Demands are high in modern workplaces and classrooms today, This puts a lot of pressure on not just us, but our minds. Juggling different projects, making sure not to forget that important appointment, and staying focused on our work instead of the latest cat video on YouTube are all pressures that can affect your brain health.
We’re not quite in the age of sharpening wit medically, just yet. Make no mistake though, brain boosters are a growing area of study. More people than ever are looking to enhance their clarity of thinking, alertness, memory, and even mood through natural brain supplements.
In addition to helping us perform our best mentally, many look to natural brain supplements to help mitigate the effects of many conditions. Conditions ranging from ADHD and other focus issues in youth to Alzheimer’s and depression in the elderly. Several nutrients and herbs are tools that could have the potential to help support brain function.
How Do Brain Supplements Work?
There are many types of brain supplements that can sharpen your mental edge. We call these brain-boosting supplements “nootropics.” They can include herbal extracts, amino acids, experimental drugs and targeted nutrients. These compounds are said to improve improve cognition, focus, and memory recall. Nootropics can help improve brain health for anyone, not just those who struggle with memory or focus issues.
Nootropics can support brain function in a number of different ways. Some work to improve plasticity in the brain. This helps your synapses connect and communicate better. Others focus on changing levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes. All of these have effects both how our brains process information, as well as, our moods and emotions. Some will also try and take the herbal route for brain support, using certain ingredients that have a scientific background in improving brain function.
At Tranquility Labs, we tend to focus on what we can do naturally, working with your body’s natural rhythms. So we won’t recommend more experimental compounds like piracetam, modafinil or noopept. There is just not enough evidence for the long-term safety of these new synthetic nootropics.
All Natural Brain Supplements – The Top 7
Modern life throws a lot at you, from all different directions. Work projects, family demands, the endless buzz of social media uncertainty in the outside world. These pressures can all have a serious impact on your brain health.
Brain health is a growing area of study. More people than ever seek a way to improve their mental clarity, alertness, memory, and even mood. Some of them have found a solution through natural brain supplements. Here are 7 of the most popular:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are one of the most common supplements you will see on many shelves. This is with good reason. These essential fatty acids, found mainly in cold-water fish, are not naturally generated by the body. On top of this, healthy fats like these are missing from many American diets even though they are essential. This includes their role in the brain, where they are naturally highly concentrated and believed to be important for development. Some scientists even believe that reduced intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline or dementia.
In one study, people with depression who took omega-3s along with antidepressants showed better results than those who took antidepressants alone. For children, whose brains are still developing, taking omega-3 heavy supplements or eating omega-3 heavy foods could be especially helpful since being deficient as infants can lead to later issues like mood swings, depression or poor memory.
Ginkgo biloba, one of the oldest living tree species, is also one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the world. Chinese herbal medicine has used it for centuries. In modern times, more and more uses are being discovered. In terms of brain support, the two primary components are flavonoids and terpenoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that help nerves and muscles keep from being damaged. Terpenoids dilate blood vessels. Ginko is believed to be valuable for brain support due to both increasing oxygen flow to the brain and reducing nerve damage. Nerve damage is a major part of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia.
Ginkgo has also been shown to have potential applications for memory support. Some studies show potential applications for improving memory in young people who are already healthy, as well as, potentially helping lower symptoms of those with ADHD.y
The amino acid L-theanine may not be something you have heard of, but it has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. A major reason for this is due to the fact that it can be found in green tea. As a supplement, some say find that it perks up the brain like caffeine without having many of the negative effects caffeine can cause.
In fact, studies have shown that L-theanine can lower the levels of stress hormones called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids disrupt neurotransmitters, like the ones that regulate mood (GABA, serotonin and dopamine). As a result, these stress hormones not only impact mood, but they can also impact memory and learning. Therefore, L-theanine, whether taken as tea or as a supplement, is valuable for all aspects of brain support.y
Nutritional deficiencies are a common side effect of many of today’s diets. The effects extend far beyond your waistline. One example is magnesium, which 3/4 of Americans are not getting enough of. The top dietary sources of magnesium include whole grains, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. The thing about magnesium is that while it often flies under the radar, it is a necessary part of hundreds of different bodily functions. These include the brain and nervous system.
