The quest for better brain performance is something many people are seeking. But what makes this so desirable? Well, it’s likely due to the fact that mental health issues are now almost considered ‘normal’ and that if you don’t have either anxiety or depression, you’re considered an outlier. The brain governs many processes in the body, and is thus having an impact on many other organs in the body, and visa versa. Seeking out ways to nurture and optimise the brain from a neurotransmitter perspective is now becoming a huge craving for millions of people worldwide. Just take a moment to allow this fact to sink in. No matter how good your environment, your diet, or your social support, if you have issues generating optimal amounts of neurotransmitters, there’s no possible way you can FEEL happy, motivated, inspired and engaged with whatever you’re doing in the moment. This is a scientific fact, and can not be disputed. Therefore, it is paramount for all human beings to want to optimise their brain function from all angles, in order to live a rich and fulfilling life. In this article, a close examination regarding the impact that movement, nutrient status and supplements can have on overall well-being and brain function will be explored. In addition, an analysis regarding strategies used to reduce neuroinflammation will be presented. Finally, a range of useful biohacking devices designed to optimise brain health will be examined.
Biohacking Movement For Optimal Brain Function
If you’re not integrating some form of exercise into your wellness regime, you’re really missing out on the biggest slice of the pie. In fact, studies have clearly demonstrated links between sedentary behaviours and poor brain health, and early onset neurodegeneration (1).
The human brain, which accounts for about 2% of body weight, consumes about 20% of the energy required for resting metabolic rate—the minimum energy expenditure required to sustain life (2).
Brain function is highly dependent on sufficient cerebral blood flow (CBF) as the mechanism for substrate delivery. In turn, energy demand in the brain can tightly regulate CBF. The mechanisms that match local neuronal energy demand to glucose and oxygen delivery are dynamic, to protect the brain from potentially hazardous declines in blood glucose. Neuronal energy demand is communicated to the vasculature by vasoactive neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate and by-products of synaptic signalling (2).
The take-home message is that reducing and breaking up sedentary behaviours with intermittent light-intensity activity may play a role in maintaining glycemic control and optimal brain health (2).
What other forms of exercise can we integrate into our lifestyle to maximise brain function? Well, it appears that both light intensity and high-intensity exercise can both dramatically upgrade one’s brain performance and neurotransmitter levels.
Even something as gentle as yoga has demonstrated profound positive effects for brain function. Here’s how:
Yoga is a mind-body based physical activity that has demonstrated a variety of physiological, psychological and cognitive health benefits (3). One key aspect of a healthy brain is gray matter volume. Grey matter contains most of the brain's neuronal cell bodies. The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Gray matter volume differences were observed in a clinical trial, with evidence showing that the left hippocampus, having greater volume in experienced yoga practitioners compared to controls (4).
What about lifting weights? Does this also have benefits for our brain performance? Absolutely.
Firstly, weight training has been shown to elevate brain BDNF levels. Neurotrophic factors (like BDNF) are molecules that protect neurons and help new neurons grow and mature. Worried about the BURN you experience when undergoing resistance exercise? Well, funnily enough, LACTATE is a known stimulator of BDNF production (5).
Exercise is a known psychoactive drug. As with ALL drugs, dosing is extremely important to perfect. There are known elevations in serum ?-endorphins and endocannabinoids following weight training (6). Extremely exhaustive, excessive exercise, can lead to depletion of dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline, leading to exhaustion, low motivation and low drive.
Finally, weight training has been shown to modulate dopamine function. There are many dopamine receptors found in the body and brain. A deficit in striatal D2/D3 dopamine receptor binding is a common feature across substance use disorders. Hypofunction of the striatal dopaminergic system occurs during abstinence from stimulant use and is associated with anhedonia, negative affect, and drug craving. Weight training has been shown to modulate these receptor sites (7).
Physical activity acts on multiple mechanisms to elicit improvements in brain health.
Optimising Nutrient Status
Every single nutrient, vitamin and mineral plays an important role in optimal brain function.
