A Comprehensive Guide To Brain And Cognitive Enhancement

man with light bulb head

It can't be as easy as just taking a brain-enhancing supplement, right?

If you're skeptical about the effects of certain supplements, you're right. Many products try to advertise themselves as being better than they really are. That said, some supplements do have real, measurable impacts on your brain and cognitive functions.

Of course, this guide wouldn't be beneficial if that was the only thing we talked about. This is an ultimate guide, so we're also going to look at lifestyle changes and recipes that support your brain.

Each of these is one part of a greater whole, and for the best results, you should integrate all of them into your life.

What Do I Have To Know To Select A Good Brain Enhancement, Nootropic Supplement?

That depends on what, exactly, you want to improve. You can't pop a pill and suddenly start understanding advanced math, but you can work to boost specific areas. For example, do you want:

  • Clearer memory and less fog when you're trying to remember things?
  • Improved focus and ability to concentrate on specific topics?
  • Better retention and comprehension when you're learning new things?
  • Improved creativity?
  • Ways of effectively multitasking?

What Are Some Common Ingredients In Brain-Boosting Supplements?

One of the most popular ingredients is Vitamin B6, which is thought to help limit cognitive decline and improve overall blood flow to the brain. Vitamin B6 is also believed to minimize the effects of depression, though research on this is ongoing and the evidence isn't entirely conclusive.

Another common ingredient is Indian Kino Extract, which is known to have antimicrobial properties. It's also a powerful antioxidant, with indirect effects including mental stimulation, improved memory, and strengthened creativity.

Supporting these are ingredients like Ginko Biloba, which has outstanding benefits for the cardiovascular system. When blood flows well, the brain can get nutrients and wash out unwanted chemicals. If blood flow is restricted, so are the operations of the brain.

This is another example of the holistic approach to brain enhancement - for the best results, you have to consider everything that affects the brain. Anything too limited in scope is not as helpful as it could - or should - be.

human brain boost

Medical Note

We'd be remiss in our commitment to honesty if we didn't include this. Some ingredients used in brain supplements only show effects when consumed in medically significant quantities. A pill could have all of the ingredients described above, but if it doesn't have enough of them, you're not going to get the results you're looking for.

This is why it's so important to read the labels of products and look for concentrations that are high enough to work without making you sick.

If you plan to take a powerful supplement, talk to your doctor before you start. This is especially important if you're currently taking any other medications. We are not doctors, and we cannot tell you what an appropriate dose is for someone in your situation (including your age, height, weight, etc.). If your doctor puts a limit on the amount of any brain-boosting product you can take, obey that restriction.

Cognitive enhancing supplements, in general, are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease. If a condition like ADHD afflicts you, you may need to take a different product to control those symptoms before you can start benefitting from cognitive enhancers. Do not attempt to self-medicate with cognitive enhancers unless directed to do so by a doctor.

Who Can Use Brain Enhancement?

Everybody! That said, it's true that some people can expect to see more benefits than others. The people who can get the most benefit are:

  • Students: As a whole, students need to absorb and retain new knowledge on a near-constant basis. Anything that helps them do this can have a significant impact on their grades and, less directly, their success in life. 
  • Stressed Adults: Adults who are stressed from work or life tend to benefit from cognitive enhancements. This can improve memory, reduce the feeling of mental fog, and make it easier to focus on what matters most.
  • Seniors: Our brains decline as we get older, but cognitive enhancers can limit the effects of aging and even encourage new growth in the brain.

Notably absent from this list? Healthy adults who are already functioning at full cognitive capacity. For people in this state, cognitive enhancements will have little or no practical effect. That said, some healthy and relaxed adults take supplements as a safeguard against decline.

Non-Supplement Techniques

To this point, we've focused on nutritional supplements and the ways they can help - but they're not the only way to improve your cognitive performance. Instead, it's better to think of them as one of several methods you should implement to improve your mind. Here are some non-supplement ways to improve your brain.

#1: Exercise

Admit it - you knew this was going to be on the list. Regular exercise stimulates blood flow to the hippocampus, which is the section of the brain most associated with memory. In short, if you exercise more, you're also going to improve your ability to think.

Outside of this biological process, exercise is known to help people handle stressful situations, make clearer decisions, recall facts on various topics, and generally improve their creativity. This is why some companies are shifting to walking meetings, which combine discussion, problem-solving, and exercise into one activity.

#2: Actively Engage With Entertainment

Mindless television has its name for a reason. Actively engaging with the things you watch and read is a much better way of improving your overall cognitive performance. In particular, it's better to focus on something instructive instead of something merely entertaining.

When your brain is exposed to new ideas, it changes itself in response, integrating those ideas into your overall understanding. By continually learning new things, your brain will be busy forming connections instead of pruning those that already exist.

#3: Start A Hobby

Another technique you can implement is starting up a hobby. This should require you to do something, such as interacting with animals, working in a garden, or studying a foreign language. The worst sort of hobby is the type you can passively enjoy without having to think about anything you're doing.

Much like actively engaging with entertainment, an enjoyable hobby will help you form new connections and stop (or reduce) the loss of cells from age or disease.

