It’s sometimes easy to forget that your brain is just another organ! It has nutritional needs that must be met for it to operate at its best, just like the rest of your body.
There are three categories of vitamins that have been found to be particularly helpful for brain health and memory. We’ll examine how each of these memory vitamins works to help the brain, what are the best food sources, and the recommended therapeutic supplement dosages of each.
The Antioxidant Vitamins
The first group of brain vitamins for memory enhancement is the antioxidant vitamins — vitamins A, C, and E.
Memory Tip: Use the mnemonic ACE to remember that antioxidants are “ace” for your brain.
Antioxidants work by destroying free radicals, which are rogue oxygen molecules. The brain is particularly susceptible to free radical damage because of its high oxygen usage. It consumes about 20% of our oxygen intake even though it weighs less than 3 pounds.
Some free radical formation is just the byproduct of being alive, but much is caused by “bad living” such as smoking, eating processed food, air pollution, radiation exposure, and stress.
Free radical damage is a type of oxidation. What goes on in your brain can be compared to an old car rusting. So when you can’t remember how to do something and you say you are “rusty” at it, that actually is more true than you might realize!
You can’t avoid all free radical damage, but taking a potent antioxidant supplement can largely prevent your brain from getting any rustier.
Note that individual vitamins aren’t the best antioxidants. Antioxidant potency is rated by its ORAC score. Individual vitamins contain a fraction of the antioxidant power as some whole fruits and vegetables.
The Synergistic Effect of C + E
All three of these vitamins have been found to be helpful for your brain and memory individually. But vitamins C and E have been found to have a special synergistic effect.
According to Psychology Today, this combination has been linked to keeping a good memory and slowing memory loss. This pair of vitamins also lowers the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and dementia by roughly 60%. A large study on 5,000 people confirmed the power of this pairing for preventing memory loss.
Sources of Vitamins C and E
When you think of foods plentiful in vitamin C, think color! Strawberries, lemons, limes, oranges, and kiwi are loaded with vitamin C. Peppers of all kinds — hot and bell peppers in green, red, yellow and orange — are some of the best sources.
Vitamin E food sources are rarely colorful. The top sources of this oil-based nutrient are seeds, nuts, avocados, olive oil, and shrimp. But surprisingly some green veggies like spinach, broccoli, and turnip greens are decent sources as well.
It’s not always easy to eat as healthy as you should and even harder to get the nutrients you need in therapeutic doses. If you decide to take supplements, here’s what you should be looking for.
There is much debate over the best type of vitamin C. Ascorbic acid seems to be the most potent form. A reasonable therapeutic daily dose is 500-1000 mg.
There is no debate over the best form of vitamin E — it is “mixed tocopherols.” 400 IUs per day is considered the perfect dose for most situations.
Nutrition experts agree that there is little risk to taking either of these vitamins. However, if you are taking any blood thinning medication, talk to your doctor first before taking vitamin E.
B Complex Vitamins — the Two that Matter Most
Vitamin B complex contains 8 different vitamins, and all of them are vital for your health. But two of them — folic acid and B12 — are the most important B vitamins for memory. Studies have shown that these two B vitamins can help prevent mental decline and dementia.
Folic acid works by breaking down homocysteine, a toxic amino acid. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, high levels of this amino acid double your risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Folic acid can be found in brain-healthy foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes, fruit, eggs, and organ meats. For people who don’t eat a lot of these foods, 400 micrograms is the usual supplement recommendation. Interestingly, some people absorb this better as a supplement than from food.
B12 deficiency can play a role in memory loss, dementia, mood changes, and depression. Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins vegetarians and elderly people are most likely to be deficient in.
The only reliable food sources are animal products — meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Some fermented soy products like miso and tempeh are purported to possibly contain B12. But, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, these are no longer considered reliable sources of B12 due to processing methods.
If you have any doubt that you might have this common deficiency, have your doctor run a test so you can know for sure. It can easily be treated with supplements. Fifty mcg per day would be a reasonable daily dosage.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Human get their vitamins in food, except in the case of vitamin D, where we make it from the sun. I think it’s pretty amazing that we can create nutrition from the sun — just like a plant!
Vitamin D technically isn’t a vitamin — it’s a hormone — but it is rarely referred to that way.
Vitamin D is essential for preventing many life-threatening illnesses as well as elevating mood, improving memory, and lifting depression.
The official recommendation to prevent deficiency is to get 20 minutes of sun exposure twice a week on a large part of your body (arms, legs, or back for instance). I realize this isn’t possible for many people due to their climate.
Since this vitamin is almost impossible to overdose on, I suggest give taking a supplement a try and see if you notice any improvement in your mood and memory. Many people do.
Anywhere between 40-90% of adults are found to be deficient in it, so this is another vitamin you should consider being tested for.
I was stunned to find that I was vitamin D deficient. This happened to me while living in the land of sunshine — southern Arizona! So I’m convinced it can happen to just about anyone.
Learn more about the importance of vitamin D to memory in Stay Well, Stay Sharp with Vitamin D.
Vitamin D and the Brain: More Good News at Dana.org
The Top 5 Vitamins and Minerals to Boost Your Brainpower at MedicineNet.com
Vitamins: Boost for the Brain at PsychologyToday.com
Eating to Prevent Alzheimer’s at Dr.Weil.com
Veganism in a Nutshell at VRG.com
Plasma Homocysteine as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease at NEJM.org