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Brain vitamins: how nutrients influence brain functions

What applies to the human body as a whole also applies to the brain in particular: it needs a huge amount of energy to function smoothly, control vital bodily functions and perform at peak mental performance. It is therefore important to ensure that the brain is adequately supplied with important nutrients. Here you will find high-quality nutritional supplements that can support you in this.

While the brain accounts for only 2% of body weight, it consumes 20% of the energy consumed through food. In absolute terms, the energy requirement is not that high. The brain needs no more energy than a 20-watt light bulb, while a graphics processor, for example, requires 200 to 300 watts. (1) Nevertheless, a sufficient supply of nutrients is of course essential for the brain's energy supply and normal, unrestricted brain function.

The brain needs half of the energy for the normal metabolism of the nerve cells, i.e. to keep them functioning. Only 50% of the energy is available for the formation and transmission of the electrical signals with which nerve cells communicate. The more efficiently the energy budget is used for this, the more efficient the brain is. (2)

In order to achieve this efficiency, the brain must therefore not only be supplied with nutrients, but with the right nutrients. It is important to ensure a balanced supply. There is no one vital brain substance that keeps us mentally fit. However, scientists have identified some vitamins and minerals that make a special contribution to brain function.

And certain plants have traditionally been associated with positive effects on the brain and nervous system.

Vitamins for the brain

Vitamins can contribute directly and indirectly to brain function. The health claims for vitamins have been scientifically investigated and validated by the European Food Safety Authority. (3)

Mental performance

  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) contributes to normal mental performance and to the normal synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters.

Energy metabolism

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin C contribute to normal energy metabolism.

Nervous system and mental function

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin C contribute to the normal function of the nervous system and to normal mental function.

Reduction of (mental) fatigue

  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and vitamin C contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Blood circulation and oxygen supply to the brain

  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) contribute to the normal formation of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) contributes to normal blood formation.
  • Vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation for normal blood vessel function.

Minerals for the brain

Minerals can also contribute directly and indirectly to brain function. The health claims for minerals have been scientifically investigated and confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority. (3)

Energy metabolism

  • Calcium, iron, iodine, copper, magnesium and manganese contribute to normal energy metabolism.

Cognitive functions and nervous system

  • Iron, zinc and iodine contribute to normal cognitive function.
  • Magnesium contributes to normal mental function.
  • Iodine, potassium, copper and magnesium contribute to the normal function of the nervous system.
  • Calcium contributes to normal signal transmission between nerve cells.

Reduction of fatigue

  • Iron and magnesium contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Blood circulation and oxygen supply

  • Iron contributes to the normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin and to normal oxygen transport in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids for the brain

The European Food Safety Authority confirms the following for the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): (3)

  • DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function.

Lecithin as brain and nerve food

Lecithin is a fat-like substance that fulfills important functions in the body. For example, it provides choline, which is a building block of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This in turn is involved in the transmission of stimuli in the nervous system and the transfer of information in the brain.

Lecithin is therefore regarded as "brain and nerve food". Incidentally, choline used to be referred to as vitamin B4, but is now considered a vitamin-like substance.

Brain-active amino acids

Some amino acids such as L-tyrosine or taurine are also considered helpful for maintaining brain functions.

L-tyrosine, for example, plays a major role in the production of dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Of all the brain-active amino acids, L-tyrosine therefore has the greatest influence on mental energy and performance.

Especially during professional or personal stress situations or during intensive training phases, L-tyrosine can help to significantly increase personal performance, attention, concentration and motivation.

Brain-active plants and plant substances

The health claims for plants and plant substances have not yet been conclusively evaluated. However, due to the traditional use and/or the good study situation, the presumed or described effectiveness is considered by many researchers to be sufficiently proven.

  • Ashwagandha is known from Ayurveda and is said to support mental function in older people, learning, memory and the ability to remember. (4)
  • Ginkgo biloba can help maintain brain performance in older people. (5)
  • Green tea contains caffeine, which contributes to mental performance and promotes concentration. (6)
  • Siberian ginseng contributes to optimal mental and cognitive activity and more mental energy. (7)
  • et al.

Nutrients and vitamins for memory and concentration

When consumers look for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for the brain, they are usually looking for those that support the brain's general performance. However, they are also often looking for substances that specifically support memory and/or concentration.

However, it is difficult to tell from the above-mentioned health claims formulated by the EFSA whether a micronutrient has a specific function for memory or the ability to concentrate. This is not only due to the fact that such health claims are formulated in a scientifically correct rather than a generally understandable way. It is also because memory, for example, is not an isolated brain function, but a complex interplay of many functions.

Are there memory vitamins?

In fact, in various publications we repeatedly come across vitamins (and minerals) that are said to have a special value for memory. These are often those that the EFSA confirms contribute to normal mental functions: above all vitamin B12, but also vitamins B1, B3, B6, B7 (biotin) and C, as well as the mineral magnesium.

