Nootropics are the new hype this year. After watching movies like Lucy or Limitless, it is a no-brainer that individuals will be interested in improving their cognitive functions. However, from all the noise that supplement manufacturers make by claiming that “these pills will dramatically improve your cognitive domains,” it is hard to know which ones are effective.
With this in mind, I am not reviewing or stating which supplement manufacturers make the most effective nootropics, rather, which foods contain the ingredients that can be found in nootropic supplements that can improve your cognitive abilities.
So, without further adieu, the 3 most powerful (cognitive enhancing) nootropic foods are:
1) Fatty fish
Omega 3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, shellfish, and herring can assist in optimal brain function. The two types of fatty acids found in omega 3 fatty acids are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
DHA makes membranes in the brain more fluid as it sweeps out a great volume of the membrane compared to EPA. The increase in membrane fluidity is crucial for synaptic vesicles and allows receptors to rotate more effectively thus increasing the transmission of signals from the surface of the membrane to the interior of the nerve cells (Sears, 2012)
A study was published by Dr. Bazan in 2011 and found that DHA triggers the production of a Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), a naturally occurring neuroprotective molecule in the brain derived from DHA. This not only treat salvage stroke-damaged brain tissue that would have died, its repair mechanisms rendered some areas indistinguishable from normal tissue by 7 days (Lukiw, Cui, Marcheselli, Bodker, Gotlinger, & Bazan, 2005).
EPA, on the other hand, is essential for reducing neuroinflammation by competing against arachidonic acid for access to the same enzymes needed to produce inflammatory eicosanoids. However, since EPA levels are under constant demand, low EPA levels in adolescents and adults correlates strongly with the development of mental health issues including depression and neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
Eggs contain an essential nutrient called “choline” which is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It enhances the encoding of memories in the cortex and the development of synapses all through the brain (Whittaker, 1990). This improves memory encoding and helps other neurotransmitters to communicate messages. While the body does produce small amounts of choline, it is not enough for good health, hence, individuals must obtain it through food sources. Contrast, the lack of the necessary neuroplasticity may be the major aspect of the disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A study was done on the consumption of eggs over the course of 22 years on 2500 men. The results showed that the over the years the patients received better results in a certain test measuring cognitive performance (Ylilauri, Voutilainen, Lönnroos, Mursu, Virtanen, Koskinen, Salonen, & Tuomainen, 2017). This proves that eggs do play a part on improving individual’s cognitive performance.
3) Leafy greens
Kale and spinach, may not be your favorite leafy vegetables, but they do contain two carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin, which can improve your memory.
There are three studies that prove higher levels lutein and zeaxanthin in the individual’s body is linked with improvement in cognitive performance. The first study was done on volunteers supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin which led to faster processing speed, even on young, healthy individuals who tend to be at their peak efficiency (Bovier, Renzi, & Hammond, 2014). In another study, subjects with high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin did better on a test of working memory and were observed under fMRI which showed that their brains work more efficiently (Lindbergh, Mewborn, Hammond, Renzi, Curran-Celentano, & Miller, 2016). Lastly, the carotenoid, lutein, was associated with greater crystallized intelligence, meaning the ability to use learned knowledge and experience, in healthy, older adults (Zamroziewicz, Paul, Zwilling, Johnson, Kuchan, Cohen, & Barbey, 2016).
Bonus) Green tea and Coffee
Though green tea and coffee are considered drinks instead of nootropic foods, they do provide the similar effects as nootropics to the brain.
Green tea contains an amino acid called “L-theanine”. It allows the user to reach an optimal state of relaxed concentration without feeling drowsy. It also increases the levels of dopamine, GABA, and neurotransmitters serotonin which improves mood, recall, learning, calm focus, and speed and accuracy of performance.
In one study, the consumption of green tea lead to an increase in brain connectivity. Specifically, the frontal region of the brain which is linked to executive function, and the parietal region which manages the sensory input. The researchers also discovered that the consumption of green tea enhances the performance on a test of working memory (Schmidt, Hammann, Wölnerhanssen, Meyer-Gerspach, Drewe, Beglinger, & Borgwardt, 2014).