A deficiency in any one of these can compromise brain function. But, let’s not get too overwhelmed. A great place to start is to address iron deficiency. This is what can happen to brain function during an iron-deficient state:
Iron fosters the production of mood-uplifting neurotransmitters: Anyone who has ever experienced iron deficiency will know how bad they feel, not just energy-wise, but also mentally. This is because Iron is a co-factor in a number of reactions, including the synthesis of tyrosine, a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine; and tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin (8).
In adults, Iron deficiency increases fatigue, affects physical work performance, and impairs cognitive function. These deficits completely resolve in adult populations following iron therapy without residual physical or cognitive effects (9).
But to synthesize neurotransmitters, one must have optimal levels of the necessary co-factors for the enzymes needed to transform nutrient into amino acids.
A perfect example of this is the diagram below.
Fe = Iron
Niacin = B3
Cu = Copper
One lesser discussed vitamin that can upgrade brain function is Vitamin E. This is due to its ability to inhibit NOGO-A. You’re probably wondering what NOGO-A does in the brain. Well, The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create relatively low levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. Researchers found that adult mice lacking Nogo Receptor recovered from injury as quickly as adolescent mice and mastered new, complex motor tasks more quickly than adults with the receptor (10).
Researchers also showed that Nogo Receptor slows the loss of memories. Mice without the Nogo receptor lost stressful memories more quickly, suggesting that manipulating the receptor could help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (11). Therefore, the vitamin that everyone associates with skin health can actually help to optimise brain function.
Well, what about the classic fish oil supplementation and DHA requirements for a healthy brain?
The following are key areas in which DHA can support brain function:
Amelioration of cognitive decline in the elderly, basis for treatment in patients with mood disorders, improvement of cognition in traumatic brain injury in rodents, amelioration of cognitive decay in mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. DHA might enhance cognitive abilities by facilitating synaptic plasticity and/or enhancing synaptic membrane fluidity; it might also act through its effects on metabolism, as DHA stimulates glucose utilization and mitochondrial function and reduces oxidative stress (12). A clean way to bump up your DHA status can be achieved by us the omega-3-starter pack!
Advanced Supplementation For Peak Brain Performance
When it comes to brain supplements, there are many ways one can address peak brain performance. However, as seen above, one should always aspire to correct nutrient deficiencies above all else. This should be considered laying the foundations.
However, if one is inclined to seek out ways to improve focus and alertness, then it would be worthwhile experimenting with the neurotransmitter precursor NALT. At least this way one will quickly be able to determine whether or not they respond well to dopamine assisting supplements, since, NALT is a very powerful substance used to support the production of dopamine in the brain. However, some people may find that this supplement can worsen their anxiety and make them feel slightly on edge. This may mean that too much dopamine is getting converted into norepinephrine, which heightens arousal and worsens feelings of panic.
Another great entry-level brain supplement is L-Theanine. It is one of the very few nootropics known to modulate brain waves. It affects alpha brain waves which are associated with relaxation (13). L-Theanine easily crosses the blood-brain barrier and when taken as a supplement or by drinking green tea, reaches your brain within 30-45 minutes. L-Theanine targets many neurotransmitter systems, such as Dopamine, serotonin, GABA and glutamate, which can support relaxation, boost one’s ability to think, improve focus and change one’s mood. It balances brain chemistry and improves cognitive health (14). L-Theanine has also been shown to support NGF and BDNF levels, thereby assisting with neuronal plasticity, whilst also assisting with neuroprotection (15). There are many other supplements which are extremely useful for cognitive performance that can be found in our store.
To put simply, neuroinflammation, is not something we want to have high. In fact, There is significant interest in understanding inflammatory responses within the brain and spinal cord. Inflammatory responses that are centralized within the brain and spinal cord are generally referred to as “neuroinflammatory” (16). Aspects of neuroinflammation vary within the context of disease, injury, infection or stress. The context, course, and duration of these inflammatory responses are all critical aspects in the understanding of these processes and their corresponding physiological, biochemical and behavioral consequences. Microglia, innate immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS), play key roles in mediating these neuroinflammatory responses.
