Vitamin D and B3 may be essential to help lower the risk of cognitive decline

Can Vitamins Prevent Dementia?

Can Vitamins Prevent Dementia?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Life is a journey of ups and downs. And as we experience each challenge, accomplishment, tragedy and thrill, our brains string together precious memories. Of course, we're also collecting them as we enjoy the little things: sharing a meal with loved ones, playing with grandchildren, a cuddle with that fluffy pooch, laughing with friends. Indeed, these may be the moments we treasure most.

Safeguarding this quilt of memories woven by our life's path should be a top priority, especially as we age. And according to two recent studies, two crucial nutrients can help us be proactive about maintaining cognitive function: nicotinamide riboside (a form of B3) and vitamin D. A study published in Aging Cell found that nicotinamide riboside can help prevent changes in energy metabolism in the brain, which are associated with Alzheimer's and dementia. The second study, published in Alzheimer's and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, found that exposure to D vitamins was associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

What is dementia?

Age-related cognitive decline is the natural waning of our capabilities to process and learn new things, and recall precious memories or complex information, facts, etc.—it happens to all of us as we get older.

On the other hand, dementia is an umbrella term that refers to debilitating changes that occur in the brain. Symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline become so severe that they impact social and occupational function, and people who experience symptoms cannot care for themselves. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of this degenerative disease.

Unfortunately, this degenerative disease is common. According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people live with dementia worldwide.

Are mild cognitive impairment and dementia the same?

No. Mild cognitive impairment is the next step to age-related cognitive decline, the normal decline in cognition that comes with age. Mild cognitive impairment refers to a more significant impairment than is expected for someone's age. However, symptoms don't interfere with day-to-day activities and the person can still care for themselves, unlike people with a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's. This condition may progress to dementia, but that's generally not the case.

How vitamin B3 and vitamin D protect against dementia

According to these studies, the brain is supported by nicotinamide riboside (B3) and vitamin D in different ways.

  • Vitamin B3:

    Nicotinamide riboside (a form of B3) is converted to NAD+, a coenzyme that regulates energy metabolism. Levels of this crucial coenzyme decline as we age. And age-related cognitive impairment is partly associated with changes in the biological pathways involved in energy production in the brain and have been linked to dementia.
  • Vitamin D:

    The sunshine vitamin's role in cognitive health is still unclear, but there's an association between vitamin D deficiency and dementia incidence. Some research suggests that vitamin D confers protective effects in the brain, including the clearance of beta-amyloid proteins that clump together, forming plaques that disrupt healthy communication between brain cells and is a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease.

Vitamin B3 and dementia prevention

The researchers of the first study, published in Aging Cell, performed a six-week, placebo-control crossover trial, in which 22 healthy older adults were given a placebo or a 500 mg oral nicotinamide riboside (B3) twice a day. The results showed that nicotinamide riboside crossed the blood-brain barrier and increased levels of NAD+ in neurons. Nicotine riboside also regulated levels of different enzymes that are involved in insulin resistance and neuroinflammation. The results suggest that this form of vitamin B3 could help support healthy NAD+ levels in the brain, potentially reducing the risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

"These findings support the ability of orally administered NR to augment neuronal NAD+ levels and modify biomarkers related to neurodegenerative pathology in humans," wrote the authors of the study.

It may not be surprising that energy metabolism is so crucial to brain health—after all, though only about three pounds, your brain consumes about 20 percent of your daily energy. That translates to a need for exuberant amounts of cellular energy. To make all that energy available to your brain—as you meet deadlines, cook dinner, help your kids with their homework, or play with your dog—your mitochondria, tiny rechargeable power packs in your cells, are constantly working to produce ATP to power your brain cells (and the rest of you).

Alzheimer's & vitamin D intake

The second publication was a prospective study in which 12,388 dementia-free participants, averaging 71 years of age, were followed for over 10 years. The researchers of the study compared participants who had exposure to supplemental D vitamins (D+) vs. those with no exposure (D-). The 10-year follow-up showed that the D+ group (who took D vitamins in addition to diet) remained dementia-free for significantly longer—and had a 40 percent overall lower incidence of dementia—than the D- group (no exposure to vitamin D). The results also showed that women saw more benefits than men.

Keep in mind the results show an association between vitamin D levels and dementia; it does not prove causation. More research is needed to confirm vitamin D's direct benefits on cognitive health. One thing is certain, low levels of either vitamin can have a negative impact on cognitive well-being.

Can vitamins help with dementia?

Absolutely! Your brain (and body) needs healthy levels of several nutrients to thrive. In addition to vitamins B3 and D, there are other vitamins that are terrific for maintaining a healthy and sharp brain.

  • B vitamins:

    Getting all the "B's" your brain needs is necessary to support cognitive health. Those include folate (in the form of folic acid or methyl folate), B-12 and B6. These nutrients work to lower homocysteine levels, a biomarker of neuroinflammation, which may ultimately help support cognitive health and function.
  • Vitamin C:

    The brain uses ascorbic acid to modulate the release and reuptake of neurotransmitters, and it also acts as a cofactor to produce brain chemicals.
  • Vitamin E:

    Some research suggests that since vitamin E helps protect against oxidative stress, this may, in turn, support cognition and memory.
  • High-quality multivitamin:

    Adding a high-dose multivitamin can offer a broad spectrum of daily vitamins and minerals that can help improve cognition in older adults.

Best nutrients to help prevent dementia

In addition to vitamins, you can also incorporate other nutrients into your brain-friendly routine—completing your nutritional arsenal to help slow and potentially prevent cognitive decline.

Here are five well-known nutrients that can help reduce dementia risk, and even help prevent mild cognitive impairment from progressing to more severe degeneration like Alzheimer's:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids:

    Taking omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to protect brain cells from oxidative stress and confer anti-inflammatory benefits to support brain health and function.
  • Ginkgo biloba:

    Native to China, ginkgo biloba is packed with active compounds known to help maintain long-term memory and cognition.
  • Huperzine A:

    Also known as Chinese club moss, Huperzine A has been found to help improve cognitive function in people with vascular dementia.
  • Polyphenols:

    Polyphenols and flavonoids are plant compounds that are a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They are packed with antioxidants that confer protective effects and may help prevent cognitive decline.

Probiotics: Your gut and brain are intimately linked. Adding probiotic-rich foods like plain Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled onions, or kimchi promotes a healthy gut microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that reside in your gut), supporting both digestive health and cognitive well-being.

Summary: Nutrition and Brain Health

Let's recap: Proper nutrition is essential for a long, healthy and fulfilling life. According to two recent studies, two nutrients deserve the spotlight when it comes to maintaining cognitive function and well-being: vitamins B3 and D. The first study found that nicotinamide riboside (a form of B3) helps increase NAD+ levels, an enzyme crucial for healthy energy production. Meanwhile, the second study found that exposure to any vitamin D form was associated with a lower dementia incidence. Ensuring your body has sufficient levels of these crucial players in cognitive function is only part of the brain health puzzle. Eating balanced meals that include nutrient-rich foods, getting regular exercise, prioritizing restful sleep and managing stress are the corners stones of a youthful, healthy mind—at any age.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.