Topic

4.2 B Vitamins

The B vitamins are a group of nutrients with very far-reaching functions that carry out vital roles in virtually every conceivable tissue and body system. This means that when consumed, they are very widely distributed throughout the body. Unfortunately, many of us eating a modern diet are consuming very little of these essential vitamins. Combine this with the fact that they are water-soluble, and readily excreted from the body after a given period of time, it is really quite easy to start getting deficient in them. This isn’t good for overall health, and certainly spells trouble for our mind and brain, as they have very important roles to play there.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1 is involved in turning glucose into energy. Low levels of this nutrient can lead us to feel tired and sluggish. It can also make us mentally tired too and affect concentration and overall mental performance. Adequate energy production is essential for quick sharp thinking.

Best food sources of B1:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Squash
  • Pork
  • Greens
  • Oily fish

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3 has a long-standing association with mental health since its deficiency illness, pellagra, was understood. Sufferers of pellagra get a thick, scaly, skin rash on exposure to sunlight, but they also suffer from depression, disorientation, and apathy. Since discovering the effects of this deficiency, niacin has been used in several studies in the treatment of schizophrenia. It has also shown promise in improving memory in both the young and old.

Best food sources of B3:

  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Brown Rice
  • Prawns
  • Mushrooms

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Vitamin B5 has a very important role to play in the brain. It is needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for memory and learning.

Best food sources of B5

  • Liver
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Squash

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 is an incredibly important nutrient for mental health. This is for two distinct reasons. Firstly it is a key nutrient involved in the formation of myelin, that superconductive sheath that carries signals rapidly across the axon. Secondly, vitamin B6 is an important nutrient for converting the amino acid tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin – the feelgood compound. 

Best food sources of B6:

  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Sweet potato
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Spinach
  • Bananas

Folate/Folic acid

Folate is a B vitamin that is most commonly associated with pregnancy. Several studies have shown a link between folate deficiency and low mood, and there is a chain of thought that low levels of folate lead to low levels of a substance called s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), that is involved in neurotransmitter production. Folate is often referred to as folic acid, however, there is a difference between the two. Folate is naturally present in foods, whereas folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, often found in supplements.

Best food sources of folate:

  • Lentils
  • Pulses
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 also shows some potential links to mental health, although the reasons behind this are slightly less clear than other B vitamins. There are certain associations arising from research, but in terms of establishing exact causal factors, we aren’t there yet. The theory is that B12 is involved in the production of a group of neurotransmitters called monoamines. These are involved in emotion, cognition and arousal, and include dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. It is also thought that, in combination with vitamin B6 and folic acid, B12 can reduce levels of an amino acid called homocysteine, which can cause damage to the brain and cardiovascular system.

Best food sources of B12:

  • Shellfish
  • Liver
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Red meat