brain vitaminsThe body is a highly complicated biological machine, and the brain is no exception. In fact, our brain is so subtle and sophisticated, even today’s science has a hard time keeping up with it. One thing we do understand, however, is that some things tend to keep our mental performance at a maximum.

“Brain workouts”, such as doing crossword puzzles or studying a foreign language, are one clearly demonstrated way to keep our minds sharp, especially as we age. Getting proper nutrition is another. Here are some crucial nutrients that you want to include in your diet in order to make sure your memory, focus and linguistic aptitude stay healthy:

Vitamin D

We often think of vitamins D as simply the vitamin that makes our bones strong; however, it actually plays a big part in our mental functioning. Vitamin D is effective in stimulating nerve growth, making it essential for cognition, reflexes and perception. In addition, vitamin D receptors in the brain play a role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that communicate between the brain and the rest of the body.

A deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to reduced cognitive abilities, notably a slowdown in processing mental data.

Vitamin E

You may already think of vitamin E as an antioxidant, or an agent that stops the body from falling victim to free radicals—those chemically unstable molecules that cause the body to break down. In the brain, this often means developing degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

senior citizenAs you obviously don’t want a vitamin E deficiency, be sure to eat plenty of nuts, seeds, olives and other foods rich in this vitamin.  You should also consider taking vitamin E supplements to maintain a stable mind in late life, especially if you know Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s runs in your family.

Vitamin C

Like vitamin D, vitamin C is water soluble and a necessary element in synthesizing neurotransmitters.  In the case of vitamin C, the chief neurotransmitter at stake is norepinephrine, a chemical that we need for vital survival reflexes and other brain functions.  Not only that, it keeps our moods stable, so an adequate supply of vitamin C ensures that we feel and think our best.

On top of eating plenty of citrus fruits, you can take supplements as a backup; however, consult your doctor to determine the appropriate dosage, as an overdose of vitamin C can cause an array of stomach woes and, over time, even kidney stones.

b12 brainVitamin B-12

Yet another important brain chemical synthesizer, B12 is a major player in the functioning of the central nervous system and the production of new red blood cells.  Older subjects with low intake of vitamin B12 have demonstrated to have slower cognition, decreased spatial orientation and poor memory.

Vitamin B12 is easy to get from a variety of meat and dairy items, such as red meat, fowl, milk and eggs. For vegans, in particular, this is one clear case where supplements are encouraged.

In addition to maintaining a diet and supplement regimen that gives you the “brain food” you need, there are other nutrients that are known to promote brain functioning.  Gingko biloba extract, for example, helps with focus and concentration, and can only be taken in supplemental form.

Although we should always be skeptical of sudden fads, there truly are mental superfoods, such as the fermented soy product natto. However, you choose to get your daily intake of essential vitamins, to make the most of out of your latter years, be sure to feed your head.

Valerie Soleil, B.A., LL.B.

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