Written by Josh Horsman
Scientific research, especially groundbreaking studies like the ‘FINGER Study’, has proven that it is possible to enhance cognitive performance and improve brain health health through following a healthy lifestyle. The key factors are - healthy eating, regular exercise, brain training, social interaction and good-quality sleep.
At MindMate, we’re huge advocates for the power of a healthy lifestyle when it comes to your brain health, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to give yourself an extra boost. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to some of the most popular and effective brain supplements:
1. Fish Oils
The Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood are often referred to as ‘good fats’ and are the foundation of two of the best diets known diets for brain health: ‘The MIND Diet’ and the ‘Mediterranean Diet’. It’s therefore little wonder that fish oils are the most popular brain boosting supplement.
Fish oil is rich in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), a substance which accounts for around 25% of the fat in your brain cells and plays a key role in maintaining brain structure and function. Studies also show that the nutrients contained within fish oil are effective at fighting against cognitive decline, helping to preserve brain function.
Does this one surprise you? Most of us consumer caffeine on a daily basis, but we rarely consider is as a brain supplement, despite its obvious cognitive effects.
Caffeine stimulate the nervous system, making you feel less tired and more energised. It makes your brain more alert and has even been found to improve memory and reaction times.
Best of all, caffeine’s ubiquitous presence in many of our favourite everyday snacks and beverages, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, means that it is typically not necessary to consume it as a supplement on its own in order to enjoy the benefits.
That said, consumption should always be in moderation as excessive caffeine can cause unwanted side-effects such as depression and sleeplessness.
Your brain requires enormous amounts of energy to perform it’s daily functions effectively and it needs this energy constantly. When the energy supply to the brain is lacking, brain cells begin to degrade, and this can ultimately lead to cognitive decline and conditions such as dementia. Creatine is a natural substance which is a key energy source for the brain. It occurs naturally in the body in your muscles and also your brain, but is also an extremely popular supplement.
Creatine provides vital energy for many of the brain’s functions and some research studies have even shown that it can play a role in protecting brain cells from damage. Evidence from research studies has also demonstrated that creatine can improve memory and brain performance in vegetarians! That’s because creatine is naturally found in meat and eggs, animal products which are not part of a vegetarian diet. These results suggest that this group especially could benefit from taking regular creatine supplements.
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is a naturally-occuring tree that has grown in china for thousands of years and has been used in herbal-medicine for centuries. However in recent years, much research has focussed on the the leaf of the tree and its medicinal, brain-boosting properties. Scientists believe that Ginkgo works to thin the blood which increases the oxygen supply to the brain, thereby increasing cognitive performance. This supplement is particularly notable for its potential to improve brain function in those living with Dementia, something several research studies appear to have confirmed. However, there are also some evidence, such as a 2001 study published in the Psychopharmacology journal, that Ginkgo could also improve memory in healthy individuals.
L-Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea, which is also often taken as a supplement. It is primarily coveted for its stress-beating effects within the brain and ability to reduce anxiety and produce feelings of calm. L-Theanine acts as an inhibitor in the brain, blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Blocking the glutamate prevents brain overwork and results in the calming effect.
The effectiveness of L-Theanine is further enhanced when taken with caffeine, which is why they’re often combined in supplements.
6. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that has used in Indian ayurvedic medicine since ancient times. It is a common supplement that is typically taken in capsule form. The herb has long been revered for its supposed brain-boosting effects, but it's only in modern times that research has been able to test these claims. Several studies have indeed confirmed that Bacopa Monnieri can increase the speed at which the brain processes information and also improve memory.
The active ‘bacoside’ compounds within the plant work to improve the signalling within the brain which causes these effects, which are typically felt over time rather than immediately after taking. Evidence of cognitive improvement through taking Bacopa Monnieri, however, remains insubstantial at present, but existing research certainly suggests a positive impact on the brains of those who take it.
Noopept is one of the most popular brain supplements. It is a fast-acting drug which boosts memory, stabilises mood and improves mental focus. The effects are typically noticeable within 15 minutes of taking the supplement.
Noopept works by preventing the breakdown of glutamate in the brain, glutamate is an important neurotransmitter, so the more of it present in the brain, the better it will function. Some studies claim that Noopept can help to recover cognitive function following Traumatic Brain Injury, however further research is needed to substantiate these claims.