These Surprising Vitamins Support The Brain (In More Ways Than One)
While all brain-centric nutrients are important to dive into, there's one vital group of vitamins we believe aren't discussed (or prioritized) nearly enough. That's right—today, we're talking about the B vitamin family (aka a B complex).
The brain uses 20% of the body's total energy expenditure1, making it the most metabolically active organ in the body. B vitamins play a massive role in energy metabolism, which is why they are precisely regulated by the brain's homeostatic mechanisms to maintain high concentrations.*
For example, folate (aka vitamin B9) is seen in the brain at a concentration four times higher than in the blood, while concentrations of biotin and pantothenic acid (aka vitamins B7 and B5) are 50 times higher2 in the brain.
While the B vitamins may be known best for the work they do to orchestrate energy metabolism (i.e., gaining ATP cellular energy currency from the foods we eat each day), they're also helpful in a myriad of other areas.*
How B vitamins bolster central nervous system health.
Affecting everything from memory and cellular signaling to mood and sleep, B vitamins are quite comprehensive in their scope of work throughout the central nervous system.*
Here are three ways B vitamins help promote a healthy brain.*
Support cognitive function.
The two flavoprotein coenzymes derived from riboflavin—FMN and FAD—are vital to delivering enough oxygen to the brain so it can send nerve signals and messages to the rest of the body.* Without B vitamins, the brain simply wouldn't get the oxygen and nutrients it crucially needs.*
In an equally comprehensive fashion, pantothenic acid, niacin, and thiamin support overall cognitive function by promoting the structural integrity and performance of brain cells4.* Additionally, thiamin provides energy to nerve cells and aids in the production of myelin (aka the insulation around nerves).*
Last but certainly not least, vitamin B6, niacin, and riboflavin offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties4—all of which support a healthy, well-functioning brain and promote whole-body health.*
Provide mood support.
In many ways, we are able to regulate our emotions and navigate our feelings thanks to the diverse family of B vitamins.
Most B vitamins—including thiamin, pantothenic acid, folate, and vitamins B6 and B12—are involved in neurotransmitter production.* Neurotransmitters help neurons communicate with each other and affect our overall mood and emotional health.
Here are some of the neurotransmitters that B vitamins help synthesize:*
- Serotonin regulates mood and happiness.
- Norepinephrine prepares the brain for action and improves energy and attentiveness.
- Dopamine affects mood and feelings of reward and motivation.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (aka GABA) attaches to a protein in the brain (GABA receptor) to produce a calming effect and decreases certain nervous system activity to invoke a more relaxed state.
Promote healthy sleep.
It turns out that these essential water-soluble B vitamins not only promote a stable mood but also help you wind down after a long day so you can have restful sleep each night.*
B vitamins like B6 also help convert neurotransmitters into melatonin, an endogenous hormone that modulates your circadian rhythm and the timing of your sleep schedule.* Additionally, niacin promotes a healthy sleep architecture5—i.e., the structural organization of different sleep cycles and stages—while biotin helps regulate thyroid and adrenal activity to help stabilize your mood and promote good sleep.*
The bottom line.
If you're aiming for optimal cognitive function, mood stability, and sleep quality, you definitely don't want to miss out on your B vitamins.* But getting the full array of B vitamins at efficacious doses from diet alone can prove…challenging. (There are eight of them, after all!)
Since B vitamins are water-soluble, you need to make sure you're replenishing them each and every day through diet, and of course, a smart supplement (like mbg's ultimate multivitamin+, which includes high-potency doses of all eight B vitamins in their bioactive forms, included methylated folic acid and B12, for optimized efficacy) removes the guesswork to help you reap all the incredible brain-health benefits they offer.*
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.