Here are ten of those smartpill ingredients (we’ve left out caffeine in coffee, because everyone knows about that already). Any one of these could just give you the kind of edge you’re looking for – and taste great, too!
Turmeric, that bright yellow spice so popular in Indian curries, isn’t just flavorful, it also contains what many say is the best nootropic ever – curcumin. Curcumin boosts neurogenesis, which is the creation of new neurons and essential for learning and memory.
Also known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, normal levels of neurogenesis have been shown to prevent depression, OCDs, schizophrenia, and dementia.
Curcumin also raises production of feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the brain, as well as being a powerful protective antioxidant which also cuts down the formation of plaques commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s also thought that turmeric is more potent as an antidepressant than even Prozac, working by lowering levels of cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone”. By itself, turmeric is cleared from the body so fast it doesn’t have the chance to do much good. But taking it with piperine, in the form of black pepper, gives turmeric the chance to get to work, as does combining it with organic coconut or olive oil, preferably cold-pressed.
Curcumin is also available commercially in supplements such as Curcumin C3 Complex, BCM95, Longvida, and Meriva.
Next time you reach for the pepper shaker or the pepper mill, you’ll be doing yourself a favor when you add a little pepper flavor. Both black pepper and white pepper contain piperine, a nitrogen compound which has a stimulating effect on the nerves, the digestive systems, and – if you’re a bit overgenerous with it – your taste buds.
Piperine is used as a smartpill ingredient not just because it decreases anxiety while improving mood and memory, but also because it helps the body better absorb other ingredients in that smartpill or supplement (technical term: bioavailability).
As a smartpill ingredient on its own, piperine raises levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It’s also an anti-oxidant, with anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor capabilities.
As a smartpill ingredient in a mix, piperine prevents the elimination of other ingredients, meaning they stay in the body for longer and their effectiveness is much improved. For example, researchers measured the amount of curcumin in their subjects’ bloodstream when they’d consumed it by itself and then later they mixed it with piperine. It was then that the researchers discovered the piperine had boosted the bioavailability of curcumin by a massive 2000%.
However, it’s not that easy to estimate how much piperine you’re adding to your dinner when you’re sprinkling pepper over it, but there is a patented from of piperine called BioPerine which you can get by itself or mixed in other supplement manufacturers’ smartpill ingredients – in precise measurable doses.
The body doesn’t produce anywhere near enough L-Phenylalanine, so it’s just as well you can find it in high-protein foods like almonds, avocados, bananas, beans, beef, cheese, chicken, dairy products, eggs, fish, lamb, pork, and whole grains.
Phenylalanine lowers stress levels, raises mood, and improves memory. It’s an amino acid which is naturally converted into dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pain and pleasure centers. Unused dopamine is then converted to noradrenaline and adrenaline, which are always useful when it comes to a fight-or-flight situation.
On a more long-term basis, L-Phenylalanine can help a slowed-down thyroid gland work better and, over time, can act as an effective anti-depressant. It’s also been used to help treat ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, and even symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Many companies sell L-Phenylalanine in capsule, tablet, and powder form.
If you’ve got a bunch of grapes in your fruitbowl, or maybe a handful or two of blueberries wherever you tend to keep them, then you’ve got yourself a rich source of Trans-3,5-dimethoxy-4-hydroxystilbene, ready and waiting to boost your memory and learning abilities.
Then again, it’s probably easier to call it Pterostilbene (pronounced terra-still-bean) or just plain PTE. No matter what you call it, it’s quite close in makeup to another supplement called Resveratrol, which has been getting a lot of media attention for the past few years now, thanks to its promises of anything from weight loss to longer lifespan.
PTE, on the other hand, is a lot easier for the body to absorb than resveratrol, and as a smartpill ingredient it keeps levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine high in the brain’s memory centers, resulting in increased alertness and memory formation, together with improved cognitive function.
It also protects the brain from damage from a stroke, paves the way for new brain cells to be created, and just as a bonus it also lowers anxiety levels without making you feel drowsy.
Your body doesn’t make PTE, but it’s available commercially either as part of a nootropic stack (that’s a selection of smartpill ingredients mixed together) like Mind Lab Pro, or on its own as pTeroPure.
