Two main groups of vitamins and minerals are essential for the brain and many people—including those who live in wealthy, developed countries—do not get enough of these nutrients, a new study reveals.
Researchers from the King Edward VII Hospital in London, England, examined clinical trials, research reviews, medical-journal editorials and scientific meetings during the last 20 years to identify the nutrients that regulate brain function. The water-soluble B-complex vitamins plus vitamin C, and the minerals calcium, magnesium and zinc are the two most relevant nutrient groups in brain function, according to the doctors.
The scientists suggested four ways the nutrients affect the brain. First, the B-complex and C vitamins—which act together in a chain of chemical reactions—help make the communication chemicals (neurotransmitters) of the central nervous system. Second, the B vitamins help nerve-cell membranes quickly send and receive neurotransmitters. Third, both nutrient groups help convert food into the unique molecule (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) that all cells use for energy, especially fuel-hungry brain cells. And fourth, several recent studies showed that B vitamins reduced homocysteine, a sign of inflammation that is a risk factor for blood vessel disease.
Researchers said that although the brain accounts for 3% of body weight, it consumes 25% of blood glucose—a main source of energy—when the body is at rest. Doctors also noted that a byproduct of vitamin B1, thiamine triphosphate, occurs only in nerve cell membranes, and that brain tissue contains the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the body.
The body stores only small quantities of the water-soluble B-complex and C vitamins, magnesium and zinc, and young and middle-aged adults with demanding lifestyles, and the elderly, may need more of these nutrients to maintain optimum brain function, the doctors said.
The B-complex vitamins in the studies included B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cobalamin).