Feeling mentally sluggish, unable to concentrate, or depressed? Chances are you aren’t getting the right nutrients into that brain of yours. Yes, nutrition plays a vital role on how the brain works. In fact, without nutrition, the mind will shut off. So how does nutrition, more specifically vitamin intake, affect the brain? Let’s explore the effects of some of these vitamins in maintaining mental health.
A Quick Look at Vitamins
Vitamins are substances that the body needs for normal growth and development. There are 13 vitamins that are essential for normal body functions. They are vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B Vitamins such as Thiamine (B), Riboflavin (B), Niacin (B), Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B, Vitamin B and Folate (Folic Acid). These vitamins are grouped into fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, K) and water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and C). They are usually available in the food you eat but there are multivitamin supplements sold in the market today. Each vitamin performs a specific function for the body and for the proper function of the brain as well.
Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is made by the body after being exposed to the sun. Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, which means that vitamin D is vital for mental functioning. It activates genes that release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin which are necessary for brain function and development.
Research shows that low levels of vitamin D affect the mood of the person and can lead to depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a mood disorder featuring depressive symptoms, is believed to be linked with Vitamin D insufficiency. Lack of sunshine exposure during the early stages of life has also been linked with increased risk of developing Schizophrenia, a severe and lifelong mental disorder associated with hearing voices and other hallucinations. These are just a few of the effects of vitamin D deficiency to the brain. The good thing is that with just a few minutes under the sun during the day, you will have all the vitamin D you need.
Vitamin B or thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin that helps convert carbohydrates into energy. It is essential for proper function of the nervous system (includes brain and spinal cord), heart and muscles. Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose in the body, of which the latter is the primary source of energy for the brain. Glucose is like gasoline to the brain because when it is dangerously low (hypoglycemia), the engine (brain) will temporarily shut off and the person becomes unconscious.
Thiamine has also been linked with the Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a condition characterized by mental confusion, abnormal eye movements and progressive memory loss. Thiamine deficiency is common among chronic alcohol drinkers because alcohol interferes with thiamine metabolism.
This vitamin helps in the production and maintenance of the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve cells, mental function, red blood cell formation, and metabolism of some fatty acids and amino acids. Inadequate myelin results in damage to the nerves and impaired mental function. Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive mental disorder characterized by gradual memory loss and decreased intellectual function, is also related to B deficiency. Good sources of this vitamin are liver, milk, cheese, eggs and other food products of animal origin. Vegetarians need B supplementation in order to meet their daily requirements.
Pyridoxine, or Vitamin B, is a vitamin vital for hormone production and essential for the production of neurotransmitters. Sources of this vitamin are animal foods, including chicken, fish, pork, whole wheat products, brown rice, and some fruits and vegetables. Lack of this vitamin will result to mental changes such as fatigue, nervousness, irritability, depression, insomnia, dizziness, and nerve changes.
Other Vitamins Affecting Mental Health
Vitamins such as vitamin A, E, Niacin and Folic acid have significant contributions to intellectual and brain function. Lack of these vitamins can lead to depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, fatigue, irritability, emotional instability, etc.
There is no doubt that vitamins play an important role in the maintenance of mental health and the promotion of mental well-being. They are essential not only for mental function but also for the other functions of the body as well. These substances are indispensable to your overall health. If a person is not able to get enough vitamins from his food because of his diet preferences, then he should consult his doctor or nutritionist for vitamin supplements that suit his needs.