Level Up

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Ancient Remedies for Modern Performance (Nootropics – Adaptogens – Psychobiotics)

The Elusive Nature of Human Performance

The desire to perform at our best and achieve our goals is inherent in human nature. Improving how we feel, how we look, and how we perform is an on-going quest that many of us strive for. Unfortunately, while most of us strive to be our best, many of us fail to achieve our goals.

Why is this?

With so many millions of people striving over the centuries to “level up” their performance, whether it be in sports, academics, business, politics, or general well-being and everyday life – you would think that the recipe for optimal performance would have been figured out long ago and should be “easy” or at least straight forward to follow?

Unfortunately, no.

The reason that most people are “spinning their wheels” as they strive for optimal performance is due to mistakenly thinking about human performance as primarily a “brain thing” – so we focus on mindset and goal-setting and positive thinking and mental toughness.

While each of these is important to achieve our objectives (and I’ve written about each of them in previous books), they are only one small part of a larger perspective on optimal performance.

Leveling Up is not just a “brain thing” – it’s a “gut-brain thing” and a “heart-brain thing”

Leveling up is a more complete and nuanced way of thinking about human performance that builds on traditional “brain-centric” concepts by engaging each of our three brains.

Three brains?

You’re undoubtedly aware of your “first brain” (in your head), but you may not be aware that we have a second brain in our gut and a third brain in our heart.

I’ve written an entire book about the science underlying the “3 brains” concept and how harnessing our Gut-Heart-Brain-Axis can dramatically improve Mental Fitness (mood, motivation and mental well-being) – so you can find the details there.

This book is more of a practical application of that science – sort of a “users guide” – to help you get the most benefits in the shortest amount of time by properly linking up your Brain (Mind) with your Gut (Body) and your Heart (Spirit).

Brain/Mind (1st brain) – enhance with Nootropics

Gut/Body (2nd brain) – optimize with Psychobiotics

Heart/Spirit (3rd brain) – augment with Adaptogens

Whether we refer to this as “mind-body-spirit connection” or “brain-gut-heart axis” doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we understand that each of our “brains” can help us “level-up” in different ways – and when we link them properly, we can finally achieve the levels of happiness, resilience, and performance that have previously eluded us.

Don’t get me wrong, we still need our goals and mindset to focus our brain; still need to eat and train effectively to strengthen our body; and still need to identify our values and purpose to motivate our spirit. No amount of shortcuts or “hacks” are going to make up for a poor foundation.

But, if you know where you want to go (mind) and you have the skills (body) and drive (spirit) to get there, we can use ancient remedies to maximize our performance in the modern world.

The image below was created by my friend and amazingly talented creator, Ryan Wirick.

Read it like normal (top to bottom) – and then read it again from the bottom to the top. ? 

Ergogenic Aids and Modern Performance

The term “ergogenic” translates to work (“ergo”) generating (“genic’) – so “ergogenic aids” are substances or practices that are used to enhance performance (often in sports). These aids can range from illegal drugs (like steroids) to legal supplements (like electrolyte drinks) to training techniques (like high altitude workouts) and even technological advancements (like aerodynamic bicycles). The concept of using ergogenic aids to improve performance has been around for centuries, with athletes seeking that extra edge to push their limits and achieve their goals.

We’re talking about “sports athletes” because we can learn from – and use the same techniques – to improve our own performance as “corporate athletes” at work – or “academic athletes” at school – or “social athletes” in our relationships – or “family athletes” at home.

Ergogenic aids can be classified into two main categories: pharmacological aids and non-pharmacological aids. Pharmacological aids include substances such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones, and certain stimulants. These substances can have powerful effects on the body, including increased muscle mass, improved endurance, and enhanced recovery. However, it is important to note that many pharmacological aids are banned in competitive sports due to their potential health risks.

Non-pharmacological aids, on the other hand, are generally considered safer and more widely accepted. These aids include “internal” things like nutritional supplements as well as “external” things like compression garments, running shoes, and specialized sports equipment. Nutritional supplements, such as protein powders, amino acids, antioxidants, omega-3s, and vitamins, are commonly used to support general dietary needs for muscle growth, tissue repair, and recovery. This approach is valuable for maintaining baseline performance and especially for preventing illness and injury – and but lacking adequate nutrition will certainly reduce our performance – but none of them are truly “ergogenic” in the sense that they help us “level-up” our performance.

True ergogenic aids can be divided into three main categories: Nootropics (for the brain/mind), Adaptogens (for the heart/spirit), and Psychobiotics (for the gut/body) – and properly balancing each of these types can elevate mental and physical performance to new heights.

In our quest for elevated performance and optimal well-being, what I call “Leveling-Up”, we’re finding that “old” solutions (from ancient times) may be just what we need to help solve “new” problems (in our modern world). 

Many of the plants, mushrooms, natural medicines used for ~3,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and ~5,000 years in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) have “nootropic” (brain-boosting), “adaptogenic” (anti-stress), and “psychobiotic” (mood elevating) effects.

Nootropics: Beyond Basic Brain Boosters

Nootropics, pronounced like “Noah” (the guy with the ark), are also known as “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers. The word comes from “noo” for mind and “tropic” for changing, and these “mind-changing” substances help to enhance cognitive function, including memory, focus, and creativity. While nootropics can encompass a broad range of natural and synthetic substances, the main “problem” with the nootropic category is that many of them are just synthetic stimulants. This stimulant approach can undoubtedly give your brain a temporary boost, but that is often accompanied by tension, jitters and irritability – followed by a crash – and potentially by dependence.

There are much better ways to not only “boost” brain function, but also to protect delicate neurons and actually encourage the growth of new neurons and neuronal pathways (known as “brain plasticity” – the process by which the brain learns and grows and adapts).

Depending on the part of the world you find yourself in, you might see Asians using the green tea amino acid, theanine, to enhance focus; or Europeans using saffron to improve overall mood; or Aussies and Kiwis using pine bark to spark creativity; or Indians using gotu kola or bacopa to reduce brain fog. The list of safe and effective natural brain boosters is fairly long and I outline many of them below.

