The brain requires a vast amount of many different micronutrients in order to function properly. Without the right amount of these important nootropic vitamins and minerals, our cognitive power can fade, while brain health declines.
Optimal brain health begins with proper nutrition. In this guide, we review how to get the brain support you need with adequate intake of the right nootropic essential nutrients.
What are Nootropic Vitamins and Minerals?
Nootropic vitamins and minerals contribute to one or more areas of cognitive function – like memory, motivation, learning, and attention. Sometimes called “smart pills,” cognitive enhancers, or memory supplements, nootropics are derived from all natural sources.
Some of those sources include earth minerals and plant vitamins. Whatever source they are derived from , nootropic vitamins and minerals are designed to target specific cognitive functions and improve overall mental performance and brain health.<1>
Nootropic stems from a Greek phrase which translates, “to turn toward the mind.” Nootropics usually enhance on or more of the following cognitive functions:
- Focus and concentration
- Spatial Reasoning
- Sensory Perception
While nootropic vitamins and minerals won’t make you smarter or increase your IQ, they can support brain health, and potentially improve how well your brain performs certain tasks.
History of Nootropic Vitamins and Minerals
Humans have been ingesting nootropic vitamins and minerals for thousands of years, but we didn’t always know how they worked or why. Some cultures placed a spiritual emphasis on them, while others adopted a more scientific approach.
Either way, our ancestors were just as interested in boosting their brain power as we are today. While ancient cultures turned mainly to herbal sources for their nootropic effects, modern technology has allowed us to isolate specific vitamins and minerals from their sources, making our nootropics more targeted and efficient.
And today we can look into the brain and see how and why these supplements work to improve specific brain regions and areas of cognition.
The discovery of modern nootropic vitamins began with the identification of anemia as a medical condition in England during the 1800’s. Around 1900, researchers in the United States pinpointed poor nutrition as the cause behind anemia and other conditions. Until that point, physicians and scientists believed all disease and medical disorders stemmed from pathogens.
Because of this modern insight, we know that B-complex vitamins are some of the best nootropic vitamins for memory, energy, mood, learning, and more.
While we still don’t know everything about what cognitive functions B vitamins can improve and how, clinical studies back evidence that currently supports their use as food additives in more than 50 countries.
And B vitamins are so crucial to brain growth and cognitive development that doctors around the world continue to prescribe B complex vitamins to pregnant women throughout pregnancy and nursing.
The Birth of B-Vitamins
Researchers first discovered folic acid, a component of vitamin B9, in the first half of the 20th century – sometime between 1931 and 1943. During the 1920’s, scientists attributed anemia and folate deficiency to the same condition.
But researcher Lucy Wills made an observation in 1931 that led scientists to later identify folate deficiency as a major trigger for anemia in pregnant women, not the same disorder.
A team of scientists dubbed “the folic acid boys” first isolated folic acid in pure crystalline form in 1945 at the Lederle Lab in Pearl River, NY.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, scientists began to discover the biochemical mechanisms of folate, and the United States enacted the folate fortification program by the late 1960’s.<2>
The discovery of folate’s brain-boosting power was just the beginning for modern nootropic research. Around the same time Lucy Wills was making her first observations regarding folate, Hungarian physician Paul Gyorgy was discovering vitamin B6.
Currently the United States has recommended a daily B6 intake of between 1.7 mg and 2.0 mg.
Vitamin B12 was the final chapter (so far) in the history books of B-vitamin discovery, and it proved to be one of the most challenging. It took 26 years from the time scientists first suspected the existence of B12 to isolate and extract the first tiny, bright-red cobalamin crystals from liver extracts in 1947.
- The dedication of early scientists spurred a revolutionary approach to physical and mental imbalances and caused burgeoning researchers to continue exploring the brain benefits of nootropic vitamins and minerals.
Nootropic Vitamins and Minerals Today
Before the discovery of nootropic vitamins and minerals, malnutrition caused untold misery for an incalculable number of people. Physical symptoms were bad enough, but when mental symptoms manifested, so-called innovative “treatments” became ever more barbaric and primitive.
