Many of those ingredients get produced in smaller quantities than your brain needs, which is why there are so many of those ingredients and derivatives of those ingredients on the market today.
So without further ado, here are ten of the smartpill ingredients your body produces.
Phosphatidylserine (let’s call it PS for short, because there’s only so much abuse a spellchecker can take) is synthesized from Phosphatidylcholine (PC), the most abundant cell membrane material in the brain.
PC is on the outside of brain cells, and PS is part of the inner layer. PS supports the sending of signals across the gaps between brain cells, and that’s how we form memories.
It also helps the growth of brain cells and the creation of mitochondria – the energy sources in each cell. Think of mitochondria as little natural rechargeable batteries and you won’t be far wrong.
As one of the most effective memory boosters known, PS has been shown to slow down, stop, and even reverse age-related cognitive decline. During intense exercise, PS helps lower the level of hormones such as cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and that brings on relaxation and a more positive mood.
Users of PS as a supplement report improved alertness, better memory, concentration and logical thinking, plus an improved mood. They also report it relieves insomnia, and causes them to have seriously vivid dreams.
Unlike most other smartpill ingredients, Phosphatidylserine brings brainwave levels down from busy everyday Beta to Alpha, which is a much more relaxed and creative state of mind. It’s commercially available in capsule or tablet form.
Creatine is one of the 11 non-essential amino acids – they’re the ones which can be produced in the human body. It’s created in the liver, pancreas and kidneys, and it plays an essential part in fueling the mitochondria – those little rechargeable cell batteries, remember?
More accurately, it plays an essential part in re-fueling those mitochondria. The fuel itself is Adenosine Triphosphate (otherwise known as ATP), which when it’s used loses a phosphate molecule. That process converts it into Adenosine Diphosphate, or ADP.
Creatine provides the phosphate molecule ADP needs to convert itself back to ATP, and keep on fueling the mitochondria. Once refueled, brain cells can continue creating, sending, and receiving neurotransmitters much more efficiently.
Neurotransmitters? They’re those little chemical messengers that travel back and forth delivering information between brain cells. They also deliver messages from brain cells to other cells in your body, for example telling your heart to beat, and your lungs to breathe in and out. Efficient communication between brain cells raises intelligence levels, improves memory, speeds up thought processes and elevates a person’s mood.
Creatine also protects brain cells from toxins, and seems to help the brain use more of the oxygen it’s fed via the bloodstream. Creatine is available from many suppliers as a supplement in the form of powder, capsules, and liquid.
Human blood contains many natural steroids, and DHEA is one of the most common ones. It’s the base material from which hormones like testosterone and estrogen are derived. So it will come as no surprise that DHEA is created in the testes, but it might just be slightly surprising to learn that it’s created in the brain as well.
Low levels of DHEA bring on feelings of overwhelm, tiredness, depression, moodiness, and a seriously reduced sex drive. Raised levels keep neurotransmitters working properly for concentration, memory, and other mental skills. DHEA can help keep mitochondria in the brain fuelled up while also improving alertness, managing appetite, and looking after the way the body uses energy in general.
It protects brain cells from damage from too much glutamate, which can always be a threat because among other things, excess glutamate can cause seizures. DHEA also protects brain cells from too much cortisol (the stress hormone) while in stressful situations.
DHEA is often referred to as the “youth hormone”, which is unfortunate in that levels drop by anywhere up to 80% between a person’s mid-twenties and mid-seventies. This is where scientists are really interested in DHEA, because many believe that it could have a direct effect on the process of aging.
It’s been found to work well as an anti-depressant, and in particular, according to the National Institutes of Health, it’s “an effective treatment for midlife-onset major and minor depression”.
Available from many retailers, DHEA comes in capsules, ointments, creams, and lozenges, but you need to remember that if you’re taking DHEA supplements orally, you’re not going to get the benefits of much more than 10-15% of these doses.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid or, more simply, GABA is formed within brain cells from glutamate. It acts as one of the most important relaxing neurotransmitters, primarily to keep glutamate (another, more stimulating neurotransmitter) down to an appropriate level.
As we’ve said before, too much glutamate can cause seizures, but then again, too much GABA can put you into a coma. So it’s essential that glutamate and GABA are balanced properly.
GABA keeps neuron stimulation down, which is why low GABA levels can bring on restlessness and anxiety – even panic attacks. And that’s why Valium, Xanax, and similar drugs have a calming effect – because they increase brain cell sensitivity to GABA. Elsewhere in the body, low GABA levels have been connected to muscle problems, dry skin, digestion problems, Tourette’s, and even epilepsy.