Caffeine is the most widely consumed nootropic substance, well-known (and loved by millions) for its ability to enhance alertness and concentration. It acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist (actually reducing the perception of fatigue more than truly “boosting” energy), with the end result being a noticeable increase in neural activity and wakefulness. Studies have shown that caffeine can improve cognitive performance, including attention, reaction time, and mood.

Most of the caffeine that you’re going to see on the market is synthetic – which is cheap and OK if you want a fast “hit” of energy (because it is absorbed so quickly). Unfortunately, synthetic caffeine is also metabolized quickly, so that fast “hit” is also followed by a fast “crash” – which means that people end up taking “more” caffeine than they really need and end up with caffeine side-effects such as jitters, anxiety, heart palpitations, and sleep problems.

Natural caffeine, on the other hand, whether it is extracted from green tea or green coffee beans or other plants like guarana, delivers a much more “sustained” delivery of energy because it is absorbed and metabolized slower due to the presence of phytonutrients like catechins, polyphenols, polysaccharides, and organic acids. This means that natural caffeine gives a more gradual onset of energy (less “hit” and fewer side effects) as well as a longer lasting sensation of alertness (sustained energy without the “crash”).

Combining caffeine with theanine (an amino acid found in green tea), has shown remarkable effects on cognitive function. Caffeine provides an energy boost and improves focus, while theanine promotes relaxation without inducing drowsiness. This combination offers increased alertness, mental clarity, and improved attention span – helping users to “get into the zone” that we sometimes describe as a state of “relaxed alertness.”

Citicoline is a form of the B-complex nutrient choline, found in foods such as eggs and fish (which is why your grandma called these “brain foods”). Citicoline improves cognitive functions, such as focus and problem solving, because it supports production of cell membrane phospholipids and serves as a precursor for the production of the “focus neurotransmitter” acetylcholine. Citicoline has been shown to help improve memory and reduce confusion in patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; promote regeneration of neurons in people with concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI); and reduce mental fatigue in athletes during exercise (what I would call enhanced “mental fitness”).

Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) contains bioactive compounds that stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein essential for the growth and maintenance of nerve cells. Studies suggest that Lion’s Mane may enhance memory, improve focus, and support overall brain health – which is why it is sometimes called “memory mushroom.” Some studies suggest that even a single dose of lion’s mane can reduce stress and improve speed of memory performance within as little as an hour.

Guayusa Leaf (pronounced “gwhy-you-sa”) is an evergreen tree native to South America and particularly in the upper Amazonian region of Ecuador and Peru. The leaves contain a small amount of naturally occurring caffeine that is balanced with diverse polyphenols and carotenoids as well as more than a dozen peptides and amino acids. This unique combination of nutrients delivers a clean, focused energy that indigenous users say helps them “connect with the universe”— and what modern nutrition psychologists such as myself would refer to as “mental awareness.” Guayusa is traditionally referred to as the “night watchman” by native hunters, because consuming it before night hunts helps them stay awake, alert, and aware of their surroundings.

Pomegranate is among the “smartest fruits” that you could possibly add to your diet, because it optimizes function across all parts of the gut-heart-brain axis. In particular, pomegranate extracts have been shown to enhance overall brain activation, promote higher brain blood flow, and stimulate activation of the hippocampus (area of the brain involved in memory). Studies are underway to explore a range of pomegranate compounds, including one called punicalagin, that have shown early evidence for improving memory and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, it seems that the synergistic action of the broad range of pomegranate constituents appears to be superior to that of single constituents (such as extracts that are standardized only to a single active compound such as ellagic acid), especially for stimulation of neuron growth and overall brain plasticity.

Saffron has been shown to improve anxiety and depressive symptoms in teenagers and adults with mild to moderate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. In other research, saffron extracts have been shown to be as effective as the drug methylphenidate (Ritalin) in treatment of kids with ADHD (six to seventeen years old). This is important because as many as half of all children treated with ADHD-stimulants cannot tolerate the side effects – not to mention the highly addictive nature of ADHD drugs. Additionally, saffron extracts have been shown to be as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in treating mild to moderate depression in teens and adults. The main active compounds in saffron (lepticrosalides) have been associated with a wide range of improvements across many mental fitness related behaviors, including normalizing neurotransmitter activity (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine/noradrenaline, GABA) and overall neuro- protection (reducing oxidative stress, inflammatory stress, and cortisol exposure). While saffron might be the culinary spice with the highest degree of scientific evidence for specific mental fitness benefits, especially for treating depression and ADHD, Sage is a close second, and is especially effective for anti-stress effects and mental focus improvements in dementia. Other spices can also be generally supportive of overall brain function because of their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, such as rosemary (memory), clove (anxiety), oregano (fatigue), and holy basil (stress).

Pine bark is particularly high in a class of polyphenols known as oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which have been shown to be effective in treating both ADHD (getting the brain to work better in terms of focused concentration) and restoring cognitive function after traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, by accelerating the repair of damaged neurons and restoring connections across the brain’s neural network. In New Zealand, pine bark is very often used as first-line treatment for ADHD in children and adults, and clinical studies have shown improvements in working memory, cognitive function, and overall mental performance. 

Mango Leaf has a long history of use in tropical areas where mangoes are grown as a “body and brain tonic” to elevate mental and physical energy levels. Recently, mango leaf extracts have been shown to be high in anti-inflammatory compounds called xanthones and one in particular known as mangiferin. In clinical trials, these high-xanthone/mangiferin extracts enhance mental energy (cognitive performance, brain electrophysiology, and reaction time) and improve sports performance (higher power output, reduced fatigue, and accelerated post exercise recovery).

Lychee Fruit is extremely rich in highly-absorbed polyphenols, including catechin monomers and proanthocyanidin oligomers, and has been shown in more than two-dozen clinical trials to reduce body weight, waist circumference (by more than an inch; 3cm), and visceral (belly) fat by 12% (compared to baseline and placebo over 10 weeks). In addition, lychee fruit extract has also been shown to reduce stress hormones (cortisol) and inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and IL-1beta) in a 4-week randomized controlled trial – and after 12-weeks has been shown to improve skin tone, texture, smoothness, and resiliency (reduction in appearance of freckles/blemishes and wrinkle length/depth).

