Want a better memory? Greater ability to focus? Improved mental agility? More energy? Enhanced mood and creativity?
Of course! All of us could benefit from having a more alert, happy, and healthy mind. And that’s why so many people are giving nootropics, a newly-defined class of substances that work to support cognitive functioning, a try.
Nootropics are chemicals that have a positive influence on the brain. They assist neurotransmitters in carrying messages to our more than 1 billion neurons faster and more effectively. Specific nootropics affect specific neural pathways, which in turn engage the corresponding neurotransmitters. And voila! better brain function.
Nootropics are sometimes called smart drugs, brain boosters, or cognitive
enhancers. Tech whizzes in the Silicon Valley have been buzzing about them in recent years—those guys make a living being brilliant, so they need clear minds at all times. But these days, the trend has caught on with all sorts of people in a variety of professions. Basically anyone who wants to improve their mind is a candidate for trying nootropics.
Fun fact: Nootropics aren’t new at all. The term itself was invented in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist named Corneliu E. Giurgea. It comes from the Greek words meaning “mind” and “bend” or “turn.” So nootropics are mind benders—in a good way!
What’s more, the use of nootropics goes back to well before the 1970s. Some of the compounds have been part of other cultures for centuries, such as their use in Ayurvedic traditions. The proven properties of nootropics have benefited the brain throughout history. Cool!
But What Are They, Actually?
There are three classes of nootropics: Botanicals, traditional brain boosters, and pharmaceuticals.
The botanicals, of course, are the ones that have been around for quite some time. For example, bacopa is an herb that is used as a stress-reliever, memory-improver and aid in multi-tasking. It works to stimulate serotonin and dopamine, two feel-good chemicals in the brain. Ashwaganda is another herb that helps with stress but also targets strength and endurance. Both herbal remedies have an Ayurvedic tradition.
Rhodiola, also known as golden root, is a plant used to enhance mood and energy while relieving stress. It’s found in artic regions of Asia and Europe. It has been used as a medicine dating back to 77A.D. Tumeric, a spice, is also said to have nootropic properties.
Traditional nootropics include caffeine and L-theanine. Caffeine is a stimulant—which most of us know from having a cup of coffee in the morning to get going—so clearly it is an energy booster. But it’s also been proven to reduce inflammation, improve memory, reaction time and logical thinking. Go ahead, grab another cup of Joe!
L-theanine is found in green tea leaves, and it reduces stress and relaxes the mind without any drowsiness. Many nootropic users combine caffeine with L-theanine because the two compounds work on different parts of the brain and complement each other so well.
Pharmaceutic nootropics are available only by prescription and only when needed to address cognitive issues such as ADHD. Ritalin, Adderall, the racetam family of compounds, and modafinil all fall into this category. You should never take these unless prescribed by a doctor. (And also because so many natural nootropic compounds have similar brain benefits without the worrisome side effects drugs can have.)
Where Do I Start?
Convinced it’s time try a nootropic? Start by defining what specifically you want to impact. Is it mood? Stress? Executive functioning?
Next, research to find out which compounds will best stimulate the appropriate neurotransmitters to get the results you want. There’s a wealth of articles on the subject.
Once you’ve determined your target ingredients, check to make sure your choice won’t effect any other medications you’re currently taking and that you are not allergic to anything in it. The, check out the plethora of products out there. Nootropics come in the form of supplement pills or powders as well as foods and beverages. Which work best for your lifestyle?
Finally, try whatever you’ve honed in on and see how your body reacts. More advanced users do combine the different nootropic products for maximum impact, but it’s good to take baby steps at first. The only way to know what works best for you is to do a trial using just one product at a time.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Ready to give it a go? Start your brain’s engine! Pretty soon you be a nootropic newbie no more.