We are all familiar with the standard nootropics and adaptogens to boost our cognitive performance, but what about vitamins?
Essentially required for many biological functions, vitamins have underrated nootropic benefits that can help take your brain power to the next level.
Of the vitamins that can maximize brain health, B12 has gained massive interest and scientific attention due to its potential on memory and cognition.
What is vitamin B12? How does it work as a nootropic? What does the research say?
Let’s find out!
What is Vitamin B12?
One of 8 B-vitamins, B12 or cobalamin is a water-soluble micronutrient that is vital for many processes in our bodies. In fact, B12 is found in every cell in your body.
What are the sources of B12? Are modern-day diets B12 sufficient?
Sources of B12
Primarily found in animal products, such as fish, meat, poultry and dairy, B12 is readily available in standard diets. However, B12 is not naturally found in plant-based foods. Because of this, B12 may sometimes be added to fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and bread for individuals that do not consume animal products.
However, with the rapid shift towards plant-based lifestyles in today’s world, it is evident that many individuals may struggle to achieve B12 recommendations from diet alone.
Why do we need B12?
An all-in-one vitamin, B12 is necessary for a multitude of reasons for optimal health.
For starters, vitamin B12 is key player in the energy metabolism cycle, required for your body to produce fuel from food. But that’s not all.
Vitamin B12 is absolutely critical for:
- The synthesis of vital cell components, including DNA and RNA
- Skin health, hair health and nail health
- Reducing severity of asthma and allergies
- Neural development in babies
- Reducing the risk of visual impairments and macular degeneration in the elderly
- Promoting heart health by recycling harmful proteins linked to cardiovascular diseases
- Preventing the breakdown of bones that may lead to osteoporosis
- Reducing side effects of medication, like metformin for diabetic patients and statins
- Improving oxygen transport in the body
This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is clear that B12 is required in the body from birth for a variety of reasons.
But what about B12 as a nootropic? Can vitamin B12 be used for cognitive performance enhancement?
Benefits of B12 for memory and cognition
B12 has many clear established roles in brain health that people may not link together.
In fact, the effects of B12 deficiency on the brain prove just how important it is to ensure you have adequate levels.
With regards to cognitive function, vitamin B12 is involved in:
- Regulating homocysteine:High homocysteine levels can lead to brain damage and increase the risk of stroke. B12 helps promote cerebral circulation by being directly involved in a process that recycles homocysteine.
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters:Vitamin B12 is required as a co-factor for the production of brain-signaling neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine and serotonin.
- Improving mood:By boosting the levels of our ‘feel-good’ hormones – serotonin and dopamine – B12 has the ability to boost the mood and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. According to research, this works as B12 reduces homocysteine levels, which have been shown to be elevated in individuals suffering from depression (1).
- Supporting memory:B12 has been shown to protect the memory centers in your brain (the hippocampus). In fact, low B12 status is linked with poorer memory performance, according to recent research (2). Additionally, taking vitamin B12 in elderly populations has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, which is a common memory impairment in older adults (3).
The amount of research on B12 and cognitive function reinforces its absolute importance as a brain-booster. From supporting memory to enhancing mood and protecting against degenerative diseases, ensuring you are maintaining your B12 status is crucial.
Are we getting enough B12?
As we have seen above, vitamin B12 is labelled ‘essential’ for many reasons, which means we need to ensure we are consuming adequate levels to stay healthy. With millions converting to vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, B12 deficiency is a huge risk – in fact, now more than ever.
Deficiency can be fatal and very detrimental if left untreated. Chronic deficiency can lead to irreversible neurological disorders, digestive issues, cognitive impairments, depression, and much more.
However, B12 deficiency is not just unique to plant-based consumers. Individuals with poor digestion, elderly and those using certain medications that deplete vitamins may suffer from B12 insufficiency.
Because of the detriments of B12 deficiency on health, it is critical to ensure you are taking adequate amounts of B12 to meet daily requirements. If you follow a certain diet or are at an at-risk group, taking B12 in supplemental form is vital to boosting your vitamin B12 status.
But with so many products, forms and types on the market, it can be mind-boggling to choose the right supplement to fit your needs. Which is the best form to go for? Are there any other criteria you need to keep in mind?
What are the supplemental forms of B12?
With the increased abundance of supplements on the market, B12 is now available as tablets, capsules, liquid drops, sprays and gummies.
However, not all B12 supplements are effective, and not all are what they promise to be.
Whilst many market liquid and spray vitamins to be more absorbable and bioavailable, there is absolutely zero evidence to support this. It is all a marketing strategy created by supplement companies to sell you the product – even though it may not work as they describe.
Additionally, there are many forms of B12 that are used in supplement formulas – but there are some that are more bioavailable than others. Let’s walk through the different forms:
- Cyanocobalamin: This form is often found in cheaper supplements, as it is inexpensive to manufacture. However, it is very poor quality, isn’t well absorbed and may increase cyanide levels in the body. Stay away from this form, as you will not achieve any boost using cyanocobalamin.
- Methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin: Both excellent forms of B12, these are highly bioavailable and are ready to be utilized by the body. If you have a B12 deficiency, taking one or both forms can increase your levels.
- Hydroxycobalamin: Another great source of B12, this form converts into methylcobalamin in the body.
If you are looking to take B12, these are the criteria you should look out for:
- Dosage: Aim to take 50ug of nature-identical forms of B12 per day in order to support your cognitive function. You can take higher amounts if you are at risk of deficiency or deficient.
- Contains synergistic vitamins: It is also important to ensure the B12 is balanced with folate, as B-vitamins all work in synergy. For example, B12, folate and B6 are all required for the breakdown of homocysteine. Thus, taking just one can be a waste of time.
- No added ingredients: Do not take a B-vitamin formulation that contains other added ingredients, fillers, binders or excipients. Aim to only consume the cleanest, purest supplement possible.
Deficiency in B-vitamins, particularly B12 can affect cognitive performance and memory.
As a nootropic powerhouse, vitamin B12 has been shown to improve mood, protect brain cells, support memory and concentration and much more.
If you are not achieving B12 recommendations from your diet, or suffer from a digestive issue, or simply want a concentration boost, we 100% recommended taking a high quality supplement with B12.
Avoid B12 supplements with cyanocobalamin, and aim to take at least 50ug in a bioavailable form for maximum benefits. Always remember to take B12 in synergy with other vitamins, as all nutrients work in harmony in the body to promote peak health and performance.
- Coppen A., Bolander-Gouaille C. “Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12.” Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2005 Jan;19(1):59-65.
- Kobe T. et. Al Vitamin B-12 concentration, memory performance, and hippocampal structure in patients with mild cognitive impairment. 2016 Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;103(4):1045-54. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.116970. Epub 2016 Feb 24.
- Wang H.X. et. Al “Vitamin B12 and folate in relation to the development of Alzheimer’s disease” Neurology May 8, 2001 vol. 56 no. 9 1188-1194