Research and development of these essential vitamins and minerals has helped revamp the way we think about nutrition and supplements.
Most developed countries today implement public health programs and FDA and RDA regulations that attempt to ensure everyone has access to the vitamins and minerals our brains need for healthy cognitive function.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropic Vitamins and Minerals
All B vitamins are important for brain health, but B6, B9, and B12 are among the best -- backed by the most research because of their ability to regulate homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine activity is associated with low B6, B9, and B12 levels. This problematic combination can lead to brain deterioration, mood issues, impaired cerebral blood flow, and cognitive decline.
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 – all found in Mind Lab Pro® – have been shown to effectively reduce blood homocysteine levels.<3>
Mind Lab Pro®’s B6 – B9 – B12 stack targets homocysteine for better mood balance, more mental energy, improved information storage, and long-term, overall brain health.
And, this collaborative combo also addresses mental performance problems stemming from age-related cognitive decline and poor cerebral blood flow.
Together, B6 – B9 – B12 also support brain health by:
- Promoting monoamine production
- Spurring brain energy metabolism
- Supporting brain chemical conversion
- Making myelin – the fatty sheath that surrounds brain cells and nerves
- Preserving the mood-balancing brain protector S−Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe)
Vitamin B6 is critical for proper brain chemical synthesis. It promotes several neurotransmitter transitions and is a building block for serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and melatonin.
B6 is essential to important functions throughout the body, but the brain contains 100 times more B6 than the bloodstream does.
The brain needs that much B6 in order to create and release brain chemicals, making it a foundational nootropic for all cognitive functions.
B6 enhances neurotransmitter synthesis and conversions. It helps to synthesize mood-boosting norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA. It also helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, 5-HTP into serotonin, and DOPA into dopamine.<4>
B6 may help preserve the blood-brain barrier’s microvascular system from damaging homocysteine that can eat away at vessel walls and contribute to cognitive decline.
Research links excessive homocysteine levels to low cognitive performance across eight different measurements – including memory and learning.<5>
In addition to protecting the blood-brain barrier’s integrity, B6 helps the formation of myelin, the fatty sheath that surrounds and protects brain cells.
Mind Lab Pro® contains premium vitamins that are easily absorbed into the body and across the blood-brain barrier.
A long list of smart foods contain B6, but cooking, processing, and even storing food can sap nutritional content. Some foods can lose more than 50 percent of their B6 value through cooking and in storage over time.
Plant foods lose the least amount of B6 during processing. This is because produce contains pyridoxine, a more stable B6 version than the pyridoxal or pyridoxamine found in meat or animal byproducts.
Vitamin B6 is water soluble, making it easy for the body to absorb but impossible to store. Therefore, it is important to maintain a diet rich in B vitamins, and supplement it with nootropic vitamins and minerals in order to meet your daily requirements.
Vitamin B6 helps curb a compound called homocysteine within the blood. Homocysteine is a sulfuric amino acid found in animal protein sources. Too much homocysteine is linked to memory problems, age-associated cognitive decline, and poor mood.<6>
Studies indicate that a combination of vitamin B6 and folate can significantly reduce overall homocysteine levels.
B6 helps build serotonin and norepinephrine, and GABA – “happy hormones” that balance mood, boost energy, and improve concentration. Low levels of any of these chemicals can lead to depression, pain, fatigue, and anxiety, but supplementing with B6 can be an effective part of your anti-stress strategy.
Vitamin B6 also helps in the production of melatonin, an important (and often overlooked) hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Melatonin runs our internal clock and influences circadian rhythms, telling the brain when to wind down and fall into a Delta sleep state and when to wind up into alpha and beta as we wake.
- Mind Lab Pro® delivers Vitamin B6 as BioGenesis™ to support brain chemicals related to better long-term memory, bright mood, and increased attention span.
Research suggests that B6 supplementation may improve information storage in elderly populations modestly but significantly, especially over time.
Also called folate or folic acid, vitamin B9 is a key component in cerebrovascular function, overall brain health, and neurotransmitter management.
