production of neurotransmitters , or brain chemicals, that deliver messages between the brain and body.
Increasing your B12 by taking a supplement may also be helpful with memory loss as you age because it’s a very common nutrient for older people to develop a deficiency in, notes Díaz-Santos.
Where to find them: Beans are one of the best sources of B vitamins across the board. You can find B6 in bananas, oranges, papaya, cantaloupe, tuna, salmon, poultry, and dark leafy greens. Folate is found in broccoli, greens, whole grains, eggs, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B12 is found solely in meat and fish products; for vegans and vegetarians, nutritional yeast and fortified whole grains are a good way to get your supply. People on a plant-based diet do have a much higher risk of a true B12 deficiency, so talk to your doctor or dietitian about whether or not a B12 supplement is right for you. Vitamin C
This antioxidant is known for its immunity powers, but vitamin C and other flavonoids also support the brain , potentially by taming brain-damaging inflammation.
In one study , by Rush University researchers including Dr. Agarwal, people who consumed vitamin C-rich strawberries at least once a week were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the course of the nearly 20-year study period.
Where to find it: Get vitamin C in abundance from kiwi, red and green bell peppers, citrus, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and tomatoes. Supplements for brain health
There’s a lot of mixed research and feeling among experts when it comes to taking supplements for brain health. Most experts agree it’s always better to spend your money on nutritious foods, but there are exceptions.
Díaz-Santos says that if you’re someone with an allergy or aversion to a large food group (like seafood or dairy) or your doctor found a deficiency during a blood panel, you may want to consider taking a dietary supplement. Otherwise, a well-rounded diet […]