Palm fruit grows in tropical regions around the world such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and recently in Mexico. Typically grown for its oil content (palm oil) and its use in thousands of processed foods, palm fruit has a “bad reputation” because many palm oil plantations are established by clear-cutting rainforests to plant palm trees. This not only destroys vital biodiversity, but it also displaces animals like orangutans and pollutes local waterways. Steps are underway in palm-centric countries such as Malaysia to develop “responsibly sourced palm oil” (RSPO) that are “rainforest safe” and in Mexico where “low-biodiversity” land such as cattle pastures are being converted into “higher-biodiversity” areas that incorporate pesticide-free palm oil plantations within denser forest wildlife corridors. This sustainable approach is important because in addition to the oil, palm fruit is a rich source of nutrients such as vitamins A and E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), carotenoids, and many other that support the health of all 3 brains. In addition, palm fruit also contains a highly unique collection of water-soluble polyphenols (shikimic acid derivatives referred to as “palm fruit bioactives” or PFBs). These PFBs have been shown across more than two dozen scientific studies to support benefits across all “3 brains” (gut/heart/head), including profound antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification benefits for every tissue in the body. Of particular note, PFB has been shown to inhibit beta-amyloid aggregation, potentially protecting the brain from the age-induced neuron damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease. PFB has also been shown to increase levels of nitric oxide synthase and higher levels of nitric oxide, leading to vasodilation of blood vessels; improved oxygen delivery to the heart, muscles, and brain; and overall improvements in physical performance and mental fitness. Recent clinical trials on PFB supplementation in moderately stressed subjects have shown a dramatic increase in oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), suggesting not only that PFB can directly protect cells from stress, but it can also enhance the internal cellular machinery that allows the cells to protect themselves. In addition, PFB supplementation resulted in a 22 percent improvement in levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a major contributor to neuronal plasticity (how the brain grows), and with improved mood and memory as well as substantial improvements in psychological mood state (50 percent lower depression indices and 25 percent lower fatigue indices), suggesting a dual heart-brain benefit improving both mental and physical performance.

Adaptogens: Ancient Stress/Immune/Energy Elixirs

Adaptogens are a unique category of plants and mushrooms that possess the ability to help our bodies adapt and respond to stressors more effectively. These are the “ancient elixirs” that form the foundation that most traditional medicine systems around the world have survived on for thousands of years. They not only help to “de-stress” us so we feel more relaxed and calm, but they also work by supporting our body’s natural ability to maintain balance (homeostasis) during stressful situations so we can handle stress better (resilience). 

Adaptogens have a wide range on “nonspecific” effects to modulate the entire stress response across multiple organ systems, but some adaptogens can be focused on benefits for particular types of stress. For example, Rhodiola has been studied for its ability to improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of burnout. Ashwagandha has been extensively researched for its stress-reducing and anti-anxiety effects. Additionally, studies on medicinal mushrooms like Reishi and Cordyceps have demonstrated their immune-enhancing and stamina-boosting properties.

Key Benefits of Adaptogens

The mechanisms by which adaptogens exert their effects are complex and multifaceted. Adaptogens have been shown to interact with various molecular pathways and signaling cascades in the body. For example, Rhodiola has been found to activate the AMPK pathway, which plays a role in energy metabolism and cellular stress response. Ashwagandha has been shown to modulate the HPA axis, a crucial system involved in the “fight or flight” stress response. 

By regulating these pathways, adaptogens help restore balance and promote overall well-being, including:

1. Stress Management: One of the primary benefits of adaptogens is their ability to support our bodies during times of stress. They help regulate the production of stress hormones like cortisol, promoting a more balanced response to stressful situations. This can result in increased resilience, improved mood, and enhanced mental clarity.

2. Energy and Stamina: Adaptogens are known to improve energy levels and combat fatigue. They work by nourishing and balancing the adrenal glands, which play a crucial role in energy production and stress response. By supporting healthy adrenal function, adaptogens can enhance physical stamina and endurance.

3. Immune Support: Many adaptogens such as Reishi mushroom and Schisandra, have immune-modulating properties, meaning they can help regulate and strengthen the immune system, particularly the activity of specialized immune cells such as T-cells and Natural Killer (NK) cells, which help to fight cancer. This can result in improved resistance against infections, reduced inflammation, and enhanced overall immune function.

The most popular adaptogen in the West is undoubtedly ashwagandha – and can be found in hundreds of dietary supplements including gummies – but beware of cheap ashwagandha because it is probably not what you think it is. Ashwagandha is an herb from India that is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to “balance life forces” during stress and aging, similar to the use of Cordyceps mushroom in restoring “qi” (pronounced “chee”) in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the modern use of many of these “adaptogenic” supplements for restoring vigor and preventing burnout in modern nutritional psychology. The active ingredients in ashwagandha (withanolides) are thought to contribute to its calming effects during periods of stress and may account for the use of ashwagandha as a general tonic during stressful situations (where it is calming) and as a treatment for insomnia (where it promotes relaxation). Depending on how the ashwagandha plant is grown and harvested, it may contain vastly different levels of the bioactive compounds that contribute to its adaptogenic effects. Methods to concentrate the active compounds can result in a root extract that is calming, or a leaf extract that is energizing, or a whole-plant extract that is balancing.

