Focus + Cognition - the rise of nootropics

Focus + Cognition - the rise of nootropics

 

In a world brimming with distractions, focus feels like a luxury saved for very few.  From the ping of notifications, boxset binges and demands of our to-do lists to the exhausting stimuli from our busy, noisy cities it’s no wonder we’re finding our attention has been stolen. Yet, for many of us, we can recall a time where we felt in flow, where focus and concentration came to us with more ease than it does today… and we want it back. 


Thankfully there are tools at our fingertips which can help. From meditation to social media fasting, there are ways to give our overloaded brains the break it needs to regain the headspace for deep work. Amongst these tools  lies our nutrition and intelligent supplementation - introducing ‘nootropics’ - cognitive enhancers which aim to sharpen our mental acuity and reclaim our attention from the bouts of brain fog and scattered minds. 

 

What are Nootropics?


The term nootropics refers to ingredients designed to give your brain a cognitive boost – think sharper focus, improved memory, and even a creativity kick. There are different types of nootropics available to us; synthetic versions created in labs or natural nootropics straight from Natures Pantry - including mushrooms like Lions Mane, spices such as cacao and ginger and also ingredients you’ll be more acquainted with such as the humble coffee bean. 


The soaring interest in nootropics clearly stems from a growing demand for clarity of mind amidst fatigue, switching tabs on your computer, checking your phone, and refreshing your emails. With many finding brain fog and sleep issues a challenge, coupled with a rise in conditions like ADHD, a need to win back our attention increases. Emerging research on nootropics for age related disorders and cognitive decline also means that many of us are looking to futureproof our brain health and find solutions for our ageing loved ones (1). 

 


How do nootropics work? 


There’s a vast array of nootropics, and for this reason there are also a number of mechanisms of action or pathways by which they work, leading to varied cognitive benefits. 


For example, caffeine (which is arguably the most widely used and well known nootropic) works on the adenosine receptors on cells supporting energy where others work to increase blood flow to the brain, providing important nutrients and increased energy and oxygen flow. 

 

  • Unique profile of micronutrients
  • Supports neurotransmitters, increases BDNF
  • Increases blood flow to the brain
  • Protection from oxidative stress 
  • Modulates brain waves 

Our Nootropic Allies 


Best for ‘Monk-like’ Focus : Lions Mane 


Lion's Mane, a revered medicinal or functional mushroom has a long history in Asian medicine and is even embraced by Buddhist monks seeking heightened focus during meditation. This unique mushroom is steeped in tradition however research now reveals it also provides some remarkable cognitive benefits. By increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein which encourages growth and protection of nerve cells and synapses in the brain, and nerve growth factor (NGF), a key component in the protection of neurons; Lion's Mane  has been shown to enhance mental focus and brain function (3). 


Lion's Mane is best known for improvements in memory and cognitive performance (4) however in a four-week study on females aged above 40, Lion's Mane demonstrated significant improvements in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, underscoring its potential as a holistic remedy for mental well-being (5). 


Traditionally, in Chinese medicine, Lion’s mane is consumed raw, cooked, dried or soaked in water - usually as a tea. We’ve blended our organic Lions mane powder in our beautiful Matcha + Collagen blend to synergise with benefits of other brain supportive ingredients. 

 


Best for energised focus: Caffeine


Arguably the most well-known and used nootropic globally, caffeine has been well-studied for its effectiveness on increased alertness, concentration and enhanced mood (think: that first morning coffee feel). 


Caffeine, found in coffee but also in lower doses in cacao and matcha, acts as a potent stimulant, enhancing alertness and concentration by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain which then prevents the onset of drowsiness and helps you feel awake. This mechanism not only helps with alertness but also sharpens cognitive functions (6). Much like Lions Mane, caffeine has also been shown to increase BDNF.  


Caffeine has been shown to increase the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, associated with improved mood and motivation. Finally, its ability to enhance metabolic rate and increase blood flow to the brain further supports its brain boosting effects.  


A word of caution with this nootropic however - the benefits are dose dependent and have a bell shaped curve. In this case, more is certainly not better. Tip the scale too far in the other direction and you can experience side effects such as jitters, tingling, insomnia, and increased heart rate - not ideal for those looking to concentrate and perform. This dose is also person dependent, some people tolerate and metabolise caffeine extremely well where as others find they are incredibly sensitive. For most people, caffeine is best enjoyed in the morning after breakfast.Having your last caffeinated drink early afternoon, for example 1pm, can be supportive in not interferring with your all important sleep quality.


Best for Fuelled- Focus- MCT oil 


Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil has long been a treasured nootropic at Ancient + Brave and has garnered attention for its unique properties and potential cognitive benefits. Derived from coconut oil, MCT oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which are quick and easy for the body to digest and absorb. Given that the brain is composed of approximately 60% fat, including MCT oil provides a readily available source of fuel for brain cells. MCTs are metabolised into ketones in the liver, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and be utilised by brain cells as an efficient source of energy, thereby supporting cognitive function.


Research suggests that the utilisation of ketones derived from MCT oil can also play a role in mitigating mitochondrial dysfunction, which is associated with various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease. 


Not all MCT oils are created equal however. A blend of caprylic acid (C8) and capric acid (C10), known as C8 and C10 MCT oil, is often favoured for its rapid conversion into ketones and reducing any digestive side effects. We always recommend starting low and slow with MCT oil, beginning with 5ml (1 tsp) per day and increasing as your body adapts. 

 

 

Best for Feel Good -Focus: Cacao 


Cacao may not be the first ingredient that springs to mind when you need to focus, and yet thanks to its rich content of polyphenolic compounds known as flavanols, cacao takes its place next to our favourite nootropics (7). The plant compounds found in cacao act as potent antioxidants, protecting brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. Flavanols have also been shown to enhance cerebral blood flow and improve blood vessel elasticity, leading to improved circulation and potentially reduced blood pressure. This increased blood flow to the brain can have profound effects on cognitive function, as it ensures a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. A pleasing effect of these flavanols is how  they stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, contributing to mood enhancement and cognitive performance.


One of the key components of cacao is tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin, the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and cognition. That post-chocolatey feeling after consuming cacao may well be a boost in serotonin levels, promoting feelings of well-being. Serotonin is also known to play a role in memory and decision-making. 


Cacao uniquely contains theobromine, a natural stimulant that shares structural similarities with caffeine but with a milder effect on the central nervous system. Theobromine has been found to have vasodilatory properties, meaning it relaxes blood vessels and promotes blood flow often linked to feelings of pleasure.


While nootropics aren't a miraculous solution guaranteeing boundless focus and clarity, meticulously crafted supplements with key ingredients do offer scientifically supported benefits. These nootropics have demonstrated the ability to improve memory formation and retrieval, elevate focus and concentration, provide mood stabilisation and stress resilience, and alleviate the symptoms of brain fog. Adding some to your daily ritual feels like a no-brainer to us. 

 


  1. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2210803319300387?via%3Dihub) (https://www.proquest.com/openview/0a8c375d3babac0c1c468b941042efef/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=47742
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
  3.  (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33246107/)
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jnc.15767 
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20834180/ 
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34541370/ 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2593006/
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