There are supplements for everything these days, especially with the world moving towards more natural and organic products! Instead of modern medicine, people today are looking into the side effects of drugs and alternative medications that won’t adversely influence bodily functions.
The 24-hour smart economy is here, and people are working multiple jobs every day, risking burnout. This has brought on the need for substances that can help you keep focused and handle the fatigue and mental stress that comes with the daily grind.
Nowadays, just about everyone needs to enhance their cognitive capacity to recall what they learn and keep focused on learning more, and this is where nootropics come in!
We’ll decipher what nootropic means and go deep into the world of cognitive enhancers!
What Is a Nootropic?
To understand nootropics better, we first need to understand their origins. The word “nootropic” comes from the Greek words “noos,” meaning the mind, and “trope,” which can be loosely translated as “bend or turn.”
A nootropic represents any substance or nutrient that, when ingested, alters your mental performance. There are two types of nootropic substances: synthetic and natural. Synthetic nootropics are tested and made in the lab. The workings of these chemicals are usually supported by scientific research.
There are also natural nootropics that you can get from certain plants, including herbs and selected mushrooms. There are many controversies, especially because of modern science, about whether these substances work or are just another marketing gimmick.
A Brief Nootropic History
Although the interest in nootropics has been gaining popularity lately, the study of nootropics isn’t a recent development in human history. Many ancient civilizations were aware of the nootropic effect from different plant parts, especially Asian civilizations.
For example, ancient humans used plants such as Ginkgo Biloba and ginseng to improve their mood, enhance their mental prowess and manage stress hormones. The Chinese are even more organized, and their research of how they used the herbs is recorded in ancient books such as Lu Yu’s “The Classic of Tea”.
India, too, has a long history of using these plants, and they have preserved this knowledge in ancient Sanskrit writings. India is well-known for nootropic herbs, such as Bacopa Monnieri and Ashwagandha, which are used to stimulate the cognitive process.
Nootropic substances were introduced in the West between the 16th and 17th centuries during what is commonly known as “the age of enlightenment”. Substances, such as coffee, clearly stuck, mainly because of the high caffeine content.
Next came cocaine, which Coca-Cola used to include, and coca wine, a morphine substitute which the company had to drop because of addiction issues. Currently, Coca-Cola uses sugar and caffeine as the drink’s main ingredients.
The modern history of nootropics began in the 1960s with a Russian toxicologist, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, who was looking to create a sleep aid. They weren’t successful in creating a sleeping aid, but they did discover Piracetam, a molecule that affected brain activity. In fact, Piracetam was the first synthetic nootropic.
The lab where Dr. Giurgea worked eventually started testing Piracetam in 1965, and it seemed to have positive effects on humans. After years of study, the doctor coined the term “nootropics” in 1972 and specified characteristics determining whether a substance is a nootropic. To be considered a nootropic agent, a substance must:
- Enhance learning and recall
- Increase resistance of brain functions to disruptive conditions
- Improve information flow between the brain and the rest of the body
- Have few to no adverse side effects
- Protect the brain from physical and chemical injuries
Researchers then started combining these chemicals, e.g., mixing Piracetam and choline. Nootropics now have the ability to improve other aspects such as mood swings, social anxiety, and overall cognitive function.
How Do Nootropics Work?
We already mentioned that these substances work on the brain, but the brain is a complex organ. Some studies show that nootropics interact mainly with the Central Nervous System (CNS) to enhance the communication between the brain and the body’s systems.
Synthetic nootropics are artificial, which means that scientists make them in the lab to mimic brain-stimulating components found in herbs, plants, and the body. These substances can either be in the form of pills, capsules, liquids, or powders approved by relevant authorities depending on regulation within that specific region and whether they are classified as drugs and medicines.
Unlike natural nootropics, for synthetic nootropics to be released onto the market, they have to undergo multiple tests, including clinical tests, to ensure that they’re safe to consume. Sometimes, these drugs are categorized as dietary supplements that don’t necessarily cure specific diseases but complement a healthy diet.
This class of drugs has to be prescribed to you by a doctor because they cover specific diseases. Examples include:
These drugs keep the brain alert by promoting wakefulness. It’s beneficial for patients that have problems staying awake, especially patients with narcolepsy, severe sleep apnea, and those with shift work sleep disorders. The most common eugeroic is Modafinil, which can be sold under different names depending on the brand.