B9 as both folate and folic acid is important for various physiological functions.
Everyone needs folic acid, but it is especially important for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant. B9 is a vital nutrient for healthy brain development during infancy. And adequate amounts of folic acid before and during pregnancy help preclude brain and spinal birth defects in babies.
Because the vitamin B9 in Mind Lab Pro® is a folate identical to nature’s own, it efficiently converts to L-Methylfolate, a bioactive nootropic that facilitates the production of three key neurotransmitters –serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Low levels of these brain chemicals can cause mood fluctuations, but research suggests supplementing with folate may help support healthy levels.<7>
In addition to neurotransmitter regulation, folate aids the synthesis of S-Adenosyl-methionine (SAMe), a signaling compound connected to serotonin that may further support a bright, balanced mood.
Some evidence links low folate with depression.
Brain Circulation and Protection
Like B6, B9 helps maintain healthy cognitive function throughout adulthood because of its ability to keep homocysteine levels low.
Homocysteine irritates blood vessel linings, increasing cerebrovascular oxidative stress and impeding cerebrovascular functions necessary for healthy cognitive performance.
Low B9 intake results in high homocysteine levels, and both are factors in cognitive decline and unhealthy fluctuations in brain structure.<8>
- As folate, B9 helps convert homocysteine into methionine – helping to reduce homocysteine in the bloodstream to a healthier range conducive to clear cognition.
Also called cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a basic vitamin that your body badly needs but it cannot produce. B12 contains cobalt, a micronutrient also needed but not produced by the body.
Vitamin B12 is mostly known for boosting energy and helping with memory. But B12 is one of the most essential vitamins for healthy brain function. Like other B vitamins, B12 is water-soluble, but unlike B6 and B9, the body does store B12.
B12 also affects homocysteine levels by helping to convert homocysteine into methionine, an amino acid used to make S-adenosylmethionine, which plays a big part in various physiological functions.
The cobalimine arm of B12 aids in the production of new cells and nucleoproteins and in the biosynthesis of myelin.
Vitamin B12 is important for healthy neurological function, including:
- brain energy
- overall cognitive function
Brain Circulation and Protection
Cobalamin facilitates signaling in the nervous system and other brain communication, helps to run metabolism, and has a hand in DNA and red blood cell creation. And B12 helps cerebral blood flow, improving blood brain oxygen and energy for enhanced cognitive function.<9>
As we age, B12 becomes harder for the body to absorb. Since we only get B12 from outside sources, cobalamin levels may go down as we get older.
Some signs that you are not getting enough B12 include:
- Poor memory
- Anxiety or depression
- Vision problems – blurred vision, double vision, light sensitivity
B12 naturally occurs in animal products and is sometimes added to processed foods, but produce does not contain, leaving vegetarian and vegan eaters at risk for B12 deficiency. A B12 supplement or injection can boost compromised vitamin B12 levels and improve related cognitive function.
Other Vitamins and Minerals for Brain Health
The brain requires a vast amount of micro-nutrients for optimal health and cognitive functioning. B-complex vitamins give many areas of cognition a boost, but there are some other important nootropic vitamins and minerals that can complement B vitamins as part of your healthy brain approach.
Magnesium is one of the top minerals our bodies need just to function properly. It's involved in more than 300 enzymatic processes throughout the body, including energy metabolism and blood glucose regulation.
Magnesium contributes to optimal brain function in many ways, including:
But experts claim up to 68 percent of people today don't consume the recommended daily amount of magnesium, and nearly 20 percent don't even get half of the RDA. So if you suffer from regular brain fog, you might need more magnesium.<10>
Get more magnesium by eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, raw cacao, sprouted nuts and seeds, avocado, sea vegetables like kelp or nori, wild caught fish, and pink salt.
Calcium is an alkaline earth metal, and it is the most abundant mineral in the body of modern humans due to our dietary habits. Calcium is best known for strengthening bones, but calcium is critical for healthy brain function.
The brain uses about 1 percent of the body's stored calcium for cellular communication, nerve transmission, and hormonal secretion.<11>That 1 percent does not fluctuate with calcium intake amount. And unlike other vitamins and minerals, the danger from calcium does not come from deficiency, but from having too much.
