Adaptogens and Nootropics

Adaptogens and Nootropics: Complete Guide & Comparison

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The worldwide focus has shifted to well-being and good performance over the years. It has become a competitive world in which to stand out, you must be nothing short of excellent.

In today’s day and age, people just want relief from the mental fatigue that comes with living in such a competitive world. Many people have turned to holistic techniques such as meditation and body detoxing with natural ingredients. Others prefer medication with smart pills for better mental performance.

However, a safer and more natural way to achieve a healthy lifestyle is through your diet. This is where you learn about new terms such as adaptogens and nootropics. Maybe you’ve already caught the popular nootropics hype, and you are wondering if it is worth it.

Come to find out, adaptogens and nootropic products are worth the attention that they are getting. We are going to explain in detail exactly why they deserve that attention.

Before we start, it is important to mention that there are two different camps of people chasing better cognitive performance. One group is team adaptogens and the other is team nootropics. There are debates, and there is usually some confusion between the two supplements.

Here, we’ll provide a breakdown of adaptogens and nootropics to help you make an informed choice for your health.

What Are Adaptogens?

The clearest definition is that adaptogens are ancient herbs that are packaged and sold for their benefits in helping to eliminate stressors. Adaptogens work to resist chemical, physical, and biological stressors that attempt to attack the body.

Adaptogens and Nootropics

Adaptogens have a deep-rooted history in centuries of Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine. What is happening today and in the recent past has been like a herbal renaissance. Many herbs are consumed in meals to provide both flavor and health benefits (Holy Basil, for example). Others are consumed in the form of supplements or herbal teas.

A Brief History of Adaptogens

The first record of study and development of adaptogens was during the second world war. During that time, several countries were in the race to produce the miracle pill that would turn their soldiers into some kind of superheroes.

Every country wanted to have pilots with faster reaction times and stronger soldiers with less physical fatigue. At the time, it was believed that the natural ingredients in adaptogens were the secret to making this pill.

Scientists from the Soviet Union published studies conducted by the military about a stimulant plant called Schisandra chinensis. 

The scientists had discovered that when the Nanai people ate the berries and seeds of these plants, it had surprising benefits. The Nanai hunters who consumed the plant were less hungry, thirsty, or exhausted. They even reportedly had better vision at night.

Thus, the idea of taking medicinal plant extracts to enhance stamina and survival in times of stress was born. This is why the plants are called adaptogens, they help with stress resistance.

How Adaptogens Work

Adaptogens work by interacting with the parts of the brain responsible for the body’s response to stress. These parts of the brain include the Sympathoadrenal system and the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).

When you take a dose of an adaptogen, it will regulate the hormone production and modify your body’s normal physiological response to stress. The modification is positive in that it ensures that your entire body, including the immune system, functions well despite a stressful situation.

When our bodies are faced with a stressor, it goes through three stages:

  1. Alarm Phase
  2. Resistance Phase
  3. Exhaustion Phase

Let me give you a clear illustration of these three stages using an everyday example:

You encounter a stressor, enter the alarm phase, and you start lifting weights looking for relief. Your body responds to this by releasing performance-enhancing hormones such as adrenaline. The hormones enhance muscle performance and improve your focus in the resistance phase.

When you lift weights, your body is literally in a state of resistance to the stressor. You will feel energized and achieve some mental clarity. Soon after, you will start to experience some fatigue. This is the exhaustion phase of being stressed.

If you are taking adaptogens, they will extend the feel-good energizing phase of resistance. It does this by empowering the mind and body to hang on to the powerful part for longer. In a nutshell, adaptogens are like exercise for your adrenal glands.

As is customary, further scientific studies in animals and isolated living neurons from the human body have been done. The studies were looking at the effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the overall body.

The study found that adaptogens exhibit the following properties:

  • Neuroprotective
  • Anti-fatigue
  • Antidepressive
  • Central nervous system stimulation
  • Increase mental capacity
  • Enhanced focus under stress

Ordinarily, all these would sound too good to be true, but the findings are all backed by scientific evidence.

