kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Nootropics are compounds that enhance cognition and facilitate learning. These “smart drugs” differ from nutrients that protect against brain aging in that their goal is to boost cognitive performance now.

Nootropics improve recall of recent and old memories. They boost brain cells to enhance cognitive function, processing speed, and memory.

Prescription nootropics like Adderall and Ritalin are medications that have stimulant effects. They can counteract the symptoms of medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Nonprescription substances that can enhance brain performance or focus, such as caffeine and creatine, are also considered nootropics. They do not treat diseases but may have some effects on thinking, memory, or other mental functions.

As we age, our ability to process and absorb new information begins to decline. Scientist look for ways to boost the brain’s ability to learn and retain information.

Bacopa monnieri is an herb that was given in ancient times to scholars to improve their learning and memorization of vast religious texts that were orally handed down from generation to generation.

Several studies have found that standardized extracts of Bacopa monnieri supplements can speed up:

  • Auditory verbal learning speed
  • Speed of visual processing
  • Working memory
  • Formation of new memories
  • Recall of memories
  • Power and speed of attention

Bacopa monnieri contains active compounds called bacosides, which protect your brain from oxidative stress and improve signaling in your hippocampus, an area of your brain in which memories are processed.

The effects of Bacopa monnieri are not felt immediately. Therefore, doses of 300‒600 mg should be taken for several months for maximum benefit.

Carotenoids are a group of pigments found in many fruits and vegetables. Carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, apricot, spinach, mango are some of the foods high in carotenoids. Two closely related carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are taken up and concentrated in the retina of the eye, the tissue that senses light and sends information to the brain for visual recognition via the optic nerve.

Lutein and zeaxanthin protect macular density that is necessary for visual function. These pigments help maintain sharp sight while protecting the retina from damage due to blue light, chronic inflammation, and other threats. Significant amounts of these pigments are also concentrated in the brain.

Scientist have found that oral intake of lutein and zeaxanthin leads to improvements in brain speed, efficiency and overall cognitive function. In healthy young adults, 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin daily resulted in significant improvements in memory, reasoning, and complex attention – the ability to hold complicated ideas in the mind, access them, and quickly act on them. In older adults, these compounds helped maintain learning and memory while improving blood flow.

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world.  It’s naturally found in coffee, cocoa, tea, kola nuts and guarana and added to many sodas, energy drinks and medications. It can also be taken as a supplement, either on its own or in combination with other substances.

Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain, making you feel less tired. A low to moderate caffeine intake of 40-300 mg increases your alertness and attention and decreases your reaction time. Studies suggest that caffeine is safe for most people in moderate amounts.

Having a regular cup of coffee or tea may be a good way to boost mental focus. Although, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant may need to limit or avoid caffeine intake. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not recommended during pregnancy. Caffeine also increases the frequency of urination. This causes a reduction in your body fluid levels and can lead to dehydration. Caffeine crosses the placenta to your baby.

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in black and green teas, but it can also be taken as a supplement. Several studies have shown that taking 200 mg of L-theanine has a calming effect, without causing drowsiness. Taking even just 50 mg, or the amount found in two cups of brewed tea, has been found to increase alpha-waves in the brain, which are linked to creativity.

L-theanine is even more effective when taken with caffeine. For this reason, they’re often used together in performance-enhancing supplements. They are both naturally found in tea.

There are no dosage guidelines for l-theanine, but many supplements recommend taking 100-400 mg per day.

Ginkgo biloba is a tree native to China, Japan, and Korea. Its leaves are available as an herbal supplement.  A 2016 study found that gingko biloba is beneficial for brain function. It was discovered that Ginkgo biloba may help with dementia symptoms in people who took more than 200 mg per day for at least 5 months.

Taking Ginkgo biloba before a highly stressful task also reduces stress-related high blood pressure and decreases levels of cortisol, a type of stress hormone.

Panax ginseng root is a perennial shrub that grows in China and parts of Siberia and is used as a medicinal plant to boost brain function. Taking a single dose of 200-400 mg of Panax ginseng has been shown to reduce brain fatigue and significantly improve performance on difficult tasks like mental math problems.  Panax ginseng is a strong anti-inflammatory which helps protect your brain from oxidative stress and enhance its function.

Don’t confuse Panax ginseng with other types of ginseng, such as Siberian or American varieties. These are different plants with different uses.

A 2018 review reports that Panax ginseng may help prevent certain brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. It also may help with brain recovery after a stroke.

Panax ginseng interacts with many medications, so consult a doctor before taking it. A typical dosage for mental function is 100–600 mg once or twice a day.

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that helps your body handle stress more effectively. Several studies have found that Rhodiola rosea supplements can improve mood and decrease feelings of burnout in both anxious and highly stressed individuals. Taking small daily doses of Rhodiola rosea has been shown to reduce mental fatigue and increase feelings of well-being in college students during stressful exam periods.

Creatine is an amino acid, which your body uses to make protein. It’s a popular bodybuilding supplement that promotes muscle growth but is also beneficial for your brain. After it’s consumed, creatine enters your brain where it binds with phosphate, creating a molecule that your brain uses to quickly fuel its cells.

This increased availability of energy for your brain cells is linked to improved short-term memory and reasoning skills, especially in vegetarians and highly stressed people. Studies show that it’s safe to take 5 grams of creatine per day without any negative effects.

