In his book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, Daniel Goleman, a world-renown author, psychologist and science journalist, quoted Justin Halberda, a cognitive scientist at the Johns Hopkins University.
As Halberda said, “the mind tries to make the most of its limited resources”. But where are the limits and can humans push them forward with the support of science?
We’ve all seen movies like “Limitless” or “Lucy” where the main character uses some type of nootropic drug, gets surreal superhuman cognitive abilities, and completely turns his or her life around. After watching them, most of us have probably thought to ourselves – boy, I would be so grateful if I could just stay focused during working hours and get my tasks done before the deadline.
When people experience mental fatigue, they usually reach for caffeine to wake up a bit, become more alert and think clearer, but what about those pills available on the market that help you focus?
Mental focus pills that maximize brain functioning have been widely used by students, entrepreneurs, scientists and others who feel like they could use a bit of a mental boost. The tech world is getting more and more hyped about exploring potential ways of getting from zero to a hundred with the support of these enhancers – and with a good reason, if we might add!
High competition requires top performance in order to swim with the big fish on the market and survive. Take one glance of the wealthy social class from the Silicon Valley and you’ll notice many consumers are also interested in investing in the development of smart drugs. They are intrigued by the possibilities of increasing focus, improving human attention span and, overall – stimulating the brain.
Brain focus pills come in various shapes – as supplements, drugs, or prescription medication. The number of manufacturers is growing, and there are also fraudsters making money on those who know little about smart drugs. So, how do you tell these mental focus pills apart and what ingredients should you actually look for?
A Variety of Supplements on the Market
When talking about our ability to focus, there are three chemicals that play an important role: dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine.
There are many supplements you can buy legally over the counter if you wish to improve your clarity of thinking, focus, concentration and alertness, and all of them will have some sort of influence on the levels of the mentioned chemicals.
Supplements provide nutrients (usually herb-based) you wouldn’t normally get the chance to consume just through your daily menu, at least not in the dosage that would significantly boost your brain power.
Amino acid called L-Tyrosine is a precursor of dopamine, but the supplement known as NALT has an additional chemical structure bind (N-Acetyl) which increases the compound’s bioavailability, i.e. enables a better absorption of L-Tyrosine. NALT has been proven to be a perfect supplement that helps the consumer preserve cognitive functionality in extremely stressful situations where the mind and body suffer exhaustion. Study conducted on cadets proved tyrosine reduces the blood pressure and improves cognitive performance after extreme strain (in this research, cadets went through one week of a combat training course). Side effects are not dangerous. They include headaches and even migraines (usually consumers who already suffer from migraines), which is linked to poor tyrosine metabolism. It comes in forms of focus pills, tablets, capsules and powder.
Hordenine HCL is a natural alkaloid found in a variety of plants, such as barley or bitter orange. It is known as a brain stimulant and a great fat-burner, since it affects tyramine and noradrenaline. Studies have shown it has a positive inotropic effect on the heart, improving the blood flow and triggering the feeling of wakefulness. Monoamine Oxidases are enzymes which destroy amino acids and hormones using oxygen. If the levels of MAOs get excessively high, they can affect the central nervous system and disrupt the optimal hormonal balance, which manifests as fatigue, mood swings and inability to focus. Hordenine is a natural MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor capable of crossing the brain-blood barrier.
Hordenine HCL controls MAOs, while providing the brain with enough dopamine. It also stimulates the production of epinephrine, norepinephrine and adrenaline. This increases cellular metabolism and creates a feeling of mind clarity and wakefulness. Hordenine HCL can be bought in a form of focus pills, but it is most frequently sold as a powder. Consumers who combine it with their coffee report satisfying results.
Noopept (N-Phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester)
Noopept is a synthetic drug developed in Russia with a goal of finding effective treatment for age-related cognitive decline. Team of scientists have published their findings back in 1996 in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. In addition to memory improvement, noopept performs as a mood enhancer and suppresses the feeling of anxiety. A study from 2008 conducted on rats showed noopept stimulates two crucial brain chemicals in the hippocampus, NGF and BDNF. The two mentioned are responsible for creating memories and new brain connections. The study results were truly encouraging, as noopept could potentially be used for preventing further development in cases of early phase Alzheimer’s patients. Noopept is yet to be recognized as one of the multifunctional focus pills out there, since it does wonders as a brain booster, but also reduces stress and overall irritability.
L-Carnitine is one of the most studied nootropics around. It is a compound produced naturally by the human body, but we can benefit from a larger dose of it. It can help with reversing the aging process in mitochondria, while acting neuroprotective and causing alertness. The brain stays protected from neuronal loss, especially when it comes to lifestyle choices (e.g. excessive alcohol consumption).Studies have proven L-Carnitine positively affects concentration and focus, while enabling a clear train of thought for consumers. In addition to improving overall brain functioning, this research shows L-Carnitine has antioxidative properties, protecting the brain from free radicals. One piece of research from 2002 even confirmed positive effects of L-Carnitine in the ADHD treatment.
Given the fact it’s one of the best mental focus pills on the market that’s also completely safe to use as a dietary supplement, L-Carnitine is quite popular and accessible.
