What are Nootropics?
Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances that may help improve the mental performance of healthy people. They are referred to as smart drugs because they can boost memory, improve focus, increase creativity and intelligence and even motivation.
They appeal to a lot of people – college students who want to ace their tests, board exam takers, professionals who work long hours hoping to get a promotion and adults who are fearful of dementia. In this highly competitive world, we take as much help as we can get.
If in sports, athletes have performance-enhancing supplements, why shouldn’t there be brain-enhancing supplements in the academic or corporate world? It is not surprising then that there is a rise in the use of nootropics.
But do they work and are they safe?
Well, “nootropics” is the term used for chemicals that meet all of the following qualification: can enhance learning and memory; can guard against the loss of learned behavior and memory; can protect the brain from physical and chemical injuries; can improve tonic cortical/subcortical control; has low toxicity and does not have the side effects found in psychotropic drugs.
At present though, the term is used loosely. Any natural or synthetic substance that may improve mental function is referred to as nootropics.
Types of Nootropics
There are three types of nootropics, and we all use them.
- Natural compounds – These are substances that the body naturally creates, and they are also found in food.
- Caffeine – Most people claim that they cannot function unless they have their morning cup of coffee. Caffeine found in coffee is a natural stimulant that promotes alertness and improve thinking skill. It binds with adenosine receptors and this delays the onset of drowsiness making you alert. It also provides access to neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine which helps with short-term memory and learning.
You can now find coffee infused with superfoods and other nootropics. Bulletproof coffee is the coffee made famous by those who advocate the Keto lifestyle. Healthy fats (high quality MCT) added to the regular coffee to make it “extra.” There is also this unique instant coffee formula that has MCT powder, turmeric, black pepper extract and ginseng.
- Green Tea and L-Theanine – Green tea is popular around the world for its numerous benefits. It contains a lot of antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and fight free-radicals that damage cells in the body. Green tea contains L-Theanine. It is an amino acid that provides a calming and relaxing effect on the body without causing sedation, or what is called “relaxed wakefulness.” Green tea also has reasonable amounts of caffeine. L-Theanine and caffeine, when combined, significantly improve cognitive performance. L-Theanine also tempers the vasoconstrictive effects of caffeine. It means, with green tea, you can get your caffeine fix without the drawbacks usually associated with excessive caffeine such as agitation and excessive sweat.
- Turmeric and Curcumin – Turmeric is a spice used in most curry dishes. It’s what gives curry the distinct yellow color and it comes from the ginger family. Turmeric has many bioactive compounds or curcuminoids, the most popular of which is curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant.
Inflammation is the body’s way to fight infection and guard against foreign “invaders.” Without it, bacteria can easily get into the body. Acute, short-term inflammation is good. It becomes a problem when it becomes chronic and starts attacking the body’s own tissues. Curcumin is an effective anti-inflammatory. It can match the potency of some anti-inflammatory medicines, minus the side effects.
Herbal and Mushrooms – There are herbs and mushrooms that are beneficial to cognition. A lot of these have been used in ancient Chinese and Indian traditions for medicinal purposes.
- Bacopa Monnieri – An herb found in India, Australia, Asia, Africa and America, bacopa monnieri contains bacosides which has memory and brain-enhancing benefits. There are multiple studies that show the effectivity of bacopa in improving memory and enhancing cognition. It is one of the few well-tested nootropic compounds and is one of the flagship ingredients in neurovitamins.
- Huperzia Seratta – This is a Chinese moss that contains Huperzine A, a popular nootropic compound. It has shown potential in helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease. While it helps delay neurodegeneration of patients with cognitive deficits, studies are yet to show how it can help healthy individuals.
- Adaptogens – These are herbal compounds that help stabilize physiological processes such as stress regulation in the body by altering levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. While it shows promise, more human clinical studies are needed.
- Lions Mane mushroom – This is a medicinal mushroom known for improving brain function. Studies on rodents show that it can delay neuronal cell death in rats that are suffering from ischemic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. More studies on healthy humans are needed, and the initial clinical data on hand already shows promise.
- Choline – This helps our body synthesize acetylcholine. Choline is naturally found in fish and eggs.
- Vitamins and minerals – Iron, magnesium, Vitamins A, B12, D, Omega 3 fatty acid are vital not just for overall health but also for brain function and performance.
Synthetic compounds – These are man-made nootropics that are usually available over-the-counter, but may require prescription in other countries.
Racetams – These are synthetic chemicals that boost the supply of oxygen, nutrients and brain fuel to the brain. This improves the brain’s ability to function longer, increase focus and concentration.
- Piracetam – This is the first racetam to be discovered. It is found to be effective in boosting alertness and cognitive performance. It is considered safe due to its low toxin content.
- Aniracetam – This is more powerful than piracetam. Those who use it find that they can focus and concentrate on their work or study better. It also has stress-reducing properties.
- Oxiracetam – This is the top tier racetam. It is more potent than the others so only a little is needed to enjoy the effects. Users claim that it can banish mental fatigue long after use.
- Pramiracetam – This is a potent nootropic known for its memory-protecting power. It protects neural network from disruption and can repair them after sustaining an injury.
- Racetams – These are synthetic chemicals that boost the supply of oxygen, nutrients and brain fuel to the brain. This improves the brain’s ability to function longer, increase focus and concentration.
There are a lot of studies that show the benefits of Racetams when it comes to helping cognitive impairment and neurodegeneration. Take note though that racetams and similar substances are Schedule 4 substances, meaning they require prescription.
- Prescription nootropics
- ADHD medicines – These are stimulants that help people with ADHD, and are not recommended for those who just want to improve their focus and attention. Sadly, there are students who try to get this type of drugs illegally. While they may help in the short term, there are serious side effects like hypertension, fast heart rate, circulation problems and addiction.
- Modafinil – This is drug for narcolepsy, sleep apnea and other sleep disorder. It is also found to help healthy people be sharper mentally. A lot of college students buy this online. The say it eliminates fatigue and keeps them awake and alert for a long time. It may be harmless when taken for short periods of time, such as during exam or thesis defense. While it may be safer than the other stimulants, more research is needed to determine its safety. At present, people who take Modafinil frequently experience extreme irritability, increased anxiety, excessive sweat, headache and stomach upset.