Popular wisdom has been telling us for years that the reason we feel sleepy after a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, is that it’s because turkey contains L-tryptophan.
And the tryptophan in your turkey might just be a great excuse to shut your eyes and take a nap, while everyone else clears dinner away and gets busy in the kitchen, but you’d better hope none of your family and Thanksgiving guests read this.
That’s because it’s not the tryptophan in your turkey that makes you sleepy. In fact, turkey contains enough protein to fight off post-dinner tiredness. And it also contains just about the same amount of tryptophan as any other kind of meat.
So if it doesn’t send you to sleep, then what does the tryptophan in your turkey do?
First off, it helps lower levels of anxiety and depression. It can reduce pain, or at least increase tolerance towards it. And tryptophan can help treat ADHD, OCDs, PMS, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can also be used to treat memory loss and even eating problems.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. “Essential” in this case means the body can’t produce it by itself, so it has to come from food.
Once in the body, it gets converted to serotonin (that “happy hormone”). Low serotonin level symptoms include low energy, a negative outlook on life, tension and irritability, anxiety, and depression – all of which add up to reduced cognitive ability.
Tryptophan is also converted to melatonin, the hormone in your pineal gland that controls your sleep cycles, which is why it’s often used as an alternative to medications for sleep problems. It’s also got the added bonus that if you take it in the evening, you’re going to feel great the following day.
So, where to find a source of tryptophan in your kitchen? It’s in bananas, bread, cheese, chocolate (as if you need an excuse!) chicken, milk, oats, peanuts, prunes, tuna, and of course turkey.
Here’s great news for beer lovers: your favorite foaming brew is one of the best possible food sources of uridine, one of the building blocks of Ribonucleic acid, and a critical element in the creation of new synapses and formation of neurotransmitters.
But here’s bad news for broccoli haters: you get a lot of uridine in your broccoli, too. And however you feel about them, you can also find it in beetroot, fish, mushroom, parsley, sugar cane, and tomatoes. Because it’s essential for developing brains, you’ll also find another form of uridine – uridine monophosphate – in baby formula.
Uridine improves memory by helping new nerve cell connections form, and by increasing the communication between those connections. It also lifts mood by releasing more dopamine – another feel-good neurotransmitter which also improves learning and attention. Other benefits include decrease of stress (always good for concentration), and reduction of symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Researchers believe that together with Omega-3 and Choline, Uridine “could provide an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s”.
One problem though is that much of the uridine in food (and beer) doesn’t make it to where it’s needed in the brain. Of course, one option is to consume more uridine-containing food (or beverage), but it’s easy enough to supplement with uridine monophosphate, which crosses the blood-brain barrier much more easily. This is available in both powder and capsule form. Just search for it on Amazon and you’ll find any number of different formats, from any number of different retailers.
Anyone here feel like a nice cup of tea?
We’re only asking because as well as tea of any kind (white, green, or black) makes for a refreshing and flavorful break, it is also one of the best sources of theanine (or L-Theanine) you could find.
It’s an amino acid, similar to a couple of neurotransmitters already within the brain, and it’s best known for lowering anxiety levels, improving memory and cognitive functions, including thought processes and the ability to focus. And unlike most other smart pill supplements, it’s got a positive effect on your brain waves.
So what effect does Theanine have on brain waves? Without going into too much detail here (we might just save a closer look at the subject for some other time), your brain creates tiny pulses of electrical activity, and depending on the interval between those pulses the brain can be said to be in the Beta, Alpha, Theta, or Delta state.
Beta is the busiest state, while Alpha and Theta (the states Theanine induces) are all about relaxation and creativity. Theanine mainly induces Alpha brain waves and the calmness they produce makes learning much easier than when you’re stressed, but they do it without making you feel sleepy. As well as that, Theanine improves your mood by raising levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, and protects the brain from the effects of too much stimulation brought on by glutamate.
So all in all, there’s a lot to be said for a nice cup of tea.
If you’re a meat-eater, then you’ve got a great source of Coenzyme Q10 in beef, fatty fish like mackerel and sardines, and poultry. If you’re not, then you’ve still got a good supply in the form of nuts, seeds, butter, and oils like extra virgin olive oil.
