"Cognitive Enhancers and Mind Boosters"
This article covers a range of subjects for discussion which include lifestyle issues and supplements to enhance brain function. The final subject is "Brain Chemistry Made Easy" which I have left for those interested in more detail about the chemistry of the brain.
Memory is used on a daily basis and it is an integral part of our existence. Since early times, humans have searched for strategies and medications to improve memory functioning. What impacts on memory and do memory enhancers work?
Memory is only one aspect of cognitive functioning. Cognitive functioning refers to the collection of brain functions that constitute our intellectual ability. Included in this are higher order sensory and motor processing, attention and concentration, language function, and executive functions. Executive functions refer to the ability to plan a task, execute the task according to your plan, and also the ability to change execution of the task after having acquired relevant new information
A Sound Mind in a Sound Body
We may use the most powerful mind boosters available, but if we don’t exercise the brain and body, eat the right foods, continue on a path of emotional growth, cultivate healthy relationships, and have good sleeping patterns, we will not reap the full benefits of the supplements. The most important strategies for memory improvement are a well balanced diet and exercise. Intellectual ability benefits immensely from a balanced diet and exercise. These basic strategies should be applied together with the supplements discussed further in this article.
Motivation and concentration are incredibly important for good memory functioning. If you really want to remember something you use motivation and set outcomes for sustained results at the same time you sharpen your concentration. We live in a world that places enormous demands on our mental abilities. Continually expanding our mind and memory capacity is crucial to successful adaptation to this ever-changing, informational society. Enhancing our mental capacity helps us advance in our career, leading to more work satisfaction, higher income, greater travel and leisure opportunities, less stress, and more autonomy.
An increase in intelligence and a large fund of knowledge give us an improved sense of self-confidence. As our topics of interest and discussion increase, so can the number and variety of social contacts. Knowledge also improves our ability to foresee future political, economic, and historical trends.
The more we learn, the more we wish to continue learning. Understanding the world is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces we fit, the clearer the image and the greater the urge to learn and fill in even more pieces. Increasing one’s knowledge can be compared to an avalanche: once the process starts, it gathers a momentum of its own. Perseverance and some initial prompting are required, but the rewards soon pay off. Minds are kept young by continual use, and mentally active people live longer. I consider mind-enhancement to be a lifelong process. Centuries ago Rene Descartes said, “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.”
During this process of intellectual enhancement, keep in mind that we also need to grow emotionally. Although supplements can help provide the basic ingredients for proper mental functioning, they cannot, on their own, help us develop healthy relationships. In order for us to feel truly fulfilled, it helps to cultivate healthy connections on multiple levels.
The need for connection may be fulfilled in several ways. On a personal level, we can connect with fellow human beings through friendship, physical intimacy, romance, marriage, and family. We can also satisfy our need for connection with cats, dogs, other animals, and nature as a whole. We satisfy the urge to belong to something larger than ourselves by joining religious, humanistic, philosophic, or any number of community groups. As a rule, the more ways we connect, the happier we become.
Supplements can sometimes help in this regard by lifting our mood and improving our motivation to become social and interact with others.
Mental health is, in many ways, linked to physical health. The cardiovascular system supplies blood and oxygen to the brain. When the arteries to the brain are clogged, the blood supply to important neural centre's decreases. Cardiovascular disease can often foretell cognitive decline—those who have poor blood flow suffer mental decline faster than those with good vascular health.
Just about every step you take to improve your physical well-being will influence your brain health—especially the right diet. Since the topic of healthy eating has been covered thoroughly in many books and articles, I just wish to make a few important points.
Breakfast is essential for good thinking. Dr. David Benton and colleagues from the University of Wales-Swansea, in the United Kingdom, studied the effects of skipping breakfast versus eating breakfast (Benton 1998). Morning fasting was found to adversely affect the ability to recall a word list and stories read aloud, as well as to recall items while counting backward. However, the failure to eat breakfast did not affect performance on an intelligence test. The researchers conclude that breakfast influences tasks requiring aspects of memory, partly through increasing blood-sugar levels.
Sustain the Brain: Nutritional Assistance
Certain types of mental decline result from exposure to toxins such as lead, mercury and aluminium as well as from allergies, stress or low nutrient levels in the tissues, which appear to contribute to brain inflammation, scarring and cognitive impairment.