GABA helps in the pituitary gland’s creation of Human Growth Hormone, which helps muscles grow after bodybuilding workouts. It also slows down brain waves from everyday busy Beta to more contemplative relaxed Alpha, which always helps when it comes to mental activity.
Commercial GABA supplements are available in powder form, capsules and tablets, but many scientists aren’t that sure exactly how effective they are, because even though it does produce calming effects, GABA can’t actually cross into the brain from the bloodstream.
L-carnosine is a combination of two amino acids, and is found in high concentrations in your heart, your muscles and, because it requires so much energy to operate your brain.
It’s one of the most powerful antioxidants known to scientists, and as well as hunting down and eliminating free radicals and heavy metals around the body, it also clears out other toxins in the brain and repairs tissues there to keep it functioning properly. So no wonder they call it the “longevity molecule”.
Here’s a bit of bad news, though: once you hit the age of ten, levels of L-carnosine start dropping until you reach your mid-seventies, and you’re left with only around 40% what you started out with.
Back to the good news: even if the mitochondria in your brain cells have completely stopped working, L-carnosine can revive them and bring those cells back to full functionality.
Elsewhere in the brain, L-carnosine protects it by preventing damage done by sugars binding to amino acids, which can be caused by anything from types of food including nuts and tofu, to cooking methods like roasting and frying. This damage affects memory, in particular how long it takes to remember words.
On a more long-term basis, brain cells affected by Alzheimer’s are often found to have structures between them which have become tangled up, and have lost much of their effectiveness. L-carnosine prevent the cause of that tangling.
As a supplement, it’s available in powder form, and in various doses in capsules and tablets. OK, so this doesn’t have a lot to do with smartpills, but L-carnosine does help clear up the colds and flu, which happen when your immune system gets compromised by toxins and free radicals.
How? Well, remember how people keep saying chicken soup’s really, really good for colds and flu? It seems they’re right, because it contains L-carnosine. Lots of it.
L-DOPA is an amino acid created in the brain from l-tyrosine, another amino acid. It’s then converted into dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to control reward and pleasure centers in the brain. It’s involved in the production of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which you need for good memory function and basically to stay in a great mood.
If you don’t have enough dopamine or norepinephrine, you could find yourself suffering from memory loss, brain fog, low energy levels, and not such a great mood. Worse, there’s also the inability to feel any kind of pleasure, and added to that, there’s ongoing fatigue – both physical and mental. As you get older, you lose more and more of the brain cells’ dopamine receptors, and your body loses the ability to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters.
However, either by consuming foods like fava beans (which have a very high L-DOPA content), or by cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, candy, and sodas, you’ll get more L-DOPA. The more L-DOPA you have, the better the amount and quality of neurotransmitters you’ll have in the brain, and so the more efficiently it’s going to operate.
L-DOPA also helps the growth of cells within the brain, and helps the brain as a whole get rid of the toxins and heavy metals which lower its performance level. L-DOPA is available in capsules, tablets and powder form, usually derived from Mucuna Pruriens, otherwise known as Velvet Bean.
But there are two points to note here: the first is that synthetic L-DOPA is mainly for treating Parkinson’s Disease, so always go for the organic version. And the second point is that if you’re using L-DOPA as a brain-booster, it’s easy to develop a tolerance to it, and it’s easy to get addicted to it. The solution would be to use it for a few days and then take a break for a while.
Deep within your brain is something that looks like a tiny pine cone. That’s your pineal gland, which responds to light and darkness and works as your body’s clock, telling you when to sleep, and when to wake up and be active again.
It’s also believed to have metaphysical powers, and that’s why it’s often called your “third eye”. But for the time being let’s leave out the mystical side of things, and just concentrate on what the pineal gland does to keep your brain healthy and your thinking processes up to scratch.
The pineal gland works its body clock magic by secreting melatonin, which is not-so-surprisingly often called the “sleep hormone”. It’s also a neurotransmitter, one of those chemical messengers going backwards and forwards between brain cells.
But there’s more to melatonin than that: it’s a powerful antioxidant, it helps the mitochondria in brain cells power up and, of course, melatonin helps you to get to sleep and sleep better once you’ve nodded off. It also helps the brain change its structure when needed, altering the number of brain cells and the amount of connections between them.
Alzheimer’s patients have been found to have significantly lower levels of melatonin than they should, and those low levels can also increase the possibility of stroke.
Proper levels of melatonin not only reduce that possibility, but can also guard against trauma to the brain. As an aside, melatonin can also lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Melatonin supplements are available in pill form, gummies, capsules, and powder.
