I like to be in tip top form and that extends to my brain too. I’d like to think that a healthy diet, avoidance of alcohol, regular exercise and memory games do the trick, but sometimes I feel in need of an extra boost.
For that I use nootropic supplements, compounds that can enhance your cognitive abilities, improving concentration, learning, mood, memory, focus, and motivation.
It might be a lifestyle hack, but it’s one that the health fanatic in me can live with because I am very discerning about the substances that I put into my body.
Not all nootropics or commercially-made nootropic products are created equally and I made it my mission to identify the ones that work and the ones that don’t (or not as well). To examine the safety aspects and to compare natural nootropic supplements with their synthetically-made counterparts. I researched, investigated and tested, and share my results here with you on this blog.
I also have another deeper reason to investigate nootropics. Seeing a close family member struggling with Alzheimer’s brought home to me how fragile the human mind can be, and how cruel. It also made me worry – am I next? Thus began my obsession with cognitive abilities and nootropics. Yes, I am a nootropic geek.
Let’s discuss exactly what nootropics are.
The Definition of Nootropics
According to the man who first created the nootropics category all the way back in 1972, researcher C.E. Giurgea, nootropics are natural or synthetic substances that can protect and promote brain health. They boost various cognitive abilities (and resist conditions and injuries that threaten those abilities) AND are low in toxicity and side-effects.
The latter point is the crucial one. There are many stimulants on the market that promise to boost brain power or tackle memory loss, for instance, but some of them have potentially nasty side effects. These would not be nootropics.
Nootropics can be supplements, drugs, foods or nutraceuticals and each works in varying degrees of efficiency on different aspects of mental function.
There is no known risk of long-term addiction to nootropics, though you are always advised to consult a health professional before using them.
What Can Nootropics Do?
There’s no one-size-fits-all nootropic offering a solution to every potential cognitive issue. Some work well on memory, others clear brain fog, while others still help you maintain your cognitive abilities as you age. There are nootropics for motivation, stress, mood, attention span, reaction time and more.
Some of these are bundled together with other nootropics in ‘stacks’ that can work on more than one area at a time, but sorry to say that NONE of them can make you instantly cleverer or give you a higher IQ.
I know, if only it were that easy.
Science is beginning to prove, however, that certain nootropic drugs can treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and ADHD.
Nootropics are so popular because they can also boost the brain power of normal folk like you and me, hence their popularity with students and anyone who feels tired, rundown or in need of an edge in this hectic world of ours.
How do nootropics boost cognitive ability?
We’ll examine the science in-depth here, and it really is fascinating, but for now, let me summarise. In essence, nootropics boost our brain power by increasing or enhancing neurotransmitters in our brain, thus performing one or more forms of bio-activity.
Some nootropics, for instance, increase energy by increasing the neurotransmitter ATP; others increase acetylcholine function, another neurotransmitter responsible for higher cognition. Certain nootropics act as the raw material for maintaining or repairing existing brain cells. Nootropics also increase oxygen levels in the brain, helping to increase blood flow in the cerebrum.
Types of Nootropics
Nootropics essentially come in two different forms, or states – those that occur naturally, and those that are synthesised in a lab.
Natural Nootropic Supplements
Natural nootropics include substances made from naturally-occurring vitamins, herbs and minerals. Some of the best herbal nootropics include Gingko Biloba, Lion’s Mane, fish oil, and Huperzine-A.
Each of these ingredients has a specific role to play in boosting cognitive ability. Some substances may only perform one specific bio-activity, while others execute more than one. Some perform functions that support the brain instead.
Supplement manufacturers often combine these ingredients into stacks to improve results. The aim is to generate a well-rounded cognitive boost rather than focusing on one particular area of brain capacity.
If it works (and I’ll share my independent opinion on each ingredient or brand in the in-depth product review section), the end result is enhanced learning, improved memory and better focus. Natural nootropics tend to be very safe.
Synthetic Nootropic Drugs
Synthetic nootropics are made by scientists in a lab, such as the original nootropic, Piracetam, and others such as Noopept and Aniracetam.
By themselves, these drugs are considered safe enough to be classed as nootropics (a key characteristic of nootropic substances, remember, is that they must be low toxicity and have very few side-effects). However, they can carry some contraindications when taken with other medications or alcohol.
Piracetam, for instance, is known to enhance the effects of alcohol as well as the drugs Ritalin, Adderall and Modafinil.
Many nootropic drugs are also not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for nootropic use, although they might be approved for other purposes. Piracetam is only approved in the UK for the treatment of myoclonus, or involuntary jerking of muscles.
Opponents argue that there is little academic or scientific proof for many of the claims made by synthetic nootropic drugs.
Indeed, the FDA states that many scientific trials on the nootropic affects of Piracetam, for instance, are flawed and ‘lack scientific validity’, while those rigorous trials that have been done show results that ‘lack clinical significance’.
This blog will give you all the information you need on these substances in order to make your own informed decisions.