The aging brain can have low levels of such nutrients for several reasons including a poor diet or inadequate nutrient absorption. Thus, antioxidants and B vitamins should top anyone's list of brain food. Brain food includes all your antioxidant foods such as citrus fruits, plenty of green leafy vegetables, fish, meat and grains.
Hair and Tissue mineral analysis reflect the current internal toxic environment and gives you an idea of the potential health issues for the future.
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Also known as vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is essential for a number of basic bodily functions--from growth to reproduction. It participates in the continual breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from food, converting them into compounds the body can use. This vitamin also produces numerous enzymes and helps maintain precise communication between the central nervous system and the brain.
The body relies on pantothenic acid to help the adrenal glands produce stress hormones during times of both psychological and physical strain. This property makes it potentially useful for dealing with emotional upset, depression, anxiety, migraines, chronic fatigue, and withdrawal from alcohol or tobacco. It is commonly taken as part of a vitamin B complex supplement for these purposes. In addition, pantothenic acid may reduce the occurrence of migraines by participating in the production of the brain chemical serotonin; some research indicates that serotonin is present at abnormally low levels in migraine sufferers.
Technically an umbrella term used to describe three B vitamins (pyridoxine, pridoxal, pyridoxamine), vitamin B6 partakes in no fewer than 100 chemical reactions throughout the body. It functions primarily as a coenzyme, working along with other enzymes to speed up chemical reactions in cells. Incredibly, government surveys indicate that one-third of adults are deficient in this key nutrient. The elderly, pregnant or nursing women, oral contraceptive users, and smokers are particularly at risk for a deficiency.
Vitamin B6 helps manufacture the building blocks of proteins known as amino acids. It also takes part in producing brain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) such as serotonin, in releasing energy stored in cells, and in manufacturing red blood cells. Vitamin B6 also helps to keep hormones in balance and the immune system functioning properly.
CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone or ubiquinol, is a naturally occurring nutrient in each cell. CoQ10 is found in foods, particularly in fish and meats. In addition to playing a significant role in the energy system of each of our cells, CoQ10 is an excellent antioxidant. A member of a family of compounds called quinones, coenzyme Q10 (sometimes called Co Q10) works in concert with enzymes (hence the name "coenzyme") that are necessary for chemical reactions throughout the body. It is particularly abundant in high-energy-demanding cells, such as those found in the heart. In addition, coenzyme Q10 acts as a powerful antioxidant to prevent the cellular damage caused by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals.
Because the body's production of coenzyme Q10 slows with age, some doctors routinely recommend the supplement to anyone over age 50. Indeed, many people take it as a general energy enhancer; others take it to fight age-related memory loss. Its antioxidant actions have even been enlisted to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, a memory-robbing, degenerative disease most common in older individuals. Further research is needed to flesh out exactly how supplemental coenzyme Q10 and its antioxidant properties might positively affect the aging process.
Studies of CoQ10 have mostly focused on its role in heart disease. However, CoQ10 has a role in brain function, too. Initial studies have shown those who take CoQ10 notice that this nutrient provides energy and mental clarity.
Choline and Lecithin
Lecithin is a fatty substance manufactured in the body. Lecithin is considered an excellent source of choline, one of the B vitamins. Once in the body, a key component of lecithin--phosphatidylcholine--breaks down into choline. Now available in dietary supplement form, phosphatidylcholine (PC) might be thought of as a purified extract of lecithin. It is commonly recommended for treating liver, nerve, and a variety of other conditions, including multiple sclerosis and memory loss.
Many nutritionally oriented doctors consider phosphatidylcholine a valuable nerve-building nutrient that might be able to help slow or reverse memory loss. As a phospholipid--a fat-soluble substance--this nutrient serves as a major structural component of brain cells. Perhaps even more important, phosphatidylcholine plays a key role in supplying sufficient choline to the brain, where it's used to manufacture the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Levels of acetylcholine are known to dwindle with age and this decline is associated with age-related memory impairment.
Choline is an essential nutrient, a B-vitamin. It can be manufactured in the body (from the amino acid methionine), although there is some debate whether it can be made in sufficient amounts for optimal health. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are also needed to process choline. Choline plays a role in brain development (as an amine precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine), liver function and cardiovascular health.