Likewise, coffee contains caffeine which is known for providing the user a feeling of energy, concentration, and alertness. It works by suppressing the production of adenosine in our body and increasing the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Studies have shown that caffeine plays a protective role for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease and may even prevent early mortality (Ding, Satija, Bhupathiraju, Hu, Sun, Han, Lopez-Garcia, Willett, Dam, & Hu, 2015). Although caffeine is considered more of a stimulant than a Natural Nootropic, it is established to enhance the performance of the brain. The only side effects of caffeine are that it leads to headaches and jitteriness if high quantities are consumed.
When Caffeine and L-Theanine are stacked together, it drastically improved the performance on cognitively demanding tasks. According to the School of Psychology in Australia when caffeine and L-Theanine interact the ability to ignore distraction and attention enhanced, which is reflective of the higher level of cognitive activity. The major benefit when both are stacked together is that L-Theanine neutralizes the jittery effects of caffeine without diminishing the effectiveness as a mental energizer. Therefore, the user has the energy, alertness, concentration, and the ability to avoid distractions without feeling drowsy or jittery.
Overall, despite reading the supportive theory and facts, it is the action that comes next that can enhance your cognitive functions. To recap the three most powerful nootropic foods are fatty fish, eggs, and leafy vegetables. Those nootropic foods are natural and least costly to the body and brain. What other nootropic foods do you recommend?
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Ace Nootropics, rather is organized data collected from research papers/articles.
Bovier, Emily R., Lisa M. Renzi, and Billy R. Hammond. “A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study on the Effects of Lutein and Zeaxanthin on Neural Processing Speed and Efficiency.” N.p., 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 May 2017.
Ding, Ming, Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Yang Hu, Qi Sun, Jiali Han, Esther Lopez-Garcia, Walter Willett, Rob M. Van Dam, and Frank B. Hu. “Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts.” Circulation. American Heart Association, Inc., 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 15 May 2017.
Lindbergh, Cutter A., Catherine M. Mewborn, Billy R. Hammond, Lisa M. Renzi-Hammond, Joanne M. Curran-Celentano, and L. Stephen Miller. “Relationship of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Levels to Neurocognitive Functioning: An fMRI Study of Older Adults | Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.” N.p., 25 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 May 2017.
Lukiw, Walter J., Jian-Guo Cui, Victor L. Marcheselli, Merete Bodker, Anja Botkjaer, Katherine Gotlinger, Charles N. Serhan, and Nicolas G. Bazan. “A role for docosahexaenoic acid–derived neuroprotectin D1 in neural cell survival and Alzheimer disease.” N.p., 01 Oct. 2005. Web. 15 May 2017.
Schmidt, André, Felix Hammann, Bettina Wölnerhanssen, Anne Christin Meyer-Gerspach, Jürgen Drewe, Christoph Beglinger, and Stefan Borgwardt. “Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing.” N.p., 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 May 2017.
Sears, Barry. “What Are the Real Differences Between EPA and DHA?” N.p., 01 Apr. 2012. Web. 15 May 2017.
Whittaker, Victor P. “The contribution of drugs and toxins to understanding of cholinergic function☆.” N.p., Jan. 1990. Web. 15 May 2017.
Ylilauri, Maija PT, Sari Voutilainen, Eija Lönnroos, Jaakko Mursu, Heli EK Virtanen, Timo T. Koskinen, Jukka T. Salonen, and And Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen. “Maija PT Ylilauri.” N.p., 01 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 May 2017.
Zamroziewicz, Marta K., Erick J. Paul, Chris E. Zwilling, Elizabeth J. Johnson, Matthew J. Kuchan, Neal J. Cohen, and Aron K. Barbey. “Parahippocampal Cortex Mediates the Relationship between Lutein and Crystallized Intelligence in Healthy, Older Adults.” N.p., 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 15 May 2017.
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