Sammy Margo: How Alcohol and Caffeine effect sleep
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Universities UK announced last month their intention to probe into the use of so-called “smart drugs” on a number of UK campuses in 2022.
Some of these drugs have been circulating around campuses for up to a decade, with an eight-year survey by The Tab finding that up to a quarter of students have used them, with higher numbers at more demanding universities.
The science for how well these medications actually “boost” your brain is a subject of some speculation.
Drugs such as Modafinil and Ritalin are used for treating attention disorders and sleep conditions.
The University of Cambridge warns their students against using these drugs without a prescription.
They write: “[These drugs] are increasingly used by healthy students in an attempt to enhance cognitive ability, improve concentration and focus, and maximise brain power during exam periods.
“Many have warned that the willingness of people to put their long-term overall health at risk in pursuit of a short-term intellectual edge is deeply troubling.
“The short-term side effects of the drugs can also be unpleasant, including severe fatigue, headaches and a rash.”
There has also been a growing consumer market for non-prescription “smart drugs”, called nootropics.
The majority of people are already consuming some compounds that list nootropic ingredients.
For instance, caffeine from coffee or tea has been studied widely in medical literature for the impact it has on the brain as a stimulant.
While caffeine does cause people to crash when the effects wear off, this is a milder side effect than those of prescription equivalents.
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Meanwhile, nootropics are now being manufactured within supplements.
“This is an evolving science and there aren’t many supplements that have been clinically trialled for their impact,” says Dr Federica Amati, Chief Nutrition Scientist for Indi Supplements.
“There’s a lot of interest in nootropics and adaptogens, such as reishi mushrooms and ashwagandha,” she continues.
“The right supplement may enhance our overall health and brain function, but these should be whole food based supplements.”
Dr Amati suggests not focusing on singular ingredients but instead on a broader healthy diet.
“The bottom line with supplements is that they should not be used in place of a varied and nutrient dense diet,” she said.
“We know that eating a wide and abundant variety of plant foods is helpful for brain function.”
“We should also consider eating fermented foods like sauerkraut daily, as well as nuts, which have proven benefits on brain health too, so let’s start looking at nature for our supplements instead of pills.
“Looking after your gut microbiome via our food intake and with certain supplements is the best way to ensure you are looking after your brain too.”
The gut microbiome is an area of particular interest for this type of nutrition.
The connection between the brain and gut is strong enough that the gut is often described as a second brain.
Ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin, a brain chemical that controls mood, is produced within the gut by bacteria.
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