The brain is the most complex organ in the body and requires many different nutrients to function correctly. Nutritional deficiencies have been linked to the development of age-related cognitive decline, psychiatric disorders, and developmental disorders. On the other hand, both human and animal trials[1][2][3][4] show that increased intake of brain-supporting nutrients improves various aspects of cognitive functioning such as memory and learning. For all these reasons, it is vital that you ensure your brain is receiving the right kind of nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Whether you suffer from brain fog or you have memory problems, certain vitamins have been shown to promote cognitive health. The list of potential solutions includes vitamins like Vitamin B12, Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), or Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

Whether you suffer from brain fog or you have memory problems, certain vitamins have been shown to promote cognitive health. The list of potential solutions includes vitamins like Vitamin B12, Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), or Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).

What Are the Best Vitamins for Brain Development?

Studies show that minerals (Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc), B-vitamins, and Vitamin C are essential for proper brain development.[5] A deficiency of any of these vitamins and minerals can lead to cognitive and  psychiatric illnesses in adults and developmental problems in children. Getting your daily dose of these essential micronutrients is vital if you wish to preserve your mental agility and brain health.

Folic acid (Vitamin B9)

Folic acid refers to several compounds known as folates and can be obtained from various foods such as lentils, asparagus, and spinach. Half of the body’s stores of folic acid are in the liver, which is why liver damage can result in a shortage of several crucial B-vitamins.

Vitamin B9 also plays an essential role in the formation of nerve tissue and the synthesis of amino acids. However, the metabolism of folic acid is highly dependent on the amount of other B-vitamins. A deficiency of this and other B-vitamins is associated with developmental problems in children.

A recent clinical study[6] conducted on aged rats discovered a link between folic acid and better short term memory.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

B-vitamins are believed to be particularly important for good cognitive health. Vitamin B1 is one of the many B-vitamins that is found abundantly in the nerve tissue and the brain. According to an article published in The Journal of International Medical Research,[7] Thiamine plays an integral part in the conduction of nerve impulses.

Furthermore, a severe deficiency of Vitamin B1 can lead to a chronic memory disorder known as Korsakoff Syndrome.[8] This chronic memory disorder is most often seen in those suffering from diseases such as AIDS and alcoholism.

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

The most significant concentration of Vitamin C is found in the brain, especially in the pituitary gland (400 mg/kg).

Vitamin C protects the brain against oxidative stress, but it is also vital in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Because Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body, it is important that you get adequate daily amounts from food, around 90 mg daily, according to Mayo Clinic.[9]

Most people can get their necessary dose of Vitamin C from green vegetables and citrus fruits.

5 Vitamins Your Brain Can’t Live Without

5 Vitamins Your Brain Can’t Live Without

Vitamins and minerals are essential for cognitive health and general well-being. Our body needs these nutrients to survive, and the brain is no exception.

Vitamin deficiencies are the root cause for a number of cognitive issues including reduced learning ability, memory lapses, brain fog, inability to focus, or mental fatigue. While your brain needs a variety of vitamins to function correctly, some are more important than the others. So let’s take a quick look over some of the most important vitamins your brain can’t live without.

Vitamin D

Unlike with most other vitamins, we rarely get a satisfactory amount of Vitamin D (also known as the “sunshine vitamin”) through our diet. However, Vitamin D is essential for cognitive health and proper brain functioning.

In a 2012 study conducted by Soni M. of the University of Exeter and published in “Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation,”[10] it was concluded that deficiency of Vitamin D is linked with increased risk of cognitive decline.

Aside from preventing cognitive decline, Vitamin D increases problem-solving abilities, improves memory, and improves your mood. Considering it’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food alone and spending too much time in the sun is bad for your skin, it is suggested to get it from supplements.

Food sources[11] that contain a certain level of Vitamin D include:

  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, soy milk, orange juice, and cereals
  • Fatty fish, like tuna, salmon, and mackerel
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese

Vitamin B

Vitamin B helps slow down brain aging, prevent memory loss, and fight brain depression. Numerous studies have proven the beneficial effects of Vitamin B complex. For example, Fredrik Jerneren of the University of Oxford and his team conducted a study for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in which he discovered that Vitamin B protects from age-related brain decline and has a beneficial effect on the treatment of brain atrophy.[12]

Vitamin B also plays a crucial role in producing neurotransmitters which are essential for brain health. Therefore, intake of Vitamin B complex improves your neurotransmitter balance and mental well-being.

