Brainpower booster is anything – usually in the form of food or a nutritional supplement – that enhances your brainpower.
While many people link I.Q. with brainpower, we have a definition that’s a tad different. Brainpower is the ability to generate enough cognitive resources – energy, focus, drive, discipline, and intelligence – to perform daily tasks. Each one of the brain boosters that we list here enhances at least one – and in many cases more – element of brainpower as listed above.
Here are the Best Boosts to your Brainpower
Coffee can be tasty, but it’s fair to say that most people don’t drink the stuff because its delightful on the palate. Just eight ounces (8 oz.) of the stuff contains a whopping 95 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, the real money-maker.
Caffeine is a naturally-produced psychoactive drug that is a stimulant of the central nervous system (CNS). It is also arguably the world’s finest nootropic.
Caffeine works by blocking the adenosine receptors in your brain that produce feelings of tiredness. A dose of 40 to 300 mg of caffeine – depending on tolerance – increases both attention and alertness and decreases reaction time.
Aerobics may be the best type of exercise for the brain, as it increases blood flow and heart rate. This, in effect, delivers more oxygen to the brain and allows it to perform better. Research shows that aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for verbal memory, learning, motivation, and emotions.
L-theanine is amino acid found in certain types of mushrooms and in green tea. Chemically, l-theanine resembles the neurotransmitter glutamate, but with one key difference. L-theanine is a calming (“inhibitory”) substance whereas glutamate is an excitatory transmitter. In the brain, it is essential to have a proper balance of both excitatory and inhibitory chemicals.
L-theanine essentially inhibits the excitatory glutamate receptors while stimulating the production of GABA, another key brain chemical. Inhibitory neurotransmitters allow the brain and nervous system to maintain a state of equilibrium. In this way, l-theanine and GABA both calm the brain; both are also effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety.
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Creatine is an amino acid found within the body’s muscles and brain. In the body, creatine works by facilitating the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic chemical that provides energy to cells throughout the body. The best food sources of creatine are fish, red meat, pork, and poultry. (Unfortunately, there is no vegan source of creatine except for supplements.)
Studies show that creatine supplementation helps people perform more complex tasks easier. Fascinatingly, this effect is much more pronounced in vegetarians (it also turns out that the veggie-eaters test higher in many studies, too!) Creatine may also positively affect working memory and processing speed.
Gingko Biloba is a herb harvested from the “maidenhair tree,” and dates back to nearly 270 million (!) years. Ginkgo serves as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions such as anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and glaucoma.
Researchers believe that gingko provides cognitive benefits through enhanced blood circulation. Ginkgo may also have some neuroprotective properties. In a meta-analysis study of 2,381 patients, a 120mg or the higher dose of ginkgo biloba was deemed a safe and possibly effective natural treatment for dementia patients.
Although we can generally consider gingko safe, some known interaction exists with prescription medications.
Rhodiola Rosea (Rhodiola) is a herb that grows in the arctic mountainous regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. An adaptogen, Rhodiola is said to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress in some people.
Other potential benefits of Rhodiola include:
- Anti-fatigue properties
- Enhances exercise and athletic performance
- May help control diabetes
- May have anticancer properties
- Reduces depressive symptoms (a double-blind study showed that two 340 mg tablets of Rhodiola rosea extract “has potent anti-depressant properties in those with mild to moderate depression.”)
Ginseng is a herb that is mostly used for medicinal reasons. Long known for having medicinal properties in Asian regions, ginseng is relatively popular in the Western hemisphere as well.
Multiple studies demonstrate that the antioxidant compounds in ginseng, called ginsenosides, have multiple potent pharmacological effects. There are multiple references to ginseng’s positive effects on memory. The active components of ginsenosides can promote:
- Neurogenesis: the development of new neurons
- Neuronal growth: the growth of neurons
- Neurotransmission: the signalling of molecules (neurotransmitters) in the brain
- Synaptogenesis: the development of new synapses
Besides having brain benefits, ginseng may help with cell damage, immune diseases, inflammation, metabolic diseases, and stress resistance.
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While curcumin has typically been associated with improving gut health and inflammation, it turns out that the ingredient may also sharpen our brains. (By the way, curcumin is not the same as turmeric. It is an extract of the spice, which is commonly used as a spice in foods like Indian curry.)
In an 8-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, subjects who received 360 mg/day of nanocurcumin showed “increased BDNF levels over the treatment period” compared to a placebo.