Cordyceps is a Tibetan mushroom that has been used for centuries to reduce fatigue, increase stamina, improve heart and lung function (cardiorespiratory power), and restore qi (life force). Traditionally, it was harvested in the Spring at elevations above fourteen thousand feet and was more valuable than gold, which restricted its availability to the privileged (the emperor and his court). Several studies of cordyceps have shown improvements in heart and lung function, suggesting that athletes may benefit from an increased ability to take up and use oxygen. A handful of studies in stressed subjects have shown increases in libido (sex drive) and restoration of testosterone levels (from low back up to normal) following cordyceps supplementation. During stressful events, cortisol levels rise while testosterone levels drop, so using cordyceps as a way to normalize these suppressed testosterone levels can help modulate the cortisol-to-testosterone ratio within a lower (and healthier) range. At least two chemical constituents—cordycepin (deoxyadenosine) and cordycepic acid (mannitol)—have been identified as the active compounds in improving energy and stamina. Animal studies have shown that feeding with cordyceps increases the level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the liver by ~50 percent, a beneficial effect for boosting energy state and potential for physical and mental performance. Furthermore, mice fed cordyceps and subjected to an extreme low-oxygen environment were able to utilize oxygen more efficiently (30 to 50 percent increase), better tolerate acidosis and hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and live two to three times longer than a control group. In a number of Chinese clinical studies, primarily in elderly patients with fatigue, cordyceps-treated patients reported significant improvements in their levels of fatigue, ability to tolerate cold temperatures, memory and cognitive capacity, and sex drive. Patients with respiratory diseases also reported feeling physically and mentally stronger. Recently, a small study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual scientific conference showed that cordyceps significantly increased maximal oxygen uptake and anaerobic threshold, indicating enhanced heart-lung performance, which may lead to improved exercise capacity and resistance to fatigue.

Rhodiola is another plant from the mountainous regions of Tibet and Siberia, where it has been used for centuries to treat cold and flu-like symptoms, promote longevity, and increase the body’s resistance to physical and mental stresses. The key active constituents in rhodiola are believed to be rosavin, rosarin, rosin, and salidroside. In one clinical trial, rhodiola extract was effective in reducing or removing symptoms of depression in 65 percent of the patients studied (which is a significantly better rate of effectiveness compared to any of the prescription antidepressant drugs). In another study, 75 percent of men suffering from poor sexual performance reported improvements in sexual function following treatment with rhodiola extract for three months. In another study of physicians on night-time hospital duty, rhodiola supplementation for two weeks resulted in a significant improvement in associative thinking, short-term memory, concentration, and speed of audiovisual perception. An additional study of students undergoing a stressful twenty-day period of exams showed daily rhodiola supplementation alleviated mental fatigue and improved well-being. Overall, rhodiola appears to be valuable as an adaptogen, specifically in increasing the body’s ability to deal with a number of psychological and physiological stresses. Of particular value is the rhodiola’s role in increasing the body’s ability to take up and utilize oxygen—an effect similar to that of cordyceps—which may explain some of the non-stimulant “energizing” effects attributed to the plant. Rhodiola is often called the “poor man’s cordyceps” because of ancient stories in which Chinese commoners and Tibetan Sherpas used rhodiola for energy and stamina because the plants grew wild throughout the countryside, while only the emperor, his immediate family, and his concubines were allowed access to the rare cordyceps mushroom.

Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia), is a Malaysian root often called “Malaysian ginseng” for its energy-boosting effects, affords a natural way to bring suboptimal testosterone levels back to within normal ranges. It is also probably the best first-line therapy (before trying synthetic options, such as DHEA supplements or topical/injected testosterone) for anybody suffering from chronic stress (which increases cortisol and decreases testosterone lev- els). In traditional Malaysian medicine, tongkat ali is used as an anti-aging remedy because of its positive effects on energy levels and mental outlook. It contains a group of small peptides (short protein chains), referred to as “eurypeptides,” that are known to have effects in improving energy status and sex drive. The “testosterone-boosting” effects of tongkat ali appear not to have anything to do with stimulating testosterone synthesis but rather are due to an increase the release rate of “free” testosterone from sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). In this way, tongkat is not so much a testosterone “booster” as a “maintainer” of normal testosterone levels (testosterone that your body has already produced and needs to release to become active). This means that it is particularly beneficial for individuals with suboptimal testosterone levels and low vigor, including those who are dieting for weight loss, middle-aged individuals (because testosterone drops after age thirty), stressed-out folks, sleep-deprived people, and serious athletes who may be at risk for overtraining. Suboptimal testosterone levels are also a primary risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks, so maintaining healthy testosterone levels is “heart healthy” in a variety of ways.

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to promote overall well-being via its adaptogenic properties, which help the body cope with stress and maintain balance. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may support immune function and protect against chronic diseases. Shatavari is primarily known for its hormone-balancing properties, making it beneficial for women’s reproductive health. It is often used to support fertility and libido, regulate menstrual cycles, and alleviate symptoms of a wide-range of hormone-imbalance conditions such as menopause (hot flashes and night-sweats), poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), and endometriosis. Furthermore, shatavari is believed to support digestive health, enhance vitality, and improve energy levels.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), is known for its potential to help regulate levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and testosterone (though not as potentially as Tonkgat Ali outlined above). Fenugreek is commonly used to increase milk production in breastfeeding women and may have potential benefits for hormonal health.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries for its adaptogenic properties. It has been used to support mental clarity, improve focus, and enhance cognitive function. Schisandra is also believed to have liver-protective properties, helping to detoxify the liver and support its proper functioning. It is also believed to support immune function, enhance physical endurance, and promote healthy aging.

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) has been used for centuries in traditional medicine practices, particularly in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for its cognitive and brain-boosting effects to enhance memory, focus, and overall mental clarity. It is also known for its adaptogenic properties, helping the body cope with stress and promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation. It is also known for its potential wound-healing properties, as it has been used topically to promote the regeneration of skin cells and improve the appearance of scars. Furthermore, gotu kola has shown promise in supporting cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation and reducing inflammation. 

