- Many natural foods such as tea, mushrooms, and cacao contain safe, valuable nootropics.
- Nootropics can boost memory, enhance cognitive performance, and improve mood.
- Several natural nootropics increase attention while decreasing anxiety to create calm mental alertness.
- When considering nutrition, we should include foods that benefit our mental health and brain function.
What exactly are nootropics?
Nootropics are simply ingredients found in either natural foods or pharmaceuticals that help enhance cognitive capacity and performance. Many people look to nootropics to increase mental focus and clarity, improve memory, decrease risks of cognitive decline, and reduce anxiety or depression. Nootropics can occur naturally such as those found in tea, or they can be synthetic and used pharmacologically to treat certain mental or physical conditions.
Where does the term nootropic come from?
The word nootropic was first coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea in the 1960s. Dr. Giurgea was a Romanian chemist and psychologist who was trying to develop a treatment for motion sickness when he discovered a new class of drugs that specifically affect the mind. Dr. Giurgea defined nootropics by the following effects: they improve memory and behavior, protect the brain, and demonstrate low toxicity and side effects.
What are natural nootropics?
While pharmaceutical nootropics may be necessary to treat ADHD or narcolepsy, the average person who wants to simply increase focus, boost their memory, or improve their mood can turn to nootropics found in natural foods and supplements.
Nootropics can be found in foods and spices such as turmeric, tea, mushrooms, and cacao or in supplements and packaged foods that combine these ingredients. Packaged items containing multiple natural nootropics have become more popular as people look for convenient options for breakfast, healthy beverages, and snacks between meals.
Have nootropics found in food been studied?
Nootropics have been studied extensively for a wide range of benefits, and more information is always being discovered about the ways some of these foods and supplements can be used to treat a variety of mental and physical concerns. Whether looking at the beneficial effects of nootropics on short-term memory, decreasing depression symptoms, or performing cognitive tasks, studies continue to show that there are multiple benefits to adding foods containing nootropics to our diets and very little to no risk of side effects.
What foods contain nootropics?
Nootropics come from a variety of plant-based sources as well as fish and eggs. Foods that are high in nootropics include tea, cacao, turmeric, lion’s mane mushrooms, dark chocolate, blueberries, and spinach.
The most common nootropic used worldwide is caffeine. Coffee, black tea, and green tea are the best available sources of caffeine, which has been shown to increase alertness and enhance both cognitive and athletic performance.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a nootropic found in fatty fish or fish oil, has been proven to repair and renew brain cells, promote heart health, and reduce inflammation. Fish oil supplements are generally very safe, inexpensive, and provide a variety of health benefits for most people.
Turmeric, which can be used as a culinary spice or in supplement form, has been shown to lower oxidative stress, promote digestions, and decrease inflammation. Turmeric is inexpensive, widely available, and has been used throughout the world to reduce symptoms of a variety of physical ailments.
Which nootropics improve learning and memory?
There are several nootropics that can enhance memory. Creatine, a popular nootropic for enhancing athletic performance and building muscle, has also been shown to improve performance on intelligence and memory tasks. Creatine binds with phosphate in your brain to create a molecule that quickly fuels cells. This extra energy is linked to improved short-term memory, especially for older adults and vegetarians. Because it has been used so widely as a supplement, creatine has been proven safe for most users.
Cacao is an excellent source of the nootropics theobromine and phenethylamine (PEA). In one study, supplementing with theobromine improved working memory, defined as the cognitive capacity to actively and temporarily maintain information to complete a task. Theobromine enhances blood flow and oxygenation to the brain while increasing the speed with which the brain responds to stimuli. PEA has been proven to augment neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and acetylcholine to improve concentration and memory.
One nootropic that has gained attention recently is L-theanine, which is an amino acid found in tea leaves and mushrooms. L-theanine is particularly promising because it has been shown to stimulate alpha brain waves to increase focus and attention while also decreasing anxiety.
L-theanine and caffeine have both been studied for their positive effects on cognitive function and increase in mental focus. In fact, the combination of taking both L-theanine and caffeine together has been proven to increase attention and alertness during demanding cognitive tasks. L-theanine and caffeine occur together naturally in tea and are easily available in some supplements and protein bars.
Which nootropics improve mood?
Phenethylamine (PEA), found naturally in cacao, has been proven to relieve the symptoms of clinical depression. Called “the natural anti-depressant,” PEA reduces depression without any apparent side effects. PEA boosts the activity of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin to elevate mood safely and without dependency.
Stress and anxiety can have a negative effect on mental performance, so calming the mind while improving mental focus can increase productivity. Cortisol levels increase in the body during stress, inhibiting memory and learning. L-theanine has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by working as an anxiolytic. While some natural anxiolytics can make users feel sleepy or sedated, L-theanine creates calm without sedation. In this state, we feel mentally awake, yet relaxed.
Choline, a nootropic used in many chemical reactions in the body, can be found in fish, liver, eggs, nuts, beans, peas, spinach, and broccoli. Choline offers a host of physical benefits including increasing athletic endurance, decreasing inflammation, and boosting memory and mood. Low levels of choline have been linked to increased anxiety and other mental disorders, and choline supplements may relieve anxiety while also improving brain function.
Why should nootropics be a part of my nutrition plan?
For most people, nutrition is understood in terms of what food does to the physical body. People are often concerned with weight management or muscle gains but may not think of food as an untapped resource for improving mental health and cognitive function. Many foods that contain nootropics that are good for the mind are also good for the body. Seeking out foods and supplements with nootropics offers a host of protections against physical symptoms such as inflammation while also stimulating neurotransmitters responsible for memory, attention, and mood.
If we can increase our consumption of foods rich in nootropics such as tea, cacao, mushrooms, and berries, we can not only reap the physical rewards of conscious nutrition, but the cognitive benefits as well.