3 Nootropics that do Way More than You Thought!
Bio: Chett Binning Chett is both a Nutrition and Health Coach and former competitive athlete. He finished his hockey career with Carleton University, where he also completed an Honours BA in Psychology. After this, he completed a Masters in Neuroscience (MSc) from Western University, and started his own company known as Brain Ignition. Chett offers health and nutrition consulting services to athletes and everyday people and is also the Scientific Specialist and Educator with ATP Labs, helping educate about ATPs unique formulations. You can find him online at www.brainignition.ca or on Instagram @brainignition
3 Nootropics that do Way More than You Thought!
Nootropics are a growing category of supplements and can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated. So, what exactly are they? Simply put, a nootropic is a substance that boosts brain performance. Super easy to understand!
With this definition, many supplements have nootropic properties that you might not expect. Two that fit this bill are caffeine and creatine, thanks to their brain-boosting properties. Medical mushrooms, famous for their immune and stress response benefits also offer great brain support. In summary, remember that herbs, amino acids and compounds can offer many positives and those which offer nootropic benefits are finally getting their time to shine!
Today I want to spotlight 3 overlooked and underappreciated core nootropic compounds: Alpha GPC, L-Tyrosine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine. You might recognize them as being small parts of your favorite pre-workout or used in weight loss products, but this just scratches their surface. Their positive impact on cognitive performance, depression, and exercise performance are very compelling, and like the Power Rangers are even more potent when combined!
The name sounds sophisticated and brainy, doesn’t it? Simply expressed, Alpha GPC is a form of choline and unlike citrate or bitartrate forms, Alpha GPC is optimal for transport through our blood-brain-barrier increasing choline levels in the brain. As a nootropic, the nutrient form on label is important to look for!
So, if alpha GPC provides choline, then what is choline and why do we need it?
- Science Answer: Choline is a nutrient that is particularly important for brain function because it contributes to methylation reactions, and neurotransmitter synthesis - particularly Acetylcholine. The synthesis of Acetylcholine is the main reason Alpha GPC is such a popular nootropic.
Right. But what does it mean?????
- Practical Answer: This neurotransmitter is important for learning, memory, and nerve function. In other words, choline is a critical component in our ability to think, recall information, and move around! Nootropic supplements use it due to the improved brain function, focus and reduction in mental fatigue.
Something that is lesser known is that Alpha GPC positively impacts aspects of physical performance. Acetylcholine is released at muscular junctions to coordinate contraction making it excellent for training applications. Of note, Alpha GPC may also have an interesting effect on Growth Hormone. One study (1) found an elevation of GH in both young and elderly at both resting and with exercise stimulus. This would point to choline augmenting the effect of exercise.
We can get choline in our diets from foods such as egg yolk, beef, liver, and wheat germ.
Complicating factors which negatively impact the dietary intake of choline include vegan diets, the way we cook, and the overall food quality – a growing concern today.
When taken in supplemental form, Alpha-GPC 1200mg (divided into 3x 400mg doses) was best for a cognitive enhancement. If you see small doses of standard choline on a product label, while beneficial, it cannot offer the full benefits that Alpha GPC provides the brain.
Think of this amino acid as being a resource used by the brain to produce important catecholamines, including epinephrine/norepinephrine and the all-important motivator, dopamine.
Stressed out and lacking motivation? You might want to pay close attention to this part! Having this substrate pool available is most useful to us under stressful circumstances. Why? Under the physiological response to stress, we use these catecholamines to push us through. Once they become depleted, we quickly can notice impairments in our mental and physical abilities. Tyrosine helps by preventing these depletions and impairments from happening, acting as this supply.
While that sounds good on paper, what does this mean, in a real-world situation? One example from the clinical research stood out, driving home the value of Tyrosine. When you think of cold exposure, many associate it with a 60-sec cold shower or ice-dip post-workout. Just picturing this provides a strong rationale on why cold is used as a stress inducer in experimental studies. One small difference: in this scenario, this exposure was much, much longer. Try 90 minutes!
Once complete, imagine being tasked with performing a work puzzle or other thinking task in that scenario. How do you think you’d cope? What a fantastic way to deplete catecholamine resources (90-min of cold) to then measure the potential impact of Tyrosine on problem solving!
- The Test: Volunteers completed a 90-minute water immersion in 10-degree weather. It’s not clear what the temperature of the water was, but with the air temperature and timeframe, this is more than enough to create cold stress. A cognitive test followed this exposure. (2)
- Cold Impact: The cold had the following effects: slower reaction times, errors, and self-reported tension, depression, as well as heightened confusion.