Rafuma (Apocynum venetum) is a small shrub, the leaves of which make a tea that is particularly popular in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years (as the medicine “Luo Bu Ma Ye”) to “soothe the nerves, calm the liver, and dissipate heat” (which are all slightly different explanations in TCM for a reduction in depression and inflammation with improvements in mood). The first recorded use was in the Ming Dynasty in the ancient fifteenth-century Chinese herbal book Jiuhuang Bencao. The Compendium of Materia Medica, which also was written in the fifteenth century, states that the herb eliminates “dampness” (water retention) through diuresis. In modern times, rafuma is also known as luo-bu-ma in China, and the Chinese Pharmacopoeia recommends it for a wide range of what we in Western society would view as anti-stress and mood-elevating effects. It is also listed in ancient texts for treating neurasthenia (anxiety and depression), palpitation, insomnia, and hypertension and even for detoxifying nicotine, with potential benefits for helping people quit smoking and reduce use of other addictive substances. Its mechanism of action appears to be via GABA and serotonin pathways with primary bioactive compounds including quercetin and hyperoside.

Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) is one of my absolute favorite natural ingredients for reducing stress, for boosting mood, and especially for enhancing stress resilience. Kanna is a small cactus-like succulent that is traditionally used by the San and Khoi peoples of Southern Africa as an analgesic (pain reliever), sedative, tonic (energy/stamina), and mood elevator. The traditionally prepared dried plant material is chewed, smoked, or powdered and inhaled as a snuff. It is also used as a tea or tincture. It was typically used in cognitively stressing situations, such as hunting, during which its “adaptogenic” (stress-balancing) properties are readily apparent. Lower daily doses are known to have a subtle effect, providing a sense of serenity and at the same time an elevated sense of alertness and awareness, while larger doses lead to a transient euphoria. Used as a daily stress resilience supplement, kanna delivers a wide range of positive health benefits, including elevated mood and mental clarity, improved focus and memory, increased energy and motivation, lower stress hormone levels, and decreased everyday anxiety. Kanna contains a family of alkaloids (mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol, and mesembranol) confirmed to provide the multifactorial mechanisms responsible for the dramatic mood-elevating and anti-stress benefits. Kanna is known to influence the amygdala of the brain (a brain region central in emotional processing and fear/stress responses) and is known to have modulatory effects on serotonin, GABA, dopamine, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine pathways. This places kanna in a very unique position among natural ingredients for supporting mental fitness because it works across the entire mental fitness continuum from depression and anxiety (helping you feel normal again); to stress and fatigue (helping you feel as good as you ever have); to resilience and optimization (helping you “level up” to heights of mental fitness and physical performance that previously seemed out of reach).

Beta-glucan is a generic term for “beta-1,3-linked polyglucose,” which is a polysaccharide (basically a long chain of sugar molecules) found in the cell walls of yeast cells and some plants. Purified beta-glucan (derived from yeast or produced by fermentation processes) is known to help the immune system to better fight off infections, cold and flu viruses, and cancer and tumors. When the immune system is out of balance (high or low), it not only fails to protect the body from invading pathogens (bacteria and viruses) but can even attack it, mistaking the body’s own cells for dangerous pathogens, resulting in oxidative and inflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Allergies can result when the immune system is “overactive” and mistakes an innocuous and harmless particle (such as pollen or cat dander) for an invading pathogen. Another side effect of an immune system that is out of balance is chronic low-grade inflammation, which can increase risks for cancer and heart disease and other chronic diseases related to elevated inflammation, such as depression. Specifically, beta-glucans stimulate the activity of macrophages, which are versatile immune cells that ingest and demolish invading pathogens and stimulate other immune cells to attack. Macrophages also release cytokines, chemicals that when secreted enable the immune cells to communicate with one another. In addition, beta-glucans stimulate lethal white blood cells (lymphocytes and natural killer cells) that bind to tumors or viruses, releasing anti-tumor and anti-viral chemicals. Beta-glucan supplements are one of the most well-researched approaches to “priming” the immune system, which is another way to describe the balancing and adaptogenic effects) to make the immune system more efficient in improving mental fitness

Alpha-Glucans are another slightly different polysaccharide structure that can be extracted from mushrooms such as reishi, maitake, shiitake, oyster, chaga, lions mane, and others. Mushrooms in general, and alpha-glucans specifically, have demonstrated an ability to enhance a wide range of immune system functions. One very specialized alpha-glucan called active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is a “cultured mycelium extract” from shiitake mushrooms. This means that rather than the alpha-glucans being extracted from the above-ground portion of the mushroom (the “fruiting body”), these alpha-glucans are extracted from the underground mycelium (the roots or “nervous system” of the mushroom). AHCC is manufactured through an extended culturing process that results in incredibly unique active components that are supported by over thirty human clinical studies showing support for both innate and adaptive immune responses. Studies have shown that AHCC can reduce stress hormone exposure, improve mood and energy levels in people suffering from chronic fatigue, and stimulate the activity of several types of immune cells, including natural killer cells (involved in the defense against viral infections and cancer cells) and dendritic cells (that regulate immune response between the innate and adaptive systems). AHCC is also directly beneficial for gut health, with research demonstrating its capacity to reduce intestinal inflammation and to favor the development of a healthy gut microbiome with more “good” Bifidobacterium and less “bad” Clostridium and E.coli.

Psychobiotics: Exploring the Gut-Brain Connection

Psychobiotics represent an emerging field of research (the “cutting-est” of the cutting edge) that investigates the potential beneficial effects of certain probiotics on mental health. Psychobiotics are live bacteria that positively influence brain function and mental well-being. Recent studies have shown that the gut microbiota, the diverse community of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract, can significantly impact mental health. Psychobiotics are a subset of probiotics that have gained attention for their potential to modulate the gut-brain axis and improve mental well-being. Studies have shown that specific species and strains of bacteria, within the larger genus of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can influence neurotransmitter production, neurogenesis, and immune responses, ultimately affecting mental health.

The gut and the brain communicate bidirectionally through various pathways, including the vagus nerve, immune system signaling, and the production of microbial metabolites. Psychobiotics, by modulating the gut microbiota, can influence these communication pathways and potentially alleviate symptoms associated with mental health disorders.

