Updated 18 May 2016

What are neurotropic vitamins and why do we need them?

Neurotropic vitamins, such as the B vitamins but also vitamins D and E, are vitally important for the health of our nervous system. In fact, diet is as important to psychiatry as cardiology.


Short of having a brain transplant, most of us like the idea of smart vitamins that could magically boost our brainpower or rev up our nervous system.

Neurotropic vitamins is a fancy term for biological or chemical agents that combine specific vitamins such as B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin) as well as vitamins D and E.

They claim to nourish and revitalise the nerves and nervous system.

It’s true that several vitamins have been associated with neurological functioning, confirms medical physiologist at Stellenbosch University Dr Derick van Vuuren.

“Deficiency in some of these vitamins has been associated with neurological abnormalities and dysfunction, hence the conclusion that they contribute to normal neurological development and functioning,” he comments.

Dr van Vuuren says multivitamins (especially the B vitamins) are promoted as having beneficial effects on the nervous system.

However, while the name “neurotropic” might make people believe that these vitamins are solely involved in the nervous system, this is not true.

“Several different types of vitamins are important in widely different functions and normal chemical reactions like amino acid metabolism, energy metabolism and normal cell division.

Vitamins are molecules your body cannot produce but are essential for your whole body, not just for your brain,” he explains.

Neurotropic vitamins, says, usually combine variants of Vitamin B (i.e. Vitamin B Complex).

They mainly consist of B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B6 (Pyridoxine), B12 (Cyanacobalamin), B3 (Nicotinamide) and B5 (D-Panthenol).

Read: Foods that make your brain function optimally  

These are essential in central nerve cell metabolism and help to maintain structural and functional properties of the nervous system.
Your brain works hard 24/7 even while you’re asleep, comments Dr Eva Selhub, contributing editor of the Harvard health blog.It sorts your movements, thoughts, senses, heartbeat and breathing, so it makes sense that it requires a constant supply of fuel.

For many years, the medical profession has not fully acknowledged the connection between mood and food. But that has changed with an emerging new field called nutritional psychiatry.

Many nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D and amino acids. So says Dr Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne and a member of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR).

In an article published in 2015 in The Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Sarris says ‘although the determinants of mental health are complex, compelling evidence shows that nutrition is a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders. ‘

“Diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”

Read: Your diet and your nervous system

He adds while he prefers people to consume these nutrients in their diet where possible, their ‘additional use as nutraceuticals (nutrient supplements) may also be justified.’

So are South Africans rushing out to buy these smart vitamins?

Well, according to Pretoria pharmacist Gert Venter, Manager of Arrie Nel Serene Pharmacy, they ‘don’t seem to be that popular at the moment.’

He says vitamin B complex tablets are still freely available over the counter. However, all injectable forms of Vitamin B12 have now been ‘reclassified as a Schedule 3 medicine, only available on a doctor’s prescription.’

The Medicines Control Council (MCC) notified pharmacists in 2014 of the schedule change to injectable forms of Vitamin B12. This includes the neurotropic Neurobian, which contains much higher levels of B12 as well as B1 and B6.

“This rescheduling was made because of concern that if a person has excessive amounts of  B12, it can mask an iron deficiency and cause nerve damage,” Mr Venter comments.

What is in those brain-boosting B vitamins?

Vitamins B1, B6 and B12 each play many different roles including supporting your metabolism and helping to produce essential neurotransmitters and red blood cells. Whether you take a good Vitamin B complex supplement or eat foods containing them, your body needs a regular supply of all three vitamins.  

Those who are at risk of vitamin B deficiency, like over-55s, vegetarians, diabetics and pre-diabetics, would certainly benefit from taking neurotropic vitamins. 

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps your body convert food into energy, while your brain needs it to metabolise glucose and it is necessary for proper nerve functioning. Women need 1.1mg and men should get 1.2mg of B1 daily.

Vitamin B6 actives enzymes are in charge of producing energy, neurotransmitters as well as red and white blood cells that support your immune system. Make sure that you have 1.3mg of B6 every day.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) helps make neurotransmitters, haemoglobin and DNA, while also keeping nerve cells and red blood cells healthy. The recommended daily intake for B12 is 2.4 micrograms for both men and women. 783  

Read more:

Why vitamin B is so important for a healthy nervous system

4 vitamins and nutrients no woman should live without

Could Vitamin B deficiency be getting on your nerves?

Image: from iStock




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