A patient—let’s call her Jane—presents with a startling problem: Despite once being a functioning member of society, her life has been upended. She is now unable to form new memories, becomes easily confused, and even struggles to walk steadily. Following her husband’s death, our patient has struggled with alcohol addiction for five years, which has led to her developing what is known as Korsakoff’s syndrome. In this lamentable condition, vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency leads to the slow degeneration of proper brain function. One may retain a past, but without the essential nutrients to ensure coordination of the nervous system, the future becomes bleaker.
While many of us, thankfully, may not face such a severe predicament as Jane, daily and environmental stressors do exert a certain degree of wear and tear on the body’s nervous system. At a molecular level, the body is in a continual renovation process to counteract and balance these taxing effects. Metabolic processes relying on B vitamins are vital to these upkeep processes.
Essentially, the brain relies on electrochemical messages to send signals across all nerve cells in the vast network that is the nervous system. Just like nodes in your local power grid, when nerve cells can’t keep up maintenance, generate fuel from the proper breakdown of nutrients, or conduct electrical messages between cells, the network breaks down.
- Daily wear and tear on the nervous system is normal, but B vitamins play an important role in maintenance and regeneration.
- Our bodies cannot produce B vitamins, and thus, we must obtain them from our diet. They are water-soluble, which means they are not stored in our fat and must be consumed regularly to maintain an adequate supply.
- Three essential B vitamins for the nervous system are B1, B6, and B12, which prevent nerve degradation, help “renovate” cells, and safeguard healthy nerve signalling.
- A well-balanced diet featuring ample B vitamins could be particularly relevant to averting the onset of increasingly prevalent chronic conditions such as neuropathic pain, cognitive decline, and mood disorders.
B Vitamins Power A Healthy Nervous System
There are eight B vitamins, which are actually diverse molecules that share the common properties of being water-soluble and being found in some common foods. B vitamins are essential, meaning that the human body cannot produce them on its own. Moreover, since they dissolve in water, they cannot be stored as long as fat-soluble vitamins, meaning it is vital to ensure a regular, adequate supply.
Nerves are fragile (both figuratively and literally!). In the physical sense, nerve damage can occur from a one-off traumatic injury or chronic issues like daily degradation (from commonplace tears, pulling, or compression), poor circulation, inflammation (which is also linked to stress), and nutrition deficiencies in—you guessed it—B vitamins. The good news is the body can be very good at regenerating nerves, provided certain essential factors are available.
Vitamins can be thought of as common factors in a complex machine that make the machine run. For example, if your car doesn’t have enough gas, engine oil, or power steering fluid, the operation of multiple systems in the vehicle will be affected. Out of all the B vitamins, three are best known as neurotropic (operating on the nervous system): B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), and B12 (cobalamin). Let’s look “under the hood” at how these three biochemical ingredients facilitate smoothly running nerve cells and their signalling.
How It Works
B1: Fortifying Nerves
B1 has been implicated in the process of nerve regeneration. Its role is complex, but we can simply say that it provides the energy necessary to conduct maintenance processes. It is also implicated in preventing oxidative stress—a kind of molecular deterioration from environmental stressors (including pollutants, dietary factors, smoking, and alcohol, to name a few). Lack of B1, on the other hand, could undermine the nervous system’s resilience.
While B1 contributes to the structural integrity and energy metabolism of the nervous system’s cells, B6 and B12 are integral to how efficiently the cells relay messages. At a basic level, nerve cells relay messages in two ways: by sending electrical impulses from one to another and by releasing chemicals that potentiate or inhibit such electrical impulses.
B6: Supplying Brain Chemicals
B6 plays a part in synthesizing neurotransmitters—chemicals that cue nerve cells to function differently when passed between the cells. Neurotransmitters circulate in complex circuits throughout the brain, and the field of psychiatry often prescribes medicines to effect changes in these pathways. When we have either an excess or a dearth of a given transmitter, cells may fail to signal or may signal excessively or inappropriately. Thus, B6 has been linked to providing adequate amounts of neurotransmitters, ensuring that too much of a given neurotransmitter doesn’t build up and become toxic, as well as sustaining a person’s normal tactile nerve sensations and perceptions.
