How Two B Vitamins Can Help Us Think Better

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Everyday, Life Extension® health advisors field questions about brain health. You know, questions like, “how can I improve my memory?” or, “what can I take to fight poor mood?”

Our advisors have long known about the benefits of nutrients like omega-3 fats, blueberry extract and ginkgo for helping our members improve memory and recall. But new research is showing that two vitamins can also play a role in helping our brains remain at full capacity as we age.

In this post, we’ll take a look at what vitamins B6 and B12 can do for us.

Low Vitamin B6 and B12 is Bad for Your Brain

A recent population study of over 2,000 people has shown that low levels of B6 and B12 are linked to impaired cognition and low levels of B12 are also associated with depression. The authors state that the findings correlate nicely with previous studies, but do not prove a “cause and effect” relation.1

One of the “previous” studies that agreed with this new one was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Oxford researchers were able to show that taking folic acid, B6 and B12 lowered homocysteine levels, a metabolite of methylation reactions, and corresponded to improvements in cognition and memory.2

Although the new study lead by scientists at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging did not measure the effects of folic acid, they did find a link between B6 and B12 supplementation and improvements in mental function.

Low Homocysteine is Good for Your Brain

So how exactly do B6 and B12 help with brain function? Some experts believe it’s through their effects on lowering homocysteine. Homocysteine is produced when vitamin B6 and B12 levels drop and the reaction between two critical amino acids, methionine and cysteine, breaks down.

This isn’t good because it’s possible that high homocysteine is linked to dementia and memory impairment.3 The exact mechanism for how homocysteine affects your brain function remains a mystery, but researchers believe that it may have to do with abnormal adhesion of platelets to the inside wall of arteries in the brain.4

However, we do know this: Low levels of B6 and B12 are associated with high homocysteine blood levels. This is then associated with unhealthy brain function. And the latest research shows that supplementing with B6 and B12 can have a huge impact on your ability to think and recall information.

Somewhere in all of that is a connection between the two vitamins and your brain.

Foods That are Rich in B Vitamins

So let’s eat more foods that are rich in B vitamins, specifically B6 and B12. This will help to maintain healthy homocysteine levels and may even help to preserve our brain capacity for many more years to come.

First, here are plant-based foods that are rich in B vitamins — in no particular order:

  • Whole grains
  • Bananas
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini
Now for animal-based foods rich in B vitamins — again, in no particular order:

  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Beef (preferably grass-fed)
  • Shrimp
  • Halibut
  • Scallops
  • Yogurt
  • Milk and Cheese
Got any tasty recipes with some of the foods listed above? If so, don’t be shy and share them with us in the comments below!


  1. J Nutr. 2012 Jun 27. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22739363
  2. Int J Geriatr Psych. 2011 Aug;26(8):876-877.
  3. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012 Jan 1;29(1):133-49.
  4. Arch Neurol. 1998 Nov;55(11):1449-55.


Anonymous said...

What about B5 necessary in the production of Acetylcholine? A necessary neurotransmitter.

Life Extension said...

Great point. But this post was focusing on reversing the damage caused by elevated homocysteine.

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