Supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function or mental performance are generally referred as nootropics.
The word nootropic was coined from the Greek words nous (“mind”) and trepein (“to turn”), literally meaning “mind turning”. Let’s see how we can turn our mind toward improved performance.
DON’T FORGET YOUR DAILY MULTI
The energy demands of the brain are high: they account for at least 20% of the body’s energy consumption.57 As one of the most metabolically active organs of our body, the brain demands nutrients to support its essential work. Ensuring our brain’s nutritional needs are filled is an important part of using our mind to its fullest potential.
It may sound surprising, but studies found that a gap exists between vitamin intake and needs for a significant proportion of the population, even in the most affluent countries. In fact, more than 75% of the population do not consume the recommended level of at least one vitamin in Germany, the UK, and the US.5
Although nothing can substitute for a healthy and balanced diet, the daily use of vitamin and mineral supplements may help assure an adequate intake of key nutrients, and provide an insurance policy against nutrient deficiency.
The Journal of the American Medical Association is currently advising all adults to take at least one multivitamin pill each day, to avoid vitamin deficiencies that can lead to chronic disease.6
In addition, there is growing literature to suggest that multivitamin and mineral supplementation may have cognitive and/or mood benefits.1-4
A review of 8 clinical trials found that multiple micronutrient supplementation may reduce the levels of perceived stress, anxiety, fatigue and confusion.1 While, in separate studies, multivitamin/mineral supplements improved mood, increased energy concentrations, neural efficiency., and led to improvements in mathematical processing, multitasking accuracy, and performance speed.2-4
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Over half of the brain’s dry weight is comprised of lipids, and it is especially enriched in omega-3 fatty acids.41-43 Maintaining optimal lipid composition in the brain, and especially DHA levels, is critical for mental and cognitive health, and for healthy aging of the adult brain. Deficits in EPA and DHA levels have been associated with neurological disorders, some neurodegenerative conditions, and is not conducive to optimal cognitive functioning. 44-56
In several clinical and non-clinical trials, adequate supply of EPA and DHA has been found to be beneficial in a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders, as well as in cognitive performance and neural efficiency. 49-56
In a clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, daily supplementation with 1,16 grams of DHA improved memory and the reaction time of memory in healthy, young adults who had habitual low fish consumption (a prime source of DHA).56
BOOST YOUR MENTAL PERFORMANCE WITH CREATINE
Creatine is considered as one of the most effective ergogenic supplements to improve physical performance. But did you know that creatine supplementation may also improve mental performance?
It is known that creatine is involved in neural function and bioenergetics. That’s why its effects on neurological and cognitive function have been extensively investigated. 7-15 It has been found that higher brain creatine is associated with improved neuropsychological performance, and creatine supplementation has been shown to increase brain creatine and phosphocreatine. 15
A controlled trial led by researchers at the University of Sydney found that oral creatine supplementation (5 grams/day for six weeks) improved intelligence test scores, and working memory performance.8
Studies have demonstrated that cognitive processing, that is either experimentally (by sleep deprivation) or naturally (due to aging) impaired, can be improved with creatine supplementation.15
In a study published in Neuroscience Research, creatine supplementation (8 grams/day for 5 days) reduced mental fatigue when subjects repeatedly performed a simple mathematical calculation.9
L-carnitine is one of the most popular supplements for weight loss and fat burning, but carnitine has important roles in cerebral bioenergetics and neuroprotection . Carnitine also, through a variety of mechanisms, plays a role in modulation of neurotransmission, and it has antioxidant properties.
A reasonable amount of studies have examined cognitive effects of carnitine, especially in the form of acetyl-L-carnitine, on mental and cognitive performance. These may include improving memory and learning capacity, as well as slowing down the progression of chronic degenerative diseases of the aging brain.16-24 It has been found especially beneficial for older adults. Studies found that supplementation of carnitine in healthy elderly subjects not only resulted in a reduction of total fat mass and an increase of total muscle mass, it also appeared to exert a favorable effect on fatigue. The subjects also showed increased capacity for physical activity through reduced fatigue, and improved cognitive functions.23, 24
Phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring phospholipid that is a structural part of cell membranes, and found in particularly high concentrations in brain tissue. 25, 26
Phosphatidylserine can be synthesized by the human and obtained from dietary sources, but increased intake through supplementation seems to offer further benefits. Trials with phosphatidylserine have shown improvements in specific memory tasks such as verbal list recall, name-face delayed recall, facial recognition, telephone number recall, and misplaced objects recall. Benefits of phosphatidylserine, however, are not restricted to the middle-aged and elderly. Studies indicate that supplementation might be beneficial for young people as well, especially in high-pressure situations or during periods of increased mental and/or physical stress.25-40
16 clinical trials that investigated phosphatidylserine’s effect on cognition consistently concluded that phosphatidylserine supplementation may provide support for memory, learning, concentration, and behavior.30
In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, phosphatidylserine supplementation for 14 days at a dose of 400 mg per day, reduced the time needed for a correct calculation by 20%, and reduced the total amount of errors by 39% during specific mathematical tests (SST)!28
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