BDNF is important for the survival and growth of nerve cells (neurons). Nano-curcumin is a form of curcumin that is converted into nanoparticles to allow for easier and more effective absorption in the body. Nanocurcumin is more bioavailable than traditional curcumin supplements and sources.
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids abundantly found in fatty fish, chia seeds, and some vegetables. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in high concentrations in salmon, performs three critical actions in the brain. DHA enhances learning and memory, improves synaptic plasticity, and reduces oxidative stress. Evidence also exists showing that omega-3s counteract mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia.
Insufficient levels of omega-3 are associated with several mental disorders, including ADD, bipolar disorder, dementia, depression, dyslexia, and schizophrenia. Low levels of omega-3 may also contribute to impaired learning and poor memory.
Magnesium is one of the most overlooked, underrated minerals there is – and it’s absolutely critical for cognitive health. Magnesium plays a role in ATP production, which is essential to learning, energy, and neurogenesis.
You can find this mineral in multiple foods, including bananas, beans, green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), beef, dark chocolate, edamame, nuts, seeds, beef, and salmon. It can be challenging to get enough magnesium from food, but there are plenty of quality supplements on the market that is quite reasonable.
Magnesium l-threonate is a newer form of magnesium capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. It is highly absorbable and serves as an excellent anxiety remedy.
Things you can do to help our brains work better to increase your brainpower
Eat healthy foods
The fuel for the brain comes from the calories in the food we eat. In fact, 20% of the calories we eat are used by our brain. Not all calories are equally good for your brain. Canada’s Food Guide explains how to make healthy choices. Research suggests that some foods might be especially good for memory and concentration, such as egg yolk, whole grains, nuts, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, strawberries, and blueberries.
Drink enough water
The brain is more than 70% water. If we don’t drink enough water, it affects our concentration. We need around six to eight glasses of non-sugary, non-alcoholic fluid each day. Research suggests that the brain does not do well with sudden rushes of sugar, so sweet fizzy drinks do not really help your brain.
Get oxygen to your brain
Oxygen is carried to your brain by your blood. When you move your body, your blood flow increases and your brain gets more oxygen. Going for a walk, a run, or a bike ride really helps get oxygen to your brain. Taking deep breaths and stretching also helps.
Getting enough rest boosts our mood and helps us concentrate. What’s more, when we are asleep, the brain practices what we were doing during the day. We actually learn in our sleep. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, try listening to gentle music, thinking positive thoughts, or reading something funny to relax you. Avoid video games and exciting TV shows in the hour before bedtime.
Manage your stress levels
It can be hard not to feel stressed out by schoolwork that we find challenging. Stress stops the brain from working at its best. Some people find it helpful to imagine a beautiful box. When it’s time to focus on schoolwork, imagine putting all the things that stress you into that box. Imagine a place where you put the box away until you have time to deal with what’s inside.
Being organized helps you decide how to use your time well. Use a day planner or calendar to keep track of important times and dates. This will help you plan ahead, set priorities, be on time, and meet deadlines. Make to-do lists every week and set goals for when you will finish each thing on your list.
Your brain likes to try new things. Trying new things makes dopamine in your brain. Dopamine helps you feel excited and satisfied. Try listening to music that’s different from what you normally listen to. Cook something you’ve never cooked before. Learn the words to a song. Taste something you’ve never tasted before. Start a new hobby or sport. Go to an art gallery.
Whenever you cross something off your to-do list, feel proud of yourself. You might reward yourself, too. Do something you enjoy like watching a TV show, talking to a friend on the phone, eating a treat, or taking a rest. Also, practice positive self-talk. When you make a mistake, try thinking “how fascinating!” instead of “well, that was stupid!” This will help you stay motivated.
Create an environment where you work well
Try changing the environment you work in to see what feels best. Many people work better in light from a window. Temperature can also make a difference. A room that is too warm might make you feel sleepy. Lots of people find it easier to concentrate in rooms that are tidy. Some people find it helpful to listen to music while they study. Others prefer silence. Finally, get rid of any distractions. Turn off your cellphone. Let people in your home know that you need to be left alone.
Involve your senses
The brain takes in information through the senses. Your brain will have an easier time focusing and remembering when vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste are involved. Use your vision to help you learn by imagining what you read — like a movie in your mind. This is called visualizing. Highlight and underline important information. When you take notes, use different colours. Make charts, mind maps, flashcards, and diagrams, or draw pictures. Use your hearing to help you learn by reading out loud. Explain the new information to a friend and talk about it. Use your sense of taste by chewing gum while you learn. Use your sense of touch by holding a stress ball or smooth stone while you study.
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