With the world available at the touch of your phone, with posters and advertisements plastered on every street corner, with the increasing omnipresence of social, our abilities to focus and pay attention are understandably strained. Concentration is key to mental performance and cognitive wellbeing. And so, naturally, it's the individual who can filter the increasing distractions of the modern world who succeeds.
Many turn to synthetic stimulants and energy boosters to enhance focus, but many of these substances diminish cognition in the long-run. In fact, many of these substances may decrease cognitive performance in the short-run. Which is why natural nootropics for focus are taking over the game, providing a healthier, refreshing path towards better concentration and, thus, mental performance.
Stay Focused, Stay Alert, Stay Relaxed
Photographers are familiar with the concept of focus. In photography, an "out-of-focus" image either lacks clarity or a central point of interest -- or both. Blurred photos require image sharpening editing tools to introduce clarity, providing contrast and distinction between lines and objects, giving a photo's viewers a better sense of what's what within the frame.
Likewise, the mind operates on a similar concept of focus, as the mind's eye asserts comprehensive order on external sensory input. A sharply focused mind may better distinguish aural and visual cues, distinguishing important sensory information from unnecessary distractions. The focused student absorbs the professor's lecture while mentally shunning the sounds of outside play.
Exceptionally focused thinkers may even compartmentalize sensory input to successfully multitask several assignments at once.
Conversely, a "blurry" (or unfocused) mind struggles to discern potentially important information from everything else. The brain may lose focus when either bombarded with an overwhelming amount of sensory input or with an uninspiring lack of external activity. If ongoing high-intensity thinking or studying depletes focus over time, so, too, does boredom blur the mind.
There's a fine balance to straddle between stimulation and relaxation for the mind to achieve smart focus. Too much stimulation overworks the brain, whereas excessive relaxation stagnates cognition. Brain burnout and brain atrophy essentially lead to the same thing: poor focus.
This is why the L-Theanine + Caffeine stack combination is such a popular nootropic stack within the cognitive enhancing community:
- L-Theanine - calms the mind for better cognitive clarity and creativity.
- Caffeine - excites the mind for heightened energy and alertness.
However, interestingly, the nootropic L-theanine may enhance cognitive performance on its own, whereas standalone caffeine often threatens to disrupt mental performance with its jittery side effects. Which begs the question: is there a difference between stimulants and nootropics with regards to boosting focus and mental performance?
Synthetic Stimulation vs. Cognitive Enhancement
The primary defining difference between synthetic stimulants and nootropic cognitive enhancers is that the former supplies a synthetic boost of heightened cognitive activity while the latter promotes the brain's natural energy and neurotransmitter production pathways. Under desperate or unusual circumstances (e.g., neurotransmitter imbalance), it might be appropriate to resort to synthetic stimulants for better cognitive balance.
Generally speaking, stimulants excite the following catecholamine chemical pathways:
- Dopamine - the brain's motivational "pleasure-reward" chemical; a healthy dopamine response both promotes and rewards a healthy attention span.
- Norepinephrine - or noradrenaline; helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, promotes attention and alertness.
- Epinephrine - or adrenaline; the brain's "fight-or-flight" neurotransmitter, triggers excitatory responses, including heightened focus and fast-thinking mental clarity.
Released during times of heightened stress, the catecholamine neurotransmitters play an important role in sharpening focus and alertness, which explains the link between catecholamine imbalance and inattention. Stimulants essentially work by ramping up catecholamine expression within the brain. However, for many, this may ironically come with a decrease in cognitive performance.
An overstimulated brain becomes hyperaware of external stimuli, diminishing mental focus on central ideas and information.
In this sense, stimulants are not true cognitive enhancers. And, what's more, they may come with risky side effects not otherwise associated with natural nootropics -- especially when used under long-term circumstances.
The Possible Side Effects of Stimulants
The cognitive benefits of stimulants are short-lived and may come at the cost of long-term cognitive performance. Even a common stimulant such as caffeine may result in a cognitive "crash" once the positive effects wear off. Other intense stimulants may overstimulate the brain's catecholamine pathways to the point of long-term cognitive degeneration.
- Excessive synthetic stimulant threatens to diminish the brain's natural focus sharpening bio-pathways, leading to an ultimate decline in focus and concentration and overall cognitive wellbeing.