Many doctors agree that the best way to boost brain function is to get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and manage stress.

For people who want to boost their cognitive function, nootropic supplements may help, in some cases. Anyone interested in trying a nootropic should consult a healthcare professional about the best options.

FYI

  • Prevagen is an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement that claims to support brain health and boost your memory.
  • Evidence about how well Prevagen works is limited. Its claims are questionable, and there are concerns about whether our bodies can properly absorb its unique ingredient, apoaequorin.
  • Prevagen is not FDA-approved for memory loss and shouldn’t be used if you have serious memory problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Acai Berries

Acai berries (ah-sigh-EE) are a Brazilian “superfruit.” The berries have been a staple food of people living near and around the Amazon River delta, from Brazil to Peru, for all of recorded history.

The acai berry is harvested from acai palm trees. It grows in big bunches of small, grape-like berries that look like beads hanging from the fronds. Each berry has a large pit that takes up 70 percent of the mass, which is removed before consuming.

Acai berries are 1-inch round and have a dark purple skin and yellow flesh.  Because they contain pits like apricots and olives, they’re technically not a berry, but rather a drupe. Nevertheless, they’re commonly referred to as berries.

To make them edible, they are soaked to soften the tough outer skin and then mashed to form a dark purple paste. They have an earthy taste that’s often described as a cross between blackberries and unsweetened chocolate.

Acai berries are rich in fatty acids, especially oleic, palmitic, and linoleic acids. Although acai berries contain very little total protein, they do contain 19 amino acids, as well as several sterols, including campesterol, stigmasterol, and beta-sitosterol. The phytochemicals in acai berries include mainly anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins.

100 grams of frozen fruit pulp has:

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 2 grams
  • Fiber 2 grams
  • Vitamin A: 15% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 2% of the RDI

According to a Venezuelan study, acai berries also contain some other trace minerals, including chromium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.

Acai’s most powerful health benefits come from the anthocyanins, which give acai berries their deep purple color and act as antioxidants in the body.  You can also find anthocyanins in other blue, black and purple foods, such as black beans and blueberries.

The many plant compounds in acai could also protect your brain from damage as you age. The antioxidants in acai counteract the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidation in brain cells, which can negatively affect memory and learning.

One of the ways in which the brain stays healthy is by cleaning up cells that are toxic or no longer working, a process known as autophagy. It makes way for new nerves to form, enhancing communication between brain cells. As you age, this process works less efficiently. However, in lab tests, acai extract has helped stimulate this “housekeeping” response in brain cells.

How to Buy

The açai berry grows exclusively in the Amazon River delta and in Trinidad and Tobago, so you’re not likely to find them fresh anywhere in the United States. Acai berries are shipped frozen or powdered.

If you’re buying it as a pre-processed pulp, check the ingredient label and make sure it doesn’t have added ingredients.

 

How to Store

Keep packs of frozen açai in the freezer until ready to use. Avoid re-freezing, as this will make them mushy and can deplete some of the nutrients. Powdered açai will keep for up to a year in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Make sure to check the expiration dates on açai products, as the berry is highly perishable.

How to Cook

Because açai spoils so quickly, it’s almost exclusively frozen or powdered.

Unlike most other berries, there’s not much sweetness. Instead, açaí berries are a bit tart  and earthy.  The high acidity of the berry marries well with other, sweeter fruits and flavors, and many recipes using açai also call for maple syrup or other sweeteners.

Açai bowls are delicious: a thick base of pureed banana, frozen açai, and berries topped with granola, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.

 

Blueberry Acai Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bites

Sarah of a Whisk and Two Wands

32 Mini Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cup rolled oats, gluten-free
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup puree ripe banana (about 2 large)
  • 1 ½  Acai juice (Sambazon)
  • 1/2 c fresh blueberries
  • ¼  tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ mini chocolate chips or carob chips

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Put bananas, acai juice, vanilla, fresh blueberries, and cinnamon into a blender or food processor and blend until well combined. I pureed the banana first to measure out.
  • Add oats, salt, and baking powder, blend until well combined and oats are chopped well.
  • Stir in mini chocolate chips.
  • Pour into mini muffin tin, you can basically fill them as they won’t puff up a lot like muffins or cupcakes.
  • Cook for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from pan and let cool and bottoms dry out.  Flip them upside down out of the pan to cool,  a little before putting in container.

Acai and Blueberry Granola Bars

Minimalist Baker/ Photo credit: Minimalist Baker

16 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup dried blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon açaí powder
  • 1 cup medjool dates (about 15)
  • 1/2 cup cashew butter (or any nut butter you have available)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Instructions

  • Stir together the oats, coconut, blueberries and açaí powder in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  • Add the dates to a blender or food processor and process until they form a sticky paste (you can also finely chop them).
  • Melt together the nut butter, syrup and coconut oil, then add this mixture, along with the date paste, to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. You might have to use your hands.
  • Line a 9×9 baking pan with parchment, then put the contents of the bowl into the pan. Press down to flatten with your hands, then press again with a flat bottomed glass or jar. Press down firmly to really compact the ingredients.
  • Place in the freezer for 30 minutes, then remove and slice into squares. Store in the fridge or on the counter for up to 5 days.

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