Vitamin B has long been lauded for its brain benefits. Past research has linked depression, dementia, and mental impairment with a deficiency of B vitamins.1
And many nutritional experts recommend this common vitamin to older people who ask: “what is the best vitamin for protecting an aging brain?”
Of course, there’s not just one B vitamin, there are actually eight, each with its own specialty. Let’s take a closer look at this must-have memory booster.
The family of B vitamins includes a number of B vitamins that are critical to brain function and memory health. We’re talking about Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), which supports overall brain health and Vitamin B9 (folate) supports helps balance brain and neurological health.2
There’s another member of the B complex family that is critical to your brain, and that’s B3, otherwise known as niacin. Your brain needs niacin to get energy and function properly.
Earlier research suggested it could keep the brain healthy in cases of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.3
Fast forward a few years and scientists are still keen on exploring niacin’s effect on energy production and brain metabolism, and its impact on the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent paper published in the journal Aging Cell now suggests that Vitamin B3 supplementation could slow aging of neurons.4
Energy Metabolism and Alzheimer’s
First, let’s offer a bit of brain background.
According to Medical News Today, the prevailing understanding is that Alzheimer’s often presents as clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid between neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain. These clumps are thought to affect the nerve cells’ ability to signal, causing cognitive decline.5
Many scientists believe that the decline in cognition found in people living with Alzheimer’s is due to the disruption of typical energy production and metabolism in the brain.
Dr. Christopher Martens, the current study’s lead author, offers some further insight.
“If the brain cells can’t produce the energy, they need to be able to function, then they can’t signal, and if nerve cells in the brain can’t signal effectively, then cognition will be affected,” Dr. Martens explains.
The doctor adds that whether this is a cause of the disease or a symptom is unclear.
“One of the main challenges with Alzheimer’s disease is the disruption of energy metabolism in the brain, which may actually contribute to the development of the disease,” Dr. Martens notes.
Can B3 Boost Brain Energy?
Dr. Martens and his research team focused on the role of one specific molecule in energy metabolism, called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+.
The researchers knew that NAD+ is essential for cells to create energy. Moreover, there’s scientific evidence that aging and metabolic dysfunction results in the depletion of NAD+ within cells.
“Therefore, there’s a strong rationale that replenishing the NAD+ within the brain could have a positive effect on brain function,” Dr. Martens notes.
For the study, 10 adults were given a form of Vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside in supplement form. This molecule is a precursor for NAD+, meaning the body converts it into NAD+. A second group of 12 other adults received a placebo.
To determine if taking 500mg of the supplement twice a day for six weeks increased NAD+ in neurons, Dr. Martens and his team measured the NAD+ present in the neurons and end up in the blood.
What did they discover?
The blood samples revealed a “small but significant difference.”
Additionally, the scientists found that changes in the NAD+ levels correlated with changes in the insulin-signaling proteins and molecules associated with inflammation. And it’s widely thought that inflammation plays a role in developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
An important question remains: Can vitamins cross the blood-brain barrier? At this point, researchers don’t have definitive proof. Dr. Martens admits that this is one of the big challenges in the field, determining whether the compound can reach its intended target.
“Although we do not have direct evidence, the results of our study suggest that it is having an effect on the brain and also changing the metabolism of molecular pathways known to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease,” he concludes.
Indeed, more research is needed to understand this vitamin’s potential benefits fully. We will closely monitor this fascinating study area and report back with any updates.
In the meantime, we recommend a diet rich in vitamin B foods such as eggs, yogurt, legumes, salmon, and leafy greens. Additionally, a quality B-complex supplement is also a wise idea.
Remember: Supplemental niacin can cause unpleasant side effects, like niacin flush. So, use caution if taking it in high doses.
The Aging Defeated Team