Cognitive & Mental Enhancement – Nootropics

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Good, on-going clinical research suggests that DHA – a specific omega3 fatty acid – is one of the best researched of a raft of nutrients and botanicals that also include alpha lipoic acid, huperzine A, vinpocetine, astaxanthin, bacopa, citicoline and others. What these all have in common are neuroprotective effects and work to support mental energy, focus, vigilance and memory. In fact, there is a new term used to define this new class of “smart drugs/supplements” designed to improve cognitive function – particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, and motivation and willpower. The new term is known as “nootropics”.

The term “nootropic” was coined by Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist, in 1972, to define “Nootropic properties” aka brain enhancement. This concept has been around and observed for centuries in naturally occurring chemicals like caffeine.

Effects of nootropics vary. Some stimulate, providing focus and energy, and some may improve certain elements of cognition yielding any of the following benefits including improvement of executive functions, memory, creativity, and focus.

It is generally accepted that aging and memory loss go together, but it’s also known that there are ways of keeping our aging brains sharp. Staying active both mentally and physically can help prevent memory loss. Gingko Biloba may spring to mind when thinking of an herb with memory- boosting effects. However, where gingko shows some effectiveness in the treatment of dementia (multi-infarct and Alzheimer’s type), it appears to have only weak potency in improving the memory of healthy patients.

Two of my favourite nootropic herbs are Bacopa monnieri and Vinpocetine.

One study done on bacopa, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, included 98 healthy people over 55 years old. They were randomly assigned to receive either 300 mg of Bacopa monnieri extract per day or placebo for twelve weeks. Memory and learning tests done at the beginning and end of the trial included tasks such as remembering lists of words, recreating complicated geometric shapes from memory, and following letter and number patterns. Participants also answered questions about recent memory changes. The authors of the study concluded that bacopa significantly improves memory acquisition and retention in older Australians.

Vinpocetine is an extract of the periwinkle plant that has also been shown to significantly increase memory and focus. It is a derivative of vincamine, a vinca alkaloid isolated from the leaves of periwinkle (Vinca minor), vinpocetine is best known for its neuroprotective effects. It is traditionally used to maintain and improve brain health, cognition and memory. Many of the substances that can increase blood flow in the body cannot get past the blood brain barrier. Vinpocetine is an exception, and can therefore deliver more precious oxygen, glucose and nutrients to our brains. A study in fifteen subjects found a two-week vinpocetine trial enhanced cerebral blood flow, and recent studies using Doppler ultrasound and near-infrared spectroscopy showed enhanced cerebral blood flow in subjects given a single infusion of vinpocetine. It has been studied for its potential to improve attention and alertness, and it may have a positive effect on a damaged brain and on those people who have suffered a stroke. An analysis of six randomized, controlled trials involving 731 subjects showed vinpocetine supplementation supported cognitive function. And, where your eyes are extensions of your brain, it is important to note that some fairly well-designed studies show that vinpocetine can also help with poor night vision, glaucoma or macular degeneration. Vinpocetine helps drive production of ATP, our body’s energy currency.

Who couldn’t use a bit more brain energy?

But hold on… I’m saving the best for last.

Energy is the life force. We all want more of it – especially mental energy!

The reality is that we need more of it to keep up with the demands of everyday life. We strive to be focused and improve productivity, while performing better, faster, stronger, and working longer days.

Before I tell you about my favourite nootropic, we need to redefine energy. A calm, focused and alert attention is the type of mental energy we all desire more of. We want energy that makes us more efficient, but not frazzled and distracted.

For many sugar, caffeine and energy drinks offer a quick fix, but these are stimulants, not real energy.

In fact, think about it for a moment. How did caffeine even become associated with the meaning of energy!? Sure it gives you a jolt first thing in the morning, but not the long lasting effect we need.

Caffeine in moderation is ok, that’s about 2-3 coffees a day. But beyond that could be dangerous. Causing symptoms such as heartburn and trouble falling asleep, anxiety, panic attacks and may in the long term, impair learning and memory.

And this goes for energy drinks. It has become clear to us that many of us are addicted.

Why? Because, according to scientists, it turns out that caffeine has many of the same addictive properties as morphine, heroin, and even cocaine.

Here’s how this works. We all run on rechargeable batteries called the adrenal glands. They sit on top of your kidneys and are in charge of the basic alert response.

If you feel stress, your adrenal glands activate by pumping out adrenaline. This makes you more alert, stronger, faster, and even more productive for the short term. Your heart beats faster, you’re sweating. You are ready for “fight or flight”.

To balance you out, your body creates Noradrenaline. It is known as the “Happy Hormone” messenger. It signals to us that everything is going to be fine.

After abusing caffeine, energy drinks or any form of stimulants for too long – you throw yourself out of balance. And in effect become noradrenaline deficient.

This is the one of most common reasons patients arrive at my clinic doorstep.

They’re burnt out and looking for a better solution.

L-theanine is the nootropic solution for this situation. It improves your focus, returning you to a more balanced and clearer you.

Research done using a specific type of L-Theanine called “Suntheanine” – which comes from a fermentation process – is the one proven to give you that calming and focus enhancing effect. Keep in mind L-Theanine is naturally found in tea, but to achieve the nootropic effect, you need to supplement with it in capsule some.

My bottom line? Keep caffeine intake at or less than a moderate 2-300mg daily? Look for beverages and supplements that contain the Suntheanine form of L-Theanine

Human clinical trials have shown suntheanine to promote calm, alert, focused state without drowsiness.

Consider a nootropic to break through the fatigue, dust off the mental clutter, and sharpen your mind!

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