The vast world of supplements has catered to women seeking beauty, and athletes pursuing greater performance to name just two, but more recently the supplement market has branched into something called ‘nootropics.’
Nootropics are essentially brain supplements. They come in the forms of natural substances and drugs, and whilst they might not make you a genius overnight they have been found to have beneficial effects on the brains of healthy people.
Let’s take a look at the creme-de-la-creme of available supplements for brain health and what these nootropics purportedly do.
Reasons to Take Nootropics
As a general statement, nootropics are used to optimize human cognition processes. The tablet to skyrocket average human intelligence to the level of absolute genius is still the work of science fiction, but here are some of the cognitive benefits of taking brain health supplements:
- Improved memory
- Increased alertness
- Faster reaction times
- Improved focus
- Increased creativity
- Better sleep
- Adaptogenic (helps the body to manage and adapt to stress)
- Reduce the age-related decline of brain function
If that reads like a list of things that you’ve wanted at some point in your life, then perhaps its time to take a closer look at brain supplements.
Top 10 Brain Supplements
When it comes to choosing the right brain supplement for you, the choices can be overwhelming. A number of manufacturers combine different nootropic ingredients to create a proprietary blend like the one found in supplements such as Neuronol.
These all-in-one supplements are great if you know what you’re looking for, so let’s break down the top ten ingredients you might find (and want to find) in a brain health supplement:
Alpha-GPC is a synthetic form of the nutrient choline. Choline plays an important role in brain development including the formation of brain cells and neurotransmitters.
Choline eventually synthesizes into acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is vital for learning and memory. Deficiencies have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease
Alpha-GPC helps the body move choline to the brain where it is best put to use. As well as acetylcholine, Alpha-GPC also helps to increase levels of other neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.
Alpha-GPC is prescribed in Europe for Alzheimer’s. It is also widely used as a supplement since studies have shown that it improves memory, attention span and can help keep age-related mental decline at bay.
Citicoline has only just started finding its way into nootropic supplements, but it might be one of the best brain supplements available. It is a naturally occurring compound that appears in every single cell of the human body. Its role is to assist in the building of healthy brain-cell membranes.
Just like Choline, Citicoline also raises levels of acetylcholine and dopamine. In addition to this, it can also reduce the harm caused by free radicals and inflammation, which are two major causes of brain-aging including memory loss.
A large number of over-the-counter drugs are anticholinergic. This means that they actually block the function of acetylcholine. Citicoline is highly recommended for anyone who frequently takes anticholinergic drugs. As a general rule, any drugs that start with “anti” are likely to lower your acetylcholine level.
3. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is derived from the leaves of the Ginkgo Biloba tree and is one of the more popular supplements for brain health. It is a known antioxidant and has been found to increase blood flow to the brain.
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of Ginkgo Biloba, however, a number of small studies have found that it can have positive effects in reducing the symptoms of age-related cognitive deterioration.
It is generally thought to be reliable in improving short term memory in seniors. Ginkgo Biloba has also been used to treat anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol levels.
DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is a substance naturally produced in small amounts in the brain. It’s also found in small fish such as sardines and anchovies. Initial research suggested that DMAE can improve memory by increasing levels of acetylcholine.
Some individuals have reported that DMAE supplementation can have a positive effect on concentration levels. DMAE users also routinely report better memory (especially short-term memory), as well as mental clarity, sleep patterns, and improved focus.
Whilst the scientific jury is still out on just how effective DMAE might be, it could be the perfect supplement for people in high-stress environments.
Resveratol has been found to protect against deterioration of the hippocampus, the part of the brain primarily involved with the storing of long-term memories.
Studies with humans have used much higher amounts of resveratrol than you would naturally obtain from food. One cup of red grapes will provide an average of 0.75mg of resveratrol, whereas studies have been conducted with 200mg.
You’re more likely to have heard creatine mentioned around the gym. It’s frequently used to increase strength and boost recovery amongst weightlifters and athletes. It is naturally found as phosphocreatine in the muscles and in smaller amounts in the brain.
Creatine is naturally found in animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs, so it will come as no surprise that vegetarians and vegan tend to be lacking in it. You get about 3-5g of creatine per kilogram of meat and fish, whilst eggs and dairy products contain much less.
