biohack

Natural nootropics: Health Benefits of Ceylon Cinnamon

cinnamon nootropic health fitness

This post first appeared on my Biofit website Journal page here.

You probably have a jar of cinnamon hidden on your spice rack - it goes nicely on a bowl of oatmeal and banana, right?

How long it has been sitting there and whether it is the Ceylon or Cassia variety makes all the difference to its potential health benefits however, so read on to find out how to do cinnamon right.

what exactly is ceylon cinnamon?

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the evergreen Cinnamomum tree, which is native to tropical climates in southern India and Sri Lanka.[1]  

First, growers remove the outer layers, then they shave inner bark into curled scrolls; after drying, the scrolls can either be processed into a powder or left as they are.

Ceylon cinnamon, or Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is one of two main varieties of Cinnamomum tree. Be sure not to confuse Ceylon cinnamon with the cheaper, mass market Cinnamon cassia however - the latter contains a toxic compound called coumarin [2]. Avoid it and splash some cash on the upgrade.

how does ceylon cinnamon work?

Ceylon cinnamon bark contains several biologically active essential oils, notably cinnamaldehyde, eugenol and linalool.[2]  It’s also an antioxidant, meaning it can help protect cells from damage by scavenging reactive oxygen species.[3]

ceylon cinnamon for blood glucose

Researchers are also interested in cinnamon as a potential treatment for diabetes, thus we have several clinical trials on the subject. 

One four-month, double-blind study looked at the effects of a 3 g daily cinnamon powder supplement on 79 individuals with type II diabetes. The group taking the cinnamon supplement experienced a drop in fasting blood glucose above and beyond that of the placebo group (10.3% vs 3.4%).[4]

It seems that cinnamon achieves this by reducing absorption of glucose from the intestines after a meal, as well as increasing uptake into the cells and enhancing insulin activity.[2]

cognitive performance

Interestingly, strong correlations between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s patients suggest additional benefits in cinnamon’s blood sugar reducing properties.

Separate studies have shown that Ceylon cinnamon consumption can improve cognitive function, which is where its newfound natural nootropic status comes from (9).

antimicrobial properties

Traditional natural health practitioners have been using cinnamon bark as an antiseptic agent for centuries, now modern science can back it up - cinnamaldehyde and eugenol have potent antimicrobial effects against a long list of germs, including Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae, Salmonella choleraesuis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae.[5]

Furthermore, a pilot study in HIV patients observed noticeable improvements in oral candidiasis (thrush) upon taking eight cinnamon lozenges daily.[6]

references

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266390492

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854496/ 

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605000063

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16634838

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20924865

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8874667

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16582031/

[8] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9347/783684c3df37ccc621f4df38c258c9050398.pdf

(9) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130523143737.htm

Natural Nootropics: Health Benefits of Raw Cacao

natural nootropic cacao health benefits biofit fitness

This article first appeared as a blog post on my Biofit Health & Fitness site here.

When posts appear in your feed lauding the health benefits of dark chocolate and encouraging readers to eat it with reckless abandon, a dose of skepticism is justified - most chocolate is heavily processed and contains enough fat and sugar to negate any arguable benefits.  

While such mass-produced bars have no place in a whole food based, organic lifestyle therefore, high-grade cacao is a different story altogether. 

“Superfood” hype aside, the Mayans knew a good thing when they saw it. Here’s our guide to how and why cacao deserves a permanent place on your nootropics shelf for its proven health benefits.

what exactly is cacao and how is it different to chocolate?

It all starts with the Theobroma cacao tree. Inside the fruiting pods of this plant are seeds - usually called beans - which form the building blocks of chocolate production. At this stage, cacao beans don’t bear much resemblance to the products we’re familiar with. 

To develop their characteristic flavour profile and aroma, they must first be fermented and dried for several days, a process that gives us raw cacao with a rich but bitter taste.

The hulls are then removed from the raw beans and the contents ground into a fine powder or crushed into small pieces known as nibs. Some producers opt to roast the beans beforehand, giving rise to a product with some degree of natural sweetness.[1]

cacao and healthy polyphenols

Experts attribute the bulk of cacao’s health benefits to polyphenols - natural compounds with antioxidant properties - and it tops the charts in one particular class of potent polyphenol: flavonoids. You’ll find higher doses in cacao than even green tea or red wine.[2

cognitive performance

Additional research has shown links between these flavanols and a reduction in cognitive decline, when paired with aerobic exercise, which is where the ‘natural nootropic’ status justifiably comes from; i.e. a natural substance that boost cognitive or mental performance.

cacao as a stimulant

Be warned too that cacao has a stimulant effect (it is known as “the cocaine of the Mayan’s” for a reason!) and has a half-life of 6hrs or so, suggesting it should only be consumed in modest amounts after dark by those people susceptible to such things.

anti-inflammatory effects of cacao

Inflammation is a double-edged sword, in acute situations it helps us heal and fight infection.  However, long-term inflammation is linked to chronic illnesses. In theory, the antioxidant polyphenols in cacao should combat the free radicals which mediate chronic inflammation, creating a subject of considerable interest to the medical community.