Studies have demonstrated that certain psychobiotics can reduce anxiety and depression as well as or better than prescription drugs – and could be used as adjunctive therapies (along with antidepressants and anxiolytics and with other treatments such as behavioral therapy, exercise, mediation, etc) in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Chronic stress, which millions of us experience, can also have detrimental effects on mental health and cognitive function. Psychobiotics have shown the potential to reduce stress-induced anxiety, enhance sleep quality, and improve cognitive performance.

Probiotics are defined by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The word probiotic means “promoting life” and is derived from the Greek pro, indicating “promoting,” and biotic, indicating “life.” The original discovery of probiotics by eventual Nobel Prize–winning scientist Elie Metchnikoff came about more than one hundred years ago when he observed how rural Bulgarian farmers maintained health, resisted illness, and lived to very old ages despite extreme poverty and difficult lives. He theorized that the sour/fermented milk (yogurt!) that constituted an important part of their diet was responsible for their health.

Probiotic research has come a long way since Dr. Metchnikoff’s days. Today, we still recommend fermented foods for their general health benefits – things like yogurt/kefir (milk), kombucha (tea), sauerkraut (cabbage) and kimchi (vegetables) – which all contain various mixtures of probiotic bacteria and postbiotic metabolites (more on that below). However, the latest science also allows us to recommend specific probiotic strains for targeted benefits. For example, the emerging field of nutritional psychology shows us a range of clinically validated probiotic strains that are able to improve mood and well-being and reduce depression and anxiety indexes (psychobiotics). 

For example, a probiotic fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota (“LcS”) and Bifidobacterium longum 1714 have been shown to improve various aspects of sleep quality, including subjective scores for sleepiness, sleep length, and sleep latency.  Lactobacillus gasseri CP2305 has also been shown to improve sleep quality, and Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001has been shown to reduce perceptions of stress and depression. A mixture of three probiotic strains (Bifidobacterium lactis CBP-001010, Lactobacillus rhamnosus CNCM I-4036, and Bifidobacterium longum ES1) reduced stress and anxiety in professional soccer players. In a series of recent studies, a multi-strain probiotic (MSP) containing four specific strains: Limosilactobacillus fermentum LF16, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus LR06, Lactiplantibacillus plantarum LP01, and Bifidobacterium longum BL04 improved sleep quality as well as anxiety/depressive symptoms. All of these studies reinforce the established relationship between sleep quality, stress, and mood – and demonstrate how specific strains of psychobiotics can positively influence the entire Gut-Brain-Axis.

When we look at even more advanced “next-generation” psychobiotic strains for targeted psychological benefits, some of the best-supported psychobiotic strains for overall “mental fitness” in humans are:

Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 (lower depression)

Bifidobacterium longum R0175 (less anxiety)

Lactobacillus rhamnosus R0011 (reduced stress)

Lactiplantibacillus plantarum Lp815 (improved resilience)

Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 (increased motivation)

Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 decreases neuro-inflammation (a hallmark of depression) and improves serotonin metabolism, thus reducing a “negative” signal (neuro-inflammation) and amplifying a “positive” signal (serotonin) to deliver improvements in overall mood (less sadness and elevated happiness).

Bifidobacterium longum R0175 modulates the overall stress response and helps to maintain a normal day/night circadian rhythm, with improvements in daytime cognitive function and night-time sleep quality – the combination of which has positive benefits for anxiety.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus R0011 reduces stress by lowering cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) and improves GABA neurotransmission (the body’s primary relaxing neurotransmitter) – again turning down a negative signal (cortisol – so you feel “less bad”) and modifying a positive signal (GABA – so you feel “more good”).

Lactiplantibacillus plantarum Lp815 is a strain with wide-ranging health benefits for the supporting the immune system, alleviating GI dysfunction, mitigating inflammation, and restoring microbiome balance by supporting “good” bacteria while simultaneously curbing pathogenic “bad” bacteria. Lp815 is also a major producer of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the body’s primary “relaxing” neurotransmitter, which plays a pivotal role in calming anxiety, reducing stress and improving sleep. Deficits in GABA levels can lead to a cascade of disorders ranging from anxiety and stress to mood swings and depression. Rather than taking synthetic GABA supplements (which only temporarily spikes GABA levels), Lp815 can help the microbiome to naturally produce GABA “on demand” for a more prolonged effect when we’re under stress, need to calm anxiety, or simply are ready to need to relax or fall asleep.

Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 has been shown to lower stress and improve motivation due to its ability to help reduce cortisol and increase both serotonin and dopamine. DR7 supplementation can also help to improve the speed of social/emotional cognition, verbal learning, and memory compared to a placebo.

Just a quick (but important) word about the “strain-specific” benefits of probiotics. 

Most commercial products do not indicate which strain is contained in the supplement – they only tell you the genus (like “lactobacillus”) and the species (like “acidophilus”) – but not the strain (which is usually a combination of letters and numbers). The “strain” designation is the most important information to know when choosing a probiotic supplement – because If you don’t know the strain, then you really have no idea of the benefit (if any) that the product is supposed to be delivering. 

For example, one of the psychobiotic strains outlined above, Lactobacillus (genus) rhamnosus (species) R0011 (strain), is effective for reducing stress, while another Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain (“GG”) is great for traveler’s diarrhea, another (“LR-32”) is good for constipation, and yet another (“GR-1”) can treat and prevent recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Each of these benefits is great – but they are widely different – and as you can imagine, seeing only “Lactobacillus rhamnosus” (genus/species) on the label of a product does not tell you very much and certainly does not let you know what benefits to expect (if any). You need to know the strain and know that the strain has been clinically validated in humans for the specific benefit you’re looking for.

Prebiotics are defined by the ISAPP as “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit,” which means that prebiotics can “feed and nourish” the health and function of probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are frequently equated with dietary fibers, but only a subset of dietary fibers actually qualify as prebiotics. According to the broad scientific definition, prebiotics need not be forms of dietary fiber at all, so plant extracts such as polyphenols/flavonoids and yeast/mushroom glucans can induce a prebiotic effect by helping support the function of probiotic bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics should also preferentially and selectively support the growth of beneficial bacteria families (“good bacteria”), such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Akkermansia—and not support the growth of detrimental bacterial species. 

