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17 Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Brain Function

brain vitamins

There are just a few vitamins and minerals that aid the brain. But, there are thousands of phytonutrients. Most people get these two terms confused, and that’s OK. We’re going to talk about all the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that aid the brain.

Scientists define a vitamin as any of a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body. Similarly, minerals also have the same definition, except we are never able to manufacture them. This is a rather long-winded way of say it’s stuff we need to eat in order to live.

But, vitamins and minerals aren’t the only things that make up who we are. Proteins, fats, and thousands of other nutrients are needed to properly create and maintain the body.

The brain is especially rich in nutrients because of the vast amount of work it does. There is nowhere else in the body that has such a high concentration of nutrients and such a diverse mix. We need certain vitamins for brain health, and whether we get them from food or supplements can be debated.

Difference Between Essential Vitamins and Minerals & Non-Essential: It Makes a Difference

There are some nutrients we need and others we can make ourselves. We require the nutrients listed as vitamins. We require the minerals in a multivitamin. But we don’t require them in supplement form.

If you are eating diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with quality meats, you will receive just about everything you could need. You don’t need supplementation.

Of course, the more processed foods you eat and the more you are exposed to toxins, the more you will require vitamins and that’s where supplements become necessary.

diet with brain vitamins

Other nutrients can be optional. We need basic fats and some omega-3 fatty acids, but in a pinch, our body can manufacture them all by itself. We don’t want our bodies to be in a pinch, and that’s why sometimes supplements are needed.

In this list of vitamins for the brain, we examine 17 of the best. But these aren’t the only ones, so it’s still best to eat your fruits and veggies!

The Best Vitamins for the Brain

Magnesium *

The mineral par excellence, magnesium is used in over 300 processes in the body and over 50 in just the brain alone. It improves neural plasticity, meaning the nerves are able to adapt and avoid damage easier.

More importantly, magnesium is critical to proper energy production. If we are deficient, and it’s estimated over 70% of the population is deficient, we are unable to convert sugars into energy. Low energy and diabetes is a result of this deficiency.

Magnesium and the Brain infographic

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The brain is nearly 50% fats. Nearly 30% of the fats are one of the many Omega-3 fatty acids. More important during childhood, omega-3 fatty acids help build proper neural connections and help create the barrier that protects the nerves throughout life.

Studies show that children fed low-fat or processed food diets are as many as 30 IQ points behind their peers. This is enough to cross the line between normal and mentally retarded.

Vitamin D *

While good for the bones, vitamin D is one of the catalysts in the brain that turns on and off the neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth systems. When your vitamin D levels are low, your ability to keep and form new neuro connections is inhibited.

Some research that is looking to be promising is the use of high levels of vitamin D supplementation for Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention and reversal.

Vitamin D is one the nutrients you don’t need a supplement for. In healthy people, 15-30 minutes of sunlight exposure over 25% or more of the body is enough to produce all the vitamin D for a day. Foods like mushrooms are also rich in vitamin D.

Skip the milk. The vitamin D in milk is linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

vitamin d infographic

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Vitamin E *

This vitamin helps protect the functions of the brain. There is a tremendous amount of activity that occurs in the brain and high levels of oxidation occurs. Vitamin E is one of the most potent anti-oxidants.

Research also is showing that vitamin E can help reduce stress on the brain through providing energy and stress relief. While vitamin E will help return normal energy levels throughout the body to normal, the ability for the brain to produce clearer thoughts.

People who follow low-fat diets are often deficient in vitamin E and studies correlate Alzheimer’s disease with low-fat dieting.

vitamin e infographic

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Vitamin C *

Called ascorbate in the body, this vitamin is a powerful anti-oxidant. The highest concentrations of ascorbate in the body are found in the brain and neuroendocrine tissues, where most of the body’s energy is most used. Ascorbate is a regulator for over a dozen different neurochemicals and can reduce the risk of stroke.

vitamin c infographic

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B6 *

One of the deficiency signs for B6 is depression and memory loss. Having enough of this vitamin is key to keeping your memory sharp. It’s also a key nutrient for producing hemoglobin. Without sufficient B6, you lack proper blood production. This can mean low energy, anemia, low body oxygen levels and shortness of breath.

B12 *

This one has a big impact on neuro health. B12 is responsible and one of the primary nutrients for the production of the myelin sheath that covers the nerves. When a deficiency arises, this sheath becomes exposed, which leads to neuropathy and pain. It’s the reason why so many vegetarians and vegans get sick.

Excess B12 doesn’t help brain function, as studies are showing. We take what we need and expel the rest.