Technically, L-Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid derived from two other amino acids, serine, and methionine. Semi-essential means it can be synthesized in the body, but not always in the right quantities, so those quantities need to be topped up through diet.
L-cysteine makes up L-glutamine, another amino acid, which is then converted to two neurotransmitters, glutamate, and GABA. Glutamate has a lot to do with the formation of memories and their recall, while GABA in the right amounts keeps overstimulation of the brain to a minimum.
L-cysteine raises the levels of glutathione, often referred to as “the mother of all antioxidants” and scavenges for free radicals within the brain. There’s no point in taking glutathione as a smartpill supplement because it can’t cross from the blood into the brain, but L-cysteine can do that, and work its magic from within.
It also makes sure that glutamate and dopamine levels in the brain are properly balanced. Unbalanced levels of glutamate and dopamine can bring on anxiety and depression. It’s also worth noting that too much glutamate can even end up killing off brain cells. As well as that, L-cysteine also protects those neuron receptors set up to receive dopamine.
However, L-cysteine levels can drop dramatically throughout the body and brain through illness, stress, and poor diet, leaving the brain vulnerable to too much glutamate and not enough dopamine.
A great deal of recent research suggests that n-acetyl-l-cysteine (AKA NAC), a derivative of L-cysteine used as a smartpill ingredient, can help people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which many researchers think have a lot to do with too much glutamate and free radical damage.
Found in every cell in the body, NADH (or Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide + Hydrogen, or coenzyme 1 if you’re looking to get technical about names) is a form of Vitamin B3, otherwise known as Niacin.
It’s in every single body cell and helps in the process of converting food into ATP – the substance that powers mitochondria to give cells the energy they need to operate properly. Low levels of ATP in brain cells slows down mental processing and induces brain fog, and this will get worse as time goes on until the brain cells in question actually shut down and die.
NADH is a powerful antioxidant that wipes out free radicals which damage brain cells, while repairing that damage and damage to DNA. It also raises the levels of Nitric Oxide. Sadly that’s not the laughing gas we all know and love, but it does relax blood vessels in the brain so blood can travel round it faster, delivering nutrients like glucose and oxygen when and where they’re needed.
NADH improves memory, learning, cognition in general, as well as mood. It does this by setting off production of three important neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
It’s possible to get NADH from your diet, but not much: vegetables don’t contain an awful lot, and most of the other NADH you get from meat and fish gets broken down by cooking, and then by stomach acid. So low NADH levels can occur at any age, for example during infancy or even at birth. And if those low levels continue they can lead to ongoing health problems, and often lead to some kind of substance addiction.
For those who travel a lot and have discovered that supplements containing melatonin (the body clock hormone) don’t work as we as they’d hoped when it comes to jet lag, NADH has been found to reduce jet lag symptoms better than anything containing melatonin.
As for those white-knuckle flyers who hate having to get up stupidly early so often to catch their red-eye flights, NADH has also been found to reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue and lower anxiety levels. And they’d be most interested in sublingual tablets, which allow NADH to start work faster because it’s absorbed into the bloodstream via the tiny blood vessels in the area under the tongue, without having to go through the digestive system first.
For the rest of us who get up at a reasonable hour and don’t immediately have to rush to the airport, NADH is also available in tablet and capsule form.
The last smartpill ingredient we’re going to look at here is SAM-e (or S-Adenosyl Methionine, Ademethionine, Adomet, but we prefer calling it simply SAM-e).
It’s found in pretty well every cell in the body as an amino acid bound to a molecule of ATP, the fuel source for the mitochondria which power each cell. Not only that, it also works on the outside of brain cells, forming the myelin that surrounds and protects them.
It helps create (and break down) the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and melatonin, all of which have a direct effect on mood, behavior, and emotions.
This gives SAM-e the ability to help a person deal with depression faster than the six to eight weeks it takes for antidepressant medications to start working, and as an added bonus it doesn’t have the side effects associated with them.
SAM-e is also converted into a powerful antioxidant, which fights inflammation and relieves pain throughout the body. SAM-e levels lower as we get older, and it’s not possible to get it from diet so it’s worth considering taking it as a supplement.
You really need to take it with vitamins B6, B12, and folate, otherwise you’re running the risk of heart attack. So be warned.
And that concludes our look at smartpill ingredients you already have in your body.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t use supplements to add to what you’ve already got inside you, but then again, neither are we advising you to rush out and grab the first available bottle of pills, capsules, gummies, or powder.
What we are advising you to do, though, is to think very carefully about which supplement or smartpill you think you need, and why. Then do your own research into it because even though it’d be great to get just what you think you need, it would be such a shame if you got it wrong.