Vitamins & Minerals to Boost Brainpower (cont.)
When you consume food rich in vitamin E, including almonds, green leafy vegetables, corn oil, sunflower oil, hazelnuts, and whole-grain flour, you get both alpha tocopherols and gamma tocopherols, she says. If you are choosing supplements, look for vitamin E with "mixed tocopherols" and take 400 IU a day, she says. Vitamin functions as an antioxidant and the brain is particularly susceptible to free radicals (damaging, unstable molecules). Some research indicates that vitamin E can delay progression of Alzheimer's disease and/or prevent it from occurring in the first place by reducing the free radicals damage!
B Good to Yourself
"B vitamins are involved in helping the formation of brain chemicals such as dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin," Sahelian says. In fact, each B vitamin plays its own role in preserving brain function and mental acuity. Starting from folic acid (a B complex), which helps in the early brain development, these vitamins help in many aspects of metabolism. A few recent studies have shown a link between declines in memory and Alzheimer's disease in the elderly and inadequate levels of folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Reduced levels of folate are associated with high levels of homocysteine -- a marker of heart disease and stroke.
"Vitamin B12 has a number of roles including helping in the formation of myelin," Sahelian says. Myelin forms layers or a sheath around the nerve fibers and acts as insulation. Sahelian points out that B12 is mainly found in meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish, and poultry), and an as result, vegetarians may be deficient. This deficiency could lead to nerve damage, memory loss, low moods, and mental slowness. His advice? Shoot for between 3 and 100 micrograms a day.
It worked for nutritionist Molly Kimball's grandmother. "Sometimes as people age, they have impaired absorption of B12," says Kimball, a nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. In fact, B12 deficiency can present as similar to Alzheimer's disease, she says. "My grandmother couldn't make sense until her doctor supplemented her B12," she tells WebMD.
Filling Up on Folate
Folic acid or folate is another important B vitamin for the brain, says Sahelian. "Getting adequate folate can make one a little more alert, and improve memory and focus." It helps lower blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine that is known to damage brain cells, he explains. It's found in abundant supply in many foods including beans, fruits, green leafy vegetables, lentils, and whole-wheat cereals. Shoot for 400 micrograms a day, he says.
Stirring Up Serotonin With B6
Vitamin B6 helps convert 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5HTP) in into the mood chemical serotonin and it also helps in making dopamine. "These are big mood and alertness chemicals," he says. Aim for roughly 2 to 10 milligrams a day if you supplement. B6-rich foods include bell peppers, cranberries, turnip greens, cauliflower, garlic, tuna, mustard greens, and kale.