Lots of B12 supplements and other products are sold on the premise that they’ll boost your brainpower – perfect for students taking exams, older people with struggling memories or professionals who want an edge in the workplace. But how does vitamin B12 really affect the brain, and can it do everything the marketers promise?
The Effects of B12 Deficiency
One of the main ideas behind the marketing of vitamin B12 as a way to increase mental performance is the fact that one of the most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is the exact opposite. If you’re not getting enough B12, you may well experience:
- Poor memory
- Impaired cognitive function
- Personality changes
…as well as a host of other non-brain-related and unpleasant symptoms.
So clearly B12 deficiency is something you want to avoid if you’re aiming for maximum memory and cognitive ability. If there’s any risk of you being B12 deficient (most common among the over-50s and vegans/vegetarians), then it’s worth taking a B12 supplement to ensure that you always get enough of this vital nutrient.
If you’re already suffering from B12 deficiency, then taking supplements should alleviate your symptoms and help you to recover. This will also increase your mental abilities, but only to the level that they would be at naturally if you’d always had enough B12 in your diet.
The Connection Between Vitamin B12 and Alzheimer’s
I won’t go into detail here, as we’ve written a much more in-depth article on the topic before, but there is some evidence that getting enoughB12 may help to prevent age-related cognitive decline, brain shrinkage and Alzheimer’s disease. Lots more research is needed here, but it’s something to be aware of.
Mental Development in Infants
Some scientific research has found that young children (aged 12-18 months) consistently score lower on mental development charts if they aren’t getting their RDA of vitamin B12. The opposite effect was found with elevated levels of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid in infants – and having elevated levels of these chemicals is normally associated with low levels of B12.
Obviously if you’re looking for a way to help your own brain out, it’s a bit late to find this out. But if you have young children, it’s definitely worth knowing.
Will B12 Instantly Improve My Memory?
Sadly, it doesn’t look likely. There’s no evidence that taking B12 supplements will boost your brainpower, improve your memory or make your exams easier – unless you’re already B12 deficient.
Making sure that you never suffer from B12 deficiency is a good way to ensure that your brain stays in optimum shape, but no matter how much vitamin B12 you take, I’m afraid it’s never going to turn you into Rain Man.
Vitamin B12 Supplements
If you do decide to take B12 supplements to treat or prevent B12 deficiency, we always recommend taking supplements with methylcobalamin as the active ingredient. You can read why on our Methylcobalamin vs Cyanocobalamin page, or see the supplements we recommend on our Recommended B12 Supplements page.
From top to bottom, images are courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Master isolated images, both at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.