No matter what you eat, each of your cells needs an energy source. Those energy sources are called mitochondria, and each of those mitochondria needs fuel. Coenzyme Q10 (AKA CoQ10) is that fuel, and it gets used up faster than your body can produce it, so that’s another good reason for eating right.
That’s especially true for your brain, where there are more of those mitochondria in each brain cell than almost anywhere else in the body. And without enough fuel, brain cells weaken and die. But with enough fuel, brain cells operate at their best, transmitting signals between each other for excellent learning, recall, and thought processes.
CoQ10’s antioxidant properties protects all your cells from damage – especially those in your brain, where the damage from free radicals has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS. CoQ10 also increases blood flow to the brain, while lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It boosts energy levels and reduces fatigue. In addition, it’s used to prevent heart disease and aids in recovery after a heart attack, plus it reduces the side effects of chemotherapy.
As a supplement, CoQ10 is available in both liquid and capsule form, but it’s also sold in two different versions: Ubiquinone and Ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is pretty much the same as the CoQ10 your body produces naturally, while Ubiquinone costs less but makes your body work hard to convert it to Ubiquinol.
Reach for the cheese. Or for the dairy products. Or for the eggs. Or for the beef, the fish, the pork, the beets, beans, cabbage, spinach, wheat, or parsley. Each of these is a good source of L-glutamine, necessary for the production of glutamate – the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. (While we’re here, parsley might make for a cute garnish, but it’s also full of antioxidants, vitamins, and volatile oils. So next time you chew on a sprig to get rid of garlic breath, you’ll also be doing yourself a healthful and nutritious favor.)
The glutamate created through L-glutamine also goes on to become GABA, another neurotransmitter. GABA calms down communication between brain cells which have become over-excited because of too much glutamate. This over-excitement can cause either anxiety or depression, if not both. So there needs to be a balance between L-glutamine and glutamate, and if these two substances get out of balance then some serious problems like brain cell death, tumors, and mental illness can develop.
Away from the brain, L-glutamine is thought to increase the pituitary gland’s production of Human Growth Hormone, which helps with cell reproduction and regeneration and, as the name suggests, physical growth. It’s also linked to strengthening communications between brain cells. And away from the kitchen, it’s possible to find L-glutamine in powder form, in capsules, or as tablets.
“For 5 cents per person per year, you can make the whole population smarter than before”.
That’s according to Dr Gerald Burrow, one-time dean of the medical school at Yale. He was talking about a nickel’s worth of iodine over the course of a year, mixed in with common table salt.
Your body doesn’t make iodine on its own, but you’ll find it in iodized table salt (well, duh!) and also in all kinds of vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil and of course, seafood – including seaweed, but perhaps best not kelp because it’s difficult to know how much iodine it contains. Plus there’s the chance of toxicity thanks to the possibility of it also containing halides or arsenic. You can also find iodine in beans, eggs, and milk products.
Here’s what happens to children who don’t get enough iodine (or potassium iodate, to give it its full scientific name): goiter – that’s a swollen thyroid gland in the neck, cretinism – that’s “severely stunted physical and mental growth”, and dwarfism. Those are the visible effects, but the unseen effects of just moderate iodine deficiency in infants and pregnant women is “the leading preventable cause of mental retardation”. We’re talking 10-15 IQ points that could have been saved, by just five cents’ worth of potassium iodate.
But how does iodine come under the heading of smartpill ingredient? It’s all to do with your thyroid gland: it affects every cell in your body by creating the imaginatively-named hormones T4 and T3. In the brain, T4 becomes T3, which not only activates the release of adrenalin and noradrenalin, as well as feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. Low T3 levels result in low serotonin levels, while low thyroid hormones affect the production of GABA, the neurotransmitter that can prevent stress responses or turn off stress symptoms after the stressful event.
If the thyroid gland goes wrong (whether or not because there’s not enough iodine for it), it can bring on learning and memory difficulties as well as anxiety and depression while physical symptoms can include insomnia, joint and muscle pain, sensitivity to cold, and period problems.
Iodine is also useful to counteract bacterial and fungal infections, kill viruses, and help the body get rid of heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. You can normally buy iodine in liquid form, but some companies sell it as tablets. Just Google “iodine”, select “Shopping” and enjoy the next few pages of search results.
Then again, if you’ve got a single Brazil nut maybe left over from Christmas, that’s your day’s supply of iodine right there!