How Natural Nootropics Can Boost Focus
Rather than flushing the brain with synthetic levels of stimulation, natural nootropics truly enhance focus and cognition by enhancing the brain's natural mental performance pathways. The nootropic option is generally safer and ultimately more effective than the stimulant alternative, potentially even reducing the harmful effects of stimulants in the long-run.
Altogether, nootropics seem to boost focus by:
Optimizing Catecholamine Activity
As previous suggested, catecholamine neurotransmitters play an important function in heightening focus, attention, and awareness. If stimulants ramp up catecholamine activity via chemical substitution, natural nootropics do so by:
- Supplying raw catecholamine precursor.
- Enhancing catecholamine conversion processes.
- Sharpening catecholamine receptor sensitivity.
Certain natural nootropics may be described as "stimulating", even though they don't follow the same stimulatory pathways as synthetic stimulants. Nootropics that operate primarily on the catecholaminergic system may work best conditionally upon the state of the user's catecholamine levels.
Increasing Brain Energy Synthesis
When brain energy falters, focus blurs. As the most energy-demanding organ of the body, the brain is exceptionally sensitive to changes in bodily energy levels. Thus, nootropics that enhance the brain and body's natural ATP energy production pathways may assist with any number of direct and indirect metabolic cognitive processes, including focus and concentration.
The higher the concentration demands are required of a given task or assignment, the greater the threat of brain burnout. Optimizing the brain's energy capacity may increase your mental work stamina.
Enhancing Stress and Anxiety Resistance
Aside from high-intensity thinking, stress and anxiety may have a significantly negative impact on brain energy and mental performance, providing a significant challenge to staying focused and energized. Somewhat related to the catecholamine hypothesis of attention, stress reducing nootropics (or adaptogens) may not only help replenish the chemical and metabolic pathways underlying focus but increase resistance against the catecholamine-depleting effects of stress and anxiety.
Improving Task-Related Cognitive Functions
While memory is a loosely thrown around term for any cognitive process involving "learning" and "remembering" information, working memory specifically involves the brain's ability to process information directed towards an ongoing task or goal. As such, working memory is a subset of short-term memory, as it's capacity and duration are limited. In a way, working memory is somewhat synonymous with focus, as it involves concentrating the mind's efforts on only important, task-related sensory information.
Nootropics that assist with such task-related cognitive functions may improve the mind's ability to focus on a given task.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Focus
As a precursor amino acid that acts directly within the catecholamine conversion process, L-Tyrosine plays a heavily involved role in sustaining mood, motivation, and focus. Under conditions of high stress and activity, the brain "burns" its natural L-tyrosine reserves to synthesize catecholamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine -- i.e., focus-related brain chemicals.
Stress-induced catecholamine depletion may lead to brain burnout, significantly impacting mental performance and concentration. L-tyrosine supplementation may help.
Multitasking demands, external distractions, poor sleep -- several stressors may diminish focus and mental performance. However, research suggests that L-tyrosine administration improves:
- Task-related cognition during high-demand multitasking activities.<1>
- Mental performance affected by loud "distracting" noise exposure.<2>
- Cognition and mood during sleep deprivation.<3>
L-tyrosine's brain boosting benefits become more pronounced and noticeable during high-demanding cognitive tasks as opposed to calm, easy tasks. This makes L-tyrosine -- or, better yet, N-acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT) -- great for clutch performance boosts on focus. It's an effective nootropic compound for high-pressure brain activity, favored by competitive people with rough daily schedules.
Due to B vitamins' co-factor roles in catecholamine conversion pathways, stacking N-acetyl L-tyrosine with B vitamins may further enhance the focus boosting benefits of NALT.
Unlike other sources of choline, Citicoline (also called Cytidine 5'-diphosphocholine or CDP-choline) not only assists with the brain's cholinergic functions but also improves brain energy production, a massive benefit to overall brain health and performance. This duality is due to citicoline's two-part component structure, which divides into:
- Cytidine - a precursor compound to uridine, a nucleotide base associated with an increase in cellular membranes and synaptic plasticity.
- Choline - a building block unit used for the synthesis of neurotransmitter acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine, a cell membrane phospholipid.
