Brain Health

Brain Health: Top Nutrients for a Healthy Mind

by CHWB Staff
August 1, 2021
Medicine

Proper nutrition is about more than avoiding unhealthy food. A diet packed with your most important nutrients is the best way to help your brain and body perform at its full potential.

But ensuring that you consume enough vitamins and minerals from the best sources — and not too much — is one often-overlooked area of nutrition. These nutrients play a role in just about everything your body does, from building bone to warding off infection to replacing blood cells. In honor of Brain Health Month at the Center for Health & Wellbeing (CHWB), our friends at AdventHealth, co-owners of the CHWB, share the top four nutrients for brain health and helping improve your body’s performance.

Your Top Four Nutrients

Using information from the National Institutes of Health as a guide, let’s take a closer look at four of the most important vitamins and minerals. For each one, we’ll identify those who may not be getting enough, look at some of the signs of deficiency and suggest foods to remedy any problems.

In every case, though, the only way to be sure whether you have an issue is to talk to your doctor, who can prescribe the correct blood tests and a customized plan to optimize your nutrition for not only brain health, but your whole health.

Though the typical adult gets enough vitamin C, people who smoke and those exposed to secondhand smoke should try to get substantially more. That’s in part because smoke increases the amount of the vitamin your body needs.

Vitamin D and Brain Health

Who should pay attention?

Most of us. Studies have shown that between one quarter and one half of Americans don’t get enough of this vitamin.

People more likely to need more vitamin D include breastfed infants, those who smoke and people of ethnicities with darker skin color.

How does it help us?

It plays a key role in helping your body absorb other nutrients, including calcium.

How can I get it?

Of course, vitamin D is distinctive because it’s the only vitamin your body can produce on its own, with the help of sunlight. Ironclad recommendations are tough to come by, but some experts say all you need is between five and 30 minutes of sunlight, twice a week.

Unfortunately, lifting the blinds doesn’t count. Ultraviolet radiation does not pass through glass, so exposure to sunlight through a window will not produce vitamin D.

Your body can make vitamin D in virtually any weather, though; even complete cloud cover only reduces ultraviolet energy by half.

That said, it’s not difficult to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone. Though it is only present naturally in a few foods (including fish), it is added to a medley of manufactured foods. A serving of milk or orange juice, for example, may give you roughly a third of your daily requirement.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

Soft or weak bones are a typical result of not getting enough vitamin D. In children, this condition is known as rickets.

Though the typical adult gets enough vitamin C, people who smoke and those exposed to secondhand smoke should try to get substantially more. That’s in part because smoke increases the amount of the vitamin your body needs. Several studies have also been conducted which shows the association between vitamin D and brain health. In 2016, Miller BJ et al. conducted a human study which shows that vitamin D increases plasma Aβ in older adults, indicative of decreased brain activity.

Vitamin C

Who should pay attention?

How does it help us?

The vitamin has a handful of major benefits. First, as an antioxidant, it protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals. These are unstable molecules created as a result of everyday chemical reactions, as when food is converted to energy.

Second, our body needs vitamin C to make a key protein, called collagen, that helps wounds heal.

How can I get it?

As you probably know, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are a good source of vitamin C.

Potatoes and many types of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, cantaloupe and tomatoes, also contain the vitamin.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

Vitamin C deficiency will cause scurvy (symptoms include fatigue and bleeding gums) if sustained for many weeks.

If you have a cold, be careful with thinking a vitamin will do the trick.

Research shows vitamin C supplements do not reduce your risk of catching a cold. However, there is some evidence that the vitamin may result in slightly shorter colds, but only if you consume it before symptoms begin.

Vitamin B12

Who should pay attention?

As with vitamin C, most Americans get enough vitamin B12.

However, two main groups of people should talk to their doctor to see if they need more of this vitamin.

Older adults, whose bodies may have a tougher time absorbing the vitamin, are often advised to seek out food products (like cereals) with the vitamin added in.

And, because vitamin B12 is not found in plants, vegetarians and vegans may need to take similar advice. This also applies to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers whose babies might not get enough of the vitamin.

How does it help us?

In two major ways: by helping to make our DNA, and by repairing nerve and blood cells.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

A deficiency can be hard to spot without a blood test, as its symptoms – feeling tired and weak among them – can be caused by many problems.

How can I get it?

Though it is often added to food, vitamin B12 is found naturally in a variety of animal foods, including fish, meat, eggs and milk.

Iron

Who should pay attention?

Iron is actually a mineral, which is also a type of nutrient.

Most Americans get enough iron, though teen girls and women with heavy periods may need to consider upping their intake.

One study found only one in fifty adult men don’t have enough iron, but that figure rises to one in five for certain ethnicities, including women of African American and Mexican-American descent.

In addition, vegetarians need almost twice as much iron as others because the body doesn’t absorb the iron from plants as well as it does from meat.

How does it help us?

In lots of ways, but primarily to make proteins that carry oxygen around the body and to the brain.

How can I get it?

Iron is found naturally in many foods, including lean meat and seafood, nuts and many types of beans.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

If you don’t get enough iron, your body will eventually have trouble supplying your organs with oxygen. You may feel tired, lack energy and have a stomach ache. It can also affect your brain health.

Optimize Your Nutrition for Brain Health

Though your scale can tell you whether or not to cut back on the pizza, it takes a blood test and the watchful eye of your doctor to monitor your specific vitamin and nutrient levels.

With this information, your doctor can get a closer look at your unique nutritional needs and create a plan to optimize your nutrition for improved wellbeing. AdventHealth’s Lab inside the Center for Health & Wellbeing offers tests for more than a dozen vitamin deficiencies.

Learn more about AdventHealth Lab Care or schedule a lab appointment at the AdventHealth Lab inside the Center for Health & Wellbeing.

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