DISCLAIMER: The following article is meant for informational purposes only. I do not endorse or profit from the products listed in the article.
The last 15 years has seen a huge increase in smart drugs products. Perhaps the limit of the human body has been reached in terms of physics and physiology that the brain is the final frontier.
Smart drugs are compounds that enhance brain function, and they’re becoming a popular way to give your mind an extra boost, for both athletes, students and corporate executives.
According to a 2013 Telegraph report, up to 25% of students at leading UK universities have taken the prescription smart drug modafinil. It is a prescription drug intended to treat narcolepsy, commonly known as a “sleep disorder”
Modafinil, as we know, was the drug that Justin Gatlin was busted for in his first of two offences.
In the working corporate world, especially Silicon Valley, Ritalin and even microdosing LSD is used to stay awake (on 4 hours of sleep every night) and improve cognitive performance.
And I’ll save racetams (Piracetam) and Deprenyl for another day.
And Now for the Legal Stuff
The consumer market is flooded with increased energy and mental alertness drinks and pills.
Let’s start with some natural choices. I have covered caffeine in several past articles.
Theanine is an amino acid commonly found in green tea (Camellia sinensis) specifically the Gyokuro leaf. L-Theanine is related to glutamine, and can cross the blood-brain barrier, thus improves cognitive skills as well as relaxation and reduced stress, both mental and physical.
The best known drink that contains L-Theanine is AMP Energy Focus (by Pepsi)
It is the combination of L-Theanine and caffeine that has been shown to promote faster simple reaction time, faster numeric working memory reaction time and improved sentence verification accuracy.
More on Phenylketonurics
Phenylalanines claims to promote energy, mental alertness, elevates mood, and enhances concentration. I will attempt to explain how and why this works.
Without bringing back bad memories of College Biochemistry, here is the pathway (I’ll skip the enzymes for simplicity):
L-phenylalanine -> L-tyrosine -> L-DOPA –> Dopamine –> Norepinephrine –> Noradrenaline –> Epinephrine (or adrenaline)
L-phenylalanine (LPA) is one of the 20 common amino acids used to form proteins.
This is not to be confused with D-phenylalanine (DPA) or DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) which is marketed as a nutritional supplement for its supposedly analgesic and antidepressant activities. A small amount of D-phenylalanine appears to be converted to L-phenylalanine.
You may have heard people suffering from depression frequently take “dopamine” and are told to consume Tyrosine supplements.
One has to simply look at the pathway above and you can clearly see where the supplement manufacturers are heading towards. For example, you can’t buy generic dopamine off the shelf, but dopamine supplementation via tyrosine (and theanine, for example) has been marketed for mental alertness, increase feelings of well being, and offset physical and mental fatigue.
In a similar example, the old Sudafed formulation (with pseudoephedrine) can increase norepinephrine and thus act as a stimulant as well as being non-congested for better breathing in cold weather environments! (** cough cough NHL Hockey Players cough cough **). Because of the recent abuse of homemade crystal meth, drug stores have limited the purchase of pseudoephedrine products. Walter White of Breaking Bad made this a well known fact.
Tryptophan and serotonin has a sedative effect. High amounts of Tryptophan can be found in turkey and warm milk… the two foods that allegedly can make you sleepy (whether it crosses the blood-brain barrier remains controversial). Phenylalanine uses the same active transport channel as tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, and, in large quantities, interferes with the production of serotonin.
Thus Phenylalanine competes with tryptophan, and it explains why Tyrosine is one of the most popular ingredients in “mental alertness” supplements and drink such as as Vitalyze, PowerDrive, Red Bull, 5-hour energy shots, and countless others.
The products I have used in the past are:
- SNAC’s Vitalyze contains DL-phenylalanine, L-Tyrosine, Ginseng, caffeine, B6. Their old formulation did not contain caffeine.
- Biotest’s Powerdrive contains L-Tyrosine, Phosphatidylcholine, DMAE, Ginkgo Biloba, B6. Powerdrive is hard to find (only in the UK) and also because Biotest is promoting their own product called SPIKE which is mainly Thiamine di(2-methyl-propionate) disulfide.
- 5-hour energy shots contains Taurine, Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, and of course, Caffeine. I like this “shot” because it gives me an alert feeling and improved mood without the jitters or shakes from too much coffee, espresso and caffeine!
- Red Bull is another popular choice for athletes as it contains Taurine (not Tyrosine) and sugar. It also contains Glucuronolactone which claims it detoxifies the body. Elite athletes are addicted to this drink. I know, I’ve seen cases disappear at the Rome Gala Meet!
Another source of phenylalanine is the artificial sweetener aspartame sold under the trade names “Equal” and “NutraSweet”. That, coupled with caffeine, and you wonder why people are addicted to Diet Coke? In the U.S. and Canada, all products that contain aspartame must have the label “Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine.” as a warning for people with the inability to metabolize phenylalanine. This warning is for people with the genetic disorder, phenylketonuria.
The Red Bull sugar-free version also contains aspartame and sucralose in place of sucrose and glucose.
I hope this article helps you understand the nature behind “Energy” and “Mental alertness” drinks and pills.
Be smart, and be careful. Don’t take these drinks and drugs TO BE smart!
Andrea Lynne Schumacher says
Should I take both at the same time? I have depression and anxiety.
How much of each, minium/maximum please?