There are a wide range of prebiotic fibers that are generally effective for nourishing good bacteria, such as inulin (from chicory root), FOS (fructo-oligo-saccharide), XOS (xylo-oligo-saccharide) and several others. However, some prebiotics have been studied for not only their general benefits for promoting the growth of good bacteria, but also for their specific psychobiotic effects in improving overall stress resilience.

Galacto-oligo-saccharides (GOS) and Iso-malto-oligosaccharides (IMO) have been shown to modulate the gut microbiome balance to reduce inflammation and strengthen immune resilience, which are two of the key biochemical mechanisms underlying improvements in mental well-being and quality of life. GOS also helps to reduce cortisol (thus improving attention and mood), and can even improve social skills and communication in cases of autism, possibly due to an increase in microbiome production of “postbiotics” such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate.

Galactomannan, also known as PHGG (partially hydrolyzed guar gum), is sourced from the guar bean, a clinically proven prebiotic fiber that helps improve growth and viability of beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. PHGG ferments very slowly, so there’s significantly less gas and bloating compared to many other types of fermentable fiber (the fermentation indicates that our gut bacteria are digesting this fiber as a fuel source).

Acacia gum is also referred to as “gum arabic” and is derived from the natural sap of the acacia tree that grows natively in parts of Africa. The sap/gum is dried and crushed into a fine powder that is rich in prebiotic fibers that support the growth and metabolism of “good” bacteria in our gut. In several studies, acacia gum was shown to produce a greater increase in Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus than an equal dose of inulin (another prebiotic fiber, often extracted from chicory) and resulted in fewer gastrointestinal side effects, such as gas and bloating.

Chardonnay Marc is a newer gut-health ingredient on the market – it’s an extract of the “pomace” of grape skins, seeds, and skins “leftover” from making white Chardonnay wine. This “superfood” is rich in both prebiotic oligosaccharides and polyphenols – in a unique matrix that selectively encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria, but not pathogenic “bad” bacteria. The combination of polyphenols and oligosaccharides may be uniquely beneficial for restoring gut integrity and reducing the gut permeability known as “leaky gut” – which is the underlying factor leading to so many cases of auto-immune diseases and mental wellness problems in our modern world.

One factor that I particularly like about each of these prebiotic fibers is that they do not “just” support the growth of beneficial bacteria and promote gut integrity, but they also have direct benefits for important aspects of mental fitness. For example, both GOS and galactomannan have previously been shown to improve stress resilience (in healthy stressed adults) and improve stress, irritability, and behavior in autistic children. Think about that for a moment—that a “fiber” can help to improve behavior in kids with autism, which is a notoriously hard to manage collection of dysfunctions across the entire gut-brain axis. The clinical studies in this area are in agreement that the prebiotic fiber is having a consistent metabolic effect at the level of the microbiome (increased production of neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids), which have beneficial signaling effects across the nervous system and immune system, reaching the brain where tension and irritability are reduced and calmness and focus are enhanced. These early findings are potentially revolutionary—and not just for anyone struggling with autism (including their caregivers), but for anyone who wants to reach the peak of their own mental fitness potential.


Now we move from probiotics (the bacteria) and prebiotics (their food and fuel) to some newer ideas about gut health: postbiotics (the compounds our bacteria produce, such as short-chain fatty acids).

At this point, our list of postbiotics is fairly short, including primarily vitamins (notably all the B-complexes and vitamin K) and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as acetate, propionate, and especially butyrate, that exert positive benefits on the intestinal mucosa and gut lining. Butyrate is a primary energy source for colonocytes (intestinal cells) and also maintains intestinal homeostasis through anti-inflammatory actions. At the cellular level, SCFAs can have wide-ranging effects, including anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects as well as general improvement of immune vigilance. Greater exposure to SCFAs, particularly butyrate, has been associated with lower rates of gut-brain axis dysfunction such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and depression, and SCFAs are known to activate the vagus nerve (inducing a relaxation effect) so it makes sense to both “make more” butyrate (by supplying our microbiome with prebiotic fibers) and also “take more” butyrate (as a daily supplement).

Psychobiotics represent a promising avenue in the field of mental health research. By targeting the gut microbiota, with specific strains of probiotic bacteria, prebiotic fibers and postbiotic nutrients, we have the ability to directly modulate the gut-brain axis and improve mental well-being. While more research is needed to fully understand their mechanisms of action and optimize their clinical applications, psychobiotics offer a novel and exciting approach to mental health treatment.


Improving human performance requires a holistic approach that addresses various aspects of our lives. By setting clear goals, adopting a growth mindset, prioritizing sleep and rest, practicing mindfulness, adopting a healthy lifestyle, seeking continuous learning, and building a supportive network, we can establish a solid foundation on which to build our mental fitness.

By utilizing the latest science around combining nootropics to support the “first brain” in our head, adaptogens to support the “3rd brain” in our heart, and psychobiotics to support the “2nd brain” in our gut, we can unlock our full potential and achieve higher levels of performance in all areas of life. 

Remember, “Leveling Up” is a journey, and consistent effort and dedication are the keys to reaching new heights of success.


Akhgarjand, C., Vahabi, Z., Shab-Bidar, S., Etesam, F. and Djafarian, K., 2022. Effects of probiotic supplements on cognition, anxiety, and physical activity in subjects with mild and moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 14: 1032494. https://doi.org/10.3389 /fnagi.2022.1032494

Bagga, D., Reichert, J.L., Koschutnig, K., Aigner, C.S., Holzer, P., Koskinen, K., Moissl-Eichinger, C. and Schopf, V., 2018a. Probiotics drive gut microbiome triggering emotional brain signatures. Gut Microbes 9: 486-496. https://doi.org /10.1080/19490976.2018.1460015

Boehme, M., Remond-Derbez, N., Lerond, C., Lavalle, L., Ked- dani, S., Steinmann, M., Rytz, A., Dalile, B., Verbeke, K., Van Oudenhove, L., Steiner, P., Berger, B., Vicario, M., Bergonzelli, G., Colombo Mottaz, S. and Hudry, J., 2023. Bifidobacterium longum subsp. longum reduces perceived psychological stress in healthy adults: an exploratory clinical trial. Nutrients 15: 3122. https://doi.org/10.3390 /nu15143122