Best food sources[13] of Vitamin B include:

  • Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese)
  • Meat (red meat, poultry, fish)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • Dark, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kai lan)
  • ​Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet)
  • Fruits (citrus fruits, avocados, bananas)

Vitamin E

Although Vitamin E is usually associated with heart health benefits, it’s vital for brain function as well, not surprising since the heart is considered the “second” brain in the body. The primary brain health benefit of Vitamin E is preventing memory decline as we age and it’s especially beneficial when paired with Vitamin C.

Vitamin E is excellent for preventing memory decline and for boosting your memory. In that regard, Vitamin E works similarly to many brain supplements available on the market. Zandi P. P. and a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted a study whose conclusions were published in the Archives of Neurology. The study showed that the combination of vitamins E and C is linked with reduced incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.[14]

Best food sources of Vitamin E include:

  • olive oil
  • shrimp
  • broccoli
  • avocados
  • seeds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • nuts

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for your well-being and overall health, and that includes brain health too. By increasing the levels of serotonin (the “feel good” neurotransmitter) in your brain, Vitamin C acts as a natural antidepressant. For all these reasons Vitamin C is a necessary ingredient in almost every brain enhancement supplement.

James M. May and Fiona E. Harrison of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine published a paper in the Free Radical Radiology and Medicine where they pointed out all of the positive effects of Vitamin C on brain health.[15]

Some of the key benefits of Vitamin C include:

  • Induces synaptic maturation of the neurons, a function that other antioxidants can’t mimic;
  • Prevents lipid peroxidation induced by various oxidizing agents;
  • Vitamin C protects your brain from age-related degeneration, including stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Best food sources of Vitamin C include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage)
  • Berries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • White and sweet potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Winter squash
  • Pineapple
  • Green leafy vegetables

Vitamin K

Sadly, you don’t hear much about Vitamin K and its many benefits to brain health. Vitamin K aids in the absorption of calcium, plays a pivotal role in blood clotting, boosts the speed of brain functions, and keeps your brain sharp.

Justine Chouet, Nancy Presse, Guylaine Ferland, and a team of scientists from the University of Montreal conducted A Neurobiology of Aging study that showed the importance of Vitamin K intake in association with enhanced memory and improved cognitive function in older adults.[16]

Because Alzheimer’s disease patients show a deficiency in Vitamin K, it is believed that the intake of Vitamin K could help in preventing this neurological condition.

Best food sources of Vitamin K include:

  • Fermented foods
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Parsley
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus

Can Too Many Vitamins Be Harmful?

We are at the point when everything from bottled water to cranberry juice seems to have added vitamins and minerals in it. While this may sound like an excellent way to help individuals reach their nutritional needs, especially if their diet is less than optimal, routinely getting an overload of vitamins and minerals can do more harm than good.

An excess of Vitamin C or zinc can cause several unwanted side effects such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, or nausea. Too much selenium could lead to mild nerve damage, gastrointestinal upset, hair loss, and fatigue.

While most people aren’t getting massive doses of vitamins and minerals, combining a daily supplement with too much focus on enriched foods (like fortified cereals, energy bars, or natural juice with added vitamins and minerals), could easily be over the recommended daily intake of a host of nutrients.[17]

The Two Vitamins To Watch

Vitamin D and folic acid are the two vitamins you may get too much of, primarily through supplements.

Adults who frequently far exceed the 4,000 international units (IUs) daily maximum recommended dose for Vitamin D might end up with severe heart problems.

It’s not hard to exceed the maximum recommended dose of folic acid either as this vitamin is commonly added to enriched grain products – pasta, rice, white flours, cereals, and bread – to help prevent congenital disabilities in babies due to a folic acid deficiency in pregnant women. While folic acid fortification has cut the number of congenital disabilities by 25% to 50%,[18] it might have created other health concerns in people getting too much.


For young and old alike, it’s essential to get most, if not all of your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat. Dietary supplements can fill in the gaps but talk with your doctor before you go over the recommended daily intake.

You can also take care of your brain by just being more mindful of your habits and bad foods that have been shown to damage it. For instance, fried food leads to high cholesterol levels, and research has connected dementia to high cholesterol.[19] Fried food has also been linked to cardiovascular system damage, which affects the efficiency of the brain.[20]

Being engaged in your local community and having a strong support network have been suggested as ways to enhance and improve cognitive health. Establishing healthy sleep habits can also protect your brain. Studies continue to demonstrate that regular physical exercise stimulates the brain in ways that other hobbies don’t.[21] This can result in better memory and improved cognitive function over the long-term.

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