Nutritional Outlook

Nutritional Outlook, April 2018

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■ NUTRITIONAL OUTLOOK 22 APRIL 2018 Brain Health tremendous focus and intense concentra- tion," Hecht says. "Team sports and sports such as tennis often require the player to instantly assess the situation and immedi- ately anticipate what will happen next and how to react to win. And singular perfor- mance sports such as gymnastics and golf also require the ability to focus intently." Do nootropics help them do all that? T ey do, says Komorowski. "A few of the major benef ts associated with nootropic supple- ments are enhanced mental acuity, faster processing times, and improved focus. As any athlete will tell you, focus is what helps push them through their last trying sets of a workout or the f nal minutes of a long game." Additionally, athletes appreciate that focus and mental acuity help them avoid injury. "More ef cient multitasking also benef ts performance by helping athletes save ener- gy," Komorowski adds. Add their purported ef ects on mood, mo- tivation, cognitive f exibility, and anxiety and nootropics are naturals for inclusion in sports formulations. "T ink of it this way," says Ko- morowski: "Athletes are already consuming sports nutrition pre-workout to pump their energy levels and improve performance dur- ing exercise, as well as post-workout supple- ments to support muscle growth and recov- ery. So, it's a logical progression that they'd look to a nootropic supplement to help im- prove their overall performance, which re- ally does stem from their ability to focus and think clearly during workouts." All About Timing Some might wonder, though, if anything sets a sports nootropic apart from ingredients that mainstream consumers have tapped for mental sharpening. And, Hector Lopez, MD, CSCS, FAAPMR, FISSN, CEO and cofounder, Supplement Safety Solutions (Bedford, MA), and CMO, Center for Applied Health Sci- ences, says the main dif erence boils down to timing, onset of action, and degree of impact. "Orthodox" nootropics support brain health on a more chronic basis, Lopez ex- plains, "impacting various types of memory and executive function over extended pe- riods by supporting the structural health of neurons, bioenergetics, and modulating neu- ro-inf ammatory pathways." Examples run from marine long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine, and curcumin to antho- cyanins and f avanoids, phytocannabinoids like CBD—even creatine. A nootropic intended to heighten physical performance, by contrast, works acutely— "within one to three hours," Lopez says—on the neurochemical bases of reaction time, focus, perceived energy, cognitive f exibility, and processing speed. T ink caf eine, citico- line, rhodiola, ashwagandha, and L-alpha- glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha-GPC). Inner Workings Understanding just how sports-oriented nootropics alter the brain's neurochemis- try continues to occupy scientists. But, says Mark J.S. Miller, PhD, MBA, FACN, CNS, prin- cipal, Kaiviti Consulting LLC (Dallas), the mechanisms of action seem to follow certain themes. Most common is a strong antioxidant action. "T is is important," Miller says, "be- cause the vascular endothelial production of nitric oxide is subject to oxidative degrada- tion, and this can compromise local blood f ow." By neutralizing the free radicals that degrade nitric oxide, nootropics improve vasodilation, increase blood f ow, and let nutrients travel to the brain and muscle cells that need them. "T is is part of the explana- tion for the acute benef ts of astaxanthin and other carotenoids, grapeseed extract, and N- acetyl cysteine," Miller says. Similarly, dietary nitrate helps maintain optimal blood f ow to the brain and muscles because a bacterial enzyme in saliva converts it to nitrite, which can then be converted on demand to nitric oxide. "So, supplementation with nitrate—usually via beets or spinach—is associated with improved aerobic and an- aerobic performance, and improved mental functions," Miller says. Some supplements actually replenish neurotransmitters that are "consumed" dur- ing the mind–muscle communications that underlie sports and exercise, Miller con- tinues. And not surprisingly, scientists are eyeing the microbiome for clues as to how it may af ect cognitive and physical perfor- mance. "Research in this area, especially with gut–brain interactions achieving in- creasing clarity, is progressing at a frenzy," Miller says. "Here we can link the old knowl- edge of diet to sports performance with a new twist—our microbial friends that make up the community that we call 'us.'" The Triad Regardless of the mechanistic specif cs, Miller says, "T ere is a triad at play" in the relationship among nutrition, the brain, and the body. At its apex are nutrients and natu- ral products that can improve sports perfor- mance and brain function. "More recently," he adds, "there has been growing evidence that exercise itself can improve brain func- tion and suppress the cognitive decline that occurs with aging and disease." He adds that, while fewer ingredients have currently been studied to see how they can simultaneously ef ectuate "improved ex- ercise and brain performance with supple- mentation," the number of those potential ingredients is growing. "Undoubtedly, some of the research that will f ll this gap will come in the elderly population, where pres- ervation of cognitive function is being linked to exercise, mitochondrial health, and lim- iting oxidative stress," Miller says. "Linking that research to athletes and their trainers will be the hurdle." Testing 1-2-3 Hartley Pond, senior vice president, techni- cal sales, FutureCeuticals (Momence, IL), would agree. Among the most compelling studies he has seen on the brain–body con- nection have been those involving elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which he describes as "a constella- tion of symptoms, from loss of short-term memory, loss of executive function, loss of motor control, and typically shrinkage of and lesions on the hippocampus." In one such study 1 , a randomized controlled trial conducted at the University of British Columbia, researchers assigned women with a median age of 75 and probably MCI to a walking program, a walking and weightlifting program, or no program at all. After a year, the researchers found that the control had lost hippocampal volume, developed further hip- pocampal lesions, and performed worse in a cognitive assay than at baseline. T e walking- only group fared better than the control, Pond says, but "continued to decline in terms of cognitive function, hippocampal volume, and the number of lesions on the hippocampus."

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