Nutrition and Nootropics | How are they connected?
Nutrition is a minefield and the details of what’s right (or what’s hot and marketable) are changing all the time. This post will give you a high level overview of how to think about nutrition and nutrient intake.
Nutrients - essential and non-essential.
Nutrients are defined as “substances that provide nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and growth" and include amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. We can split nutrients off into two groups; essential and non-essential.
Essential nutrients are the things we need for normal function that can’t be made by the body. We get these through diet (if we’re eating and supplementing correctly), and there are 46 essential nutrients including water.
Non-essential nutrients can be made by the body as long as we’re getting enough of the 46 essentials. So if you’re eating nutritious food and taking enough of the right supplements, then you should be getting the nutrients you need.
Unless… you’re eating too many antinutrients. Antinutrients are plant compounds that reduce our body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. Mainly found in grains, seeds, and legumes, antinutrients make it into a lot of processed foods (and are sometimes even marketed as healthy and nutritious).
Non-nutrients also impact health.
That’s your high level overview of nutrients, but what about non-nutrients? Non-nutrients are substances that aren’t essential for maintaining life, but do have a positive impact on our health.
This is where Nootropics fit into the nutrition puzzle.
Once you fine-tune your nutrition, your body has everything it needs to survive and grow. You’ll have a solid foundation. But what if we aren’t looking to just survive, what if we want to thrive?
Then we need to build on our nutrition with non-nutrients. As science gets better at seeing deeper and deeper into our bodies, the facts about non-nutrients are beginning to stack up (an example of this is resveratrol, clearly showing that lots of researchers want an excuse to drink red wine!).
A few examples.
Let’s take a look at some non-nutrients and why they’re beneficial for the brain:
Caffeine - similar in structure to adenosine, caffeine binds with adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a suppressant produced when we burn energy that makes us feel tired and inhibits the release of excitatory brain chemicals. By binding with adenosine receptors caffeine keeps us awake and alert for longer.
Ashwagandha - one of the most important herbs in ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha extract has multiple benefits from improved immune function to stress response. One key benefit is control of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that helps us deal with stress, and maintaining cortisol levels prevents adrenal fatigue, giving you more energy with less spikes and dips.
Ginkgo Leaf - used for thousands of years in as a Chinese herbal medicine, Ginkgo Biloba is the oldest known living species of tree on the planet, dating from the time dinosaurs roamed the earth. By improving blood flow to the brain Ginkgo Leaf improves memory and concentration in healthy adults, and is used as a safe alternative to Alzheimer’s disease in patients.
Nootropics sit comfortably in the category of non-nutrients that we should be taking because the risk is almost zero and the potential upside is better health and better cognitive function.
Getting the most out of our lives and bodies comes down to the right mix of good nutrition and non-nutrient intake. Getting the most out of our brains comes down to the right blend of Nootropics.