A randomized, controlled, cross-over trial with 24 participants found that those who consumed two servings of a cocoa product per day for four weeks experienced a greater reduced inflammatory markers IL-1β and IL-10 compared to the placebo group.[4]

cacao for blood sugar control

With diabetes levels on the rise due to the pervasive unbalanced Western diet, anything that can help keep blood sugar in check is likely to capture the health community’s attention - and scientists believe that cacao might help by interacting with insulin to do just that. 

In 2015, a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study (the gold standard!) tested the effects of polyphenol-rich chocolate on 60 participants. Researchers instructed subjects to eat 25 grams of the chocolate daily for eight weeks and found that fasting blood sugar and HbA1c (indicative of longer-term blood sugar levels) decreased above and beyond that of the placebo group.[3]

how to integrate cacao into your diet?

We buy 1kg bags of organic, sustainably sourced cacao powder and add a tablespoon to our morning smoothie with a nut mylk base and either a vegan or organic whey protein powder. 

After a light breakfast of seasonal berries and macadamias with kefir, followed by some organic boiled eggs and an avocado, this malty cacao-flavored mid-morning smoothie is all we need to get through to lunchtime. Try it for yourself!

References

[1] http://www.mjpath.org.my/2013.2/history-and-science-of-chocolate.pdf

[2] http://www.njmonline.nl/getpdf.php?id=1269

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460349/ 

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23823716

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460349/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820048/

Natural nootropics: Cordyceps mushroom

 
cordyceps natural nootropic biofit matt aspiotis morley

Ancient Chinese practitioners have been using the Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis), a medicinal mushroom, for its purported mental and physical wellness benefits since at least 1757 AD.[1]

In recent years, renewed interest in this unusual fungus has been sparked by research in China, Japan, Korea, and the US uncovering a number of its natural ingredients that show health benefits on blood pressure, cognitive performance and athletic performance.

So, should you consider adding this natural nootropic to your nutritional supplement regime?

First up, what exactly are Cordyceps mushrooms?

Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus native to the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau. It is considered a parasite as it lives on a host caterpillar (Hepiaidae). 

The Chinese name for Cordyceps is Dong Chong Xia Cao (DCXC), meaning “winter worm and summer grass”, reflecting some of the life cycle of the fungus. 

In winter, the fungus covers the caterpillar in wispy tendrils that can resemble a white worm while in summer, a fruiting body emerges from the ground, standing upright like grass.[1]

When picked and dried, they take on an orange-brown hue, looking like a cross between a piece of dried fruit and a worm. Strange but true.

Cordyceps in traditional Chinese medicine

‘DCXC’ is a widely used herb in traditional Chinese medicine known for its invigorating properties, often added to soup to ‘renew’ those suffering from an illness.[2

According to tradition, Cordyceps improves the ying and yang of the lungs.  The Chinese Pharmacopoeia lists “replenishing the kidney, soothing the lung, staunching bleeding and dispersing phlegm” as common uses for the fungus.


cordyceps natural nootropic biofit health fitness matt aspiotis morley

How do Cordyceps work?

Much of the therapeutic potential of Cordyceps centres around its ability to boost oxygen utilisation and ATP production, as well as stabilising blood sugar. 

Although we don’t yet fully understand how Cordyceps interacts with the human body, scientists believe that two natural chemicals - cordycepin and cordycepic acid - play an important role.  

Sustainable production

Due to excessive harvesting of Cordyceps for natural medicine, the fungus is now an endangered species.  As an eco-friendly alternative, Cordyceps can be artificially cultivated on rice to produce fruiting bodies with similar activity to the natural fungus.[6]

Cordyceps for cognitive performance

A 2018 research study on 120 mice showed statistically significant effects on improved learning and reduced memory impairment from Cordyceps. [7]

Neuroprotective properties & Alzheimer’s Research

Tests have shown the medicinal mushroom has significant neuroprotective properties (reduction of neuronal cell death) in the hippocampal region, where dementia is found. [9]

Rat studies have shown it can match Donepezil, one of the most prominent Alzheimer’s drugs on the market, on improved spatial memory for example. [9]

Cordyceps for athletic performance

While more research is needed before we can come to any solid conclusions on Cordyceps for athletic performance, there is some evidence that it may improve endurance, increase haemoglobin levels and aerobic capacity.[3

The Chinese Olympic female running team of 1993 claimed Cordyceps were responsible for their three new world records at the Games, having regularly consumed the medicinal mushroom after training for its energizing properties.