Thiamine *

A boost to the mood. Thiamine deficiency is called beriberi. In the brain, it can help improve moods and ward off depression. It’s important in the creation of the proper amino acids and enzymes. In carbohydrate metabolism, it helps regulate the production of ATP. This helps the body keep energized and functioning regularly.

thiamine infographic

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Riboflavin (B2) *

Vitamin B2, riboflavin, is responsible for proper transmission of neuro impulses. Lacking riboflavin can lead to migraines, Parkinson and Alzheimer’s diseases, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Several metabolic syndromes are aided with riboflavin supplementation. But, like all B vitamins, it is not stored in the body, so excess supplementation is just wasted.

Niacin *

Nicotinic acid is a controversial nutrient because several companies are trying to patent this natural vitamin. It’s well known for helping to reduce cholesterol levels and modulating the body. In fact, without niacin, we would not be able to produce NAD, and vital step in the energy conversion process. Supplementation with niacin improves energy levels, which is why it is included in most nootropic stacks for brain stimulation.

Folate *

They also are trying to patent folic acid. Folic acid helps reduce homocysteine in the brain. But reducing these levels, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease progression can be halted. Will it help boost your brain function? Possibly. It can help protect the brain from the oxidative stresses of heavy studying and work stresses.

b vitamin foods and deficiency

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Saturated Fats

Just like with the omegas, saturated fats are important for brain development. Where the omegas make up large portions of protective coatings, saturated fats are our hormones and ½ our cellular structure. In a diet low in saturated fats, we experience hormonal issues, like depression, mood swings, mental instability, menstrual problems, and insulin regulation problems.

Probiotics *

Probiotics have nothing to do with the brain and everything to do with the rest of the body. When the rest of the body is healthy and happy, so is the brain. Science has uncovered that gut feelings, the emotions involved with instinctual reactions, are a real thing. The bacteria in our guts actually influence our decisions.

When we have healthy gut bacteria, these decisions are made in alignment with positive feelings and proper use of hormones and energy. When certain bacteria overrun the good bacteria, our body tries to fight it. In the fight, our hormones are thrown out of balance, we lose tremendous amounts of energy, and we have food cravings for unhealthy foods.

While not specifically for the brain, probiotics can reduce many negative side effects we experience from a less than stellar diet.

Quality Proteins

It’s the quality, not quantity that matters. Protein drinks are some of the lowest quality proteins we could possibly have. They rank below rotting meat.

That’s because they are not balanced and are missing over half of the proper amino acids we require. Factory animals, most of the meats found in the grocery stores, also has a poor nutritional profile.

Meat substitutes are nearly as bad. Soy is implicated in over 10 difference cancers and others just don’t have the proteins we require.

Quality comes from animals that were locally and naturally raised. They were treated humanely and not force fed growth hormones, antibiotics, or feed. If you can’t ask a farmer about how the animal was raised, it’s not quality protein.

Iron *

This is a supplement you don’t want to overdo. Too much iron can accelerate dementia and brain deterioration.

However, too little causes energy problems. Iron is a primary component in our blood, and without it we become anemic and fatigued.

iron infographic

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Copper *

Another mineral that increases dementia when we have too much. Actually, in the US, copper deficiency is exceptionally rare. No one needs to supplement it. That’s because of the high use of copper piping in homes.

But without copper, our whole antioxidant system collapses. It is an important cofactor in enzyme development and our energy levels will falter with low levels.

Zinc *

If you get sick, zinc helps bring you back to health. It boosts the immune system and in the brain, it helps control neuro impulses. High doses of zinc are known to help reduce epilepsy seizures. Increasing your zinc can also help smooth neuro connections and make recall easier.

zinc infographic

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What Is the Best Form for Vitamins for the Brain?

Individual Supplements

For the most part, as part of a healthy diet, you shouldn’t need supplementation at all. But, we know life gets in the way, so here are our recommendations for supplements.

Magnesium – most people are deficient. Start low, 200mg per dose with 400mg per day being average for most people.

Vitamin C – stick with 250mg or less per dose, as that is all we can absorb at a time. The upper level of vitamin C hasn’t been determined yet, but most doctors are comfortable with 1,000mg per day being a safe dose.

A general B vitamin – one a day in a standard dose is enough to keep your levels high.

Probiotics – choose fermented foods or a supplement with good reviews. A standard dose can be anywhere from several thousand to several billion bacteria depending on the brand. Start slow! You can become sick if you take too many at a time.

Liquid Vitamin and Minerals

Many vitamins have come in liquid form lately. For people with digestive problems, it can help increase absorption. But, for most people, the liquids are passed through the digestive system so fast that you really don’t absorb them. Taking a tablet often yields better results.

Tablet/Capsule Vitamins and Mineral Blends

One little pill at a time is best for most people. That way, the system is not overwhelmed and it is much more convenient.

However, make sure the supplement is truly being digested. That may mean digging through your poop. If you find the pill, it’s a waste of money and no one wants to waste money.