By promoting synaptic plasticity and acetylcholine activity, citicoline is a powerhouse nootropic, supporting several pathways involved in high-order cognition and brain regeneration. Animal research suggests that the combination of choline and uridine may significantly improve selective attention and spatial learning under conditions of cognitive impairment.<4>
What's more, clinical human research has found the Cognizin® brand of citicoline to improve attention, motor speed, and other focus-related performance measures under healthy cognitive conditions.<5, 6> As such, citicoline seems to improve focus -- not to mention memory, learning, and mental energy -- while also sharpening the mind against age-related cognitive decline.
For peak citicoline benefits, Cognizin® supplies over a 99% concentration of citicoline as verified by High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) testing, making it one of the best go-to citicoline supplement ingredients.
As the natural relaxing agent in green tea (and other Camellia sinensis products), L-Theanine is a hugely popular nootropic amino acid, especially for stimulant users -- e.g., coffee drinkers. However, while green tea is a great source of L-theanine, simply brewing and drinking green tea leaves won't achieve the nootropic focus-enhancing benefits associated with L-theanine. Rather the ingredient must be supplemented in an isolated, concentrated form, and, ideally, stacked with other brain boosting cognitive enhancers.
Individually, L-theanine seems to work by promoting alpha brainwave frequencies (8-14 Hz), the cognitive state associated with calm, creative thinking; a mental state akin to meditative free-flow thinking. It's a unique bio-effect that calms without sedation and even boosts focus without stimulation.
L-Theanine promotes a mental state best described as "wakeful relaxation" for its simultaneous boost on focus and relaxation.
In terms of focus enhancement, human research suggests L-theanine may:
- Sustain attention over difficult, time-consuming cognitive assignments.<7>
- Improve attention and sleep disorders, which may exacerbate focus disorders.<8>
What's particularly unique about L-theanine is how you can beneficially supplement the nootropic amino anytime from the morning to the late-night evening. L-theanine's calming boosts on focus not only prime the mind for a relaxed, productive workday but ease the mind to sleep during the nighttime for a more rested, alert mind tomorrow.
Supplementing L-theanine on its own may deliver its associative focus benefits. However, many nootropic enthusiasts enjoy stacking this compound with caffeine, due to L-theanine's ability to sustain caffeine's focus enhancing benefits while minimizing the stimulant's jittery side effects.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Often recommended for hyperactivity and attention disorders, Maritime Pine Bark Extract is an exciting herbal nootropic newcomer with substantial promise within the realm of mental health and performance. Supplying a natural, rich complex of active proanthocyanidins, maritime pine bark extract seems to possess an antioxidant capacity 20X greater than vitamin E and 50X greater than vitamin C.<9> Due to its exceptional antioxidant status, maritime pine bark extract is associated with many anti-aging applications and other cognitive promoting activities, most notably focus, attention, and mental processing.
In addition to reducing free radical damage, maritime pine bark extract also promotes healthy cerebral circulation, which may further explain the herb's improvements on focus and mental performance. High-intensity thinking demands high levels of brain energy and nourishment, ironically diminishing brain performance over time.
Maritime Pine Bark Extracts brain boosts replenish and regenerate mental performance, keeping the mind sharp and alert.
One placebo-controlled, double-blind human study found a 4-week administration of maritime pine bark extract to significantly improve:<10>
- Attention performance
- Hyperactivity reduction
- Visual-motoric coordination
Focus affected by hyperactivity may improve with maritime pine bark extract supplementation. By naturally supporting brain energy metabolism and regeneration, maritime pine bark extract possesses significant short- and long-term focus-sharpening potential for a wide age spectrum.
As a key component to brain cell membrane health and structure, Phosphatidylserine (PS) is absolutely essential to healthy cognitive function and longevity.
The phospholipid's brain support bio-benefits range anywhere from the fluidity of neuronal membranes to the efficacy of neurotransmissions to the production of neuron myelin sheaths. Cell-to-cell communication prospers under healthy PS conditions, making PS supplements particularly useful for memory consolidation, learning, and recall.
Healthy phosphatidylserine activity with brain cell membranes is fundamental to a healthy, functional brain.
