Kamal Patel is a director of Examine.com, the research-based resource on supplementation and nutrition, and a nutrition researcher with an MPH and MBA from Johns Hopkins University. He is based in San Francisco, California.
As a subscriber to IronLife, you are most likely to already have good levels of focus and motivation. That’s why you make sure you get to the gym when you need to and work out effectively whilst you’re there. And how you are able to prep your meals in advance so that you’re never tempted to go for convenience food when on the move. But almost everyone could benefit from increased levels of cognitive function, focus and motivation, whether the task at hand is a big job at work or a hard session in the gym. Here are some supplements that can help.
Blueberries and other dark berries contain molecules called anthocyanins and pterostilbenes, which are compounds that can protect the brain and influence its activity. Blueberries can also increase the activity of a growth factor called neuronal growth factor (NGF). When neurons grow, they branch out toward each other. NGF helps neurons grow, which makes it easier for them to communicate with one another.
Though the only human evidence for blueberries increasing cognition comes from studies on senior citizens, the mechanism and animal evidence suggest blueberries are an effective supplement for brain health. Blueberries are safe, readily available, and do not interact negatively with pharmaceuticals, and make an ideal starting point for improving memory and focus.
How to take it To supplement blueberries, take 500mg to 1,000mg of blueberry anthocyanins once a day, which is the equivalent to 60g to 120g of fresh berries. Blueberry juice should include blueberries or a similar dark berry as the first ingredient. Any juice made primarily from sugars with added flavouring will not benefit memory or focus.
2 Bacopa monnieri
Bacopa monnieri is a swamp plant used in traditional Indian medicine to improve cognition and memory. Supplementation is most effective for elderly people, but it can provide benefits for all age groups. It reliably improves working memory, although further research is needed to determine if it can affect verbal fluency, word processing, and attention span. Working memory refers to the ability to focus on a topic in order to understand and retain it. It takes about a month of supplementation for it to take effect: any less than this has no significant benefits.
How to take it Bacopa monnieri doses are based on the supplement’s bacoside content, which is the compound responsible for its benefits. To supplement 150mg of bacosides, take 300mg of a supplement with a 55% bacoside content. To supplement the leaf powder, assuming a 10-20% bacoside content, take 750mg to 1,500mg. Bacopa monnieri should be taken with food, once a day. Further research is needed to determine if higher doses of Bacopa monnieri are more effective. To be safe, do not exceed the doses recommended above.
3 L-Theanine and caffeine
L-Theanine and caffeine, taken together, can improve focus and attention span. L-theanine, when taken alongside caffeine, will reduce the excitability caused by caffeine while retaining the focus and attention span benefits that caffeine provides. L-Theanine is an amino acid with relaxing, but not sedating, properties. It does not interact with sedative neurotransmitters and does not cause feelings of fatigue or sedation.
How to take it To supplement caffeine and L-Theanine, take 200mg of each supplement 30 minutes before you need increased focus and attention. Taking caffeine and L-theanine on an empty stomach can increase the rates of absorption. If supplementing on an empty stomach causes stomach upset, then take caffeine and L-Theanine with food. People that are not used to caffeine should start with a 100mg L-theanine dose taken alongside 50mg of caffeine. Veteran coffee drinkers may need to supplement more caffeine than recommended above. L-Theanine supplementation should match caffeine doses. This means that 200mg of caffeine should be paired with 200mg of L-Theanine.
4 Nicotine gum
Nicotine is an addictive compound found in cigarettes. It is also a potent intestinal anti-inflammatory agent that can provide cognitive benefits. Nicotine works by stimulating the cholinergic system and the nicotine receptors. This results in a release of neurotransmitters that can improve memory retention and focus, as well as provide a calming effect.
If used carefully, nicotine can improve long-term memory formation. Nicotine must be used more carefully than supplements, such as L-theanine and caffeine. Only nicotine gum is recommended for cognitive enhancement. Nicotine’s addictiveness depends on the speed at which it reaches the brain. Inhaling nicotine poses too great of a risk for addiction. Nicotine patches work too slowly to provide an acute stimulatory effect.
How to take it To supplement nicotine, chew 2mg of nicotine gum while working on the task that requires increased focus and cognition. Nicotine can be used multiple times per day, though it should not be used more than three times. Nicotine doses should be supplemented at least four hours apart.
People with nicotine tolerance can increase their dose to 4mg. Do not increase the dose above 4mg if tolerance develops. Instead, cease supplementation for up to two weeks to allow sensitivity to return.
Prolonged nicotine gum use is less likely to form a habit than smoking cigarettes, but it should still be used carefully. Do not take more than 12mg of nicotine in one day and do not take it with alcohol. And it should go without saying, but do not use cigarettes to supplement nicotine.