There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different herbs and supplements which are commonly used as nootropics. While some offer more of a direct impact brain health, focus, and memory, there are some compounds that can have an indirect impact which is often equally effective.
Some of the more misunderstood nootropics are ones we are exposed to every day through diet alone - amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and our body structure, playing vital roles over the course of our whole life.
Here we discuss the benefits of common nootropic amino acids, specifically for focus and attention, and how you can use them to support healthy cognitive function.
Amino Acids as Nootropics
Amino acids are organic compounds that make up protein, often referred to as the building blocks of protein.
They are needed for many vital processes in the body, such as building protein, synthesizing hormones and neurotransmitters, and boosting athletic performance.
There are 20 amino acids in total, 9 of which are essential - meaning that our body cannot naturally produce them, so we must obtain them through the diet.
The brain constantly needs amino acids, as well as many other nutrients, such as B vitamins and minerals. The brain puts these key nutrients and compounds to use for building neurotransmitters (the brain's chemical messengers), firing nerve impulses, and metabolizing food into energy.
A shortage of these essential nutrients could compromise brain function. This is where supplementation comes in!
Supplementing amino acids as nootropic compounds helps to supply the raw materials, such as B vitamins and minerals, whenever the brain needs them. This is opposed to how other nootropics work, which stimulate specific pathways to optimize brain function.
The same concept applies to working out - when you exert your muscles, you increase the demand for amino acids in order to prevent injury, improve muscle mass and tone.
This is why consuming a protein source is essential post-workout to replenish any lost amino acids, mainly leucine, valine, and isoleucine (the branched chain amino acids).
Once again, the same can be said for the brain. You put your brain through vigorous daily workouts which exert you mentally. During this exertion, amino acids are used up which we must replenish regularly to keep our brain functioning optimally.
The only difference here is the type of amino acids we should be supplementing for the brain! Let’s take a look at the top 5 amino acids that can be used as nootropics.
The Top 5 Nootropic Amino Acids
1) L-Tyrosine and Phenylalanine
L-tyrosine is one of the 20 amino acids required for optimal health and function. Tyrosine can be made from phenylalanine, which is why they are commonly grouped together in terms of their effects.
To put it simply, one of the key neurotransmitters in the brain is dopamine, which is made directly from tyrosine in the brain.
Dopamine is used to regulate many processes in the body, including movement, memory, hormone production, and homeostasis. ADHD and Parkinson’s disease are two conditions that are thought to be associated with low dopamine levels.
Though, even in healthy individuals, low dopamine can cause brain fog, fatigue, and poor attention.
Tyrosine is also used to create norepinephrine, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter involved in the fight-or-flight process - making us feel alert when we are stressed.
When under a lot of stress, we have a higher demand for norepinephrine, which can cause tyrosine to become depleted much sooner than usual.
When supplementing with tyrosine, you may find improvements in concentration and motivation, and improved energy levels.
Taurine is actually not technically an amino acid, though it contains an amino group. It’s included on this list because it fits the same group as amino acids and it's a fairly powerful nootropic!
Taurine is made from the amino acid cysteine and is used in the body as a neuroprotective compound. It is contained in high amounts in human breast milk to support the development of the infant brain.
Taurine also works to activate GABA (main relaxation molecules) receptors in the brain, helping to reduce hyperactivity, anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
Supplementing with taurine may result in reduced anxiety and improved sleep, while providing support to the body to help resist the negative implications of chronic stress.
Tryptophan has a number of uses in the human body, particularly pertaining to cognitive function.
The main role of this amino acid is to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.
Serotonin is used in the brain to help regulate sleep, appetite, mood, libido, and memory. It Is also converted to melatonin in the pineal gland, which is the main hormone involved in regulating our body clock, or circadian rhythm.
Tryptophan is a key amino acid that can help individuals cope during periods of mental strain. These individuals use us serotonin quicker than usual, which places a higher demand for tryptophan.
Low tryptophan levels may result in lacking convention and increased anxiety. Supplementing with this amino acid may reduce insomnia, improve memory retention, support healthy libido, and improve concentration, focus, and sleep.
Carnitine acts a little differently to the other amino acids on the list, in the sense that it doesn’t help to produce neurotransmitters.
Rather, carnitine is used to shuttle fatty acids into the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells.
This fat is an important fuel source for the brain, which is key as our brains use up a fair portion of our total daily energy.
Adding acetyl-L-Carnitine (the form of carnitine that can pass the blood-brain barrier) into your supplement stack would help fortify the fuel you put into your body, which allows the brain to perform optimally and to achieve what it’s capable of.
Acetyl-L-carnitine can help reduce fatigue, support energy production in the brain, support muscle growth and repair, and improve mental endurance over long periods of time.
L-theanine is another compound which is not one of the standard 20 amino acids, but is still technically an amino acid.
It is made from the leaves of the tea plant and has a similar shape to the amino acid glutamine.
L-theanine has become one of the most popular nootropics on the globe, and for good reason!
This amino acid has anti-anxiety effects and is a mild dopamine repute inhibitor, which is precisely how many pharmaceutical nootropics work, such as Modafinil and Adderall. Though, it’s important to note that L-theanine provides a much more gentle effect compared to these drugs.
Some of the benefits of L-theanine include reduced anxiety, a state of calm, clear focus, improved focus and concentration, and lowering the negative effects of stress.
How to Take Amino Acid Nootropics
Now we know what amino acids can be used as nootropics, let’s briefly discuss how you may go about supplement with them!
While you can take singular amino acids as a supplement, it’s often recommended to take these amino acids as part of a nootropic stack or formula.
For example, Mind Lab Pro is universal nootropic, which boosts all aspects of cognition in all types of people.
It contains the amino acids Acetyl-L-Carnitine and L-theanine alongside other nootropic herbs, such as rhodiola rosea and lion’s mane mushroom, and other key nutrients such as B vitamins.
To stimulate multiple brain pathways, as well as supply the brain with raw materials needed for optimal function, Mind Lab Pro would do the trick!
The Final Take-Home
While amino acids as nootropic compounds rely on a different philosophy compared to other nootropics, they are still extremely effective.
They do not work in the same way as common nootropics, which focus on stimulating a particular pathway. Rather, amino acids support brain function by supplying it with the materials it needed to function optimally.
The best way to take these amino acids is as part of a nootropic stack or formula, such as Mind Lab Pro!