While biohacking can have profound effects on physical health and performance, perhaps even more valuable are the benefits it can have on cognitive performance, the ability to manage stress, and overall mood. A better outlook, a sharper mind, and the ability to handle stressful situations with grace and ease lead to improved performance at work, happier and healthier relationships, and increased satisfaction with life in general.
Lifestyle techniques, such as getting good sleep, exercise, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation are generally the best techniques for hacking your mental and emotional state, but nutrition can play a major role in supporting these lifestyle changes, and maximizing their benefits. There are a number of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that support brain and nervous system health, promote calm and relaxed states of mind, and improve your ability to manage stress.
Vitamin D is synthesized naturally in the body from cholesterol, when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light in sunlight. It crosses the blood-brain barrier, and regulates the synthesis of neurotrophins and neurotransmitters. Insufficient levels of vitamin D are associated with numerous adverse neurological effects involving executive brain functions such as working memory, multitasking, and information processing, and have also been associated with depressed mood.
Because so many people in the modern world spend a majority of their time inside, and lack of exposure to sunlight tends to decrease vitamin D levels, deficiencies are widespread. The simplest way to support vitamin D levels is to spend more time outside in direct sunlight, allowing the body to naturally synthesize the vitamin. But vitamin D can also be found in many foods, including fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel, fish oils, and egg yolks, as well as in supplement form. If you choose to take a vitamin D supplement, choose a D3 supplement over D2, because it is more readily absorbed by the body.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids that include α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In addition to supporting heart health by decreasing blood pressure and lowering triglyceride levels in the blood, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce symptoms of depression, and improve memory performance, attention span, and executive function. Omega-3 deficiencies have been shown to correlate with increased risk of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and ALA is found in nuts, grass-fed animal fats, and eggs from free-range chickens. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in supplement form, most often as fish oil or krill oil.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that the body uses as an electrolyte and mineral cofactor for hundreds of enzymes. It’s estimated that nearly 70 percent of the US population does not meet the recommended daily intake of magnesium, meaning magnesium deficiency is very common. Increasing magnesium intake has been shown to improve sleep quality by increasing slow wave sleep, decrease stress levels and improve stress management, and decrease symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Magnesium can be taken as a supplement, generally before bedtime, or found in many foods including leafy green vegetables, nuts, fish, and avocados.
B vitamins are important for overall health, and B6 and B12 in particular are helpful for boosting cognitive function and mood. B6 has been shown to substantially improve both short-term and long-term memory, and adequate levels of B6 are associated with lower levels of methylmalonic acid and homocysteine, two biomarkers that correlate with cognitive decline. B12 is essential to the body for DNA synthesis, creating new red blood cells, and maintaining neurologic function. Deficient levels of B12 have been consistently associated with symptoms of depression.
Both B6 and B12 are found in fish, meat, and eggs, and can be obtained as supplements, often in the form of B complexes which include all of the essential B vitamins.
Astaxanthin is carotenoid compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help prevent damage to cells throughout the body, especially in the brain. It has been shown to reduce neuronal and ganglion cell damage at the molecular level, and improve memory performance. It is most commonly found in seafood like lobster, salmon, crab, and krill, and can be found in supplement form.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid, and a precursor for the body’s production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Studies have shown L-tyrosine can substantially improve stress management. Chronic stress depletes the body’s supply of norepinephrine, leading to increased blood pressure and impaired short-term memory. Intake of L-tyrosine supports increased norepinephrine levels, helping counter this stress-induced deficiency, thereby reducing the impact of stress on cognitive performance, mood, and blood pressure.
L-tyrosine is found in many foods, including spirulina, eggs, fish, poultry, pork, moose, and elk, and is widely available as a supplement.