Students, business professionals and individuals engaged in highly-demanding careers often look for an edge to improve their mental and physical performance.

Besides nutritious food, exercise and rest, many people turn to supplementation to address nutrient deficiencies. Along with vitamins, minerals and protein powders, specialized supplements like nootropics can specifically support brain function for overall improved mental performance.

Vegan diets have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among individuals interested in their perceived benefits for their health. Some health professionals believe that vegan diets can be beneficial, however many lack nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

Addressing the nutritional gaps of a plant-based diet is not easy and requires research. Some vegans use supplements to address deficiencies in order to support their mental and physical health. This article will help guide you on the use of vegan-friendly nootropics that support brain function while filling you in on what specific nutrients are missing.

Person enjoying a breakfastSupplementing Vegan Diets With Nootropics

Vegan diets are typically defined as eating styles devoid of any animal or animal-derived products. They can vary widely from person to person because many synthetic or processed foods are typically “vegan” due to their chemical nature.

While eating styles vary greatly among vegans, most are deficient in vitamins and minerals. While many people may believe that large amounts of fruits and vegetables are healthy, the truth is that plant foods are difficult for humans to digest due to their low bioavailability.

Bioavailability refers to the ability of the body to extract, synthesize, absorb and use macronutrients. This means that the high content of vitamins and minerals in plant foods often cannot be used by the body and this can have profound implications for vegans on their ability to think and process information.

Nutrients Required For Optimal Brain Function

The brain requires critical nutrients that everyone needs to be aware of – whether they are vegan or not. These include:

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is critical to learning, vision and memory. The richest sources are liver, cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, butter and eggs. Vegetable sources include squash, sweet potato, carrots and spinach.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D3 regulates calcium levels in the brain and helps protect the cells from oxidative damage while supporting the memory centre (called the hippocampus).

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 is required to build important components of the cell membrane that support overall brain function. Sources include animal foods and some types of soy.

Vitamin B12 

The body cannot synthesize red blood cells, RNA or DNA without vitamin B12. A lack of this important nutrient can cause serious psychiatric problems such as psychosis, memory issues and depression. The most bioavailable forms are found in animal foods. Vegans typically supplement B12 with B12 shots or vitamins.

B Vitamin Complex

B vitamins are critical to the maintenance of health and well-being. Their role as the building blocks of a healthy physical body makes them critical to brain function, energy levels and cell metabolism.

A diet abundant in B vitamins also supports the immune system, helps prevent infections and supports cellular health. They include:

  • B1 (thiamin): dried milk, nuts, beef, liver, oats, oranges, seeds, legumes, pork, eggs, peas and yeast
  • B2 (riboflavin): fortified cereals, almonds, asparagus, milk, bread, dark meat chicken and beef
  • B3 (niacin): dried milk, nuts, beef, liver, oats, oranges, seeds, legumes, pork, eggs, peas and yeast
  • B5 (pantothenic acid): beef, fortified cereals, organ meats, chicken breast, avocado, nuts, seeds, milk and mushrooms
  • B6 (pyridoxine): poultry, pork, fish peanuts, soya beans, wheat germ, bananas
  • B7 (biotin): cereals, milk, walnuts, peanuts, and egg yolks
  • B9 (folate): greens, spinach, lettuce, Brussel sprouts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, liver and seafood

Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids: DHA and EPA

Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely critical for brain and immune system function. DHA is critical for the brain to form healthy synapses required for neuroplasticity. Researchers believe that EPA and DHA are low in vegetarians and virtually absent in vegans.

DHA and EPA supplements for vegans are typically derived from algae instead of krill or fish. The research is limited however some studies have shown that ingestion of micro-algae oil led to significant increases in blood erythrocyte and plasma DHA.

The Best Nootropics For Vegans

Many nootropics are derived from plants and herbs, making them suitable for a vegan diet. Along with helping to treat fatigue and stress, they can enhance cognitive function and improve emotional wellbeing. These include:

  • Ginkgo Biloba – Enhances cognitive function
  • Rhodiola Rosea – Helps treat fatigue and stress
  • Magnesium l-threonate – Vital to the nervous system
  • L-theanine – Helps to sharpen focus and improve attention span
  • 5-HTP – Helps the body produce serotonin, an important neurotransmitter critical to overall health
  • Ashwagandha – Prescribed in traditional Indian medicine to treat stress-related conditions

Frequently Asked Questions

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