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In researching content for The Better Brain Solution, I reviewed over 1,500 scientific articles with a primary focus on nutrients that can protect and hurt your brain. What I discovered was that there are some basic nutrient issues that you should be getting from a multivitamin that can have a big impact on your brain! A good supplement regime should have the following:

  • adequate vitamin D
  • organic copper, not inorganic copper
  • mixed folates, not just folic acid
  • adequate vitamin B12
  • mixed forms of vitamin E, not just alpha-tocopherol
  • adequate magnesium (difficult to get enough in 1-2 multivitamin capsules, so you’ll need another source of magnesium)

To make this user-friendly, I suggest that you pull out your multivitamin supplement(s) and check the label as you review the rest of this blog.

  1. Vitamin D

Most people will need to take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D daily to achieve a good blood level of vitamin D. If your supplement has less, then you’ll likely need to take extra vitamin D. Some people need 3000-5000 IU every day. I recommend that people start by taking  2000 IU daily, and at some point after at least 3-4 months, check their blood level to ensure it is above the minimum target level of 30 ng/mL, and preferably 40-70 ng/mL. Keep in mind that supplement packs may have 1000 IU of vitamin D in the multivitamin and 1000 IU in the fish oil, so when you take the whole pack, you get 2000 IU daily—just right.

  1. Copper

Copper is an essential trace mineral that is critical at low levels for healthy blood cell formation, immune function, and nerve and bone health. However, it is toxic at high levels, especially when present as inorganic copper. Organic forms come from food sources and from supplements that are bound to amino acids (protein bound). Rich food sources of organic copper include nuts, seeds, beans, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables; healthy blood levels can easily be achieved by eating these foods regularly. Inorganic sources of copper come from many cheap vitamin supplements. Only recently has copper emerged as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and the data is startling.

Choose supplements with either no copper or those produced with organic copper. Examples of organic copper supplement ingredients are (the kind you want):

  • Copper glycinate
  • Copper bisglycinate
  • Copper amino acid chelates

Examples of inorganic copper supplements ingredients that you should avoid are:

  • Copper oxide
  • Copper Sulfate (often used as a pesticide, but common in poor quality supplements)
  • Copper carbonate 
  1. Mixed Folates

Folates are B vitamins which help repair DNA through a process called methylation. Low folate levels increase your risk for memory loss, heart disease, and depression. Folates come in many forms and the most active form is 5-methylenetetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). The problem is that up to 40% of people cannot convert basic folic acid (the cheapest form of folate) into biologically active forms of folate. Make sure that your multivitamin has mixed forms of folate with folicin, 5-MTHF, not just folic acid.

  1. Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin)

Vitamin B12 is essential to convert glucose into energy, especially in your brain. The challenge is that as we age, it is often poorly absorbed. Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause permanent brain and nerve injury. Most people need 50-100 mcg daily to meet their B12 needs. And people who take medications for heartburn (super common), drink excessive amounts of alcohol taxing their livers,  or those with gastrointestinal problems may need even higher dosages daily (100 to 500 mcg daily or more). A typical, inexpensive multivitamin may only have 10 mcg of vitamin B12, enough to meet the RDA based on the needs of an 18-year-old in excellent health, but not enough for many people.

  1. Mixed Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps block oxidation (internal rusting). There are several molecular types of vitamin E, tocopherols and tocotrienols, and for each, there are alpha, beta, gamma, and delta forms.  Only 20% of vitamin E in food comes as alpha-tocopherol, yet many supplements rely on this inexpensive form as their only source of vitamin E. The problem is that alpha-tocopherol has been found to lower good HDL-2 cholesterol and thereby may increase arterial plaque growth. In contrast, the gamma and delta tocopherols and tocotrienols improve your cholesterol profile. A multivitamin is required to list the alpha-tocopherol content, but look to confirm that your multivitamin also provides other forms of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, not just alpha-tocopherol.

  1. Magnesium

Magnesium is essential for brain health, blood sugar, and blood pressure control, and is involved in nearly 300 aspects of healthy aging. Yet it is a large molecule; you need at least 400 mg of magnesium daily, and a large magnesium pill with only magnesium likely contains 150-200 mg of magnesium. Ensure you get enough magnesium from food (good sources include: seeds, nuts, oat bran, halibut, quinoa, spinach, and beans) and/or take an additional magnesium supplement that adds up your daily intake to 400 mg.

Bonus Take-Home Point: Protein bound-Minerals

Inexpensive supplement companies bind minerals (think zinc, magnesium, calcium, selenium, etc) to salts. The advantage is that a mineral bound to salt takes up less space and makes for a smaller pill. The downside is that they have less absorption than minerals bound to protein (often only half the absorption) and that minerals bound to salts are much more likely to cause gastrointestinal distress. I frequently hear people taking cheap multivitamins say that they cause stomach pain and bloating. You can identify mineral-salt combos by looking at the ingredient. If they include a mineral (such as zinc or copper) with the following: chloride, carbonate, oxide, or sulfate, then look for another product.  Better products should include a mineral (such as zinc) with malate, glycinate, or a chelated form of protein.

I hope this information on supplements has made it easy for you to protect your brain for now and for decades to come.

For examples of supplements that meet all the suggestions noted above go to https://stevenmasley.ehealthpro.com/login.

New customers can use https://stevenmasley.ehealthpro.com/signup and enter code FIRST20 to receive 20% off your 1st order. 

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS