B Vitamins for Brain Health

A close-up view of beans, chicken, avocado and meat on a table

Your body uses all eight B vitamins to turn food into energy: B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). Researchers, however, have examined the roles of only a few of these in brain health — namely, B6, folate and B12. Here’s what you need to know about each.

Vitamin B12

You get B12 from beef liver, clams, red meat, pork, fish and dairy products. It’s also added artificially to certain foods, such as cereal.

People who lack B12 can feel depressed, confused and experience memory loss. Without treatment, B12 deficiency can lead to dementia. But most people get all the B12 they need without thinking about it. A few exceptions are older adults, who may not absorb B12 as well as they once did, along with vegans and vegetarians, because animal-based foods are the only ones that contain the vitamin naturally.

Vitamin B9 (Folate)

People who lack folate may be more prone to depression and may not respond as well to antidepressants (though folic acid supplements may help in some cases).

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You can get folate naturally from many vegetables, in particular asparagus, brussels sprouts and dark leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale. Oranges and orange juice as well as other fruits and fruit juices also provide folate, as do nuts, beans, peas, bread, flour, cornmeal, pasta, rice and cereal. 

Too much folate can speed up the progression of cancer in people with the disease (the upper safety limit of folate intake is 1,000 micrograms a day).

Vitamin B6

A lack of vitamin B6 can cause depression and confusion. Some studies show that older adults with higher levels of B6 in their bloodstream have better memory, but B6 supplements don’t appear to improve cognitive function in healthy people or in those with dementia. 

Fish, poultry and organ meats (such as liver) are high in B6, as are potatoes and other starchy vegetables and noncitrus fruits. Too much B6 can damage the nerves in your arms, legs, hands and feet.

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This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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