Therefore any nootropic that suppresses microglial response and inflammation is paramount for quenching neuroinflammation. Microglia are the focal point for any discussion of neuroinflammation. This is because these innate immune cells perform the primary immune surveillance and macrophage-like activities of the CNS, including the production of cytokines and chemokines. Indeed, much of the innate immune capacity of the CNS is mediated by microglia. These cells are resident CNS cells that reside in both the white matter and gray matter of the brain and spinal cord. Overall, microglia comprise 10% of the CNS population.
A perfect example of such a substance is in fact, Curcumin. Further mechanistic studies demonstrated that curcumin inhibited neuroinflammation by suppressing NF-?B and MAPK signaling pathways in Pam3CSK4-activated microglial cells. The results of the present study suggest that curcumin may be a novel treatment for neuroinflammation-mediated neurodegenerative disorders (17). Furthermore, curcumin prevents acute neuroinflammation and long-term memory impairment induced by systemic lipopolysaccharide in mice.
There are immune, physiological, biochemical, and psychological consequences of these neuroinflammatory responses. The degree of neuroinflammation depends on the context, duration, and course of the primary stimulus or insult. For instance, inflammation can lead to the recruitment of immune cells, oedema, tissue damage and potentially cell death (16).
Another versatile nootropic that is known to reduce neuroinflammation is Cordyceps. Microglial cells are normally activated in response to brain injury or immunological stimuli to protect central nervous system (CNS). However, over-activation of microglia conversely amplifies the inflammatory effects and mediates cellular degeneration, leading to the death of neurons. Recently, cordycepin, an active component found in Cordyceps known as a rare Chinese caterpillar fungus, has been reported as an effective drug for treating inflammatory diseases and cancer via unclear mechanisms. In this study, we attempted to identify the anti-inflammatory role of cordycepin and its protective effects on the impairments of neural growth and development induced by microglial over-activation. The results indicate that cordycepin could attenuate the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced microglial activation, evidenced by the dramatically reduced release of TNF-? and IL-1?, as well as the down-regulation of mRNA levels of iNOS and COX-2 after cordycepin treatment. Besides, cordycepin reversed the LPS-induced activation of NF-?B pathway, resulting in anti-inflammatory effects (18).
There are, however, several degrees of neuroinflammatory responses, some of which are positive. In many circumstances including CNS injury, there is a balance of inflammatory and intrinsic repair processes that influences functional recovery (18).
Biohacking Device For Brain Health
We are living in an era where modern science is able to integrate tools, techniques and devices to advance brain function.
One such brain-enhancing device/gadget is known as, photobiomodulation therapy (PBM). The fundamental mechanisms of action based on photons modifying mitochondrial functions have largely been borne out in outcomes as expected. Mitochondria health is now being regarded as fundamental to optimal health, and PBM, specifically on the head or nasal regions, is a very potent way to deliver this light in a targeted way to neural tissue.
A photon of light is non-chemical, non-synthetic and non-mechanical. When activating the mitochondria in small doses, it modulates tissues without major side effects. The life-harnessing activity and interplay between mitochondria and light appear to be a legacy from early life on earth that started with photosynthesis. The effects of transcranial PBM have been found to be systemic and generally agnostic in treating the different types of brain insults, meaning no matter the brain issue, there appears to be a positive effect (19).
Emerging evidence are presenting the effect of PBM on the electrophysiology potential of the brain, as well as enhanced blood perfusion, filling some of the earlier gaps in the understanding and validation of brain PBM mechanisms.
From a technical standpoint, PBM involves delivering light to the cells (including neurons) to modulate specific tissue functions. The cellular mechanisms of PBM have been well researched. Animal studies have shown cognitive improvements and recovery from brain insults of various kinds, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussion. Most of the human studies have not been well controlled and to many serious scientists, have not shown sufficient reasons to be headlined or taken very seriously. However, this is starting to change with a host of newer studies that you’ll find linked in this article, and PBM is building its cache of merits to be recognized as a novel method to enhance brain functions, almost as a new kind of technological “nootropic.” (19).