The Best Adaptogenic Herbs

Every adaptogenic plant produces a slightly varied effect on every person. The best way to get a herb for your needs is to look for one that addresses the ailment you seek relief from.

The following are some renowned adaptogen herbs and what they are used for.

Long-Term Stress

To get relief from chronic stress, Ashwagandha, and Asian ginseng is often prescribed. In addition to relieving stress, they restore hormonal balance to normal.

Ashwagandha

This is a root herb belonging to the nightshade family of plants. It has other names such as Indian ginseng and Winter Cherry. It has a rich history of Ayurvedic use going back to 6000 years. Modern scientific studies have confirmed its therapeutic properties.

Benefits 

  • Regulates cortisol hormone levels to alleviate anxiety and stress
  • Improves the quality of sleep by supporting a healthy sleep-wake cycle
  • Boosts energy levels for daily activities
  • Powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties

Asian Ginseng

As the name suggests, it is native to the far east countries. It grows in China, Eastern Siberia, and Korea. Asian ginseng has had thousands of years of history of use as traditional Chinese medicine. White and red ginseng herbs are two different types of Asian ginseng consumed in different ways.

Benefits 

  • Consumed orally, it enhances the body’s resistance to environmental stressors
  • Health tonic to improve immunity
  • As a dietary supplement, it boosts physical stamina, better concentration, and improves memory
  • Slows aging
  • Provide relief for medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, and hot flashes associated with menopause

Acute Stress and Anxiety

Acute stress and anxiety often come in the wake of a traumatic event. It stays for at least three days, though it may last for up to one month.

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian ginseng is an ancient medicinal staple in the Eastern continents. It is especially popular as a herbal staple in China and Russia.

Siberian ginseng is vastly different from American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), despite their similar names. They also have different active chemical compounds. The active ingredient in Siberian ginseng is eleutherosides. Its main function is to awaken the immune system.

Benefits

  • Traditionally, it has been used as a remedy for cold and flu
  • It is an energy and vitality booster
  • In Russia, it is used as an adaptogen by hunters and other groups that operate in hostile environments
  • Ginseng extract lowers blood glucose levels especially when taken by people with type 2 diabetes
  • When taken together with Lithium for at least 6 weeks by patients suffering from bipolar disorder, it gives the same response as taking lithium with fluoxetine.
  • In individuals with viral herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), taking standardized Siberian ginseng extract with 0.3% eleutheroside report improvements. The extract lowers the number of outbreaks, severity, and duration of the infection.

Rhodiola

Also known as the Golden Root, Rhodiola grows in the arctic Environments of Asia and Europe. The medicinal uses of this plant date back to the Viking era in the 17th century. Vikings consumed this plant to help them increase their strength and stamina.

Benefits

  • Significantly lowers the effects of fatigue such as stress and anxiety.
  • Increases the serotonin levels which is a feel-good hormone. This is why you’ll feel better after taking Rhodiola.

Schisandra

This is a famous berry sometimes called the five-flavored fruit because it truly does possess five flavors. In traditional Chinese medicine, the fruit is considered to contain five elements.

They are as follows:

  • Wood – sour
  • Fire – bitter
  • Earth – sweet
  • Water – salty
  • Metal – pungent

Benefits

  • The berries contain a strong anti-oxidant that will guard cells against inflammation.
  • Boost liver function which, in turn, clears body detox pathways.
  • Optimizes adrenal glands functions. This alleviates experiences of anxiety and stress.

Adaptogens for Improving Immune System Function

Reishi and Ginseng historically were taken to prevent illness. Modern research has found evidence that the Reishi mushrooms can indeed rebuild and boost the immune system.

Reishi

Also known as the mushroom of immortality, the Reishi is a tropical mushroom that grows at the bottom of deciduous trees in Asia.

