An important thing to remember about nootropic supplements, or any type of supplement really, is that they are after all just that, supplements. In other words, they aren’t meant to take the place of the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle like aerobic exercise and a general fitness regimen, good sleep hygiene and a proper diet. Those familiar with supplements like the racetams know the importance of choline loading to avoid overload of neurotransmitters. Supplementing with choline can be very helpful, but choline and other important precursors to neurotransmitters should also be sourced from a healthy, balanced diet. In part one of our series on a brain-healthy diet we discuss the basics of a nootropic and mind friendly diet.
One good thing about following a cognitive healthy diet is that it has other benefits. Often what’s good for the brain will also be good for the heart, immune system and even improve sexual health and strength training and bodybuilding. If you want to really boost your overall performance you can’t count on a pill or powder to take the place of hard work and good choices, hopefully with the guidelines set forth here you can be better prepared to make smart dietary choices that will, hopefully, leave you with a sharper mind in the process.
Our diet and the nutrients we ingest has an undeniable effect on our cognition, mood, energy levels and even ability to sleep. Switching to healthier eating habits and following up with regular exercise is part of the basic foundation of performance and wellness. As the old saying goes, you don’t put a new roof on a house without first ensuring the foundation is sound. So if you’re new to nootropics, the first step will be learning about the different classes, categories, compounds and how they work, but while you do that you can adjust your diet to tweak your performance levels. If you are familiar with nootropics, you still may have some ways you can improve your overall cognitive performance just by altering what you choose for meals.
BASICS OF A NOOTROPIC FRIENDLY DIET
There may be some food items that you aren’t regularly consuming that would be beneficial to add. One such example is green tea. In China, some of the first medicines were tea and teas were solely medicinal before they were chosen for taste. Green tea is notable for its quantity of both l-theanine and caffeine. The theanine and caffeine stack is often one of the first recommended to newbie biohackers.
Almost everyone is familiar with caffeine, probably the most well known and widely consumed of all drugs in the world. Caffeine has long been used as a staple for getting the day started for millions every day, often in the form of a cup of steaming coffee, but also in various forms of tea. Caffeine has ample cognitive boosting potential that has been tested and studied in hundreds of trials and thousands of pages of scholarly research.
Caffeine has multiple mechanisms of action, one of the most important is how it mimics adenosine, the neurotransmitter released when work has been done in order to signal to the brain and body that it is tired. It is also a psychostimulant as well as a CNS stimulant which provides motivation in addition to blocking the feeling of tiredness or need for sleep. Perhaps why so many people seem like a different person after a hot cup of coffee.
Theanine meanwhile is an amino acid that not only counteracts some of the hypertensive and anxiety-inducing qualities of caffeine alone but has been shown to improve focus as well. Studies have shown that caffeine and theanine work synergistically. Together they have a greater effect than either would solely by itself. This is why so many cultures enjoy green tea, due to its being a naturally abundant source of both caffeine and l-theanine.
In addition to that, green tea contains catechins. Catechins are a type of flavonoids which are highly antioxidant. The antioxidants found in green tea have been shown to help prevent neural cell death that has been associated with various effects of aging on the brain. Green tea is specifically being studied as a means of lowering low-density lipid (LDL) cholesterol which could decrease risk for cardiovascular disease (CDV).
In addition to adding healthier choices, abstaining from processed sugar-filled sodas and energy drinks could have an important long-term effect on the health of your brain and heart as well as your overall fitness and even longevity. For some unsweetened green tea may have to be an acquired taste. Adding lemon or lime may make the tea drinking experience more pleasurable not to mention the astringent and antioxidant qualities imparted by the squeezed lemon juice.
Coconut oil is another great item to add. Coconut oil is an excellent source of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) that your brain craves. Remember, fat is not the enemy, “bad fat” is. Your brain primarily feeds off of certain types of fats. In addition to EFAs, coconut oil is chock full of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a type of saturated fats whose structure allows for almost immediate absorption into cells for energy. As a result, they can offer a quick energy boost without need of being processed. The MCTs not absorbed or expended in energy usage convert directly to ketones in your liver and are used as a supplementary energy storage.
Since your brain is the most energy-intensive organ in your body, it must be fueled properly in order to be at peak performance. MCTs don’t get stored as fat due to being such an efficient and readily absorbed food and fuel source. The jury is still out, but some research suggests that MCTs may also help with fat oxidation, immune system function, balancing high-density lipid (HDL or “good cholesterol”) and LDL and more. Anyone familiar with Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof Executive” program and Bulletproof Coffee is likely already aware of some of the science behind MCTs and their use in brain optimization.
Coffee, or at least the caffeine therein, as mentioned before is apparently the most popular drug in the world. Millions daily don’t want to start their day without a steaming, hot cup of java. In addition to keeping the eyelids open and improving mood levels, bolstering reaction time, vigilance, focus and motivation, it can actually be incredibly beneficial in a whole host of ways. If that is, it’s used in proper quantities and with moderation.
A cup or two of coffee per day may, like green tea, stave off some age-related cognitive decline issues associated with the aging brain. Also like green tea, it’s chock full of antioxidants. Chlorogenic acid, one of the antioxidants found in the coffee bean can reduce oxidative damage as well as scrubbing free radicals found in the bloodstream. In addition, it has been associated with more efficient fat oxidation and improving favorable blood sugar levels.
Some research suggests that in addition to the obvious qualities of waking you up in the morning, improving mood and focus, long-term consumption of coffee at the recommended levels may actually lower the risk of age related decline of cognitive functions as well as some other diseases associated with our society’s increase in fat intake and decrease in physical activity. That said, colorectal cancer has also been weakly linked to coffee consumption as well. Keeping all things at an ideal level will go a long way in ensuring that what you’re taking for benefits does just that rather than decreasing your risk for a long, healthy life.
The evidence isn’t exactly concrete with these peripheral benefits, but if you do some digging you’ll find that chlorogenic acid looks like a very promising compound for all-around human health.
We mentioned Dave Asprey and the Bulletproof Executive program. Coffee is a key part of his program for improving mind and body. He warns, however, of the possibility of mycotoxins (a type of mold that attacks coffee beans). These are potentially neurotoxic. A study of 40 coffee brands showed that at 18, nearly half of them contained Ochratoxin A in small quantities. Ochratoxin A has been shown to be potentially carcinogenic, toxic and has a negative effect on the kidneys while also affecting the brain, specifically the hippocampus which is involved in the formation of new memories.
Brewing coffee may not affect the Ochratoxin A, so you can end up ingesting them. That said, some feel Asprey’s insistence on the danger of mycotoxins may not be as dire as suggested. The levels of Ochratoxin A could potentially be statistically insignificant in the long run. This would be especially so if you stick to a cup or a cup and a half maximum.
The US is a fair bit more lenient when it comes to checking for mycotoxins in comparison for example with the EU. Both, however, have the levels of mycotoxins on their radar for food quality. High-quality coffee (Arabica beans specifically) grown at high elevations are generally less likely to be contaminated by mycotoxins.
In our coming installments, we’ll talk about intermittent fasting, brain foods, ketones, carbs, choline and other ways to “feed the neurotransmitters.” Stay tuned!
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