Brain-health related symptoms of magnesium deficiency include confusion, sleep disorders, irritability and anxiety. In some studies, low magnesium has also been correlated with low serotonin levels, a common factor in depression. In addition, magnesium is often needed to get the most out of other common supplements, like calcium. If you are eating magnesium heavy foods but think your levels are low, there are other bad habits that can lower magnesium levels. These include drinking too much coffee, soda, or alcohol or eating too much sodium.y
Just like magnesium, low B vitamin levels are a consequence of many dietary issues. B vitamins are extremely important for brain function. If your levels are low, it may affect your memory and focus. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with symptoms like confusion, memory loss and depression.
15% of seniors have low or borderline B12 levels. Note: you need balanced B vitamin levels, not just one kind. For example, you also need vitamin B6 and B9 to properly absorb B12. In one study, a combination of B12, B6, and folic acid reduced brain atrophy, improved brain function, and dramatically reduced brain shrinkage in the area of the brain most affected in Alzheimer’s.
However, there’s one major thing to point out when it comes to B vitamins. While deficiencies can lead to a number of brain health issues, this doesn’t mean that overloading on it will provide excessive benefits. Ask your healthcare professional if your B vitamin levels are low before choosing to use this particular supplement.
Experts are still trying to find out exactly what is behind many common cognitive diseases and issues like Alzheimer’s. With this said, more and more scientific evidence is coming out. Research is showing that the presence of inflammatories in the brain and body play a role in cognitive diseases. This has led to the discovery of the health benefits of curcumin. Curcumin is a component of the spice turmeric. Turmeric is known for giving Indian curry flavor and its distinctive yellow color.
Curcumin has also been a component of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for quite some time. This is due to the fact that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that can fight free radical cells that can damage other cells. Studies have shown that regions with high turmeric consumption have lower incidences of cognitive diseases. This is believed to be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. On top of its brain benefits, curcumin’s ability to lower inflammation is useful for pain relief and heart health.y
Bacopa Monneiri (Brahmi)
Bacopa may not have the profile of some of the other herbal options on this list, but it has similar effects to ginkgo biloba. This fact has led to it being used in Ayurvedic medicine for quite some time. The major similarity is that they both increase blood flow throughout the body. One study showed a 25% increase in blood flow to the brain in animals who took 60 mg of bacopa daily. The increased blood flow to the brain can manifest in a number of positive ways. A study of elderly subjects who took bacopa showed much higher cognitive functions, including memory and attention, than a placebo group.
Bacopa also has antioxidant properties. Thus supporting a variety of healthy bodily functions including the brain. Other potential applications of bacopa include helping to lower the effects of mental conditions like schizophrenia, as well as, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Which Brain Supplements Do I Choose?
With so many items to choose from, what is the best option for brain support?
Everyone’s body (and brain) is different, therefore, the answer will always be different. One of the best things you can do is visit your medical practitioner and see if you are have any major nutrient deficiencies.
If you do want to go down the supplement route, one of the most popular for those just starting out is a general multivitamin. Many issues with memory and focus stem from overall nutritional deficiencies, as mentioned before. Along with helping in other areas, multivitamins are valuable for brain health. You can also use this same approach with brain support supplements. Choose one that combines many of the ingredients mentioned earlier to cover all your bases.
One example of a supplement that combines some of the most proven ingredients in brain support is Tranquility Labs’ own Focusene. Focusene is a naturally-based nootropic that combines some of the top ingredients on the market for supporting brain function. These include:
- ginkgo biloba,
- Korean red ginseng,
- and acetyl-L-carnitine.
Brain Supplements — In Review
Here are some important things to keep in mind as you navigate the brain supplements landscape:
- You’re going to want to start your search with nootropics. A group of supplements that can range from herbal extracts, amino acids, experimental drugs and targeted nutrients. There are synthetic options, but we don’t recommend them due to a lack of long-term evidence for their success.
- The way that brain supplements work is not to directly make you smarter. Instead, they improve your focus, clarity and memory. Some can also support healthy emotions and mood. They do this by either improving neuroplasticity or changing the levels of hormones, neurotransmitters, or enzymes.
- From herbs to nutrients, there are several popular brain supplements that have plenty of scientific backup. While there is no one top option, your doctor can let you know if nutritional deficiencies are playing a role. If you are unsure, try to start with a multivitamin or nootropic that blends vitamins, nutrients and herbs.
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