B12: Keeping Signals Running Smoothly
Finally, like B1, B12 has been connected to the regeneration of nerves, but especially to a critical component called myelin. Nerve cells send electrical impulses down tracks lined with this conductive material. Without myelin, nerves lose their conductive properties, and electrical transmission becomes faulty, much like a worn-out wire.
Taken together, you can thank vitamins B1, B6, and B12 for supporting the nervous system and forestalling many kinds of problems with attention, memory, mood, and even muscle control or nociception (pain).
Now That You Know…
Chronic conditions, including peripheral neuropathy and related pain, are on the rise in the United States. One thing that’s important to bear in mind is that such conditions often have lifestyle and dietary precursors.
B vitamins are essential to us all. In addition, several groups may want to pay special attention to their vitamin B intake for its neuroprotective advantages. The following people should be especially vigilant about their B vitamin intake:
- Those on special diets: People obtain the eight B vitamins from animal-derived foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. Other foods like dark leafy greens and whole grains also contain some B vitamins. In particular, those who follow strict vegetarian, low-carb, or other special restrictive diets may need to supplement B vitamins (especially B-12, which is not available from plants). If you’re feeling low despite an ostensibly healthy diet, look at your B vitamin intake.
- People with diabetes, vascular problems, and autoimmune diseases: These cases (and more) can make proper delivery of essential nervous system nutrients—and nerve-signalling itself—particularly problematic. To ensure a robust brain and body and mitigate the risk of complications, it may be advisable to consider B vitamins as part of your regular health regimen.
- Older people: As humans age, it can become harder to absorb nutrients as efficiently. Therefore, adding B vitamins may be a valuable addition for older individuals and those seeking to ensure neuroprotective longevity.
In all cases where an individual is on specialized medications, it is best to consult your physician before making adjustments.
B Vitamins as a Preventative Measure, Not a Magic Pill
Rather than treating a problem after it occurs, it pays to be aware of daily nutritional factors like B vitamins, which exert significant downstream effects on our systems at the biochemical level. B vitamins—B12 in particular—often correlate with conditions like fatigue, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and more.
However, while B vitamins play a role in the body’s regeneration, B vitamins don’t necessarily constitute a magic pill to reverse later-stage illness. Instead, it is better to consider them healthy supplements to prevent illness. Returning to the car analogy earlier: Changing your fluids regularly can keep up your car, but no amount of transmission oil will fix a gearbox once it has failed.
So in an age of networks: social, internet, cell phone—take a moment to turn your focus inward. Pay attention to the one network that matters most: your nervous system!
* * *
Consider incorporating B-12 Vitamin into your daily routine to support your overall well-being and boost your health. Its proven benefits may help you feel more energetic and improve your quality of life.
* * *
Lion’s Mane: Shaggy Fungi for Your Brain & Neuronal Health
Lion’s mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus), with their shaggy, mane-like spines, stand out among fungi not only for their appearance but for their mild, sweet, seafood-like flavour. Like other mushrooms, lion’s mane are multi-faceted healers, with antimicrobial, antihypertensive, anti-diabetic and wound healing properties among their many therapeutic properties.
Often said to have a taste similar to crab, lobster or scallops, however, it’s interesting that — like seafood — lion’s mane mushrooms are very much a food for your brain. Of the 68 diseases and conditions that lion’s mane mushroom may support, many of them relate to the nervous system, including cognitive function, memory, dementia, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
* * *
Read more on Vitamin B: Vitamin B12 May Lower Inflammation, Study Suggests
Liked it? Take a second to support Collective Spark.
We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Collective Spark Story please let us know below in the comment section.