What Vitamin Deficiency Causes Memory Loss?

A healthy diet is important for keeping you energized physically, but poor nutrition habits also link to neurological, or brain, problems like memory loss. Small amounts of essential vitamins found in your daily diet supply you with the functional nutrients you need to maintain brain and body health. Extreme vitamin deficiencies, however, underlie memory complications associated with medical conditions like dementia and alcoholic brain disease.

Vitamin deficiency from poor nutrient absorption can cause memory loss in the elderly. Credit: Nayomiee/iStock/Getty Images

Essential Vitamins

Thirteen vitamins are essential to your diet, which means your body needs them to function properly. Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins that store in your fat cells. Vitamin C and the remaining eight B vitamins are water-soluble; Your body uses what is needed and eliminates the excess in your urine daily. For the most part, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and lean protein is enough for you to get your daily vitamin needs met. However, the normal process of aging, malnourishment or extenuating circumstances like conditions that cause malabsorption of nutrients can hinder how your body absorbs and uses these vitamins, leading to deficiency. The vitamin deficiency most commonly associated with memory loss is vitamin B-1, or thiamine, although other B vitamins and vitamin D deficiency might be linked to memory loss associated with alcoholism, dementia, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Thiamine Deficiency

Thiamine, like the other B vitamins, is an important nutrient for metabolizing food into energy and protecting various nervous system functions. High concentrations of thiamine reside in your brain and aid in the proper functioning of enzymes needed to produce neurotransmitters for thought, movement, mood and memory. Although thiamine is readily found in foods like chicken, whole grains, nuts and beans, a diet excluding these foods increases your risk of deficiency. However, excess consumption of alcohol can hinder the absorption of thiamine and also cause deficiency. Severe thiamine deficiency results in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by symptoms of confusion, short-term and long-term memory loss. The daily recommended intake of thiamine for adults is 1.1 to 1.2 mg.

Vitamins B-3, B-6, B-9 and B-12

The B vitamins each have chemical tasks to fulfill in your body, but as a whole some of the vitamins cannot complete vital processes without the presence of other B vitamins. For instance, vitamin B-3, which is important in digestive metabolism, relies on adequate levels of vitamin B-6 to carry out its metabolic processes. Similarly, vitamins B-6, B-9 and B-12 work together to regulate the amino acid homocysteine in your blood so that it is not produced in excess. Deficiency in any of these vitamins increases the risk of high levels of homocysteine, which is linked to early onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, notes the Linus Pauling Institute. Foods containing these B vitamins include whole grains, potatoes, nuts, poultry and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Preliminary research by the National Institutes of Health and University of Exeter as reported by the online publication "Scientific American" indicates that vitamin D deficiency might link to cognitive decline in the form of dementia. Vitamin D is most commonly associated with bone health, but the University of Exeter study concluded that over half of the study participants with dementia also were vitamin D deficient. These results are significant since vitamin D is not easily obtained from food sources, but research is ongoing to find the exact link between vitamin D deficiency and cognitive decline. You can get vitamin D from direct sunlight exposure to your skin but this comes with the risk of skin cancer. The adequate intake of vitamin D is 400 to 600 IU per day. Fortified dairy and fish contain this vitamin.

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