#4: Solve Puzzles

Solving puzzles can improve cognitive performance by teaching your brain to constantly look for answers and ways of overcoming issues. As a form of constant stimulation, puzzles are hard to beat. If you enjoy them, you can subscribe to magazines that regularly send tens or even hundreds of puzzles to your house. This is generally more effective than apps or other "easy access" puzzles.

Note that you shouldn't stick with the same puzzle all the time. Ideally, you'll be able to switch between types of puzzles on a frequent basis.

man solving rubik's cube

#5: Reduce Stress

When you're stressed, you're more likely to suffer a decline in your cognitive abilities. Stress can also lead to issues like depression or burnout, and the lack of motivation can send you into a spiral that's harder and harder to break out of.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce stress. Some people like to drink matcha tea, which relaxes the body while simultaneously improving how alert you are. Exercising (above) also reduces stress, and many hobbies provide the kind of enjoyment that leads to contentment in life.

The exact method you use to reduce stress isn't as important as the fact that you're doing it. Remember, stress rarely goes away on its own. You have to change something in your life if you truly want to manage it.

#6: Meet Supportive People

The people you talk to on a day-to-day basis can have a significant impact on your cognitive performance. If you spend all day hearing drama and complaints, that's going to suck out a lot of your energy and stop you from focusing on other matters.

On the other hand, if the people around you are uplifting and supportive, they can help engage your mind and provide a way to talk about new ideas.

#7: Get More Sleep

When you're working hard to achieve your goals, sleep can seem like a secondary issue - but it isn't. Getting enough rest is required for you to function at peak performance. The American Psychological Association notes that most people need 6-8 hours of sleep - and if you're not sure how much you need, err on the long side.

They note several ways to improve your quality of rest at night, including:

  • Maintaining a consistent schedule for sleep and wakefulness
  • Avoiding caffeine (and similar stimulants) 4-6 hours before you go to bed
  • Avoiding cigarettes, especially towards bedtime
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    Limiting alcohol and heavier meals to earlier in the day
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    Getting enough exercise
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    Minimizing the presence of temperature extremes, light, and noise at night
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    Avoiding the use of alarm clocks
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    Going to bed earlier if you need to reset your schedule

Notice a trend in their advice? Much of it comes down to stimulation, whether it's from noise or chemicals. The body takes a few hours to process most substances, and you don't want to get excited when you should be focused on resting and relaxation.

#8: Learn To Meditate

Meditation isn't just a fancy way of sitting down and being quiet for a few minutes - it has documented effects on the mind and a significant correlation with the retention of gray matter in the mind.

For the sake of completeness, we'd like to remind everyone that correlation does not equal causation - that is, the fact that there's a link between meditation and reducing aging in the brain doesn't mean meditation is the reason for that result. Studies on this are ongoing, but at the moment, the results are promising.

#9: Learn To Associate Ideas With Images

The human brain is better at remembering distinct, vivid images - that's why people often remember the tragedies and bad things while the day-to-day good stuff is forgotten. Fortunately, we can turn this to our advantage.

The trick is to associate something you want to remember with a strong, vivid image. For example, if you meet someone and they have a loud voice, you can associate their name and actions with the image of a roaring lion. That forms a connection in your mind - and the more connections to an idea you have, the easier something will be to remember.

#10: Get Enough To Drink

We're big fans of nutritional supplements and a healthy diet, but let's not forget how important it is to stay hydrated. As explained by the National Hydration Council, Men need about 84 ounces (2.5 liters) of water a day, while women need 64 ounces (2 liters). Most of this should be pure water - no added sugar, no calories, and about as cheap as anything gets.

At just 2% dehydration, you could suffer a loss of attention, impaired motor speed, reduced arithmetic efficiency, and poorer short-term memory. The more dehydrated you are, the worse these get.

If you have a large body, you'll need to drink more. Most people lose about 4% of their body weight in water each day, and it's important to keep up with this.

Don't forget to drink something when you wake up. Most people are dehydrated in the morning - after all, you just went six to eight hours without drinking anything. Whether you want water, tea, coffee, or something else, try to drink something when starting your day.

brain exercise

Recipes To Boost Your Cognitive Functions

Nutritional supplements are an important part of enhancing your brain, but they're still only a part. You can't binge on junk food and expect one pill a day to do everything. That said, just having a "healthy diet" isn't enough - you need meals that actively support your cognitive functions.

#1: Baked Salmon With Garlic And Dijon

We all know that fish is healthy - omega-3 fatty acids may have the most worrying name in the world (seriously, there are three words and all of them are bad), but they're also crucial for the proper functions of the brain. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are excellent, natural sources of this nutrient, making them a great choice for lunch or dinner.

Baked Salmon with Garlic and Dijon

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pound salmon fillet (wild sockeye is preferred, but king salmon is also a good choice)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 pressed cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (normal salt is acceptable as a substitute)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil (not extra virgin, which is more commonly used in kitchens)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, preferably fresh
  • 1 slice of lemon for each serving

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450. While it's heating, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. This serves two purposes - cooking the fish properly and reducing the amount of cleanup you'll have to do.

