Metabolic agents that enhance ATP can improve cognitive functioning: a review of the evidence for glucose, oxygen, pyruvate, creatine, and L-carnitine

Nutrients. 2011 Aug;3(8):735-55. doi: 10.3390/nu3080735. Epub 2011 Aug 10.


Over the past four or five decades, there has been increasing interest in the neurochemical regulation of cognition. This field received considerable attention in the 1980s, with the identification of possible cognition enhancing agents or "smart drugs". Even though many of the optimistic claims for some agents have proven premature, evidence suggests that several metabolic agents may prove to be effective in improving and preserving cognitive performance and may lead to better cognitive aging through the lifespan. Aging is characterized by a progressive deterioration in physiological functions and metabolic processes. There are a number of agents with the potential to improve metabolic activity. Research is now beginning to identify these various agents and delineate their potential usefulness for improving cognition in health and disease. This review provides a brief overview of the metabolic agents glucose, oxygen, pyruvate, creatine, and L-carnitine and their beneficial effects on cognitive function. These agents are directly responsible for generating ATP (adenosine triphosphate) the main cellular currency of energy. The brain is the most metabolically active organ in the body and as such is particularly vulnerable to disruption of energy resources. Therefore interventions that sustain adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels may have importance for improving neuronal dysfunction and loss. Moreover, recently, it has been observed that environmental conditions and diet can affect transgenerational gene expression via epigenetic mechanisms. Metabolic agents might play a role in regulation of nutritional epigenetic effects. In summary, the reviewed metabolic agents represent a promising strategy for improving cognitive function and possibly slowing or preventing cognitive decline.

Keywords: L-carnitine; ageing; cognition; creatine; glucose; metabolic agents; oxygen; pyruvate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Aging
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology
  • Carnitine / pharmacology*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Creatine / pharmacology*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Oxygen / pharmacology*
  • Pyruvic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Pyruvic Acid
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Glucose
  • Creatine
  • Carnitine
  • Oxygen