Like all body systems, the nervous system depends on nutrients you take in as part of food. It's composed of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, made up of all the nerves outside of the central nervous system. In addition to consuming good-quality, healthful foods, taking in certain vitamins is essential for nervous system function.
Biotin helps nervous system function by assisting in the production of cholesterol in the body. While excess levels are harmful, cholesterol is essential for the formation of hormones and cell membranes, and is key in production of myelin, a compound that helps nerve impulses travel quickly. Cholesterol is also essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit nerve impulses. A 2009 study by Iowa State University identified the mechanism for neurotransmitter synthesis from cholesterol, providing further evidence of its role in brain function.
Like biotin, vitamin B6 is essential for the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Serotonin regulates sleep, mood and appetite and dopamine helps control attention and learning. Norepinephrine is a precursor to epinephrine, which regulates heart rate and blood pressure, especially in stressful or fight-or-flight situations. It also assists central nervous system function through energy production and oxygen delivery by red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is essential for energy production, which is required by all cells for the body to function, and is also important for metabolism of other nutrients. Vitamin B12 also serves central nervous system function by playing a part in many chemical reactions in nerve cells. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can damage the protective covering of cranial and spinal nerves, interfering with their function.
Sun exposure stimulates your skin cells to produce vitamin D through a complex series of chemical reactions. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers and psychiatric disorders. A 2009 study by the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center in California concluded that, because of vitamin D deficiency may have a role in development of dementia, the vitamin is critical for cognition, and the authors recommend further study of the role of vitamin D in nervous system function.
- Linus Pauling Institute; Vitamin B12; Victoria J. Drake; August 2007
- "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology"; G. Tortora, et al.; 2005
- Medline Plus; Vitamins; March 2009
- "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences"; A Scissors Mechanism for Stimulation of SNARE-Mediated Lipid Mixing by Cholesterol; J. Tong, et al.; February 2009
- Linus Pauling Institute; Vitamin B6; Victoria J. Drake; November 2007
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