There are many things that change in the brain and that are responsible for the changes we see in our abilities and our personalities. Many of these can be somewhat mitigated by the right nutrient and/or supplement regime however and when nutrients, herbs or medications are used in this way they’re referred to as ‘nootropics’ compounds that can help to enhance brain performance.
Let’s start with that low energy – what causes this? There are a couple of things, but up front is the decrease in mitochondria. As we’ve already discussed, your mitochondria are the tiny little fuel generators that live in all of your cells. Their job is to take glucose and to convert it to ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate, the ‘energy currency of life’.
These mitochondria are found throughout our bodies and that includes the brain, where they live in the brain cells. If you’ve ever felt too tired or too lazy to complete a sum because it involves holding numbers in your working memory, then your ‘brain energy’ is letting you down. And this is what makes it harder to find the enthusiasm to do anything as well. Another night of the same old TV it is then.
If you were to look at the cells of a young kid under the microscope and compare them with those of a middle aged man, you’d see that the middle aged man had far fewer mitochondria. Scientists now believe that this is one of the key differences in the energy levels of children versus adults. As it happens, this is also one of the key things that a lot of nootropics target.
Ingredients ranging from l-carnitine, to PQQ, to Lutein, to creatine, to bitter orange work at least partially this way. Another thing that affects brain energy as we get older is blood flow. Like every other part of your body, your brain needs a steady supply of blood to provide nutrients and oxygen for healthy function. Unfortunately, as your breathlessness upon reaching the top step will attest, our blood flow suffers as we age. This is where vasodilators come in.
Things like garlic extract, vinpocetine and ginkgo biloba all offer this increased energy by increasing the diameter of the blood vessels.This can also be very good for those with high blood pressure! These allow more blood, oxygen and nutrients to be directed to-ward the brain, helping you to feel more alert and more awake.
As mentioned, you can also get a lot of benefit from nutrients like iron and B12 which help the body to create more red blood cells. This very simple change is very often enough to increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients making their way around the body to the brain and once again to supercharge your energy levels.
Mood and Learning
As we get older, we often start to produce less of the most important neu-rochemicals – whether it’s serotonin or dopamine. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters most associated with attention, which also correlates to memory (the more focused you are, the more likely you are to remember something – often the things you’ve ‘forgotten’ are things you never listened to in the first place).
Dopamine is also correlated with BDNF – Bran Derived Neurotrophic Fac-tor. Along with nerve growth factor, BDNF is one of the key players in neu- roplasticity. As we age, the rate at which are brains adapt and grow chang-es and this results in a poorer ability to learn new skills and ideas, along with a reduced interest in doing so. Guess what you can consume to increase your dopamine levels, gain focus and enhance learning?
Good old caffeine! And perhaps by no coincidence, caffeine consumption is also associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. Dopamine is also related to your mood, as are other neurochemicals that decrease as we age – such as serotonin, which is often known as the ‘hap-piness hormone’.
Many of these neurochemicals are made from simple amino acids (the building blocks of protein) like tryptophan and l-tyrosine. Eat more eggs (which are also packed with the brain-boosting choline) and your brain will be stronger and you’ll be less cranky.
Numerous other nootropic compounds can help to increase brain plasticity and there are some very fascinating studies that have shown we might someday be able to restore our brains to infant-like levels of plasticity (one study demonstrated it could be possible to teach participants perfect pitch with certain nootropics not-yet commercially available).
This can not only help us to pick up new skills – to teach the old dog new tricks – but also to prevent us from falling into old, lazy thinking habits. One of the big issues here is the way we use our brain; as we get older we know more (we form more ‘crystallized intelligence’) which results in a reduced need to keep learning.
What’s more, decades of rehearsing the same thought patterns (and their respective neural pathways) means that certain memories and ideas become deeply ingrained while others are ‘cut off’ from the brain and left to wither and atrophy. Use it or lose it. This is why it’s so important to keep the brain fueled with the right nutrients and ingredients even later into your life; and to support that growth with the right nutrient regime or supplements.
So how do you do this? The best answer is to eat a nutrient dense diet. This can help to encourage the production of the right neurochemicals, it can help to give you more mental energy and clarity and it can improve your mood.
Moreover, the right nutrients can also help protect your brain from a lot of the wear and tear that it might be subjected to over time. Your brain is damaged by free radicals just like every other cell in your body.
These are molecules that can react with the outside of cell walls causing damage and potentially even impact on the nucleus of your brain. Antioxidants like vita-min C can help to prevent this kind of damage. Meanwhile, omega 3 fatty acid – the oil found fish – can help to improve communication between cells by enhancing ‘cell membrane permeability’.
This has also been able to help stave of age related cognitive decline in studies. So if you’re starting to feel your grey matter slow down, just start eating more fruits and vegetables, more salads and more meats and oily fish. This alone can be enough to make a huge difference but if you’re not seeing re-sults or you struggle to eat healthily, consider creating a nootropic ‘stack’ for yourself.
Make sure it contains the following:
- Vitamin C (precursor to serotonin and an antioxidant)
- Garlic (a natural vasodilator)
- Creatine (boosts cellular energy)
- CoQ10 and/or resveratrol (boosts cellular energy)
- Vitamin B6 & B12 (for enhanced energy and better
- L-Tyrosine & 5HT (a type of tryptophan – any amino acid supplement will work)
- Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Vitamin D (these will also help with testosterone production in men)
- Lutein (this will also help with vision)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acid (improves cell-membrane permeability)
- Guarana (a slow releasing form of caffeine)
Oh and of course you should avoid all the things that can actually damage the brain and exacerbate neurochemical imbalances/trigger deterioration. One of the worst culprits is alcohol which when consumed regularly can even end up causing a unique type of cognitive decline called ‘Korsakov’s syndrome’.