Like any other prescription drug, eugeroics come with numerous side effects, including:
- Chest pain
Studies have shown that amphetamines can help mental issues such as inhibitory control, recall, episodic memory, and enhanced focus in healthy people when used in small doses. The drug is also commonly prescribed to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) patients for the same reason.
The use of amphetamines can also help in learning because it’s effective in helping people collect information and present it as learned. Case in point, Paul Hoffman’s story about Paul Erdös who used amphetamines to get him through long hours of math.
Types of amphetamines include Adderall, Focalin, and Concerta. The problem with these drugs is that prolonged use can lead to addiction, and they can also have adverse side effects, including:
- Stomach pain
- Hair loss
This works similar to amphetamines by improving how one recollects memories, controlling inhibitions, improving focus and alertness, and endurance when performing repetitive tasks. Methylphenidate is standard in ADHD and narcolepsy treatments.
This drug’s side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
Over-the-counter Synthetic Nootropics
Some synthetic nootropics don’t require that you have a prescription to acquire them. Some examples of these are shown below.
Racetams are well-known cognitive enhancers that help restore memory and boost brain performance. They are used to treat CNS disorders that include dementia, epilepsy, and stress. Racetams have been ruled as brain enhancers and are prescribed for cognitive impairment, dementia, and other disorders in European countries. You can also buy these on the internet and in stores.
Racetams include drugs such as oxiracetam, piracetam, aniracetam, and phenylpiracetam. Piracetam is the first synthetic nootropic created. Side effects of these drugs include:
- Memory loss
- Stomach pain
Cholinergic substances work like acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter in the peripheral and central nervous systems. These drugs come in two forms: direct-acting and indirect-acting. Since it mimics acetylcholine, cholinergic agents can affect some critical aspects of the brain.
You can’t get a full cholinergic supplement, but you can get some of its ingredients incorporated into them. These include the following.
L_Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine, also known as Alpha-GPC, is a type of choline sourced from soy or sunflower lecithin and is a natural chemical in the body that increases acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter that helps the brain to function effectively.
Alpha-GPC can also be made synthetically and sold to you as a dietary supplement or prescription medication, depending on your country’s laws.
Acetylcholine is a chemical that is essential for brain function and helps to improve one’s mood, boost mental energy, and increase alertness. Alpha-GPC is also an excellent memory booster and can help with the regeneration of brain cells. It can even help Alzheimer’s patients with their cognitive performance and memory issues!
CDP-Choline (cytidine diphosphate-choline) is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain. The chemical is formed when choline combines with cytidine.
It can also be made in the lab and administered as a supplement or injected into your body. After the drug is administered to you, citicoline gets synthesized into choline and uridine in the bloodstream. Once the two travel to the brain’s center, they combine again to form citicoline and are used to synthesize acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine.
Acetylcholine is responsible for muscle contractions, but phosphatidylcholine is the holy grail that stabilizes brain cells and repairs them when they’re damaged. As uridine travels through the bloodstream, it helps transmit nerve signals between cells.
The chemical interacts with neurotransmitters and increases dopamine and noradrenaline in the central nervous system. Citicoline has been tested on animals and was observed to enhance their memory and learning capacity.
Uridine alone can help treat dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and help them in their fight against cognitive impairment. It’s also an essential component in the regulation of our heartbeat and blood flow throughout our bodies.
Although choline is readily available in the body, it needs to be supplemented from time to time. It’s available in meat and dairy products and plants such as peanuts, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.
When made into supplements, choline has to be mixed with salts such as bitartrate. You can find these supplements either in powder, capsule, or tablet form. Choline can cause upset stomach and diarrhea, so make sure that you always take the recommended amount.
NusaPure is a reputable supplement company with various products on the market. The choline bitartrate supplement comes in capsule form with each capsule containing 650 mg. It’s recommended that you take two capsules per day. The company manufactures the supplements in a CGMP certified lab in the US, and their products are vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free.
The supplement claims to help with the metabolism of fatty acids that lead to the production of acetylcholine, energizing your body and brain.
- Choline bitartrate: 850mg
These supplements intended only for adults and are manufactured as water-soluble capsules. This dietary supplement claims to improve brain health, learning capacity, concentration, calculation, and logical skills by boosting acetylcholine production.
