In the pursuit of productivity, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are hacking their brains with a list of nootropics to optimize cognition and give them an edge on work and life.
In the rat race, you’re allotted 24 hours in a day. How you use that time can make the difference between choosing a life of mediocrity or blossoming into a Purple Cow.
Maybe you’re not destined to manifest the technology of tomorrow, yet chances are you’re caught in perpetual state of catch up while getting 40 percent less the recommended sleep.
What if you could naturally get a boost and upgrade your noggin’s performance with a quick intake of healthy nootropics?
Think Eddie Morra in the movie Limitless. One pill a day took him from struggling writer into millionaire financial wiz in a matter of weeks.
Nootropics are defined as any type of compound or food with the ability to improve your mental abilities, including memory, focus, motivation, and even mood.
“Some are chemical compounds and others are vitamins with an added molecule that lets it cross the blood brain barrier. All of this while limiting the need for sleep,” says Bill Kalatsky, chiropractor and author of the upcoming Nootropic guide Get Smart.
“What was this drug? I couldn’t stay messy on it … So abstemious and tidy. What was this? A drug for people who wanted to be more anal retentive. I wasn’t high. I wasn’t wired. Just clear. I knew what I needed to do and how to do it,” Morra says after experiencing the benefits of this wonder pill.
Although the miracle pill NZT-48 is fictitious, the idea behind the nootropic pill is real and redefines life. And it’s catching on in popularity; on average, 90,000 Google searches are done monthly for “nootropics”.
Calm And Clear Skies
The term ‘nootropics’ was established in 1972 when Dr. Corneliu Giurgea began tests on piracetam, a synthetic nootropic. The goal was to find a cure for motion sickness. Upon his discovery, he used the Greek combination of “nous” meaning mind and “tropo” meaning to bend or change to create the term.
Although synthetic variations of nootropics exist, we’ve compiled a top ten list of nootropics to hack your life naturally.
Acetylcholine ack choline is a premier nootropic for supporting and boosting brain activity. As a water soluble micronutrient grouped with the vitamin B complex family, choline travels freely throughout the body and most importantly resides in the brain. Choline promotes healthy skin and hair, and prevents memory loss.
Choline is as a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is essential in boosting short-term memory, focus, and learning ability. As we age, the amount of acetylcholine in the brain decreases, and according to research, this impacts short term memory and is a cause for Alzheimer’s.
Although choline is naturally synthesized in the liver from our diets, our bodies don’t produce enough to meet even the recommended dosage of 250mg to 500mg. Vegans and vegetarians have a difficult time producing choline, since it is typically found in meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Lack of acetylcholine can cause brain fog, learning stagnation, and scattered focus. As a nootropic, choline supplementation provides the body with readily available amounts of acetylcholine to provide energy and mental clarity throughout the day.
Found almost exclusively in green and black tea, L-Theanine is an essential amino acid made from the Camellia sinensis plant. As an all-natural nootropic it works to support brain clarity.
Originally prescribed only to individuals who suffer from memory loss diseases, L-theanine is kind and effective in helping to get you to Zen. Theanine has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, offering rapid absorption for enhanced neurotransmitter function.
Studies have shown that taking L-theanine affects the emission of alpha waves, and the levels of dopamine and GABA in the brain. All three support focus, relaxation, improved memory, and improved learning. Research indicates that L-theanine also supports gamma delta T-cell production, enhancing immune response and playing a role in cancer cell prevention.
When paired with caffeine, L-theanine neutralizes the “crash” and works cohesively to provide a boost in clarity, focus, and energy that caffeine naturally provides.
3. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba has been a part of ancient Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Sourced from the Ginkgo tree, which in some areas lives for over 1000 years, this herb has been treated as a health tonic to support mental clarity, improve circulation, and boost libido.
Ginko is rich with ginkgo flavone glycosides and terpene lactones. The glycosides are antioxidants that travel throughout the body to destroy free radicals that can impair circulation, damage organs, and inhibit cell formation. Lactones, however, offer anti-bacterial support to rid the body off foreign invaders.
As a nootropic, ginkgo biloba helps support memory recall and clearer and faster memory.
