By Joan Kent

B vitamins play an important role in several brain functions. Below are descriptions of some of those functions and lists of foods that contain the specific vitamin. A deficiency in one B vitamin is possible, but, as a rule, the deficiencies tend to occur in clusters.

You may know that thiamin deficiency leads to beriberi. Thiamin deficiency can change serotonin function. For example, it can increase serotonin in specific brain areas, changing sleep patterns for the worse. Thiamin deficiency may also cause behaviors associated with depression, and has been linked with dysfunction of two other important brain chemicals — dopamine and norepinephrine.

Good sources of thiamin include organ meats, pork, peas, beans, and unrefined grains. Deficiency can be caused by carb-heavy diets of refined foods (sugar, white flour, white rice).

Niacin deficiency results in pellagra, associated with dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia. Niacin can be made from dietary tryptophan, an amino acid. Since protein-containing foods (eggs, meat, poultry, fish) are significant sources of both niacin and tryptophan, a low-protein diet could be a cause of niacin deficiency. Nuts and legumes are other sources of niacin.

Vitamin B6
B6 plays a significant role in protein, carb, and lipid metabolism and the formation of red blood cells. It”™s also critical in brain chemical function.

The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin depends on B6. Low B6 may be involved in low serotonin levels, particularly in women, who have higher turnover rates of brain serotonin than men do.

PMS is associated with lowered serotonin. The most common type of PMS, involves anxiety, irritability and nervous tension. It”™s found in women who consume excessive amounts of refined sugar and dairy products, both poor sources of B6. This type of PMS responds well to B6.

B6 deficiency is associated with psychological distress, depression, fatigue and confusion. Since B6 is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin, lower serotonin due to B6 deficiency is considered a primary factor. Administration of B6 has been shown to decrease psychological distress.

B6 deficiency may also reduce melatonin production because melatonin is synthesized from serotonin. Reduced melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, may disturb sleep patterns.

B6 is also important in the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA and other neurotransmitters. Low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine are associated, respectively, with lack of pleasure (anhedonia) and depression.

B6 deficiency may cause neurological abnormalities in human infants and impaired immune function.

The richest sources of B6 tend to be chicken, fish, kidney, liver, pork, and eggs. Other good sources include lima beans, brown rice, whole grains, soy, peanuts, walnuts, avocados, and vegetables. Processed grains lose considerable B6. Alcohol destroys B6, reducing serotonin.

Folate deficiency occurs often in depression, and folate administration often reverses depressive symptoms. Low folate has been linked with poor response to certain antidepressants (SSRIs).

Good sources of folate are beef, lamb, pork, chicken liver, eggs, salmon, and green leafy vegetables. Alcohol consumption causes folate malabsorption. All folate is lost from refined foods, such as sugars.

As you can see, B vitamins are often found in protein foods, so keeping the protein content of your diet high can help maintain levels of several B vitamins.

Final point: B vitamins are the key players in the only Nutrition Magic I know. If you have a craving — for sugar, white flour, alcohol, nicotine, or almost anything — a teaspoon of liquid B-complex can take it away within minutes. It can truly feel like magic.

Joan Kent

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