The nervous system is composed of a network of organs and interconnected pathways traveling throughout your body and working to together to control and communicate bodily functions. Your brain and spinal cord, the main control centers, make up the central nervous system, and connecting nerve processes form the peripheral and autonomic nervous systems. The B group of vitamins plays a significant role in maintaining nervous system functions throughout your lifespan.
Eight specific vitamins form the B-group. Together they perform a variety of nervous system functions including the metabolism of nutrients from food for use as energy, in the formation of red blood cells and acting as coenzymes to synthesize neurotransmitters, or brain chemical messengers. Individually, each B vitamin also serves a specific purpose in the nervous system that is generally subtle unless you experience a deficiency of the specific nutrient. The B-vitamins are referred to either by number or compound name and include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, cobalamins and folate.
Thiamine, Riboflavin and Niacin
Thiamine, or vitamin B-1, plays a significant role in your cognitive functions. In the brain thiamine is required by nerve cells, or neurons, and supporting nervous system cells, or glia cells, to create neurotransmitters responsible for thoughts, memory and movement. Thiamine deficiency can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which more commonly occurs in malnourished chronic alcoholics. Riboflavin aids in the proper metabolism of iron, a mineral needed for blood cell formation. Niacin is important for the synthesis of the amino acid tryptophan, which plays a role in tissue building and repair. Deficiency of niacin can lead to neurological impairments like dementia, disorientation and altered mood states.
Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine and Biotin
Pantothenic acid is used in your cells and it acts as a coenzyme for the synthesis of the hormone melatonin, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Pyridoxine and its derivatives, or vitamin B-6, acts as a catalyst in over 100 biochemical reactions in your nervous system. It is required for the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter important for mood and appetite. Biotin also acts as a coenzyme for synthesizing neurotransmitters involved in perceptual orientation, mood and extremity sensing processes.
Folate and Cobalamins
Folate is essential in the formation of the central nervous system in utero. Deficiency in pregnancy increases the risk of fetal abnormalities and neural tube defects like spina bifida. Throughout life folate remains important for sustaining blood cells division and in the prevention of anemia. The cobalamins, or vitamin B-12, is the largest and most complex B-vitamin structure and it is necessary for neurological functions, maintaining cardiovascular health and regulating the cranial, spinal and peripheral nerves. All of the B-vitamins are water-soluble and must be replaced daily but vitamin B-12 is unique because your body actually stores years worth making deficiency rare. However, lack of vitamin B-12 increases your risk of dementia.