The daily recommended dose is 5 grams, so unless you’re eating a lot of meat you probably want to supplement. Creatine is responsible for the formation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) a molecule necessary for energy and all basic life functions. Without creatine, the body can’t produce ATP.
Supplementation of creatine can significantly help boost memory, especially amongst non-meat eaters. It has also been found to help improve memory and recall skills when taken by older individuals.
7. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy that dates back as far as the 6th century A.D. As legend has it, Bacopa was used by ancient scholars to help them memorize lengthy scriptures. It has been used to improve memory, learning, and concentration, as well as reducing anxiety and treating epilepsy.
Bacopa is an antioxidant so it protects the brain from deterioration and harm from free-radicals. It also increases cerebral blood flow, delivering more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose to the brain.
A 2002 study tested the positive effects of Bacopa Monnieri on the brain in a double-blind randomized, placebo-control study. The results showed that there was no significant effect on learning between the bacopa group and the placebo group, but it did have a positive effect on the ability to retain new information.
Bacopa is alsoconsidered adaptogenic, meaning it has the ability to lower stress and increase energy levels without having a stimulating sedative effect. It does this by balancing the levels of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, GABA, and serotonin, while reducing cortisol levels.
As well as being an excellent brain supplement for short-term memory, Bacopa Monnieri might also be great for alleviating stress.
ALC helps to minimize cellular leftovers during the formation of adenosine triphosphate (a compound that provides energy to drive a number of processes within living cells). This residual cellular waste from this process can damage mitochondria. Over time this damage can accumulate, eventually leading to cognitive decline.
Numerous studies have been done on acetyl-L-carnitine supporting its effectiveness as a nootropic. It is a powerful antioxidant, protecting the brain from free-radical damage. It also increases neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and serotonin.
Acetyl-L-carnitine can only really be sourced from red meat, making it a supplement must for anyone with a vegetarian or pescatarian diet.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the omega-3 essential fatty acids that could quite easily be the most significant nootropic on this list. Deficiencies in Omega-3s are widespread across westernized countries such as Northern America and the UK.
DHA is naturally sourced from wild-caught, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna. It can also be found in smaller quantities in other foods such as eggs, chia and flax seeds, and walnuts. Lack of DHA, as well as other omega-3 fatty acids, can contribute to diet-related illnesses.
Whilst all Omega-3 fats are incredibly important for your health, DHA is the most important one for your brain. It is a major building block of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, and the largest site of neural integration in the central nervous system.
The cerebral cortex is responsible for memory, perception, sensation, association, voluntary physical action, and thought. You can think of it as the body’s thought and control center.
DHA helps to maintain the structure and function of your brain, accounting for around 25% of the total fat, and 90% of the omega-3 fat, found in brain cells. As a result of this, low DHA levels are linked to a measurable decrease in brain volume as well as depression, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders.
Supplementation of DHA has been found to improve memory and reaction times as well as helping to alleviate symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, attention deficit disorder, and depression.
Taurine is synthesized in the brain and liver, but some people can not make it, so it must be sourced from their diet.
Taurine supplementation can help to alleviate age-related memory loss and impairment of learning functions. Recent studies have also suggested that taurine can protect the brain, preventing some of the cognitive changes associated with environmental toxins.
The best natural sources of taurine are seafood and poultry, but it can also be found in other meat and dairy. It’s also found in breast milk. Because it is critical for brain and eye development in newborns it is also added to infant milk formula. The only known vegetable to contain taurine is nori, the sea vegetable used to wrap sushi.
Other than getting taurine directly from food, the human body can also make it from the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine can be found in animal products, lentils, asparagus, oat bran, and mustard greens
Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of taurine deficiency, as are diabetics, Parkinson’s patients, and anyone suffering from chronic heart, liver, or kidney disease.
Taurine promotes the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for storing long-term memories. Taurine can also stimulate the formation of GABA in the brain, making it an excellent supplement choice for anyone who has difficulty concentrating, retaining information, anxiety, or sleep problems.
One Bonus Brain Health Supplement
These brain supplements can all have a positive effect on your cognitive health, especially your memory, but there is one thing you shouldn’t neglect if you’re looking to improve or maintain your brain health.
That is exercise. Regular physical exercise when paired with a nutrient-rich diet has been shown to prevent cognitive decline and help keep the brain functioning at optimum levels. ‘Healthy body, healthy mind’ as they say.
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