Do you sometimes experience brain fog, memory issues or a lackluster mood? Researchers are working hard to figure out why this happens and what we can do to keep our brain functioning optimally. Wellness experts are using this information to develop new ways of enhancing brain health with nootropics, sometimes called “smart drugs,” that support cognitive functions like memory, creativity, mental processing speed and even your mood. We checked in with Herbalist and Nutritionist Cheryl Birky in Greenwood Village to learn more about natural nootropics and how they can help support our brain.
Amino acids and essential fatty acids make our brain work.
Certain amino acids work as neurotransmitters or messengers that send chemical impulses between nerve cells in our brain. The faster and clearer these messages cross brain cells, the better we think and learn. Essential fatty acids are nutrients that build healthy cell membranes and keep our brain’s nerve cells flexible, making the impulses easier to transfer from cell to cell, according to Cheryl.
Amino acids and essential fatty acids can be made by our bodies, converted from the foods we eat or come from concentrated supplements. The interplay of amino acids and fatty acids are critical to brain performance and affect a lot of functions including memory, mood, concentration, sleep and learning. Here are important ones to know about.
- ALCAR (acetyl-l-carnitine) forms acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter needed for memory and learning. ALCAR can improve overall cognition in the elderly and help support alertness. Because it’s naturally found in red meat and dairy products, vegans can benefit from supplementation.
- Creatine (made from the amino acids glycine and arginine) increases energy in the brain and supports short-term memory and learning. Students and test-takers pay attention!
- Taurine helps new brain cells grow and helps produce another neurotransmitter called GABA that helps calm our nervous system and lessen anxiety. It can help focus a distracted mind.
- L-Tryptophan is absorbed into the brain after eating foods rich in this amino acid; there it’s converted into serotonin (which affects positive moods) and melatonin (which helps us sleep).
- Tyrosine (from amino acid phenylalanine) is converted to the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which affects learning and motivation and reduces stress.
- Theanine, an amino acid found in high concentrations in tea (especially black), affects our brain by reducing stress and improving cognition and focus. Studies show it helps children with ADHD sleep better too.
Essential fatty acids
- Alpha GPC, found in soy products, is important for improving memory performance and lets us access stored knowledge better.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been shown to improve cognition making it easier to learn new things, and help with depression.
- PS (Phosphatidylserine) is a combination amino acid and fatty acid that improves communication between brain cells and battles brain fog so that we can recall information faster and more clearly.
Supplements make it easy to get the benefits of brain-boosting nootropics
There are two popular supplements that have unique formulations of brain-supporting amino acids and essential fatty acids, says Cheryl.
Onnit Alpha Brain combines the amino acids tyrosine and theanine and essential fatty acid phosphatidylserine with botanical bacopa and oat straw, which are particularly helpful in addressing stress-induced memory issues, helping us recall information easier and focusing better, making it a favorite of college students.
Natural Stacks CILTEP features amino acids like acetyl-l-carnitine and l-phenylalanine, along with vitamin B6 and memory-boosting artichoke extract, which helps support mental performance by helping us remember more easily and increasing our sense of alertness and wellbeing.