Cho, Y.G., Yang, Y.J., Yoon, Y.S., Lee, E.S., Lee, J.H., Jeong, Y. and Kang, C.H., 2022. Effect of MED-02 containing two probiotic strains, Limosilactobacillus fermentum MG4231 and MG4244, on body fat reduction in overweight or obese subjects: a randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutrients 14: 3583. https://doi .org/10.3390/nu14173583

Choi, B.S., Brunelle, L., Pilon, G., Cautela, B.G., Tompkins, T.A., Drapeau, V., Marette, A. and Tremblay, A., 2023. Lac- ticaseibacillus rhamnosus HA-114 improves eating behaviors and mood-related factors in adults with overweight during weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Nutri- tional Neuroscience 26: 667-679. https://doi.org/10.1080 /1028415X.2022.2081288

Coman, M.M., Miorelli, L., Micioni Di Bonaventura, M.V., Cifani, C., Salvesi, C., Amedei, A., Silvi, S. and Verdenelli, M.C., 2022. Effects of probiotic Lactiplantibacillus plantarum IMC 510 supplementation on metabolic factors in otherwise healthy overweight and obese individuals. Journal of Applied Microbiology 133: 1956-1968. https://doi.org /10.1111/jam.15703

Dechelotte, P., Breton, J., Trotin-Picolo, C., Grube, B., Erlen- beck, C., Bothe, G., Fetissov, S.O. and Lambert, G., 2021. The probiotic strain H. alvei HA4597((R)) improves weight loss in overweight subjects under moderate hypocaloric diet: a proof-of-concept, multicenter randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Nutrients 13: 1902. https://doi .org/10.3390/nu13061902

Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biological Psychiatry, 82(12), e45-e47.

Foster, J. A., & McVey Neufeld, K. A. (2013). Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 36(5), 305-312.

Huang, R., Wang, K., & Hu, J. (2016). Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 8(8), 483.

Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Suda, K., Kawai, M., Shimizu, K., Kushiro, A., Hoshi, R., Watanabe, O., Igarashi, T., Miyazaki, K., Kuwano, Y. and Rokutan, K., 2016. Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students under academic examination stress. Beneficial Microbes 7: 153-156. https://doi.org/10.3920/BM2015.0100

Lanni, C., Lenzken, S. C., Pascale, A., et al. (2008). Cognition enhancers between treating and doping the mind. Pharmacological Research, 57(3), 196-213.

Marotta, A., Sarno, E., Del Casale, A., Pane, M., Mogna, L., Amoruso, A., Felis, G.E. and Fiorio, M., 2019. Effects of probiotics on cognitive reactivity, mood, and sleep quality. Frontiers in Psychiatry 10: 164. https://doi.org/10.3389 /fpsyt.2019.00164

Mayer, E.A., 2011. Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut- brain communication. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience 12: 453-466. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3071

Mayer, E.A., Knight, R., Mazmanian, S.K., Cryan, J.F. and Tillisch, K., 2014. Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience. Journal of Neuroscience 34: 15490- 15496.

Moloney, G.M., Long-Smith, C.M., Murphy, A., Dorland, D., Hojabri, S.F., Ramirez, L.O., Marin, D.C., Bastiaanssen, T.F., Cusack, A.-M. and Berding, K., 2021. Improvements in sleep indices during exam stress due to consumption of a Bifidobacterium longum. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity- Health 10: 100174.

Olsson, E. M., von Schéele, B., & Panossian, A. G. (2009). A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Medica, 75(2), 105-112.

Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals, 3(1), 188-224.

Reis, D. J., Ilardi, S. S., & Punt, S. E. W. (2018). The anxiolytic effect of probiotics: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the clinical and preclinical literature. PLoS ONE, 13(6), e0199041.

Sarkar, A., & Lehto, S. M. (2019). Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Trends in Neurosciences, 42(12), 911-926.

Sawada, D., Kawai, T., Nishida, K., Kuwano, Y., Fujiwara, S. and Rokutan, K., 2017. Daily intake of Lactobacillus gasseri CP2305 improves mental, physical, and sleep quality among Japanese medical students enrolled in a cadaver dissection course. Journal of Functional Foods 31: 188-197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2017.01.042

Smith, M. E., Farah, M. J., & Ilieva, I. (2013). Caffeine and cognitive performance: the role of age, dosage, and task difficulty. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-15.

Takada, M., Nishida, K., Gondo, Y., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Ishikawa, H., Suda, K., Kawai, M., Hoshi, R., Kuwano, Y., Miyazaki, K. and Rokutan, K., 2017. Beneficial effects of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota on academic stress-induced sleep disturbance in healthy adults: a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Beneficial Microbes 8: 153-162. https://doi.org/10.3920/BM2016.0150

Tillisch, K., Labus, J., Kilpatrick, L., Jiang, Z., Stains, J., Ebrat, B., Guyonnet, D., Legrain-Raspaud, S., Trotin, B., Naliboff, B. and Mayer, E.A., 2013. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology 144: 1394-1401, 1401.e1-1404.e4. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2013.02.043

Walden,K.E.,Moon,J.M.,Hagele,A.M.,Allen,L.E.,Gaige,C.J., Krieger, J.M., Jager, R., Mumford, P.W., Pane, M. and Kerk- sick, C.M., 2023. A randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of a multi-strain probiotic on self-reported indicators of depression, anxiety, mood, and associated biomarkers. Frontiers in Nutrition 10: 1219313. https://doi .org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1219313

Wiegant, F. A., & Surinova, S. (2005). Adaptogens stimulate neuropeptide Y and Hsp72 expression and release in neuroglia cells. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 26(2), 143-149.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Solve the 3 Main Sleep Problems
and Improve Your Sleep Quality
without Drugs or Synthetic Melatonin