Also, make sure there are no allergens or undesirable binders. Sometime, companies use very cheap binders that make people sick.

best form of vitamins infographic

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Multivitamins for the Brain

Like most doctors, we do NOT recommend a standard multi-vitamin. Why? It’s a highly concentrated dose of every vitamin and mineral. It becomes too much for your system to handle, so it doesn’t.

In a study of sewage wastes, researchers found billions of undigested multi-vitamins in sewage. These vitamins do not break down, nor do they deposit nutrients. And most of them are so cheap, they use forms of the vitamins and minerals we can’t use anyways, like whole limestone for calcium and rust for iron.

Stick with individual supplements and a good diet.

​If you liked our article, please share it and use the comment section below to tell us about your experiences or ask any questions. Thanks!

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Lauri June 2, 2016, 9:20 pm

    You have copper mis spelled – it says cooper. In the yellow box.

    • Mark June 2, 2016, 9:38 pm

      Hi Lauri,
      Thank you for noticing and bringing it to my attention.
      Just fixed it.

  • Rebekah September 1, 2016, 5:13 pm

    This has been the MOST helpful, detailed and informational article I have read. DEFINITELY one I wish my Neurologists would have directed me to. I was diagnosed 16.5 yrs ago with Multiple Sclerosis and I now feel better equipped to handle this disease than ever before. Now I feel that I can supplement my particular issues based on this article addressing many of the symptoms. Thank you!

    • Mark September 14, 2016, 12:48 pm

      Hey, Rebekah! Thanks for the compliment!

      Proper nutrition helps so many diseases and problems. Most doctors are uneducated in the ways of proper nutrition and don’t help their patients with a proper diet.

      We’re glad you were able to get control and help yourself. Keep up the good work and we know you’ll be active for a long time!

  • vi October 4, 2016, 3:40 pm

    I’m in my 60s.I have digestive problems,food sentsitivities, tremors. anemic and now insulin. and osteoarthritis, recently been diagnosed that my body is only utilizing 4 out of 17 minerals, He has me on supplements to reverse all this. Is this possible or will this be something that will be a problem for the rest of my life. Will this become a crutch that my body needs the digestive suppliments in order to process . Reading this really has helped I see alot of my systmptons.

    • Mark October 19, 2016, 3:45 pm

      Hi Vi!

      Thank you for your question. We are glad this has helped you.

      You do seem to have a lot of issues, and we hope we can help you.

      It is quite possible and likely the supplements you are taking will take care of the problems you’re having utilizing the minerals. It may completely resolved itself in a couple of weeks, or you may have this issue for the rest of your life. Your doctor will be able to tell you once you’ve been taking the supplements for a little while.

      In addition to the supplements, using some of the foods we mentioned and just good healthy vegetables and fruits will help your body.

      If you don’t have a good diet, your body may become reliant on the supplements. With a good diet, you’ll be able to teach your body how to use the supplements correctly and where to get it from real food.

  • Jeremy January 17, 2017, 8:30 pm

    Hey there! Uhmm I would be really nice if you would write down when you guys published this and who made the article. Because I will be using this information for my first thesis paper so that I can prepare for my college. They require me to make an annotated bibliography, such a pain!
    Anyways thank you so much for the detailed information 🙂

    • Mark February 14, 2017, 12:56 am

      Hey Jeremy!

      Thanks for the suggestion. It’s great you want to use some of our information for your thesis article, however, we suggest using the actual studies where you can get the full information. It’s more professional and shows you know what you are talking about. This article was written by a professional nutritionist with more than 10 years of experience and was published on 2015/11/21. Good luck with your thesis paper!

  • CJ February 18, 2017, 4:11 pm

    Good article. One thing…the part about our bodies only being able to absorb 250 mg of vitamin C. I’ve always heard that Vitamin C is subject specific. Meaning that everyone has different requirements. Also, I’ve read that you can increase Vitamin C to the point of diarrhea, then decrease your amount accordingly. Personally, I’ve taken up to 2500 mg of Vitamin C and didn’t induce diarrhea. Please explain.

    • Mark March 12, 2017, 7:54 pm

      Hey CJ!

      The receptor sites for ascorbic acid optimally absorb at about 250 milligrams per hour.

      It is dependent on the person’s health, types of food in the diet, and other co-vitamins that are required for proper absorption.

      As the vitamin C passes through your digestive system, if you took it in one large dose, most of it will pass straight through your system.

      But, if you take it slowly over the course of the day, or with a large meal that is digested slowly, you can greatly increase your absorption of vitamin C overtime.

      As for the diarrhea issue, some people will react to low doses of Vitamin C while others will only react to high doses. This is very dependent on the person, their health, and diet.

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