The Busy Bs
The B vitamins consist of thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine (B6), folic acid, pantothenic acid, biotin, and cobalamin (B12). All play a critical role in brain function, from manufacturing neurotransmitters to regulating energy release in brain cells.
Severe deficiencies of several B vitamins have been shown to have profound effects on the brain, leading to abnormal brain waves, detectable as abnormalities on EEGs; impaired memory; and higher levels of anxiety, confusion, irritability, and depression. Even marginal deficiencies of B vitamins can cause EEG disturbances and inhibit mental performance, reports James G. Penland, Ph.D., a research psychologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Although many of the studies were done on older people, who are frequently deficient in vitamins and minerals, the same impairments could be expected in younger people with the same marginal deficiencies.
At the University of California San Diego Medical School, where he is professor of psychology, Philip Langlais, Ph.D., finds that thiamin deficiency hampers the brain's ability to use glucose, decreasing energy available for mental activities. It also overexcites neurons so that they fire endlessly, poop out, and die. "If you are even marginally deficient in thiamin," says Langlais, "you may be slowing down your brain power."
Folic acid, meanwhile, helps maintain normal levels of serotonin. Deficiencies contribute to depression, dementia, and schizophrenia. In a study of depressed patients taking lithium, those also given folic acid supplements for a year showed dramatic relief of depression, compared to those given no supplements.
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