Brain - Vitamins and Supplements

With a few notable exceptions such as Vitamin D and Magnesium, supplements have done poorly in studies on heart disease, cancer and other conditions. The medical profession is justified in its lack of enthusiasm as the miraculous claims and expectations have, for the most most part, turned out to be nothing but hype. There is, however, a notable exception: the brain. The brain is the most complex machine - nothing theological meant by that - in the universe and is a huge energy and biochemical hog. It requires huge inflows of vitamins, nutrients and benefits greatly from antioxidants and other phytoprotective foods.

Study after study have showed that your brain is at risk if you are low on many key nutrients.  Here are some examples:

  • Vitamin D.  One recent study found looked at the Vitamin D levels in 3,000 middle-aged and senior European men and found that those with the highest Vitamin D levels scored significantly better on memory, cognition and information processing. [1][2]  This is following on the coattails of recent studies that showed that Vitamin D was a brain protector as well.
  • Multivitamins.  See this link on Multivitamins: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly where I give coverage in detail.
  • Vitamin E.  The large third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [3] showed that increased levels of Vitamin E was associated with decreased memory impairment. Several other studies have verifed similar results, some coupled with Vitamin C and some without.  CAUTION:  I give a cautious recommendation toward taking Vitamin E but only if you take it in the mixed tocopherol form.  Vitamin E supplements are generally composed of only the alpha tocopherol form which will lower your body's gamma tocopherol levels.  This is not something that you want to do as gamma tocopherol is known for its unique inflammation lowering and free radical quenching abilities.
  • Folic Acid/Folate.  Make sure you get enough folate in your diet.  One large study [4] of the elderly showed low levels of folate correlated with lower mental function and state. This probably has to do with the fact that folate lowers homocysteine levels and homocysteine levels are associated with cognitive impairment. [5] I should also mention that the folate connection was verified in an analysis of the famed MacArthur Foundation Studies of Successful Aging, where lower folic acid levels (and lower B6 levels as well) were assocated with increased cognitive decline. [6]  In addition, studies have shown that folic acid increases (in seniors with elevated homocysteine and therefore low folate) "memory, information processing speed and sensorimotor speed" [9] - all of which tend to decline with age - and, on top of all that, decreases the risk of stroke [10] and CAUTION:  There is some new evidence that too much Folic Acid can lead to colon cancer.  If you eat a healthy diet, you may want to reconsider your need to supplement with Folic Acid.  Most studies that show a benefit of folic acid supplementation are in individuals with low folate levels.  See this link for details.  
  • Vitamin C.  Vit C supplementation was shown in one large scale study, the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, to protect against vascular and various forms of dementia. [7]  Other studies have shown that Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) protects memory as well. [8] Vitamin C supplementation should also protect your skin. CAUTION:  Take Vitamin C on either an empty stomach or with no fat in your stomach:  it can lead to increased nitrosamine production in the stomach.  In addition, take the Ester C form of Vitamin C to greatly reduce acidity. (I also recommend reading about how Vitamin C is a proven Cortisol-Buster.)
  • CAUTION:  Some "brain sites" encourage you to megadose on CoQ10.  This is probably not a good idea based on the latest animal research.  Do you see the irony here?  See my link on The Potential Dangers of Supplementation



    2) Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 2009;80:722-729, "Association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and cognitive performance in middle-aged and older European men"

    3) Am J Epidem, 1999, 150(1):27-44

    4) J of Nutr,Aug 1996,(126)8:1992-1999

    5) Amer J of Clin Nutr,Sep 2005,82(3):627-635

    6) Am J Med,2005;118:161 7; Psychosomatic Medicine,2006,68:547-554

    7) Neurology,Mar 28 2000,54(6):1265-72

    8) J Am Geriatr Soc,Jun 1997,45(6):718-24

    9)  Lancet, 2007 Jun 2, 369(9576):1876-82, "Efficacy of folic acid supplementation in stroke prevention: a meta-analysis."

    10) Lancet, 2007 Jan 20, 369(9557):208-16, "Effect of 3-year folic acid supplementation on cognitive function in older adults in the FACIT trial: a randomised, double blind, controlled trial"