Boost Brain Health with “B”s!

in Nutrition Wellness

Have YOU ever misplaced your keys, lost your train of thought mid sentence, forgot why you walked into the next room, or felt like your brain was in slow motion trying to process through a problem? (Fess up! I hope you are grinning in agreement and if you are not… call me to let me know your secret.)

 Let’s face it… brain health is a concern these days! More specifically related to cognitive function involving memory, mental speed, and problem solving. Many of us worry our brains are not working as well as we think they should. It is true! Cognitive function declines as we age. Despite not being able to stop the aging process…B vitamins, particularly folate, B12, and B6, play an important role in keeping our brains sharp! (and our heart healthy as well!)

What you may not realize is that 75-90% of the risk for developing dementia related illness often lies within 4 factors: quality of diet, smoking status, physical activity, and your genes. So, what do you need to know to help maximize your brain function (and be good to your heart)?

 Don’t get distracted… now FOCUS 🙂 !

Here it is:

Start by eating food sources of your B vitamins, commit to regular activity, AND consider learning your genetic risk factors!

Why B’s are Vital?

Folic acid (B9) (the synthetic form) or folate (the food form) along with Vitamins B6 and B12 help keep levels of homocysteine, an important amino acid, in a healthy range.   Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood have been linked to an increased risk of age related cognitive decline, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. (We also know high homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor of heart disease!) Homocyteine itself may not be the problem, but rather its link with associated low levels of B vitamins needed to protect the brain (and heart). These low levels may be due to an inadequate intake within your diet OR your body’s inability to properly utilize the vitamins you consume, based on a genetic malfunction in your DNA.

Brain shrinkage (ouch!) occurs with aging and with it a decline in the neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals, that help communicate information. Interestingly, B6 and folate are important for producing several neurotransmitters. This is why supplementation with folate, B6, and B12 (for those deficient) has been shown to reduce brain shrinkage by up to 50%. Understandably, the most significant improvement was seen in people with high homocysteine levels. So this, and a collection of research, shows us IT IS POSSIBLE to slow down brain shrinkage and declining mental performance!

Folate – Women, this is particularly important for you! A recent study found that postmenopausal women who failed to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 400mcg/day of folate were at increase risk of cognitive impairment. Hard to believe that more than ½ of the women in the study had intakes well below this amount. Folate has been a hot topic recently due to the new statistic that up to 50% of the population has a mutation in the MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) gene that could impair the ability to effectively break down folic acid properly. (So basically, that means that due to a genetic glitch, these individuals are unable to break down and use folic acid, which also impairs other metabolic pathways and nutrient deficiencies). It’s best then to supplement with the active form called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5MTHF).

Food sources: Leafy green veggies, citrus fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains

Supplement with: ~400-800mcg folate for most individuals (use the active form mentioned above).

B12 – The reason why you see “senior” multivitamins with added B12 is that aging decreases our production of stomach acid.  This is required to detach B12 from food protein so the vitamin can be absorbed. (Also, if you are taking an acid suppressor, be aware that this will also compromise your levels!) Poor memory is one of many symptoms of B12 deficiency, and a reason why the Institute of Medicine suggests adults older than 50 years of age take a B12 supplement.

Food Sources: Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, some fortified foods (such as tofu) and nutritional yeast

Supplement with: ~200-1000 mcg of vitamin B12 (based on your individual needs). Look for methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, the active forms.

B6– A 2012 study of older adults published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that daily high-dose supplements (20mg) of vitamin B6, in addition to B12 and folate, given for 2 years were associated with slowing cognitive decline and brain shrinkage compared with a placebo… especially in people who had high homocysteine levels at the start of the study. Signficant!

Food sources: Tuna, salmon, meat, potatoes, beans, seeds, nuts, bananas, and organ meats

Supplement with: 20-200mg (look for pyridoxal 5’-phosphate, the most active form).

Take Action Today!

  1. Consider getting your homocysteine levels checked. (Ask your doctor or discuss with Julie on your next visit for testing options.)
  2. Look beyond just a multivitamin and consider an activated B-Complex. (That is the methylated or active forms). Most multivitamins do not meet all your B-needs.
    • Remember, not all supplements are created equal and can cause more harm than good. Consider using lab tested professional grades…. I have developed a  handout, Considerations for Selecting Supplement Companies, to help you make an informed decision.
  3. Focus on including at least 2 cups of leafy greens most days of the week.
  4. Consume low-mercury containing wild fish (ie. salmon, cod, shrimp) at least 2x/week.
  5. Identify food sources that you enjoy for each vitamin. Write them down, post on your frig and make it a point to rotate these into your meal plan daily.

Remember, if you are deficient, just eating these food sources may not be enough to elevated your levels and supplementation may be indicated. Based on your past medical and family history, you may want to investigate your genetic profile to see if this may be a cause for low level vitamins and elevated homocysteine levels.

Need some help getting your B’s worked into your daily eating plan? Do you want to test your homocysteine levels or find out if you have a mutation in the MTHFR gene?… contact me! My goal is to provide you with the information and resources you need to make an informed decision, as we work together to personalize a nutrition and wellness plan to help you achieve optimal health!

Never been in for a visit? I would love to chat with you about your nutrition and wellness goals and dreams…why wait on feeling your very best! Give me a call for a 20 minute complimentary phone chat today

With you on the journey toward optimal wellness 🙂 


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