Over the past decade, a subset of supplements known as nootropics have seen substantial grown in popularity. They’re used by students to boost their learning, entrepreneurs to push harder in the early stages of an innovative startup, and artists looking to sharpen their creative process.
Despite the growth in popularity, there are still many people who are unsure about what nootropics bring to the table, and how they can get started exploring this exciting class of supplements.
The First Nootropic Ever Discovered
The word nootropic was coined back in 1964 by a man named Dr. Giurgea. He combined the latin word “nous”, which means mind, and “trepein”, meaning to bend. Nootropics essentially means “to bend the mind” or “bendable mind”.
His theory was that the human brain is constantly changing and expanding. Nootropics were a class of substances that he believed could change the structure of the brain, allowing it to perform better than it ever has before.
Dr. Giurgea began researching nootropics after he accidentally discovered the world's first official nootropic substance known as piracetam.
Despite being the first ever discovered, piracetam and its relatives remain widely popular to this day!
Since this discovery, there have been many other substances that can be classified as a nootropics as well as many herbs and nutritional substances.
In a very basic sense, a nootropic is anything that can improve the normal functioning of the brain and nerve function. This can be achieved in many different ways and there are no specific mechanisms for nootropics to have in order to be effective.
The Benefits Of Nootropics
Nootropics offer a range of benefits depending on the user. Some nootropics are sedating, while others are stimulating. They can improve work performance, concentration, and memory. Other nootropics are useful for reducing anxiety, insomnia, and the sensation of stress.
Some of the main benefits of nootropics include:
- Improved memory and concentration
- Better mental endurance when working on long, challenging tasks
- Improved mental energy
- Better sleep (both falling asleep & staying asleep)
- Faster reaction times
- Reduced chances of developing age-related cognitive dysfunctions
How Nootropics Work
Nootropics can work through a variety of different ways depending on the substances used.
1. Improving the nutritional status of the brain cells
The brain is a complex organ, with high energy and nutritional demands. In fact, the brain accounts for roughly 20% of your daily energy usage alone.
If the high demands of the brain aren’t met effectively, it won’t be able to function optimally. This is often what’s going on after periods of prolonged stress, or exertion.
The complex process involved with nerve transmission become slow and inefficient, making us feel tired and foggy. Our ability to make wise decisions decreases, and we succumb to our emotions more easily.
Examples of some of the most common nutritional nootropics includes:
- Alpha GPC
2. Increasing neurotransmitter function
Neurotransmitters are hormone-like molecules found in the brain that are used to transmit messages to different areas. We use separate neurotransmitters to send different kinds of messages throughout the brain.
For example, when we’re excited, our brains use the neurotransmitter glutamate to send stimulating signals, causing us to feel awake, and energised. Conversely, when it’s time to go to sleep, the brain uses the neurotransmitter GABA to slow down the neurons, causing us to feel tired.
By promoting certain neurotransmitter function over another with nootropics, we can realistically achieve specific effects.
Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter nootropics that improve memory tend to target. This neurotransmitter is used to send information to and from the brain to the rest of the body. It plays a crucial role in the process of learning and imagination. By promoting the function of this neurotransmitter, either by stimulating its release, or preventing its breakdown, we can elicit specific changes to our cognitive performance.
Other nootropic target different neurotransmitters, giving them unique benefits and effects.
Some common examples of nootropics that increase neurotransmitter function includes:
- Racetams (acetylcholine)
- L-Theanine (GABA)
- Alpha GPC (Acetylcholine)
- L-Tyrosine (Dopamine)
- 5-HTP (Serotonin)
- Passionflower (Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine)
3. Reducing oxidative free radical damage in the brain
One of the main causes of brain fog and neurological degeneration is oxidative stress. This happens when unstable molecules enter the brain and begin breaking down neurons and other structures.
Free radicals can come from our diet, the environment, and even as a normal byproduct from our cells. Nootropics that can pass the blood brain barrier and work eliminate these free radicals can go a long way in protecting the brain from cognitive decline. This class of compound is also commonly referred to as antioxidants. In order to also classify as a nootropic for this purpose however, these substances need to have a special affinity for the brain.
This type of nootropic isn’t commonly used to boost brain power like other types of nootropics, however, they are especially useful for protecting the brain with long term use.
Examples of antioxidant nootropics includes:
- Ashwagandha KSM-66
Natural vs Synthetic Nootropics
Although the first substance to classify was synthetic (piracetam), there are also plenty of natural nootropic substances available.
Synthetic nootropics are made in a lab, and are almost always a single compound. These nootropics tend to have the strongest effects, but with them, the most side effects as well.
Some common synthetic nootropics includes:
Naturally occurring nootropics are common in many plants found all over the world. In some cases, a specific compound has been identified as the main ingredient in these plants towards these effects.
In some cases these specific compounds are isolated and supplied on their own (such as L-theanine from the tea plant), or modified slightly in a lab (such as vinpocetine from the alkaloid vincamine found in the periwinkle plant).
In many cases, the entire plant is used (such as bacopa or rhodiola).
These whole plant extracts can be further broken down into either standardised, or non-standardised extracts. A standardised extract is an extract with a guaranteed amount of a specific ingredient. A good example of this is Ashwagandha KSM-66. This extract is made from the Ayurvedic herb known as ashwagandha, but is standardised to contain over 5% withanolide content, which is considered to be one of the main active constituents in the plant in terms of cognitive function.
Where To Buy Nootropics
A wide range of Nootropics can be bought from our product page here.