Nutrition and the Brain: The Role of Vitamins and Minerals

Over the past few weeks we looked at the impact of the major food groups (carbohydrates, protein and fats) on brain function. This week we turn our attention to the last major nutritional category namely vitamins and minerals. The body, and the brain, needs a wide variety of vitamins and mineral to grow and to thrive. Deficiencies in certain minerals can therefore be potentially disastrous in the sense that the body cannot properly fulfil a particular function.

The human brain relies on certain vitamins and minerals in order to do its job of being the nerve centre of the body. These cannot be manufactured by our bodies and should therefore be derived from our diets. It is however quite difficult to design a diet that consistently provides adequate levels of all the basic vitamins and minerals. This is the reason why many people opt for a vitamin supplement in addition to eating a healthy diet. In designing a diet and/or choosing a supplement it is very important to include sufficient quantities of the most important vitamins and minerals and not just the latest ‘fad vitamin’! This is especially important when you consider the link between impaired brain function and the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. We should therefore all do our best to design our vitamin and mineral intake with the eye firmly on optimum brain performance.

As far as brain function is concerned the most important vitamins and minerals are the following:

Vitamin E

Study after study has shown that Vitamin E can play a significant role in delaying, or blocking, the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is due to the fact that Vitamin E can significantly reduce oxidative stress in the brain. This anti-oxidative effect of Vitamin E means that it plays a vital role in combating the natural brain cell ‘damage’ that comes with time. There are several kinds of food that are rich in Vitamin E. They include: almonds, leafy vegetables, most vegetable oils and whole-grain flour. If you choose a supplement containing Vitamin E make sure that it contains ‘mixed topocherols’. This simply means that you will get the two most important Vitamin E components. (Alpha topocherol and gamma topecherol if you are interested)

B Vitamins

B Vitamins are perhaps the most important set of ‘brain vitamins’ that there is. This is because they play such a vital role in assisting the formation of brain messengers like dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin. The most important B Vitamins are: