Nootropic supplements are drugs or natural substances taken by people to enhance their cognitive function. They are also known as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.” Generally, nootropics are taken to enhance memory, boost productivity, and increase social function.
Initially somewhat a fringe market, the nootropics industry had grown to over $1 billion in 2015. The boom in the industry is due to the highly competitive employment environment.
When most people think about the history of nootropics, they immediately conjure up the idea of compounds being synthesized in labs. The first synthetic nootropic, piracetam, was synthesized in the 1960s as a cure for motion sickness before its potential as a cognitive enhancer was discovered.
Yet thousands of years before that, certain natural nootropics were regularly consumed for that same reason. It was based on the belief that these herbs enhanced focus, productivity, and enlightenment. One of the best natural nootropic supplements and a commonly consumed herb is Ginkgo biloba.
The Chinese were probably the first to discover the great use of this herb. Several other cultures invested heavily in nootropic herbs too, some of which include Medhya Rasayanas, Bacopa monnieri, ashwagandha, Panax quinquefolius, and Celastrus paniculatas, even caffeine.
It is an innate human desire to move towards self-improvement, to be always better and faster than others. It was the gratification of this intrinsic trait which resulted in numerous innovations and inventions. The adage; “necessity is the mother of inventions” aptly illustrates how when humans felt the need for mental improvements, resorted to creation of brain supplements, now most commonly known as nootropics.
Nootropics can help boost your cognitive capabilities and stay at the top of your game be it at home, school or workplace. Although there are some controversies about nootropics use, people are now turning to these brain stimulators to enhance their mental performance.
Nootropics basically work by protecting your neurons from damage inflicted by toxins and age. These smart drugs help you cope with mental fatigue, low motivation and memory issues. Some nootropics even manage to calm your nerves down and help release tension during a stressful day.
Studies have shown the benefits of regularly using nootropic supplements, but it’s not enough to just know nootropics work. We want to know how they work. Most nootropics have multiple benefits, and these usually overlap. Here are some of the most common ways nootropics boost our cognitive function and keep our brains healthy.
Increased Blood Supply to the Brain
With every heartbeat, about 15 to 20 percent of all the blood circulating in your body goes to your brain. This tells you how important it is for your brain tissues to get an adequate blood supply. Certain nootropics can increase blood flow to the brain by as much as 5%.
They do this by dilating the small arteries and veins within the brain. This increases blood flow and has several benefits, such as:
Enhancing Metabolic Pathways
The brain only contributes to 3% of your total body weight, but it uses up about 20% of your total energy. Not supplying enough energy to the brain can quickly lead to mental fatigue, mood swings, and brain fog, which is why we find it hard to focus when we’re hungry.
Nootropics stimulate the brain’s metabolic pathways and provide you with the boost you need to maintain optimal cognitive function. They enhance mitochondrial pathways, provide necessary precursors like fatty acids, and provide more oxygen to fuel your brain.
Reduce Brain Inflammation
Like any machine, the brain undergoes some wear and tear over time. This manifests as oxidative damage and builds-up certain metabolites, like homocysteine, within the brain tissue.
These harmful substances can lead to generalized brain inflammation, which not only reduces your cognitive efficiency but also predisposes you to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and strokes. By inhibiting homocysteine and oxidative damage on blood vessels, nootropics can prevent and even reverse brain inflammation.
Neurotransmitters are an essential part of optimal brain function. They help in cell-to-cell signaling, information processing, mood regulation, and memory storage. Imbalances in your neurotransmitters or their receptors can adversely affect your brain in a multitude of ways.
Nootropics help achieve neurotransmitter stability by:
As we get older, the brain’s ability to protect and repair itself from damage weakens. Oxidative damage, amyloid deposits, and neuron shrinking are normal parts of the brain’s aging process. However, when these occur abnormally fast, it can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
Nootropics help delay the onset and slow down the progression of these diseases by increasing the brain’s antioxidant capacity and helping to fight the formation of irregular proteins (amyloid) within the brain. They clear the brain tissue of neurotoxins and protect the brain against the harmful effects of stress.
Caffeine is one of the most widely produced and consumed brain stimulator in the world.
It is naturally present in tea, coffee, cocoa, kola nuts, many energy drinks and supplements as well. People use it as a supplement on its own or in combination with some other smart drugs for optimizing their cognitive abilities.
Mechanism of action of this drug is that it blocks adenosine receptors in your brain which makes you feel alert.
Regular intake of 40–300 mg caffeine per day increases your alertness and decreases your reaction time. These doses are especially effective for fatigued people. Learn more about caffeine effect on cognitive functions here.
Phosphatidyl-serine is found in your brain as a fat compound which is phospholipid.
Taking phosphatidyl-serine supplements is said to be helpful for maintaining brain health. These supplements are easily available online and in some chain pharmacies as well.
Consuming 100 mg of this brain supplement thrice a day is helpful in improving cognitive capacity of brain with age. Additionally, healthy people who take these brain boosters of up to 200-400 mg per day have been shown to have improved memory and focus.
However, further studies are required to understand its actual effects on brain function.
It is a flower shaped leaf which can be eaten as a salad and is part of many herbal medicines as well. In some countries in the world, it is consumed in form of gotukola tea by the natives and is a very popular beverage among them.
Kola is a mind tonic to improve memory and intelligence. For centuries, it has been used to treat depression, fatigue and Alzheimer disease. Kola is also used to treat multiple ailments.
It is easily available online in many forms like teas and tonics or you can buy it from certified apothecary shops as well. However, you must always talk to a herbal expert about its dose and other side effects to avoid any harm.
Its fan-like leaves are used to improve cognitive function and slow down the age related dementia. It is a natural brain supplement available in form of tablets, drinks, teas and tonics as well. The exact mechanism of action is still unknown but according to a study; it contains many anti-oxidants to reduce inflammation and also affects neurotransmitters’ travelling speed. It therefore works as cognitive enhancer.
But its use should be in small amount; otherwise it will cause some adverse effects.
This is a medicine made from the herb Bacopa monnieri. It has been used for centuries in traditional medicinal practices like Ayurveda to improve cognitive function and brain ailments.
Bacopa Monnieri improves memory and thinking process in healthy people as well as in elderly people suffering with age related dementia.
One thing must be taken note of, which is that to get the best results, its continuous use is necessary. Take about 300 mg dose every day and it may take a month or more to show proper results.
Studies related to this herb also indicate that it is responsible for causing diarrhea in people occasionally. Therefore it is recommended to take this medicine with food or avoid taking it, if it doesn’t suit you.
The omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil have a lot of health benefits. Docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA) is a particular fatty acid which supports brain health. If you take a diet which is low in omega-3, then taking a fish oil supplement will enhance your memory and cognitive functions. Plus it is rich in vitamin D3 which plays a key role to absorb calcium in bones.
Be careful while purchasing fish oil supplement to avoid any substandard products. You must choose a high-quality product to get optimum benefits.
L-Theanine is most commonly present in tea leaves. It is an amino acid known to have a soothing effect on the brain without a tendency to cause drowsiness.
Mechanism of action of theanine is that it stimulates alpha wave activity in our brain, which gives a relaxing affect.
Alpha-wave activity in the brain plays an important role in being alert and attentive. Theanine is mostly consumed in a combination with caffeine. Therefore it reduces anxiety symptoms, keeps you calm and attentive.
Theanine is a content of organic green tea and it is its most common form of consumption.
It is a supplement obtained from the herb called Rhodiola rosea, this was often a remedy in ancient Chinese medicine to optimize healthy brain function and overall wellbeing.
It is useful to reduce anxiety and fatigue thus helps in improving brain health.
A recent study stated that further research is needed before scientifically stating if it can boost brain function and reduce fatigue.
In the highly competitive world that we live in today, you need every advantage you can get. You need to be smarter, sharper, and be able to go above and beyond what is expected of you if you want to succeed. The safest and most effective way to do that is to combine nootropics with a healthy diet and adequate rest. Your brain is a hardworking organ, and it needs just as much fuel as the rest of your body. So don’t starve it, or the consequences may be more serious than you think.