Legendary alternative medicine expert Dr. Andy Weil is a fan of the Cordyceps for this same reason, recommending several months of daily consumption for increased energy and endurance.

A 2010 double-blind placebo-controlled trial on 20 healthy adults aged between 50 - 75 years based on a 1000mg daily dose over 12 weeks revealed significant changes in metabolic threshold (10.5%) and ventilatory threshold by 8.5%, although there was no change in VO2 MAX. [8]

Cordyceps for sleep

Tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, is one of 18 amino acids found in Cordyceps.  It is a well-known sedative and may help to counteract insomnia [4], suggesting that they may be best taken at night rather than first thing in the morning.

Cordyceps for the heart

Preliminary evidence suggests that Cordyceps may lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, in addition to protecting the heart from arrhythmias.[5][1]

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19222900 

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284370820

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5856322/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1957681 

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22474523 

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4415478 

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874985/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20804368

[9] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X1830192X

 

A guide to CBD oil for mental and physical health

 
CBD mental physical health benefits guide biofit biofilico biophilia

When you think of cannabis, motivation and mental acuity probably aren’t the first things that come to mind but in recent years, the scientific community has successfully challenged this stereotype specifically in regards to cannabidiol (CBD), a natural compound in the plant with a multitude of health-giving properties.

Medical cannabis

The tide really began to turn with Charlotte’s Web, a strain of medical cannabis that had near-miraculous effects in children with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy.[1] Since then, a deluge of potential health benefits have come to light.  

As legalisation spreads across the western world, professionals increasingly look to products like CBD oil as a natural way to upgrade mental and physical performance.

What is CBD oil?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of around 400 natural compounds in the plant Cannabis Sativa.  It is legal and safe to consume. It is not however to be confused with THC, another chemical compound in cannabis that has psychoactive properties, i.e. it gets you high, CBD does not.

CBD in natural, biophilic lifestyle

Talk about living in harmony with nature: the human body has an entire system designed to interact with cannabinoids.  This system has branches in the brain, thyroid, immune system, digestive tract, and almost every organ in the body.  Nerve cells produce signalling molecules called endocannabinoids, which are like those in Cannabis sativa.

CBD vs THC

Unlike cannabis strains used for recreational use, CBD oil does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  CBD has no mind-altering properties, and actually counteracts the intoxicating effects of THC.

CBD as part of a natural lifestyle

Modern life can be stressful, with anxiety and sleep disruption a painful reality for many, especially those living highly tech-driven, urban lives. Reduced sleep over the course of a few days however has a severe impact on our cognitive and physical performance.

Biohacking for rest and stress

Biohackers are those who attempt to improve their physical and mental performance by manipulating their environment, nutrition, lifestyle and so on; in this case, many of them are going green in the search for new ways to rest and recharge.

Plants as medicine - ain’t nothin’ new!

Plants were, lest it needs stating, the very first medicines in human evolutionary history- nature held the remedy and relief to countless diseases thousands of years before the pharmaceutical industry began to commercialise the space.

So, while CBD may, like so many other plant-based treatments, be an old remedy, modern medicine hasn’t quite caught up, partly due to taboo and confusion over its place within the marijuana industry /drug trade.

This is an exciting time for new scientific studies being published as legislation frees up the industry; data is still in its relative infancy but the signs are positive.  

CBD for pain and inflammation

Experts believe that CBD could help with pain relief. The body’s cannabinoid system has a role in pain signalling and CBD could block these signals.[2] [3]  Some research also indicates that CBD could be useful in inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease [4]

CBD for anxiety and improved mood

Scientists are interested in the role of endocannabinoids in the fight-or-flight response.  CBD could be a potential treatment for anxiety and panic disorders, as well as PTSD.5] One study also showed that CBD had an antidepressant effect in mice.[6]

Improved sleep

If CBD can calm the mind, it follows that it could improve sleep quality. This is supported by rodent studies, which put forward CBD as a future treatment for insomnia.[7] [8]

Addiction treatments

One proven way to improve future wellness is to quit smoking, and CBD may be of benefit in this area too. Endocannabinoids act in parts of the brain that control psychological reward. If CBD can block signals that trigger addiction, it could be useful for drug, alcohol and nicotine dependence.[9]

Neuroprotection

It hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but pre-clinical trials suggest that CBD could protect brain cells. This is relevant to conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke and multiple sclerosis.[10]

Nootropics

For our thoughts on other biohacking supplements in the ‘nootropics’ category, see here and here.