- Alpha GPC choline: 500mg
These are substances that enhance your brain’s functions. Instead of being synthesized in a lab, natural nootropics can be found in certain plants, vitamins, and minerals and can be extracted and used to manufacture supplements. These supplements are also non-prescription and readily available online and in supplement stores.
Different nootropics perform different tasks. Some may aid in the creation of neurotransmitters or communication between neurons. Other nootropics can boost blood flow to the brain, thus providing it with more oxygen.
When these substances perform their proper functions, the brain stays healthy. This assists with cognitive functions such as creativity, focus, memory, learning, perception, and good thinking.
Common Natural Nootropics
Bacopa, also known as Brahmi or water hyssop, is native to the wetlands of India and Southeast Asia. This herb was first used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine in order to enhance cognitive function.
Instead of tackling the effects of stress already present, Bacopa monnieri works to prevent the effects from manifesting. The plant appears to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain, which itself can boost brain function. It’s a potent antioxidant, that enhances cognitive function and has anti-anxiety effects because the herb’s extract stimulates serotonin production.
The water hyssop contains two critical ingredients, including bacosides A and B, that help brain cells communicate better. They are also helpful in fixing damaged neurons.
Using brahmi for an extended period may lead to better focus, attention to detail, the ability to understand and remember what you learn, and being less anxious.
Ginseng grows in America and Asia, and there are 11 species of these plants. Panax ginseng is the Asian version. The panax ginseng is native to Korea and is one of the oldest herbs.
Several clinical trials show how efficient ginseng is in memory enhancement, improvement in blood circulation, and its effectiveness as an antioxidant. As an adaptogen, ginseng boosts the production of GABA, which in turn reduces stress and adrenal fatigue.
Ginseng appears to trigger dopamine production, increasing its neuroprotective effect, and it prevents the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, which makes it an antidepressant. The plant can also be highly useful for managing ADHD.
Ginseng is both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by reducing cytokines. As an antioxidant, ginseng enhances the production of ATP in mitochondria and protects them from free radical damage.
Rhodiola survives in cold regions in Asia and Europe and is an excellent stress reliever. They have been used in Russia and Scandinavia for centuries to help treat mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. The plant can also help keep you more upbeat for longer by reducing fatigue and preventing burnout.
The rhodiola rosea is non-specific, which means it doesn’t target one specific body part or system. It works in a holistic way to help regulate your body’s response to stress.
By stress, we don’t just mean psychological distress, but your body’s endurance in the face of a lack of sleep or mental and physical exhaustion. Your body can’t help but feel fatigued when it’s handling so many issues at once.
Using this plant’s extract can consistently brighten your mood, reduce stress, boost your memory, decrease your anxiety, energize you, and enhance your overall quality of life. You can ingest the herb in capsule, tablet, liquid extract, or powder form!
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane is a medicinal mushroom native to Northeast Asia, and it’s also available in Europe and parts of North America. This kind of mushroom is popular in ancient Chinese medicine and has been traditionally used to strengthen the spleen and gut.
This nootropic contains active compounds, such as erinacines and hericenones, with a broad range of mental health benefits. These compounds can freely travel throughout the bloodstream and stimulate neuron growth.
Sources claim that these mushrooms help control Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia, and help balance anxiety, depression, inflammation, and cholesterol.
The ginkgo biloba is an ancient Chinese plant. The tree is massive and can grow up to 40 meters, but we only use its leaves. As a nootropic, the Maidenhair appears to help enhance the memory of older people and is quite effective in patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
The plant works by helping with the distribution of blood to the brain, which keeps the brain healthy. Ingesting its extracts can also improve your mood and thinking capacity.
Consumers of this plant can enjoy increased alertness which improves reaction time, improved blood flow to the brain, neurotransmitter rejuvenation, and stress reduction.
Ashwagandha is a herb found in Northern Africa and India and is particularly prevalent in traditional Indian medicine. This plant is an efficient tonic and is commonly referred to as Indian Ginseng.
Ashwagandha’s nootropic properties revolve around the plant’s ability to promote neuron regeneration, ensuring a continuous, seamless flow of information between brain cells. The leaves are also believed to lower stress and relieve anxiety.
The plant can help manage stress-related weight gain. Overdosing on this plant can lead to several adverse effects, including liver problems, nausea, diarrhea, and upset stomach.
Natural Nootropic Supplements
Vital Vitamins has created an energy-boosting nootropic that can help you fend against frequent fatigue and brain fog! The supplement comes in the form of a capsule, each of which is packed with high-quality, effective ingredients that will help you maintain clarity and improve your memory over time. You will feel energized and alert every day when using this brain supplement.