In normal amounts, calcium controls neurotransmitter release and intracellular signaling.
But high calcium levels can cause problems with:
You can get your calcium levels tested as part of your regular doctor's visit in order to modify your calcium intake if needed.
Magnesium + Calcium
Our ancestors had diets that consisted of a fairly even ration of calcium to magnesium intake. The modern human diet includes around 15 times as much calcium as magnesium, and that can lead to some serious problems.
Magnesium helps with detoxification, but too much calcium leads to calcification, with side effects like anxiety, parathyroid issues, attention problems, migraines, asthma, and allergies.
Newer studies are revealing that the effects of too much calcium versus not enough magnesium can lead to even more severe conditions.
The human body contains about 2 grams of zinc, most of it in the brain, particularly the hippocampus, with large concentrations in the choroid retinal layer - an extension of the brain. Zinc is important for brain cell communication, playing a key role in axonal and synaptic transmission, protein synthesis, and healthy DNA and RNA formation.
Low zinc levels have been linked to learning disabilities, cognitive birth defects, hyperactivity, alcoholism, and brain imbalances.
Groups at risk for zinc inadequacy include:
- Pregnant and nursing women
- People with GI problems
Overt zinc deficiencies are not common in North America and are usually caused by a poor diet. Zinc is present in high amounts in seafood, especially oysters, beef, pork, chicken, and baked beans.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
This antioxidant vitamin is highly concentrated in the brain, especially the pituitary, and in the adrenal glands. Vitamin C helps with the synthesis of dopamine and helps to protect the brain from oxidative stress.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps flush the brain of toxins that can cause long-term disorders marked by memory problems and nerve damage. As a cognitive enhancer, it can improve:
- overall brain health
Because the body does not store vitamin C, you need to ingest sufficient amounts daily. Although overt deficiency like scurvy is uncommon in the developed world, sub-clinical deficiency is still common, particularly among at-risk groups like elderly people, smokers, hospital patients, and low-income families.
Get more C by taking a supplement and eating citrus fruit, leafy greens, peppers, tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya, and mango, cherries, berries, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and parsley.
Vitamin D sources come only from the sun or supplementation, they are not found in food. D vitamins have been undervalued for their cognitive value until recently. New discoveries have revealed that vitamin D receptors are widespread throughout the brain.
And D3 in particular has neuroprotective properties that can help defend the brain from cognitive decline, along with persistent mood and memory issues.
- Studies show vitamin D3 can clear the amyloid plaques thought to be responsible for cognitive malfunctions like dementias and other severe cognitive impairment.<12>
Because D3 was overlooked for so long, there is little human research to establish cause and effect. But some evidence suggests D vitamins likely work by regulating bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP). BMP's help trigger stem cells to become other types of cells, including brain cells, and D increases the amount of these proteins through the brain.
Vitamin D3 and other D vitamins are critical for proper brain development and for maintaining cognitive health as we age. But current research has indicated that vitamin D deficiency is so widespread, many experts consider D deficiency as a worldwide health problem.
Make sure you're getting enough D3 by spending time outside on sunny days and taking a high quality, absorptive supplement.
Vitamin K has lately garnered the nootropic spotlight due to its contribution to cognitive health. Initially associated with blood coagulation, current research indicates that many non-blood related vitamin K-dependent (VKDPs) proteins rely on vitamin K in order to fulfill their role in brain function.
Plus, vitamin K affects the nervous system by helping in the metabolism of sphingolipids - structural molecules present in brain cell membranes that protect against damaging inflammation and oxidative stress.<13>
- Some reports point to vitamin K as a direct modulator for cogntive function.
Iron is a co-factor of the synthesis of myelin - the fatty sheath that surrounds and protects brain cells. It also factors in neurotransmitter synthesis and oxidative metabolism, a process the body uses to turn carbohydrates and sugars into energy.