Choline is an important constituent of cell membranes, so choline has functions in virtually every bodily system. Choline participates in lipid (fat) transport in the body and may reduce accumulation of fat in the liver. As a dietary supplement and ergogenic aid, however, claims surrounding choline are due mostly to its role as a component of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter needed for conduction of nerve signals and brain function. Claims in this area typically involve mental performance, memory and reaction time. Supplementing with choline has been found to aid in memory, brain development, act to protect the cardiovascular, promotes energy and delay fatigue in athletes.
It is an essential nutrient required by the body to make several important compounds necessary for healthy cell membranes. Choline helps form phosphatidylcholine, the primary phospholipid of cell membranes. Choline is also the precursor to acetylcholine, one of the crucial brain chemicals involved in memory. A major use of choline in the body is the formation of betaine, an important methyl donor. Furthermore, choline helps transport of lipids from the liver. Choline is an essential precursor of acetylcholine, a stimulatory neurotransmitter. It also helps in the production of lipotropic agents which converts fats into useful products and aids in the production of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid, a type of fat found in every cell in the body. It is particularly concentrated in the brain, where it has the important task of keeping cell membranes fluid, flexible and primed for nutrient absorption. PS also plays a critical role in supporting nerve tissue; it aids proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain, for example. In short, PS helps to keep memory-related pathways functioning smoothly.
Research indicates that phophatidlserine lessens age-related decline in brain functioning. Several studies, some of them quite well-designed, have been conducted in the United States and Europe to examine the effect of PS on preventing or reversing a decline in higher mental functions (memory, concentration, abstract thought and judgment ) in older adults already experiencing difficulties in these areas. In one 12-week study of 149 adults ages 50 to 75, those who took 300 mg PS a day were better able to learn and recall names, faces and numbers than those taking a placebo. All the participants had been diagnosed with age-associated memory impairment. The greatest benefit was observed in participants who had been most impaired when the study started. PS supplements were also more effective than a placebo in a six-month study involving 494 individuals between ages 65 and 93. All suffered from moderate to severe senility. When compared to those who took a placebo, those assigned to the PS treatment had marked short-term improvements in their ability to memorize, concentrate, and learn new material.
Alpha –Lipoic Acid
In the late 1980s, scientists realized that alpha-lipoic acid, a compound initially classified as a vitamin when it was discovered three decades earlier, possessed potent antioxidant properties that could prevent healthy cells from getting damaged by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. In fact, this vitamin like compound has proved to be many times more potent than such old guard antioxidants as vitamins C and E. As a perk, it even recycles C and E (as well as other antioxidants), enhancing their effectiveness.
Because it dissolves in both water and fat, this so-called "universal antioxidant" is able to scavenge more wayward free-radical cells than most antioxidants, the majority of which tend to dissolve in either fat or water but not both. Alpha-lipoic acid can reach tissues composed mainly of fat, such as the nervous system, as well as those made mainly of water, such as the heart.
Results from animal studies indicate that alpha-lipoic acid may improve long-term memory. Much remains to be learned about whether this occurs in humans, but it may be worth trying this powerful antioxidant when a disease such as Alzheimer's starts to erode memory. In addition, alpha-lipoic acid holds promise for preserving brain cells following a stroke or other type of trauma that restricts blood flow to the brain.
Scientists made one of the first associations between omega-3s and human health while studying the Inuit (Eskimo) people of Greenland in the 1970s. As a group, the Inuit suffered far less from certain diseases (coronary heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, psoriasis) than their European counterparts. Yet their diet was very high in fat from eating whale, seal, and salmon. Eventually researchers realized that these foods were all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which provided real disease-countering benefits.
Researchers continue to explore this exciting field. They've found that without a sufficient supply of polyunsaturated omega-3s, the body will use saturated fat to construct cell membranes. The resulting cell membranes, however, are less elastic, a situation that can have a negative effect on the heart because it makes it harder to return to a resting state.
