Some nutrients widely believed to make your brain function better do just that–for a few hours. Caffeine is the most popular; people also use amino acids like phenylalanine, and herbs such as ephedra and guarana also provide a quick jolt of energy. However, they’re not likely to do anything for the long-term health of your brain, according to Carl Germano, R.D., C.N.S., clinical certified nutritionist and coauthor of The Brain Weilness Plan (Kensington Books, 1997). A few common “smart” stimulants include:
CAFFEINE Hugely popular, and for many addicts, irreplaceable. The most common source is coffee, made from the beans of the coffee tree, originally native to Ethiopia.
EPHEDRA Also called Mormon tea, because Mormon settlers in North America used ephedra instead of caffeine. Also used in traditional Chinese medicine. A leafless bush found in desert climates throughout the world. American and Chinese varieties sold as an herbal supplement, alone or in energy-booster formulas, in health foods stores.
GUARANA The national drink of Brazil. Sold as an herbal stimulant, guarana contains more caffeine than coffee.
PHENYLALANINE An amino acid. Like choline and pyroglutamate, phenylalanine is a neurotransmitter precursor. In the brain, phenylalanine is converted into dopamine, and then into epinephrine and norepinephrine, the excitatory neurotransmitters–which explains its stimulating properties. Known as an energy booster, it shows up as a popular ingredient in pick-me-up “smart drinks.”
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