Once that's done, mix the parsley, garlic, Dijon, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Make sure the ingredients are as combined as they can get - we want even flavor across the fish.

After the mix is ready, slice the salmon into equal portions. The weight in this recipe makes about four good-sized slices - if you need to feed more people, increase all ingredients proportionally. Brush the sides and tops of each fillet with your mix, then put a slice of lemon on top of each.

Bake for 12-15 minutes (make sure the oven is fully preheated before you put it in!). The salmon should be cooked through and flaky, but no more - overcooking can quickly ruin this dish.

Once you're used to it, this recipe is quick and easy, so don't hesitate to put it on your weekly menu.

#2: Light Cream Of Broccoli Soup

This is a vividly green soup rich in Vitamin K, which is important to the overall function of the brain. Even better, this is a pretty easy dish to make no matter how much experience you have in the kitchen. You don't need to be a professional chef to make delicious, healthy meals.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 chopped stalks of celery
  • 3 peeled and chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 peeled and chopped potato (large potatoes, like russets, are preferred)
  • 6 cups of broccoli florets
  • 4-1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable soup stock
  • 1/4 cup of reduced fat half-and-half
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Put a large soup pot on the stove and preheat it on medium. Once it's warm, sauté the onions, the garlic, the celery, and the potato in the olive oil. It may take a few minutes, but the vegetables should develop a nice color when they're ready.

Toss in the broccoli and cover it with your soup stock. Bring it to a simmer and allow it to cook for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it - you may need to adjust the temperature to keep it at a simmer. The broccoli and potatoes should be extremely soft by the end of the cooking time.

When you're satisfied with the state of the vegetables, use a handheld or emersion blender to mix the soup together. Once that's done, add the half-and-half and cook for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Personally, we suggest allowing each person to add their own seasoning.

Got a question?

Contact us and we'll respond back as soon as we're able.

#3: Pumpkin Seed And Spinach Salad

The Vitamin K in our broccoli soup recipe isn't the only chemical the brain needs. We also need a healthy supply of zinc, which manages communication and is thought to impact the formation of memories. Pumpkin seeds are an outstanding source of zinc, so we felt this recipe deserved a place in this guide.

Pumpkin Seed Spinach Salad

Ingredients

Seeds

  • 1/2 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or equivalent)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper (not too much!)

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Salad

  • 6 ounces of fresh, baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded to your preferred size

Directions

Get out a large skillet and preheat it over medium. Toss the seeds in and toast them for about two minutes, stirring regularly. Add the sugar and the rest of the seasonings for the seeds and cook for another four minutes. The sugar should be totally melted by the time you're done. Transfer the mixture to wax paper and allow it to cool.

While it's cool, whisk all of the dressing ingredients together. This doesn't take very long, but make sure they're thoroughly combined. After the dressing is ready, toss the spinach, the cranberries, the cheese, and the cooled pumpkin seeds together. Serve with the dressing and allow people to coat the salad to taste.

#4: Spinach Linguine With Walnut Sauce

Walnuts are associated with improved memory - and while you only need a few of them a day to get the benefits, it's better to include them as part of a healthy meal. Much like the other recipes on this list, this is quick and easy to make.

Spinach Linguine With Walnut Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of walnut halves
  • 1 pound of spinach linguine
  • Salt and pepper (preferably coarse)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, with extra for serving
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350. Get out a rimmed baking sheet and spread the walnut halves evenly across the top. Toast until the walnuts are fragrant, normally about 10 minutes. (If they're coming out of the freezer, they may take a little longer.)

While the walnuts are toasting, cook the linguine according to the directions on its package. It should be al dente when finished, normally about nine minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, then drain the linguine and return it to the pot.

In a food processor, process half of the walnuts, the cream, and the garlic until the mixture is smooth. This will only take a few moments. Season it with salt and pepper to taste, then toss the mix with the pasta. Mix in the other half of the walnuts, the parmesan, and the parsley, then serve with extra Parmesan to taste.

#5: Blueberry And Butternut Squash Couscous Salad

Blueberries are thought to help prevent memory loss - and the last thing you want to do when improving your cognitive performance is forget everything you've learned! This recipe is a little more complicated than the others on this list, but once you've done it a few times, you'll be able to get through it with ease.

Blueberry And Butternut Squash Couscous Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup raw couscous (or another grain of choice, such as barley or quinoa)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1-1/2 cups blueberries
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 cups baby arugula

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450. While it's heating, toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of your olive oil. Spread the coated squash on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for 22 minutes or until the squash is tender. Set the squash aside and allow it to cool.

While it's cooling, bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the couscous, then remove from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for five minutes. (If you're using a different grain, you may need to adjust this part of the recipe.)

Fluff the grain with a fork and allow it to cool, too.

While that's happening, get out a small bowl and thoroughly mix the rest of the olive oil, the lemon juice, the salt, and the pepper. Set this mixture aside.

Get out a large bowl and mix the cooked squash, the scallions, the blueberries, the cheese, and the couscous. On a separate serving platter, spread out the arugula and drizzle one tablespoon of the dressing over it. Toss the rest of the dressing with the couscous mix.

Serve the result over the arugula and enjoy immediately.

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