Vital Vitamins is a reputable company, and all their products are formulated and made in the US in CGMP-certified labs. The company aims to give your brain the most support to get you through your multiple work shifts or classes!
The daily recommended dose for this supplement is one capsule per day, and there are no special instructions to take it. You can accompany your meal with it or take it with just water. This nootropic is safe for all adults, but the manufacturer recommends first-time users wait 48 hours before taking their first and second pill in order to watch for any adverse side effects.
- Vitamin B12: 500mcg
- Bacopa monnieri extract: 300mg
- Phosphatidylserine: 100mg
- Ginkgo biloba: 100mg
- Rhodiola rosea extract: 50mg
- Dmae (Dimethylaminoethanol) bitartrate: 50mg
Genius Mushroom is a brain supplement made by the Genius Brand. These come in the form of veggie pills to optimize your cognitive function. The company claims they’ve combined the goodness of the three most researched mycological species to date: Lion’s mane, cordyceps, and reishi mushrooms.
Genius Mushroom isn’t laced with caffeine, and the reishi mushrooms combined in the mixture are well-known boosters of the immune system.
The company is known for its high-quality products All of its products are manufactured in GMP-certified labs in the US. In addition, its products are third-party tested to ensure quality and effectiveness.
The supplements are gluten-free, non-GMO, and organic. The cordyceps also use ATP production to supply optimal oxygen to your brain. Therefore, athletes can use it to increase their endurance during physical exercise. The supplement isn’t a cure-all, but it does have detoxification qualities to help support your liver.
- Mycelium: 500mg
- Reishi: 500mg
- Lion’s mane: 500mg
The manufacturers decided to use coffee cherries to make this product. They claim that the coffee cherries are a tried and tested neurofactor that’s effective in helping you keep alert and focused enough to finish any project.
The fruit’s extract is also thought to be effective in increasing your brain neurotrophic factor and facilitating effective communication between your brain cells. All of that in combination with B12 will help fuel your learning and ensure that you’re focused enough to complete any task.
It’s important to note that this product contains soy.
- Vitamin B6: 1.7mg
- Folate: 680mcg
- Vitamin B12: 2.4mcg
- Coffee fruit extract: 200mg
- Phosphatidylserine: 100mg
This Huntington Labs product provides a way for you to keep your mind focused, reduce anxiety, and fight off fatigue caused by stress. This brain supplement comes in a bottle of either 60 capsules or 90. The capsules are fruit-flavored, and the green tea extract used in the capsules has been proven to help improve memory and cognitive performance.
The nootropic supplement, when taken gradually, can help you finish that tedious textbook or challenging game because of its proclaimed mind enhancement factor. The supplement also includes the strength of GABA, a blend of vitamins that will help keep your mind alert.
This brain supplement also contains bacopa monnieri. This effective nootropic produces bacosides and keeps your brain alert. Not to mention, green tea has proven calming qualities. You need only take two of capsules of this product to help keep you alert throughout the day.
- Proprietary blend (Bacopa monnieri, Green tea, GABA, DMAE, Fish oil): 642mg
- Vitamin A: 122mg
- Vitamin C: 125mg
- Vitamin D3: 3mcg
- Vitamin B6: 12mg
- Vitamin E: 14mg
- Folate: 667mcg
- Choline 50mg
- Magnesium: 50mg
- Zinc Oxide: 10mg
Do Nootropics Really Work?
Although these drugs, especially the natural ones, aren’t approved by the FDA , some of their ingredients have benefits backed by science. This is not to say that they should replace mainstream medicine, but they are appealing because in contrast to prescription medicines, they have little to no side effects.
Now, don’t expect a magic pill that’ll sort out all your problems! Think of these pills as brain food that is there to enhance your overall well-being by helping you handle day-to-day physical and mental stress.
Throughout this article, we have covered what nootropics are and their numerous benefits. There are many types of nootropics out there. Thanks to science, patients suffering from disorders affecting the nervous systems such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia may see improvement from supplementation with synthetic nootropics.
People with mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and stress, can also enjoy the benefits of both worlds by trying both the natural and synthetic nootropics specifically geared towards their condition.
Even though these dietary supplements are made of natural ingredients, it’s always best to consult with a physician before you start taking any new supplements.
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