However, phosphatidylserine also seems to improve cognitive performance measures related to focus, concentration, problem solving, language, and communication skills. Despite a wealth of well-documented research on phosphatidylserine's brain boosting benefits, researchers have yet to precisely define how PS improves focus and concentration; whether it's through direct or indirect nootropic mechanisms.
Even so, phosphatidylserine administration has been linked to better attention and focus via one placebo-controlled trial in particular:
- As compared to placebo, daily PS administration for a two month trial period demonstrated significant improvements in attention performance, short-term auditory memory and working memory, and visual mental performance.<11>
For optimal results, stacking phosphatidylserine with citicoline and fish oil supplements may significantly enhance PS' mental performance boosts. Also, look for Sharp-PS® phosphatidylserine, which substitutes the common soy-derived PS for the more premium sunflower-derived version of this nootropic phospholipid.
Mind Lab Pro® B Vitamins
As previously mentioned, stacking B vitamins with N-acetyl L-tyrosine may further increase NALT's focus sharpening potential, due to B vitamins' co-factor roles in catecholamine conversion processes. Mind Lab Pro® nootropics include three key B vitamins -- vitamins B6, B9, and B12 as BioGenesis™ -- each contributing to the Universal Nootropic™ design via their own B vitamin pathways.
B Vitamins as BioGenesis™
In 2017, Mind Lab Pro® upgraded its Universal Nootropic™ design with the inclusion of vitamins B6, B9, and B12 as BioGenesis™ Nature-Identical.
This B vitamin complex may assist with focus and other cognitive measures through various brain pathways, including reducing homocysteine levels, which helps improve cerebral circulation, and co-facilitating neurotransmitter syntheses, such as the conversion of L-tyrosine to L-DOPA.
BioGenesis™ mirrors Mind Lab Pro® Plantcaps® pills' clean, eco-friendly design, supplying a trio of nootropic B vitamins that are not only effective but safe to use. Focus-related brain chemicals further benefit by BioGenesis™ B vitamins exceptional rate of bioavailability, thanks to the complex's use of nutrient absorption enhancing cofactors.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies some of the best nootropics for focus in premium natural forms, without resorting to synthetic "smart drugs" and their potential side effects.
Mind Lab Pro®'s unique stack of brain boosting nootropics provide quick relief for an attention span spread thin, promoting focus safely and naturally -- an option that is more valuable than ever in 2018, 2019 and beyond. The Mind Lab Pro® Universal Nootropic™ design calls for a different, more effective approach towards better concentration, one that contributes towards both short- and long-term mental performance.
- By optimizing the brain's natural pathways to better focus and attention, Mind Lab Pro® supplies healthy cognitive enhancement for 100% Brainpower™.
It's easy to lose focus in modern life that pulls your attention in every direction. For many, it's easy to lose focus even in a locked room with bare space, thanks to the advent of smartphone technology. Supplementing Mind Lab Pro® may help to keep your mind focused and your eye on the prize.
- Thomas JR, et al.Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment.Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Nov;64(3):495-500.
- Deijen JB1, Orlebeke JF.Effect of tyrosine on cognitive function and blood pressure under stress. Brain Res Bull. 1994;33(3):319-23
- Neri DF, et al.The effects of tyrosine on cognitive performance during extended wakefulness.Aviat Space Environ Med. 1995 Apr;66(4):313-9.
- De Bruin NM, et al. Combined uridine and choline administration improves cognitive deficits in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2003 Jul; 80(1): 63-79.
- McGlade E. et al., Improved Attentional Performance Following Citicoline Administration in Healthy Adult Women. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2012;3:769-773
- McGlade E, et al. The Effect of Citicoline Supplementation on Motor Speed and Attention in Adolescent Males. J Atten Disord. 2015 Jul 15.
- Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, et al. The Effects of L-theanine on Alpha-Band Oscillatory Brain Activity During a Visuo-Spatial Attention Task. Brain Topogr (2009) 22:44–51
- Rao TP, Ozeki M, et al. In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015 Mar 11:1-12.
- Shi J, et al. Polyphenolics in grape seeds-biochemistry and functionality. J Med Food. 2003 Winter;6(4):291-9.
- Trebatická J, et al. Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006 Sep; 15(6): 329-35.
- Hirayama S et al. The effect of phosphatidylserine administration on memory and symptoms of attention deficient hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Apr; 27 Suppl 2: 284-91.