In the brain, iron regulates:
- attention span
- sensory perception
High amounts of iron are needed for myelin production and neurotransmitter synthesis, but too much iron in the brain can lead to chronic cognitive malfunction linked to iron-influenced oxidative stress.<13>
Oxidative stress results from the production of free radical molecules from within our cells in response to oxygen intake from breathing interacting with cell energy.
Iron concentration varies according to age and diet. We generally accumulate more iron as we age, unless our diet is low in food sources containing iron. It's important to get the right amount of iron, as too much can lead to physiological problems, and too little can impair cognitive development and function.
Together, folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron form a complex mechanism. An excess of one may mask a deficiency in another, so the triad must always be kept in balance.
Stack Mind Lab Pro® with Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi to get the full spectrum of nootropic essentials for mental clarity and brain health.
Mind Lab Pro® provides some of the most essential nootropic vitamins your brain needs for optimal mental performance, to help keep you running on 100% Brainpower™ -- B6, B9 and B12 as BioGenesis.
Although Mind Lab Pro® provides some of the best nutritional support for B-complex vitamins, you may need more support from other vitamins and minerals to round out your brain health essentials. The best one to buy:
Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi with BioGenesis™
Men’s Formula and Women’s Formula. BioGenesis™ nature-identical vitamin and mineral essentials for healthy biological performance*
These customized men’s and women’s multivitamin formulas that support healthy performance across all body systems, including the brain and nervous system.
Like Mind Lab Pro®, Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi features BioGenesis™ nature-identical vitamins in minerals. This advanced nutrient form is lab-grown on cultures, complexed with cofactors, enzymes and probiotics that enhance nutrient bioavailability, giving a boost to its nootropic vitamins and minerals.
Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi combines with Mind Lab Pro® to deliver a well-rounded, highly bioavailable spectrum of BioGenesis™ nootropic vitamins in minerals, including the B-Complex, Magnesium, Zinc, D3, K2 and more.
Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi and Mind Lab Pro® are both Opti-Nutra Quality.
- Elias MF, et al. Homocysteine, Folate, and Vitamins B6 and B12 Blood Levels in Relation to Cognitive Performance: The Maine-Syracuse Study. Psychosomatic Medicine. July-August 2006. Volume 68: Issue 4; p 547-554. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000221380.92521.51
- Lanska, DJ. Historical aspects of the major neurological vitamin deficiency disorders: the water-soluble B vitamins. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. 2009. 95: 445–76. doi:10.1016/S0072-9752(08)02130-1
- Homocysteine Lowering Trialists’ Collaboration. Lowering blood homocysteine with folic acid based supplements: meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ. 1998 Mar 21; 316(7135): 894–898.
- Head KA, Kelly GS. Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review. 2009. Volume 14: Number 2.
- Schafer JH, Glass TA, Bolla KI, Mintz M, Jedlicka AE, Schwartz BS. Homocysteine and cognitive function in a population-based study of older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2005;53(3):381–388.
- Malouf R, Grimley Evans J. The effect of vitamin B6 on cognition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD004393.
- Young S. Folate and depression—a neglected problem. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Mar; 32(2): 80–82.
- Smith AD, Refsum H. Homocysteine, B Vitamins, and Cognitive Impairment. Annu Rev Nutr. 2016 Jul 17;36:211-39
- Nilsson K, et al. Treatment of cobalamin deficiency in dementia, evaluated clinically and with cerebral blood flow measurements. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research. June 2000. Volume 12: Issue 3; pp 199–207
- King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Geesey ME, Woolson RF. Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):166-71.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium; Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, Del Valle HB, editors. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health.
- Soni M, Kos K, Lang IA, Jones K, Melzer D, Llewellyn DJ. Vitamin D and cognitive function. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012;243:79-82. doi: 10.3109/00365513.2012.681969.
- Ferland G. Vitamin K and brain function. Semin Thromb Hemost. 2013 Nov;39(8):849-55. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1357481. Epub 2013 Oct 9.
- Pinero DJ, Connor JR. Iron in the Brain: An Important Contributor in Normal and Diseased States. The Neuroscientist. Sage Journals. Dec 2000. Volume: 6 issue: 6, page(s): 435-453