The free radicals that impair circulation are destroyed, allowing for increased and improved blood circulation. This provides oxygen and nutrients readily throughout the body. Muscles become more responsive, muscle cramping and pain is reduced, and energy is enhanced. Increased oxygen to the brain improves efficiency and clarity.
Ginko also works as a precursor for serotonin and acetylcholine. Increased serotonin secretion supports mood and limits anxiety. Acetylcholine boosts short-term memory, focus, and learning ability. With the natural monoamine oxide inhibitor present, there is a balance between all neurotransmitters to prevent over secretion and undesired reaction when “fight or flight” naturally occurs. This allows for more clarity and control in decision making.
4. Krill Oil
Krill oil is derived from the tiny shrimp-like crustacean native to the Antarctic and North Pacific Oceans. Fish oil was once a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, but krill oil has begun to slowly take its place as a healthier alternative.
Krill oil contains the essential acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Both EPA and DHA are found in krill oil as phospholipids. Every cell membrane in the body is made of phospholipids, and this allows for a higher bioavailability and absorption rate of krill oil into cells.
Both EPA and DHA are essential for healthy brain function. Since our body can’t produce them naturally, supplementation is the only solution. DHA supports healthy nervous system functioning and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Astaxanthin, the chemical compound that gives krill, salmon, and shellfish their red color, works as a powerful antioxidant to limit the role of oxidative stress throughout the body and especially the brain. By inhibiting free radicals, organ function is optimized. Additionally, phospholipids improve memory and learning, mood stabilization, and support neurogenesis in the brain.
L-Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid that works as a precursor for numerous hormones and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Steady supplies of all three hormones increase the body’s ability to respond to overall stress, reduce cognitive stress and fatigue, increase memory function, and enhance focus in otherwise distracting situations.
Healthy dopamine levels support mood, cognitive function, focus, mood, and learning. Dopamine specifically acts on the frontal lobes of the brain to control the flow of information being transported throughout. Inadequate dopamine amounts leads to impaired memory, attention, and diminished problem-solving abilities.
Both epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine plays a major role in our body’s “fight or flight” response, to protect us in cases of extreme stress, panic, or life threatening scenarios. Homeostasis between the two is crucial for proper organ function, especially in times of distress. When confronted or threatened, both activate our instincts for survival and divert the blood flow from insignificant activities toward the brain and muscles to allow us to think and respond effectively to determine the best course of action.
Onnit, a well-known nootropic brand, formulated their lead nootropic, AlphaBrain, with L-Tyrosine and L-Theanine. In two randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial conducted by the Boston Center for Memory, AlphaBrain’s effect on cognitive function was teted through use of various neuropsychological tests.
In the first study, 17 healthy adults were placed in two groups: a placebo group and an AlphaBrain group. After six weeks the AlphaBrain group showed significant improvement in Logical Memory recall, learning & long term recall (D-KEFS), and BVMT-R Delayed Recall. In the second study, 63 adults were once again placed in a placebo group and an AlphaBrain Group. Once again, results showed, over a six week period, the AlphaBrain group showed improvement on memory recall (12 percent compared to the placebo group), executive functioning (21 percent compared to baseline), and long delay interaction.
L-Tyrosine also works to keep you awake and alert. Using this nootropic can be beneficial in pulling all-nighters to complete projects and drive your entrepreneurial spirit into overdrive.
6. Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
ALA is a fatty acid that lives in mitochondria and supports energy metabolism. Although it is made naturally in the body, ALA supplementation is necessary to reduce risk of oxidative stress and organ inflammation — both reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, and natural neurological decline.
Mitochondria are the key energy source for cells. Low energy supplies lead to higher fatigue and limited neurological function. Our brain uses 20 percent of the body’s energy, therefore supporting mitochondrial function with supplementation ensures the brain works at a high capacity.
ALA is water and fat soluble and has high bioavailability when consumed, allowing instant absorption into tissues to provide cells with energy. It is also stored in various regions of the brain and liver as a reserve. The liver has over 500 functions in the body and needs adequate energy also.
ALA also helps remove iron from the brain, which at excess levels can cause brain degeneration and neurological diseases.
