One day, we may be able to make ourselves superintelligent with futuristic biotechnology. We’re not there yet, but for the impatient among us there are still some things we can do to give us that little extra bit of brain power. By supplementing with so-called ‘nootropics,’ you may not become the next Stephen Hawking, but you may experience some noticeable improvements to your learning abilities, memory, mental clarity, and mood. Here are ten supplements you can take today to boost your intelligence.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: consult with your doctor prior to taking any of these (except the dark chocolate — feel free to eat that with reckless abandon). While most of the supplements listed in this article are fairly benign, you still need to make sure that you’re healthy enough to take them, and that you’re not susceptible to any allergic or negative reactions. Cool? Cool.
Similarly, while we make some dosage recommendations, you mustadhere to the dosage instructions as described on the package of your particular product.
Creatine, a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in animals, is quickly becoming a popular supplement — and not just because it boosts muscle power (which it does by helping to supply energy to cells in the body and assisting in the growth of muscle fibres). Physiological benefits aside, creatine has also been shown to improve memory and attention span. Scientists have discovered that it plays a pivotal role in brain energy homeostasis, acting as a buffer for cytosolic and mitochondrial pools of cellular energy. Start by taking about 5,000 mg per day, or better yet, follow the dosage instructions specified by your specific product.
2. Caffeine + L-theanine
Caffeine on its own is not a great cognitive enhancer. In fact, studies show that it doesn’t usually improve performance in learning and memory tasks, though its stimulant properties may occasionally have beneficial effects on cognitive performance and mood (though temporarily — what is usually accompanied by jitters and a crash). Now that said, when consumed in conjunction with L-theanine, a common amino acid found in green tea, it does in fact create more long-lasting and beneficial effects, including a boost to working memory, rapid visual information processing, and especially attention switching (i.e. reduced distractibility). The reason this works is that the L-theanine, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, counteracts the negative stimulant effects of caffeine, including anxiety and increased blood pressure. Researchers have found that this effect can be achieved with 50 mg of caffeine (that’s about a cup of coffee) and 100 mg of L-theanine (green tea only contains about 5-8 mg of it, so you’ll want to supplement — though some people follow a 2:1 rule in which they drink two cups of green tea for every cup of coffee).
3. Dark Chocolate (Flavanols)
Dark chocolate — or more accurately the cocoas found in chocolate — contain flavanols, a phytochemical that has cognitive enhancing effects (as well as impacting positively on mood and cardiovascular health). It works through the action of antioxidant molecules, what stimulates brain perfusion and an array of other neurological processes in regions that involve learning and memory. Though not as powerful as some of the other supplements listed here, dark chocolate is readily accessible and a treat to eat. That said, be sure to avoid super-sweet dark chocolate, otherwise the sugar will counter many of its benefits (so start getting used to 90% cacao). Go ahead and eat about 35 to 200 grams a day, but divide it out evenly.
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