The red Reishi mushroom contains the most potent medicinal properties. It is also the most researched type among the different colored reishi mushrooms. It has been used in ancient traditional Chinese medicine remedies for more than 2000 years. Its adaptogen effects have been recognized to regulate the immune system.

Benefits

  • The biggest benefit of reishi is to boost the immune system
  • It is an effective antiviral agent
  • Alleviate anxiety and mood swings
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-aging agent
  • Improves quality of sleep

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics are supplements that have the effect of optimizing brain function. They also improve overall brain health. In other circles, nootropics are known as brain boosters. Initially, for any substance to qualify as a nootropic, they had to meet a very specific set of requirements laid down by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea.

Advances in neuroscience have discovered newer information about the brain and the way it works. With the discovery of this information, the definition of nootropics also evolved from the guidelines set in 1960.

Currently, nootropics include supplements that enhance brain function in any way. However, there is a critical distinction on which substances can be considered as nootropics. The supplement should not have the same effects as neuropsychotropic smart drugs.

This distinction led to an increase in the number of supplements that could then be considered a nootropic. There are currently at least 85 of the supplements.

Types of Nootropics

There are synthetic and natural nootropics. Some types of synthetic nootropics are prescription medications used to counteract the effects of medical conditions. Prescription nootropics are stimulants that improve mental function for patients with ADHD, Alzheimer’s, or narcolepsy.

Examples of prescription nootropics include the following:

  • Modafinil – A stimulant prescribed for patients suffering from narcolepsy
  • Adderall – Contains amphetamine compounds used to treat ADHD
  • Ritalin – Another stimulant nootropic used to manage symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy
  • Axura – Manages the symptoms of Alzheimer’s

All these prescription nootropics are very effective in treating the respective medical conditions that they are prescribed for. You must never take any of them without a doctor’s recommendation.

Non-Prescription Nootropics

These are non-medicinal substances that boost brain performance and focus. They do not have medicinal effects to treat illnesses, but they have an impact on memory, and other cognitive functions.

Caffeine

Caffeine is present in many of the beverages people consume every day for its stimulant effects. The more commonly known caffeine beverages are coffee and tea. Drinking beverages with caffeine is generally safe for everyone in moderation. Drinking a cup of tea or coffee regularly is a good way to improve your focus.

Too much of anything is harmful, and that applies to caffeine, as well. The FDA recommends that people should not consume any more than 400 mg of coffee every day. This is the equivalent of 4 to 5 cups of coffee.

However, caffeine pills and powders often contain very high levels of this nootropic stimulant. A single dose a day is often sufficient. Larger doses have severe side effects and can be fatal. Pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant need to lower their caffeine intake. In some cases, they may need to cut it out completely to avoid the risk of a miscarriage.

L-theanine

This is an amino acid that occurs naturally in green and black tea. It is also available in the form of supplements. Scientific research has shown that L-theanine boosts the presence of alpha brain waves. These waves make a person relaxed without getting drowsy. Talk about relaxed alertness.

Pairing L-theanine with caffeine increases the level of mental awareness you will get. It also boosts the level of alertness and focus. If you take this pairing regularly, it is okay, but stick to the FDA caffeine guidelines to avoid an overdose.

If you are taking L-theanine supplements alone, there are no set dosages. However, manufactures normally recommend between 100 – 400 mg daily.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are well-researched and advertised. Omega-3 oils are found in fish and fish oil supplements.

The polyunsaturated do well as cognitive enhancers. They are also important for the well-being of the brain. It is important to incorporate a diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids into your lifestyle.

These fatty acids carry out a very important role in protecting and regenerating brain cells. Omega-3 oils help the body makes protective membranes for cells including the ones found on the neurons. There are different forms of omega-3 supplements. They include the famous fish oil, algal oil, and krill oil.

These supplements are relatively low risk when taken within guidelines. However, you must not pair them with prescription medication without a doctor’s consent. Some drug interactions such as blood thinners can have harmful effects.

Racetams

Racetams are synthetic compounds. These artificial nootropics affect the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Nootropic Racetams include the following:

  • Aniracetam
  • Pramiracetam
  • Piracetam
  • Phenylpiracetam

Piracetam exhibits neuroprotective properties when taken regularly. Racetams do not have a standard dosage. Read your package labels and consult with a healthcare professional if you are unsure. Taking Racetams has no adverse side effects when you stick to your recommended dosage.

Creatine 

This is an amino acid supplement. It has an increasing following among athletes because it is one of the legal sports supplements. It may also improve mental stamina. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, healthy people can safely take a daily dose of 30g creatine for 5 years.

However, there is no clinical trial evidence to indicate whether it is safe for teen athletes to take this supplement.

Benefits of Nootropics

The benefits of nootropics revolve around their beneficial effects to optimizing brain function without altering brain anatomy.

Some common benefits of nootropics include the following:

  • Boosting learning. Key indicators of successful learning such as knowledge retention and information recall get better.
  • Nootropic supplements improve focus. People who take the supplements concentrate for a longer time.
  • They are mood boosters. You will feel better after taking nootropic supplements because they stimulate positive feelings and feelings of motivation.
  • Nootropics alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms.
  • Brain-boosting nootropics enhance creative thinking.

Adaptogens vs Nootropics

Remember when we began this article we mentioned that there are two “warring” camps? This is where team Nootropics and team Adaptogens meet to see whether the feud is worth it.

Adaptogens and nootropics happen to have a lot of similarities. This comes from the fact that they are derived from similar brain plants. In an interesting twist, most adaptogens can be correctly classified as nootropic supplements. Several nootropics also meet the specifications for being an adaptogen.

This is the reason some of these supplements can be called by either term, and it would be correct.

Are Adaptogens and Nootropics the Same Thing?

Yes and no.

A lot of adaptogens now classify as nootropics because of the newly expanded definition of what a nootropic supplement is. As we said earlier, the definition states that they are any supplement capable of improving the wellbeing of the brain alongside enhancing cognitive functions.

On the contrary, when it comes to adaptogens, their functionality is based on the fact that they are meant to fight off stress. In comparison, reducing stress is only one of the functions of nootropics. I hope these few paragraphs clear up some confusion, now let’s further look at how nootropics work vs how adaptogens work.

How Do Nootropics Compare to Adaptogens?

The role of nootropics is to support a healthy brain and cognition.

There are various modes of action through which the nootropics can achieve their role.

  • Nootropics elevate the level of certain brain chemicals. The most common ones are neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin. Nootropics do this by lowering the rate of breakdown, stimulating the production of more, or supplying the chemical building blocks.
  • Sometimes the brain needs better blood flow than it’s experiencing. Nootropics augment cerebral blood flow. They do this by releasing active compounds like nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels.
  • The brain doesn’t only survive on a supply of oxygen and nourishment. It needs a stamina boost regularly. Nootropics achieve this by stimulating the mitochondria which, in turn, boosts brain energy.
  • Nootropics have antioxidant properties which get rid of free radicals and other products harmful to the brain.
  • Support neurogenesis by laying the groundwork and providing stimulation for new nerve cells to grow.
  • Bring about excited or relaxed states by adjusting different brain waves.

Adaptogens sustain the homeostasis that exists within the brain. 

Although adaptogens follow some bio-pathways that nootropics do, they are mainly concerned with regulating the endocrine system. This is how they achieve their stress-relief duties.

  • They protect the brain and the body from the effects of stress. They do this by adjusting the fluctuation in the endocrine pathways.
  • Regulate stress response hormones such as cortisol.
  • Neuroprotective functions, similar to nootropics. They eliminate oxidative stress in the brain cells as well as throughout the body.

Conclusion

Adaptogens and nootropics have similarities that clinicians use to create synergistic pairings. The effect of combining these two kinds of supplements into a singular nootropic formula could create massive cognition enhancement and stress-reducing benefits. Adaptogens and nootropics together are better than one vs the other.

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