Vitamin B comes in 8 different forms, each of which having a unique role in the body. This class of compounds is often overlooked by those looking to improve their cognitive capacity.
The fact of the matter is that B vitamins play an essential role in human brain function. Even minor states of deficiency can reduce cognitive stamina, efficiency, and overall health.
Knowing the importance of adequate B vitamin intake is essential for any biohacker looking to optimise their life.
What Are B Vitamins?
The term vitamin is given to any compound that contains an amine structure. In the most basic description possible, this is a chemical structure that contains the element nitrogen. There are many vitamins the body needs to function, but none as diverse as the B group of vitamins.
Some B vitamins have modest, simple, structures (such as B3). They are small, consisting of only a few atoms, Other B vitamins can be many times larger, containing hundreds of atoms in their structure (such as B12).
What makes B vitamins similar is their solubility in water (and therefore in blood), and their function within the human body. All B vitamins are considered cofactors, meaning that the body needs them as an intermediary to carry out complex functions like energy production, hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Why Do We Need B Vitamins?
Our cells have learned to leverage the special characteristics of nitrogen bonding found in B vitamins to carry out chemical processes that couldn’t normally be carried out in the human body.
B vitamins are used to produce neurotransmitters, convert fats and sugars to usable energy, build immune and blood cells, and eliminate chemicals and metabolic byproducts via the liver.
B Vitamins & Cognition
B Vitamins play a direct role in human cognitive function and development. These vitamins are so essential for the development of brain structures that babies and children who experience deficiencies in these nutrients early on will almost always develop neurological problems. Even adults will experience a loss in cognitive capacity when subjected to B vitamin deficiency. This can happen through diet, or long term exposure to B vitamin depleting drugs such as alcohol.
Despite the importance of this compound, deficiencies are common. This is why so many people notice immediate benefits from taking B vitamin containing supplements. Energia, and mental focus are all noted to increase significantly a few hours after supplementation in people deficient in B vitamins.
There are 3 main factors involved with the cognitive benefits of B vitamin supplementation.
1. Neurotransmitter production
Neurotransmitters are the brain’s main chemical messengers. Even subtle changes in neurotransmitter levels can have dramatic impacts on our overall cognitive performance. It can affect our emotions, reaction times, energy levels, memory, and concentration.
The most important B vitamin for this is B6. This vitamin is especially useful for transferring amino acids from one protein to the next. This, makes it extremely versatile in the brain since most of our neurotransmitters require this step in their production.
Although vitamin B6 doesn’t directly stimulate neurotransmitter production, it’s considered to be a rate-limiting step in the process. This means that even if our neurons want to make more neurotransmitters, and we have the raw materials to do the job, if there isn’t enough B6 the whole process gets delayed.
Ensuring that B6 levels are always sufficient can eliminate the possibility of slowing down the important process of neurotransmitter production.
2. Energy Generation
Our brains need power to operate… a lot of it. Some sources suggest our brains account for as much as 20% of our daily energy usage. Just like our other organs, energy is created within the cells in a special organ known as the mitochondria.
The mitochondria take in glucose and fat, and convert them into energy in the form of ATP. B vitamins, especially vitamin B3, is heavily involved with this process. When B vitamins are low, energy production is low too, leaving us feeling groggy, fatigued, and unable to motivate or focus our minds on a task.
3. Homocysteine conversion
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced as a byproduct of brain function. We use a combination of vitamin B9 (folate) and B12 to keep homocysteine at safe levels. When one of these B vitamins is deficient however, homocysteine levels begin to rise.
When homocysteine levels become too high, neurological conditions like anxiety and depression are likely to result. On top of this, high homocysteine has been linked with cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.
Maintaining adequate B vitamins can prevent homocysteine levels from rising and eliminates the chances of cognitive dysfunctions from appearing.
Supplementing Vitamin B’s
Without vitamin B, our brains become slow and inefficient, our immune systems become weak, and energy production throughout the body begins to decline. In the modern diet, B vitamin deficiencies are more common than you might expect.
Unlike other essential nutrients like minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, we don’t have a way to store extra B vitamins to make up for times of low intake. This means we need to ensure we have a continual supply of B vitamins through our diet.
For cognitive function, vitamin B3, B6, B9, and B12 are considered the most important. B vitamin supplements often produce profound improvements in cognitive levels. For this reason, we often include B vitamins in formulas aimed at energy, and neurotransmitter regulation.
B Complex Supplements
Luckily, it’s hard to take too many B vitamins due to their water-soluble nature. This is because any excess in the bloodstream is eliminated immediately through the kidneys, thus preventing toxic buildup. This is why many people choose to take a vitamin B complex containing all of the B vitamins. This serves as a simple way to fill in any gaps that may be present in the diet.
Nootropic Formulas Containing B Vitamins
Many of our nootropic formulas contain B vitamins. Combining these in our stacks helps to optimise the rate limiting steps involved with energy production, and neurotransmitter manufacture within the brain.
- Seshadri, S., Beiser, A., Selhub, J., Jacques, P. F., Rosenberg, I. H., D’agostino, R. B., … & Wolf, P. A. (2002). Plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 346(7), 476-483.
- Kennedy, D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068
- Dakshinamurti S., Dakshinamurti K. Vitamin b6. In: Zempleni J., Suttie J.W., Gregory J.F. III, Stover P.J., editors. Handbook of Vitamins. 5th ed. CRC Press; Boca Raton, FL, USA: 2013.
- Vitamin B12, folic acid, and the nervous system. Reynolds E Lancet Neurol. 2006 Nov; 5(11):949-60.
- Stipanuk, M.H. (2006). Biochemical, physiological, molecular aspects of human nutrition (2nd ed.). St Louis: Saunders Elsevier.