References

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/epi.12610

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21426373

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28934780

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22815234

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6066583

[6] https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/5.2_CBD.pdf

[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390811003467

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28349316

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4444130/

[10] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314080489

 

nootropics and biophilic living - part 2

We recently published an introduction to the subject of nootropics, here we dig deeper into the subject with a look at the more commonly available organic nootropics ingredients. Why should this be of interest to you?   Firstly, these all natural ingredients are small bio-hacks to help you live a healthier life and therefore represent a way to integrate nature back into our lives, creating a biophilic lifestyle (earth-friendly, connected to nature, with a focus on improved mental and physical health).   Secondly, anyone with a family history of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons may find some inspiration in the concept of bolstering their brain power early on in life. It certainly won’t do any harm.   So read on for an explanation of the main nootropics, their history and traditions, as well as the scientific evidence backing up their claims to enhanced mental and/or physical performance.

We recently published an introduction to the subject of nootropics, here we dig deeper into the subject with a look at the more commonly available organic nootropics ingredients. Why should this be of interest to you? 

Firstly, these all natural ingredients are small bio-hacks to help you live a healthier life and therefore represent a way to integrate nature back into our lives, creating a biophilic lifestyle (earth-friendly, connected to nature, with a focus on improved mental and physical health).


Secondly, anyone with a family history of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons may find some inspiration in the concept of bolstering their brain power early on in life. It certainly won’t do any harm.


So read on for an explanation of the main nootropics, their history and traditions, as well as the scientific evidence backing up their claims to enhanced mental and/or physical performance. 

all-in-one nootropics

Before we dive into our list of the leading nootropics contenders, a short note on how to get started. Various options exist today for easily accessible, online purchases that give you a generalist, quick win nootropic. These all-in-one supplements cover, to a greater or lesser extent, most bases and are in our opinion a great starting position. Examples includes products by the likes of Form for example, or GoPrimal to name but two.

build your own nootropics ‘stack’

For newbies to the subject, a simple all-in-one may be enough to get you started. It requires minimal time and even less thinking. As you start to dig deeper into the subject however, you may wish to go big on certain doses, doubling down on some ingredients and that will require buying individual, high-dose and premium quality nootropics. Place several of these together and you have your first ‘stack’, a term borrowed it seems from the tech community, as in a ‘full stack developer’.

nootropics-biohack_Bacopa_monnieri.jpg

bacopa flower

Bacopa monnieri is a perennial herb native to India with a long history in Ayurvedic medicine linked to cognitive abilities. Ayurveda never set out to be a scientific tradition but we would be amiss to discount this philosophy entirely. Studies have shown that this herb has both antioxidant and cell-protective qualities as well as stimulating long-term increased hippocampus activity, which could equate to overall learning abilities.

l-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid found most commonly in green tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis) and in small amounts in Bay Bolete mushrooms. Reassuringly, it is readily available in both pill and tablet form in your average health food stores.

Research indicates that L-theanine promotes relaxation without drowsiness, reducing stress and taking the edge off the famous caffeine jitters.

In a 2018 double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of 46 participants diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), results showed significant improvements in self-reported sleep satisfaction as a result of daily 450-900mg doses of L-theanine over a 10-week period.

Improvements to brain serotonin, dopamine and GABA levels (neutrotransmitters associated with pleasure and concentration) have only been shown in animal neurochemistry trials to date, as far as we can see, which is primarily where L-theanine’s reputation for cognitive enhancement comes from. 

organic_ashwagandha_root01-1.jpg

ashwaganda

Another big gun in the Ayurvedic tradition, also known as Indian Ginseng, Ashwaganda is said to have similar properties to Bacopa monnieri. In one double-blind, placebo controlled study, 50 adults with mild cognitive impairment were treated with 300mg twice daily or a placebo for eight weeks with significant improvements in both immediate recall and general memory in those treated with the root.