The brain is remarkably fatty: In fact, this organ is 60% fat and needs omega-3s to function properly. Now researchers have discovered a link between mood disorders and the presence of low concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
Apparently, omega-3s help regulate mental health problems because they enhance the ability of brain-cell receptors to comprehend mood-related signals from other neurons in the brain. In other words, the omega-3s are believed to help keep the brain's entire traffic pattern of thoughts, reactions, and reflexes running smoothly and efficiently.
5-HTP is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan (a hydroxyl group added to the 5-position). In the body, tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, which then can be converted into serotonin (a potent neurotransmitter in the brain). Although 5-HTP is not found at any significant level in a normal diet, tryptophan is found in a wide variety of protein foods. The 5-HTP used in dietary supplements is derived from the seeds of and African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia).
Tryptophan supplementing has been found to relieves mild to moderate depression, relieves insomnia and promotes restful sleep, promote weight loss by suppressing appetite and reduces overall sensation of pain (migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, general muscle pain)
5-HTP is typically used to treat mild depression based on the theory that as a precursor to serotonin, supplements of 5-HTP can increase serotonin levels and influence mood, sleep patterns and pain control. The amino acid, tryptophan, can also be broken down in the body to yield ribose and/or NAD – both of which have been associated with increased energy levels. While these are certainly logical theories, the scientific evidence supporting them remains moderate at best. In a few small studies, however, 5-HTP has been shown to be as effective as prescription antidepressant medications – and with fewer side effects.
Dimethylglycine (DMG), is a methyl donor that helps in the production of several brain chemicals and hence improve mood, energy, wellbeing, alertness, concentration, and visual clarity. Dimethylglycine (DMG)is found in a variety of plant and animal sources and is used in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. Maintaining normal homocysteine levels is important for the health of the cardiovascular system. Dimethylglycine (DMG) has been shown to help protect the liver and raise S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) levels, in animal studies.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has used the herb ginseng as a memory tonic with the belief that ginseng can improve learning and memory, especially in aging humans. Recent studies have sought to validate this claim. Experiments done on rats have shown that ginsenosides, the saponins of ginseng, can partially prevent scopolamine-induced memory deficits in rats. Ginsenosides are thought to increase choline uptake in the central cholinergic nervous system, which plays important roles in learning and memory.
Further experiments have shown that ginseng extracts can improve the retention of learned behaviour in young (aged 3 months) as well as old (aged 26 months) rats. The potential beneficial effects of the polysaccharide fractions of ginseng on learning and memory still warrant further experimentation. The favourable effects of ginseng on learning and memory make it a promising drug for the use in geriatric practice.
Ginseng may also help improve memory in patients with mild dementia following a stroke, according to the results of a randomized pilot study reported at the American Stroke Association's 28th International Stroke Conference. However, larger, controlled trials are needed to evaluate safety and efficacy.
Studies now demonstrate ginkgo works for normal age-related memory loss, although prevention is better than a cure. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has been well documented to improve cerebral blood flow and to have antioxidant activity on the nerves and vasculature. Ginkgo may also reduce the age-related decline of neurotransmitters and receptors. Through these actions ginkgo may improve cognitive function and reduce central nervous system degeneration.
Extracted from the ancient ginkgo tree, ginkgo biloba is considered the best of all brain-boosting supplements on the market. Studies of people with Alzheimer's disease show that ginkgo enhances blood flow to the brain and improves memory recall. In addition, ginkgo is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Ginkgo does thin the blood and can clash with some medications, especially blood thinners; so check with your doctor before taking and make sure not to take before a surgery.
Bacopa is an Ayurvedic medicine used in India for memory enhancement, epilepsy, insomnia, and as a mild sedative. Some studies have shown that bacopa has antioxidant effects (Tripathi 1996), while a study on rats showed bacopa administration improves learning skills (Singh 1982). Dr. Shailinder Sodhi, an expert in Ayurvedic herbs, reports, “Bacopa is a brain tonic that provides relief from stress; it energizes but does not act as a stimulant. Bacopa is often taken in the morning and the effects can last all day. Users notice alertness, clarity of vision, and stimulation of appetite. The dosage is 125 mg for 50 percent bacosides standardized extract, or 10 ml of the liquid extract.” Bacopa has potential as a cognitive aid, but a few more studies are needed in order to determine which neurotransmitters this herb influences and to determine its long-term effectiveness and safety profile.