Once absorbed in the body ALA aids in facilitating the Krebs Cycle — a process of turning the things we consume into energy. In addition, its solubility allows it to easily cross the blood-brain barrier. ALA acts as a brain and neuron protector, reducing, and at times, reversing damaged brain cells caused by injury, alcohol, and even thyroid issues. ALA also supports the communication between neurons for faster reaction and cognitive function.
7. L-Trytophan/5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
L-Trytophan is an essential amino acid needed for proper body function. Once absorbed, L-Trytophan is broken down into the liver and becomes 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin — the neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and enhances mood. 5-HTP can be naturally sourced through regular high protein foods such as meat dairy, seafood, and also in plant sources such as chickpeas, quinoa, and chia seeds.
Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin — a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep. Our current age of tech and gadgets that shine blue light into our eyes, inhibits our body’s biological clock and can impair sleep patterns.
5-HTP also crosses the blood-brain barrier which is always essential for a nootropic. Nootropics are designed to provide benefits instantly where common medications take a while to take effect in the body and can become addictive.
Dr. Kalatsky adds, “I also have a belief that some of these compounds are safer than certain drugs on the market for focus and anxiety.“ Many medications offer little to no long term benefits when compared to placebos.
Vegetarians and individuals who eat meat and seafood in limited capacities are at a higher risk of being deficient in in 5-HTP. Deficiency in 5-HTP can lead to increased anxiety, irregular sleep patterns, irritable moods, and depression.
Believe it not, caffeine is a nootropic and always has been.
Caffeine boosts mood, decreases risk of depression, and supports healthy brain function.
A morning cup of joe keeps a large population of the world going through the early morning. Another one midday helps them finish up the workday. For those who avoid coffee, yerba mate is a great source of caffeine. I enjoyed mate for the first time three years ago in Buenos Aires, before I even knew what nootropics were. Within minutes, I felt energized, focused, and experienced mental clarity.
The downside to caffeine are the jitters and crash that can happen regularly. Caffeine is also subject to mold and can be acidic for some stomachs. However, through adding all-natural compounds such as MCT Oil or coconut oil to your coffee or tea, side effects are neutralized. This is because healthy fats are directly absorbed into the body, and since they are shorter than most fats, they aren’t broken down in the stomach. This boosts your metabolism, provides instant energy, and slows down the common caffeine buzz. In addition, caffeine combined with L-Theanine removes the crash and jitters effect as well.
Many athletes and fitness experts know creatine as a pre-workout substance. The most common use for creatine was to give your body the energy to work out harder than you would normally be able to. But creatine has a host of more benefits under the nootropic classification.
Here are a few of creatine’s benefits for the body. Creatine:
- Allows energy to be stored in the brain for later use
- Increases energy output of muscles
- Boosts mental endurance and negates behavior associated with sleep deprivation
- Enhances reasoning skills
Creatine is an organic acid naturally created in the body. Ninety-five percent of creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscles. As energy in tissues becomes depleted, creatine’s absorption is increased. ATP molecules — cellular energy currency — are increased and transfer energy throughout cells to meet increased demands. This is important because ATP production is occurring in the brain also, and this supports brain function as the body functions at a higher capacity to meet physical and mental needs.
As a nootropic, creatine enhances cognitive function, supports and balances the increased energy demands, and ensures cells are operating at a higher level.
Glycine is the smallest of all amino acids and works as a neurotransmitter. The hippocampus region of the brain is the hub for emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. Glycine receptors are present on the hippocampus and increased activity has shown to enhance memory and learning, and in some cases reverse memory failure.
Glycine also improves the reaction time in people who may lack focus due to poor sleep habits. During a study, sleep deprived subjects were given glycine to test their reaction time. Although lack of sleep usually causes a delay in reaction time, the subjects showed improved psychomotor vigilance by day three.
Stack ‘Em Up
A term gaining momentum for nootropic users is “nootropic stack”. This involves using a high list of nootropics cohesively to maximize benefits and support your needs. Stacks are made for mood enhancement, increased cognitive function, increased focus, and more clarity. Other stacks combine multiple nootropics for an overall enhancement for the entire body.