- Tyrosine Effect: When volunteers consumed a bar containing 150mg/kg of Tyrosine before the task, many of these impairments were mitigated, including the number of errors and the total time it took to complete the task.
Like baking a cake, lacking the core ingredient (flour) means you cannot make it; or at best have a compromised product lacking texture, shape, and flavour. So too, having inadequate or exhausted Tyrosine stores limits our crucial catecholamine production. Lower levels of dopamine would equate to less output. In other words, you quit faster after making more mistakes. If you feel you’re particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in motivation, this could be a sign of less-than-optimal dopamine function.
ALCAR is one of the most exciting nootropics due to the abundance of research to date. ALCAR is the acetylated form of L-Carnitine, which allows it to enter the brain more efficiently. This is remarkably like the relationship between choline and Alpha GPC as passing through the blood-brain barrier is not easy! The nootropic benefits associated with carnitine supplementation are not the same without the appropriate form.
Once in the brain, impressively ALCAR increases available energy by improving glucose uptake. This has potential positive outcomes for those suffering from dementia (diabetes of the brain). Further, ALCAR increases levels of creatine in the brain, critical for ATP production which is your cellular energy. It also supports various neurotransmitter levels, antioxidant levels, and improves mitochondrial function.
All these biological responses to L-Carnitine are suggestive as to why ALCAR has shown promise with depression. Interestingly, studies show that ALCARlevels are LOWER in depressed patients. (3) This is association datawhich means we can’t say whether the decline came before or after the depression, but it is important data which has led to other trials using ALCAR as an intervention. For instance, pooled data from 9 recent clinical trials (RCTs) with 447 total participants found that ALCAR significantly reduces symptoms of depression vs. placebo.
3 RCTs took the additional step and compared ALCAR to antidepressants and found similar antidepressant effects WITHOUT the side effects associated with antidepressant drugs. In fact, ALCAR had a 79% reduction in side effects compared to antidepressants. (5)
The potential mechanisms of ALCAR in depression are interesting. Please note that these may overlap to the benefits of ALCAR in other neurological issues too:
May increase serotonin and dopamine levels
- A reduction of these (is believed) to be a contributing factor to depression, hence why drugs targeting depression try to make these neurotransmitters more available.
Lipid metabolism is likely impaired in depression.
- For example, depressed patients have lower levels of Omega 3, and often have lower levels of cholesterol, and altered phospholipids, and ALCAR improves these.
- ALCAR also supports fatty acid oxidation, and this can prevent cell death in the brain (in animal studies)
- This fatty acid oxidation is a critical point because for optimal health the brain must maintain metabolic flexibility, i.e., being able to oxidize BOTH glucose and fatty acids efficiently for fuel. Unfortunately, this flexibility is impaired in several neurological conditions.
Overall, when it comes to brain function combining Alpha GPC, Tyrosine and ALCAR create a potent trio. For those who are looking for an effective non-stimulant pre-training product, these will support drive and energy production and mind-muscle connection. For those looking to improve focus, concentration and sustained motivation, optimizing their ability to deal with both stress, this willalso fit the bill.
If those scenarios fit you, consider ATP Labs NeuroPrime. By using premium Alpha GPC and ALCAR, you receive the correct forms of choline and carnitine delivered to your brain. This provides the benefits discussed in the article. While standard versions of those compounds are beneficial, they cannot offer the same cognitive support.
That final piece of the puzzle (Tyrosine) provides that resource pool to create your own catecholamine supply of energy and motivation. You will be on your way to a better, more focused you no matter where you are and whatever you are doing . . . even in that ice bath!
- Ziegenfuss, T., Landis, J. & Hofheins, J. Acute supplementation with alpha-glyceryl phosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5, P15 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-S1-P15
- Mahoney, Caroline R et al. “Tyrosine supplementation mitigates working memory decrements during cold exposure.” Physiology & behavior 92,4 (2007): 575-82. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.05.003
- Nasca, C et al., (2018). Acetyl-l-carnitine deficiency in patients with major depressive disorder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(34), 8627–8632. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.180160911
- Kraemer, W et al., (2003). The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 17(3), 455–462. https://doi.org/10.1519/1533-4287(2003)017<0455:teolls>2.0.co;2
- Veronese, N. Et al., (2018). Acetyl-L-Carnitine Supplementation and the Treatment of Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psychosomatic medicine, 80(2), 154–159. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000537