By Deane Alban
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
A lot has been written about the most important vitamins for the brain, and how to get them from your diet and supplementation. Today we’ll take at look at the dark side – how daily habits and lifestyle choices can deplete your body of the vitamins your brain needs.
Most Important Brain Vitamins
While you need all essential vitamins to be at your best, there are several that are specifically important for your brain. Here’s a quick run-down on the most important vitamins for brain health.
Your brain uses a lot of oxygen, so it’s exposed to a lot of free radical damage. The antioxidant vitamins – A, C, and E – can help counteract this.
(Vitamins actually aren’t the best source of antioxidants. The best sources are whole foods. Learn which foods are the best sources of antioxidants here.)
While the entire B complex is important to brain health, folic acid and vitamin B12 are the most crucial for the brain and are strongly implicated in warding off serious memory problems.
Lastly, your brain needs vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in the general population and contributes to host of health and brain problems.
Common Habits that Rob You of Vitamins
The old expression “you are what you eat” should be replaced with “you are what you absorb”. I admit, it’s not as catchy, but it’s true.
Here are 6 common habits that can rob you of essential vitamins that are critical for brain health, and some changes you can make that work for your brain, and not against it.
Habit #1: Alcohol
Drinking alcohol is known to deplete vitamins A, C, and B complex. Drinking in excess can leave you in a horrible nutritional state.
That being said, there is much evidence that red wine contains antioxidants that are highly protective of the brain. A good dark beer is actually a decent source of B vitamins. Moderate drinking isn’t bad, but if you’re going to drink, choose red wine or dark beer instead of wine coolers or lite beer. A good rule of thumb is that the darker and more opaque your alcoholic beverage of choice, the more nutrients it will contain.
Habit #2: Caffeine
Since caffeine acts as a diuretic, it can flush water soluble vitamins away before they can be absorbed. It prevents calcium and iron from being absorbed.
Caffeine also increases the release of stress hormones like adrenaline adding to your stress level, which further adds to nutrient depletion.
Most of us like (need?) some caffeine on occasion. The healthiest way to get some caffeine is by drinking green tea. Green tea is high in antioxidants. It also promotes neurotransmitter formation. It contains an amino acid, l-theanine, which actually can put you in a calm but alert state.
Habit #3: Stress
You might not consider stress a habit, but it actually is. On many levels how you experience stress is a choice. You choose a crazy lifestyle or you choose to react to it in a particular way.
The B vitamins are known as the anti-stress vitamins. Your body uses them like crazy when you are stressed out. Taking B complex vitamins can replenish what stress has depleted. Studies have shown that taking B vitamins can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s so it seems likely that lack of B vitamins could contribute to degenerative brain disease.
Stress also increase your need for vitamin C. Your body uses vitamin C to suppress formation of the stress hormone cortisol. It has been found that taking large doses of vitamin C can reduce your stress response considerably.
Minimize caffeine and sugar. Caffeine boosts adrenaline output and sugar puts your blood sugar level on a roller coaster ride. Neither of these states will help your stress level.
If you feel stressed, try meditation. Meditation can actually change your brain waves so you will be less reactive to what is going on around you. You can try traditional meditation which requires you to work at quieting your mind. Or you can use brainwave CDs which give you the similar results and all you have to do is listen.
Habit #4: Sugar
Of all the foods we eat, sugar is considered by many to be the most harmful. And it is one of the most difficult to avoid. It’s in just about everything we eat or drink that is processed. Some nutritional experts have even labeled it the “anti-vitamin”.
Since white sugar has no nutritive value, it has to “borrow” nutrients to digest it. It depletes the body of vitamins C and E and is particularly draining to the B vitamin complex. It also leeches minerals such as calcium and magnesium from your bones and teeth.
Sugar gives you a burst of energy followed by a crash, playing havoc with your blood sugar levels, which can add to your stress levels. It can also have you reaching for caffeine to get you going again.
Habit #5: Tobacco
I don’t have to tell you that smoking is bad for your health. But did you know that every puff of smoke creates millions of free radicals?!
Smoking depletes the body of all vitamins, especially vitamin C. Since this vitamin is critical to collagen formation, smoking noticeably damages the skin, leaving it lined and wrinkled. At a “certain age” you can always tell a smoker by their bad skin. This gives you an idea of what is going on inside a smoker’s body that you can’t see.
Many people claim they find smoking relaxing, but smoking triggers the release of stress hormones in the body. This means an increased need for all the B vitamins, too.
If you have tried to quit smoking unsuccessfully, I suggest you visit SmokeFree.gov. This is a government sponsored website/hotline that provides free counseling and will help you design a personalized quitting program to give you the best shot at success.
But until you quit, it is critical you take a good multivitamin and a potent antioxidant formula. One vitamin caution for smokers – ironically, taking beta carotene is suspected of increasing the risk of lung cancer in smokers. So if you smoke, this is one supplement you should probably skip for now.
Habit #6: Wearing Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen? What is that doing on this list? Isn’t that a good habit? We’ve had it drummed into us that we need to wear sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. But sun avoidance has led to widespread vitamin D deficiency.
Experts in the field say we should ideally get 20 minutes of sun exposure on a large body part (such as legs, arms, or back) twice a week. Sun exposure is by far the most effective way to get ample amounts of vitamin D. The vitamin D added to “fortified” foods is not adequate.
Getting sun exposure may be impractical for you depending on your climate. Consider taking a high quality vitamin D supplement instead. Many people notice an improvement in their mood and general well-being immediately.
Chemical Brain Drains
I promised to tell you about six nutrition-robbing habits. Well, I’ve got some “bonus material” for you.
While exposure to chemicals isn’t a habit, there are many common chemicals that can compromise your nutritional status. Fluoride and chlorine found in our water supply destroy vitamin E. Medications can affect vitamins – even something as innocuous as aspirin interferes with vitamins A, B complex, and C. Many medications are known to directly cause memory loss.
Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury and lead increases the need for vitamin C. Nitrates and nitrites in your hot dogs and lunch meat can destroy vitamins A, C, and E. Breathing polluted air increases your need for vitamins C and E. Even grilling meat can increase your need for antioxidants!
Moderation is the Key
You’re probably thinking, “geesh, does everything deplete nutrients?” Not really. If you look back over this list, you can pretty much see that most of this is common sense. You might not have known exactly how some of these habits affected your nutritional status, but I’m pretty sure that you already knew that most of these things aren’t good for you. Now you have a better understanding of how these things affect your brain.
You know what you have to do. Stop smoking. Consume caffeine and alcohol in moderation. Minimize sugar intake. Work on stress reduction. Get out in the sun. And as boring as it sounds, moderation in all things is one of the best pieces of advice you can take for a healthy brain.
(You’ll find super-easy but counter-intuitive tips to create new, healthy habits in Overcoming Resistance to Change: The Secret to Lasting Health.)
None of us live in a pristine environment so it’s wise to cover your nutritional bases. Taking a high-quality multivitamin like Prograde VGF 25+ is a good place to start. Adding a powerful antioxidant formula like Prograde Longevity is an excellent way to further protect your brain from free radical damage.
- Does Alcohol Contribute to Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies? at MedicineNet.com
- The Facts About Vitamins in Nutrition at Vitamin-Basics.com
Previous articles by Deane:
About the author:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is helping people overcome brain fog, “senior moments”, and other signs of mental decline now, and preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in the future.
The human brain is designed to last a lifetime, but modern life takes a greater toll on the brain than most people realize. Deane teaches the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com.