Brain Science By NHI Newsroom / June 30, 2016 Share Tweet Pin Share As a regular reader of Natural Health Insiders, you know B vitamins are great for your brain … Many studies have shown B vitamins* slow and reduce shrinkage of the brain’s grey matter, while decreasing inflammation and cognitive decline.1 Now, in most cases, the golden rule of nutrient studies is to test the effects of just one, isolated nutrient. But something unexpected happened when Oxford researchers observed how B vitamins interact with another brain-healthy nutrient. Until recently, these two had never been studied together … and it turns out, B vitamins without this nutrient have little to no benefit for your brain. It may come as no surprise that the ultimate partners for B-vitamins are omega-3 fatty acids. The “long chain” omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA keep the membranes of your brain cells fluid and supple, allowing efficient nutrient intake and excretion of waste. Plus, omega-3s are critical to the entire life cycle of neurotransmitters — including synthesis, effective communication, and breaking them down at the end of their lives.2 But a recent Oxford study showed that without omega-3 levels in the “upper normal” range, B vitamins can’t do their best, brain-boosting work. The two-year study followed 266 patients aged 70 or older with MCI (mild cognitive impairment). In the beginning, the researchers tested the participants’ EPA and DHA levels, then split them into two groups. One received a B vitamin treatment. The other group received a placebo. The groups were given tasks that measured cognitive performance, episodic memory, and clinical dementia rating. After two years of receiving either treatment or placebo, they were retested and the results were compared. In the placebo group – sadly — two-thirds of the participants continued to progress towards Alzheimer’s disease. They were twice as likely to be diagnosed Alzheimer’s. But in the B vitamin group, two-thirds showed improvement over the two years. Those with higher levels of omega-3s improved, too… especially those with higher levels of DHA. But among those with low levels of omega-3s, the B vitamins had little to no effect.3 Omega-3s Give B Vitamins the Boost They Need The takeaway is that while B vitamins like B6 and B12 are essential to good health, you can only get the full cognitive benefits if you have a generous supply of omega-3s. The researchers hypothesized that this is because B vitamins are a critical precursor to the creation of phosphatidylcholine … which is enriched by omega-3s … and is a major molecule used in creating cell membranes. Think of cell membranes as the protective layer of an air bubble in water. Pierce it, and the bubble vanishes instantly. To be sure your omega-3s are in the “upper normal” range, the recommendation is to eat fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon at least three times per week, and take a high quality fish or krill oil supplement. I’m wary of the mercury levels in these fish and I prefer to get most of my omega-3s from supplemental fish oil. My brand of choice is Carlson’s. Blueberries are an excellent source of brain healthy B-vitamins. So are bell peppers, spinach, liver, and snapper. A high quality B complex vitamin can fill in the gaps. An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure With the disheartening news that “cognitive enhancers” such as donepezil (trade name Aricept) and galantamine (brand name Razadyne) do not improve cognitive impairment4, these new results offer a simple and promising approach. If you’re over 50, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to use nutrition to protect your most valuable treasure: your conscious mind.