Choline

Essential for the proper functioning of the brain, Choline is thought to improve cognition and is associated with higher memory performance. Studies have shown that ingesting Choline during gestation and early postnatal development in mice helps to protect the brain fro neuropathological changes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gingko Biloba

Gingko leafs are an ancient and isolated species, making them something of an anomaly in modern day biology. One double-blind, placebo controlled study showed 24 participants with improved executive functioning in females especially. Another study on patients with dementia or cognitive impairment showed that a dose of over 200mg per day over a period of at least 22 weeks had potential benefits on cognitive performance.

lions-mane-mushrooms.jpg

Lion’s Mane Mushroom 

Hericum Erinaceus is an edible mushroom with medicinal qualities that belongs to the tooth fungus group. Studies have shown that it can have significant improvements on novelty-seeking behaviors, general locomotor functions and enhanced recognition memory. The exact mechanism through which it achieves this however, is not yet fully understood.

5 tips for improving indoor air quality at home

best-air-filtering-houseplants-nasa-3.jpg

indoor air quality and biophilic design

Indoor air quality is a key component of the healthy building / healthy design movement and forms a central part in all the big certification programs such as WELL, Fitwel and the International Living Future Institute.

It is also a component of biophilic design as it is returns the indoor built environment to a more natural state, similar to the type of air we were breathing for millions of years while evolving on the planet, i.e. fresh, clean and pollution-free.

This in turn opens the door to several bio-hacks designed to improve overall health, sleep and mental acuity.

top 5 tips for maintaining healthy indoor air at home:

1.take your shoes off!

Remove outdoor shoes at the entrance religiously, switching to dedicated indoor only shoes such as slippers, sandals or simply go barefoot, depending on the climate. This is non negotiable and half the world’s population think nothing of doing it so adopt the habit or you’ll face an uphill struggle from the start. Your shoes drag in toxins and all manner of dirt from the streets outside, just look at the soles of a well-worn pair of white trains to remind yourself of what is out there. Leave them at the door. Invest in a shoe rack and place it by your entrance. Set your feet free and breathe deep.

2. air purifying fans

Dyson_Pure_Cool_Link_EVO_Overview_Hero_V2.jpg

Invest in an air purifying fan such as the Dyson Pure. Not only does it have the trademark Dyson aesthetic, meaning it will happily sit in the corner of your bedroom or living area without being a visual eyesore, it also comes with an impressive smartphone app that allows you to set on/off timers, view air quality data in real time and generally get the most out of the hardware. All you’d need do is set the fan to turn on automatically around 5pm each evening and then switch it to night mode when you go to sleep. This would ensure you have clean indoor air in your bedroom for +/-8 hours while sleeping. If you then set up something similar in your office, where you likely spend another +/-8 hours every day, you’re winning.

3. air purifying plants

air purifying plants

Go big on air purifying indoor plants, yes they have been over-hyped since Instagram gave us plant-stylists but there is plenty of substance to work with here so stick with it. NASA famously did a seminal study on the top air-purifying plants (see below) but the key is not just the species, but the quantity too. Research has shown that between 6-8 such plants are needed per person per room to have any meaningful impact. In any case, plants look and perform best when carefully clustered in groups, like mini forests or jungles, so this is a win-win. Pick up a selection of different height Palms, Ficus, Chinese Evergreens, Garden Ivy, Boston Ferns and a Pothos or two and you’ll be ready to breath clean once you’ve spread them around your home.

4. eco-friendly cleaning

natural-home-cleaning-products.jpg

Adopt an eco-friendly cleaning protocol in the house; rather than lining up endless plastic bottles of chemical-heavy products, step back a minute to consider the alternatives. Recent years have seen a proliferation of environmentally-friendly cleaning products with names like Ecover, GreenWorks and so on. They are not hard to find even in mainstream supermarkets as consumer consciousness slowly edges in this direction. Buy in bulk and decant into a smaller, re-usable bottle to reduce plastic waste. Consider the most basic of options such as using diluted white wine vinegar as a kitchen or window cleaner. Source eco sponges made from sustainable materials as you’ll likely burn through one a fortnight, once it discolours, it is time for a new one.

5. use natural ventilation

Use natural ventilation wisely. If you live on a quiet street, in a small town near a park, forest or sea, you will likely have enviably good air quality, one would hope. Open the windows and let the fresh air in whenever you can, especially in the early mornings. This is a natural instinct in many of us anyway, especially in certain cultures where open windows are a way of life.

The issue clearly is when the outside air is of conspicuously poor quality in a dense urban environment; in such instances the best solution may be to open windows at the rear of the home away from the street, or to open them at times of day when there is less traffic outside.

By consciously taking stock of the air quality outside in other words, one can take steps to protect and improve the quality of the air inside your home as well.