What are Brain Supplements and Do They Really Work?
Brain supplements, also known as nootropics, have become one of the most sought-after supplements on the market, and it’s no wonder why. If you’ve been experiencing brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and feeling mental fatigue far sooner than your workload requires - you might also be looking for the best brain-boosting supplement.
And there are a ton available on the market - including some you might have been using as a crutch for your entire adult life (insert coffee).
Ranging from stimulants like caffeine and vitamin B12 to more calming depressants like magnesium and valerian - the market of brain-targeting supplements caters to many different needs. Thankfully so, since your brain needs will vary significantly from your neighbor. And let’s be honest, there is no surprise there. Based on your lifestyle, diet, stress, and environment, you truly do require a very unique blend of supplements to help promote a healthier brain - no matter what that looks like.
But if you think the answer is strictly in a brain supplement formula made solely for one purpose, you’re probably missing out on a key component of your brain health.
You Guessed It, Your Microbiome.
What happens when you swallow that performance-enhancing supplement? Before it can boost your mental faculties, it must take a journey: and its first stop begins and ends with your digestive system.
Like everything else you consume, all supplements (brain or otherwise) must be digested and broken down and then absorbed. How well any supplement does depends upon the health of your mouth and your intestinal tract, including the microbial richness and diversity of your unique microbiome. These microbes are responsible for a number of tasks, such as breaking down nutrients, maintaining barriers to your bloodstream, upholding the integrity of your gut lining, and even aiding in nutrient digestion (or transformation).
From the mouth, supplements can interact directly with the bacteria in your mouth, helping to maintain healthy gums and teeth and preventing toxins and microbes from slipping into your blood. Protecting these barriers prevents inflammation that can circulate to the brain, and interrupt various brain functions. The microbes in your mouth can be an essential part of homeostasis and be your first line of defense against interruptions to your neurotransmitters in the brain.
And others play an essential role in the gut-brain axis.
This biological bridge (via the vagus nerve) between your gut and brain experiences a considerable amount of traffic from chemical signals and even wandering microbes. These signals travel bidirectional and meander both to and from each organ. For example, the ability of your digestive system to properly respond to food relies on signals sent from the brain, and you can expect a vice-versa relationship. In fact, correspondence from your gut to your brain relays more information than just hunger pangs. An assortment of neurotransmitters and chemical information regarding emotions, immune system needs, stress levels, and mental health all transit from the gut to the brain.
And then, of course, there is the actual movement of various microbes that ‘walk up’ the vagus nerve and can change the way your brain functions. Some psychologists believe that this microbial migration may even relate to the development of mental health conditions like depression.1
Think Before You Eat
Hundreds, if not thousands, of studies have shown that your diet can directly impact the health of your digestive tract. This research has helped scientists to determine that the rise of conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and even leaky gum syndrome may have a significant impact on the health of many other tissues. Occurring from ‘leaky’ junctions in the intestinal lining, leaky gut syndrome perpetuates intestinal cell death, promotes inflammation, and often allows various gut microbes to pass into the bloodstream. Without the right nutrients needed to maintain your intestinal lining integrity, your diet may be the culprit allowing bacteria to slip through the cracks of your gut.
Some scientists have been able to link this disruption with the movement of microbes traveling up the vagus nerve and into the brain. Inside the gut, many of these microbes have beneficial properties - but outside of it, their colonization in other tissues can have a toxic effect. Many symptoms associated with mental health conditions, fatigue, and poor concentration can manifest from this microbial migration.2
So whereas a variety of nootropics and other supplements may improve the resources your brain needs to function better - you might be failing to combat the issue at the source. And instead, you’re left pacifying the symptoms instead of rehabilitating your body’s natural ability to function.
From Recommendation to Action
The more we learn about the human body, the more we find that everything is connected. What appears as an isolated event or symptom, may actually have something very different to say about your health as a whole. And at Viome, our mission to view each individual’s health on a personal level embodies our dedication to holistic health and mitigate the prevalence of chronic diseases. By understanding that the sum of the parts is intimately connected to how the body performs as a whole, there is no better place to start than the nutrients we put into it.
The foods we consume directly determine the amount of energy we have to heal, function, and perform - and support the growth, maintenance, and development of every cell in our body.
In your Viome scores, the foods on your Superfood and Enjoy lists work to support the individual needs of not just your gut - or even your gut microbiome - but to help balance your system as a whole. By minimizing or avoiding foods that counter that initiative, your body is better prepared to function to the best of its ability.
And the best way to check-in and get your body properly analyzed might require a little more finesse with the right foods for your body and an appreciation of your gut’s role in the health of your brain.
1 Liu, R. (2017). [Study of microbiome and stress and mental health]. PubMed Central, National Library of Medicine.
2 Fuente-Nunez, C. et al. (2017). [Review of discovery on microbes and the brain]. ACS Publications, American Chemical Society.