Mental functions include thinking, perception - and memory. In this respect, there would be a connection.

Is there a vitamin for concentration?

In order to answer this question, it is first necessary to clarify what impairs the ability to concentrate. In addition to physical factors, illness, age or certain medications, fatigue, stress and an excess of external stimuli can lead to poor concentration in everyday life.

This suggests that vitamins and minerals are particularly beneficial for concentration, which ...

  • ... contribute to reducing tiredness and fatigue: in addition to vitamin B12, vitamins B2, B3, B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B9 (folic acid) and C, as well as the minerals iron and magnesium.
  • ... support normal cognitive functions, i.e. all processes involved in processing and distributing information: the minerals iron, zinc and iodine.

A balanced supply is crucial

Targeted nutritional supplements with individual vitamins, minerals, fatty acids etc. can be useful if there is a corresponding deficiency. If you lack several "brain nutrients" due to your lifestyle or diet, you can also supplement your diet with a suitable multivitamin - or a combination product with a holistic brain vitality formula.

If in doubt, specialists such as nutritionists or doctors can clarify whether and which nutritional supplements are appropriate. Ideally, the brain is supplied with all important nutrients through a varied, balanced diet. It can be supplemented if necessary, but not replaced.

Multivitamins and the ageing processes of the brain

In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2024, researchers reported that taking a multivitamin could slow down age-related cognitive decline by up to two years. The study was part of a series of studies that investigated the effects of taking a multivitamin, e.g. a multivitamin sold over the counter in pharmacies, in people aged 60 and over.

Two earlier studies in this series had surveyed and tested participants by telephone or online over a period of two to three years. The results already indicated that people who took a daily multivitamin performed better in cognitive tests than those who took a placebo.

Memory benefits in particular

573 people took part in the latest study, published in 2024. This time, they were tested personally by the research team and the scientists were once again able to determine the benefits already observed in the previous studies. They concluded that taking a daily multivitamin could slow down cognitive brain ageing by two years. Incidentally, all three studies, which involved a total of more than 5,000 volunteers, showed a particularly strong benefit for memory.

However, the results are only a first step towards better understanding how vitamins and other nutrients influence brain health. For example, the question of whether certain vitamins or nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, lutein and zinc become more important for the brain with increasing age - or whether the positive effects of supplementation are only due to the fact that the probability of a deficiency of these nutrients is higher in old age anyway.

A similar question arises for people with poor dietary quality, a low level of education and/or low socio-economic status: their cognitive abilities also appear to benefit to a particularly high degree from multivitamins. However, it is not yet clear whether this is due to the fact that these groups are more likely to have a nutrient deficiency or whether there are other, possibly underlying reasons for this.

And, of course, the subjects in the studies were only observed for up to three years. Future studies should therefore investigate whether a longer-term intake of multivitamins could lead to even greater benefits for the brain. (8)

 

Source list

(1) Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (2021), Unser Gehirn ist eine 20-Watt-Serverfarm, aufgerufen am 24.01.2024 unter https://www.fau.de/2021/12/news/wissenschaft/unser-gehirn-ist-eine-20-watt-serverfarm/

(2) Henrik Alle, Arnd Roth, Jörg R. P. Geiger (2009), Energy-Efficient Action Potentials in Hippocampal Mossy Fibers, Science, 11. September 2009, aufgerufen am 24.01.2024 unter https://www.mpg.de/571562/energiesparen-beginnt-im-kopf

(3) EFSA, VERORDNUNG (EU) Nr. 432/2012 DER KOMMISSION vom 16. Mai 2012 zur Festlegung einer Liste zulässiger anderer gesundheitsbezogener Angaben über Lebensmittel als Angaben über die Reduzierung eines Krankheitsrisikos sowie die Entwicklung und die Gesundheit von Kindern, Amtsblatt der Europäischen Union, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32012R0432

(4) Spritzler F., 12 Proven Health Benefits of Ashwagandha, Healthline, 03.11.2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-proven-ashwagandha-benefits#1

(5) Dziwenka M, Coppock R W, Ginkgo biloba, Nutraceuticals. Efficacy, Safety and Toxicity. 2016, pp. 681–691, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128021477000498

(6) EFSA, Koffein, EFSA erklärt Risikobewertung, https://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/corporate_publications/files/efsaexplainscaffeine150527de.pdf

(7) Heilpflanzen-Welt Bibliothek, Ginseng radix (Ginsengwurzel), https://buecher.heilpflanzen-welt.de/BGA-Kommission-E-Monographien/ginseng-radix-ginsengwurzel.htm

(8) Chirag M. Vyas, et al., Effect of multivitamin-mineral supplementation versus placebo on cognitive function: Results from the clinic sub-cohort of the COSMOS randomized clinical trial and meta-analysis of three cognitive studies within COSMOS, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 18 2024, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.12.011

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