Nature’s Finest in Form of Focus Pills
As we have already mentioned, many focus pills are herb-based. Nature has been generous in giving us plenty tasty sources that help us maximize our mental capabilities, and some have managed to gain more popularity than others. Here are four ingredients that have become mainstream due to their amazing benefits, as well as the fact that they are used widely to make brain enhancers.
Also known as velvet bean, Mucuna Pruriens is a legume plant found in Africa and Asia. Studies have explored its properties and found multiple benefits, along with the potential for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and infertility. Mucuna Pruriens contains a chemical called L-DOPA, a precursor for dopamine. Once it gets absorbed to your digestive system, Mucuna Pruriens bypasses an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, which then increases the dopamine levels. Bearing in mind that dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, consuming the plant will make you feel more focused and alert, while you experience a mood lift. As a supplement, it’s usually sold in dried powder and the daily dosage depends on the concentrate of Mucuna Pruriens (it’s usually around 5g per day).
Leaves of Ginkgo Biloba have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It is made out of more than 40 compounds, of which two are believed to act as medicine – flavonoids and terpenoids. Ginkgo Biloba acts as an antioxidant: by dilating blood vessels, it improves blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown it may protect nerve cells (as a means of protection against oxidative stress and further mitochondrial damage) affected by the Alzheimer’s, but it is powerless as a cure. Key results of a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia suggested the possibility of using Ginkgo Biloba as a part of preventive practices. It has proven to increase concentration, heal mental fatigue, boost cognitive performance, enhance one’s memory, and even regulate mood.
Unlike most nootropics out there, L-theanine is a compound that doesn’t act as a stimulant. It is naturally found in green tea and is well-known for its calming effects. In addition to being a mood booster, L-theanine prevents further decline in cognitive function and acts as a neuroprotective compound, as one study focused on elderly patients has proven.L-theanine works by boosting the so-called Alpha brainwaves, which are linked to the feelings of relaxation, calmness and creativity. It causes a production of serotonin and dopamine, while simultaneously regulating neuron-neurotransmitter receptors. As studies have shown, supplements containing L-theanine represent one of the best mental focus pills out there, specifically because of the relaxed mental alertness (without causing sleepiness).
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can be naturally found in many types of foods, although it’s not always ideal to consume them from natural sources. From salmon, white fish and egg yolks, to tuna, anchovies and walnuts – there are many ingredients to create one tasteful menu.It contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which help lower the blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and keep the heart healthy and protected. However, a study from 2012 showed taking supplements that contain Omega-3 fatty acids can improve working memory up to 23%, along with other mental abilities. This fits perfectly with other studies that have showed positive results regarding improved focus of ADHD patients after Omega-3 fish oil supplements.
Prescribed Meds: Approved Focus Pills for ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects children and teens, and if not treated – it can continue to adulthood. With younger patients, symptoms include extreme lack of focus and reduced attention span, forgetfulness, decreased organizational skills, and a wandering mind prone to daydreaming. Children show hyperactivity and are impulsive, which prevents them from maintaining normal social interaction and the ability to get on with their daily activities.
In addition to the behavioral therapy, social skills training and counseling, medications are almost always a part of the treatment. But to understand what these prescribed focus pills do, you have to understand how the brain chemistry of a person diagnosed with ADHD works.
There are two specific neurochemicals that play an important role here: dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for healthy functioning of the prefrontal cortex. Optimal levels of these two chemicals ensure the ability to pay close attention when needed, but in case of ADHD, there is a chemical misbalance, which is why medications are used to improve focus. There are two main groups of focus pills prescribed to treat ADHD – methylphenidate and amphetamine.
Methylphenidate works by increasing the dopamine levels, which has been established in a study published in Journal of Neuroscience in 2001. It affects the central nervous system (CNS) and acts as a stimulant, increasing both the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine that participate as neurotransmitters in controlling behaviour and focus. This revives CNS connections and betters brain activity.
Amphetamine medication works in a similar way to methylphenidate. They increase the amount of neurotransmitters and speed up the process of spreading information across the brain, creating the sense of alertness and sharp focus. In addition to dopamine and norepinephrine, amphetamine also affects the levels of extracellular serotonin, while the methylphenidate meds don’t, scientists have shown. Because of their proven effects, both types of medications are widely abused, especially by students. One survey showed that around 20% of Ivy League students tried some of the ADHD meds. There is a misconception that these drugs are safe to use just because they belong to the group of prescribed medications – but they can be very dangerous for healthy individuals.
A healthy brain gets flooded with additional chemistry and so the effect of the drug is similar to cocaine. Dopamine transporter gets blocked, which causes the chemical to build up within the synapse. With perpetual use, the brain gets hooked on the new amount of chemicals and loses the ability to function without it. The withdrawal process can be extremely hard and includes symptoms like hypersomnia, increased appetite, anxiety, depression, aggression, paranoia, lack of focus, and severe mood swings.
Prescribed focus pills (e.g. provigil) are also used to treat other conditions, such as sleep apnea, shift work sleep disorder and narcolepsy.
There are various brands and merchants within the smart pill industry. No doubt, this market is gradually growing: according to one global forecast, by 2024, it will reach the worth of $8.98 billion. Who knows what betterment for the human brain can we expect in the future with these mental focus pills? No doubt, science is pushing the limits forward, making humans discover the potentials they never knew they had.