“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” — Winston Churchill
Your brain is composed of more than 80 billions neurons, each with thousands of synaptic connections to other neurons.
As you learn, think and experience your life, new connections between neurons are formed and your brain physically changes. Connections that are used are strengthened and connections that are not used weaken and eventually are lost. Your brain has a phenomenal capacity for as many as 500 trillion synaptic connections! Your brain’s potential is almost limitless, but few people unlock and fully utilize this potential.
Although your brain consists of many localized and specialized regions and it works as a unified whole, it is not a neatly organized system.
Sometimes the brain is compared to a computer, but a more accurate comparison is to an overgrown jungle. Each neuron has as many as 100,000 dendrites that receive information from other neurons, one axon that conducts nerve impulses (the electrical signals of nerves) and thousands of axon terminals that communicate information across synapses (gaps between terminals) to neighboring neurons.
At the synapse, the electric signal from the transmitting axon initiates the release of a neurotransmitter (a molecule that acts as a chemical messenger across the synapses connecting neurons) where it initiates another electrical impulse. Neurotransmitters are released from terminal vesicles in the axon of the transmitting neuron, then into the synapse where they then bind to the appropriate receptors on the dendrites of the receiving neuron, initiating another electrical impulse in the receiving neuron. Receptors and neurotransmitters operate like locks and keys. Just like with a lock and key, it is the physical shape of the neurotransmitter molecule that allows it to “unlock” the receptor.
The intensity of transmission between neurons that occurs across synapses varies by the frequency of release and the amounts of neurotransmitters released into the synaptic cleft (the small space between terminals). Currently about one hundred neurotransmitters have been identified, and these account for the vast majority of brain activity.
By far the most abundant neurotransmitter in your brain is the main excitatory neurotransmitter Glutamate (the most abundant amino acid in your body) and the main inhibitory neurotransmitter is GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is s synthesized from glutamate via the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) along with pyridoxal phosphate (the active form of vitamin B6). Both Glutamate and GABA are abundant in your brain and body and if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, additional supplementation is generally unnecessary.
However, supplements are important for the more specialized neurotransmitters Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Serotonin, each of which is used by neurons in discrete, specialized areas of your brain that serve specialized functions in your brain and body. In general, each of your neurons, whether excitatory or inhibitory, uses only one type of neurotransmitter and differ ent brain regions contain concentrations of neurons that use the same neurotransmitter.
Neurons are constantly active, firing in apparently random patterns in your brain and releasing neurotransmitters. This creates background “noise” in your brain that can disrupt your thinking. When an intentional neural signal is triggered, the background noise is replaced by a coordinate pattern of firing, like an orchestra that goes from the random cacophony of warming up to playing a melodic symphony when directed by the conductor. Whether or not a clear neural signal is perceived through the background noise depends on whether the pattern of neural firing stands out strongly enough from the background. Having higher levels of neurotransmitters permits amplified neural signals and makes intentional neural signals easier to distinguish from the background noise. This is one reason that having abundant amounts of key neurotransmitters available for synaptic transmission is essential to having your brain perform at its best.
Stress and heightened anxiety increase the volume of the background noise in your brain, making it more difficult for your mind to discern intentional neural signals and reducing your ability to pay attention, remember, learn, think, maintain emotional stability and for many other brain functions to function properly. Moderating stress, depression and anxiety is therefore critical to optimal brain function.
Several molecules have been shown to reduce stress, depression and anxiety, such as L-Theanine, an amino acid found in Green Tea, and Ashwagandha, a potent herb that combats depression and stress by lowering cortisol (a stress hormone), balances thyroid hormones, and boosts levels of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that aids nerve growth.
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