What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics cover a broad category of compounds with ‘cognitive boosting properties’. They can help increase your memory, boost learning ability, improve your mood and assist overall brain function. Also referred to as neuro-enhancers, cognitive boosters, or memory enhancers.
Some state that nootropics can be natural or synthetic, others argue nootropics are always ‘natural’ and synthetic versions should be termed ‘smart drugs’.
Dr. Giurgea (the pioneer of nootropic research) has discussed a list of five criteria that a substance must have to be considered a ‘true’ nootropic:
- Enhances memory and the ability to learn
- Assists brain function under disruptive conditions such as lack of oxygen and electroconvulsive shock
- Protects the brain from chemical and physical toxins like anticholinergic drugs and barbiturates
- Increases natural cognitive processes
- Must be non-toxic to humans, nor stimulate or depress the brain
What’s The Best Nootropic?
Well to answer this question requires asking additional questions, such as: What are you trying to improve? It also requires appreciating what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another person, and thus some trial and error is needed. David Tomen from nootropicsexpert.com breaks nootropics into different categories:
- Best Nootropics for Learning & Memory: DHA, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Pine Bark Extract, PQQ, Vitamins B1, B9 and B12
- Best Nootropics for Depression: Lion’s Mane, Magnesium, NAC, Rhodiola, SAMe, Gingko
- Best Nootropics for Social Anxiety: Magnesium, St. John’s Wart, DHA, Ashwagandha, Lemon Balm, L-theanine
- Hacking Motivation with Nootropics: Resveratrol, Rhodiola
- Hack Your Flow State with Nootropics: Rhodiola, L-theanine, B vitamins, Gingko
Let’s have a quick look at some of these in more detail.
One study concluded that Gingko “has potentially beneficial effects for people with dementia when it is administered at doses greater than 200mg/day for at least 5 months.”
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L-theanine has been historically reported as a relaxing agent, prompting scientific research on its pharmacology. Animal neurochemistry studies suggest that L-theanine increases brain serotonin, dopamine, GABA levels. In addition, it has been shown to exert neuroprotective effects in animal models.
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A great paper published in Nutrition concluded:
“Phosphatidylserine is required for healthy nerve cell membranes and myelin. Aging of the human brain is associated with biochemical alterations and structural deterioration that impair neurotransmission. Exogenous PS (300-800 mg/d) is absorbed efficiently in humans, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and safely slows, halts, or reverses biochemical alterations and structural deterioration in nerve cells. It supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information, the ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to reason and solve problems, language skills, and the ability to communicate. It also supports locomotor functions, especially rapid reactions and reflexes.”
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Lion’s mane mushroom, has been shown to have various health benefits, including antioxidative, antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihyperglycemic, and hypolipidemic effects. It has been used to treat cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
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A plethora of studies report that R. rosea has potent neuroprotective effects through the suppression of oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and excitotoxicity in brain tissues.
Recommended Product: Rhodiola by Viridian.
Ashwagandha is used in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) for general debility, consumption, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and loss of memory. In this review, the authors summarise various effects and mechanisms of Ashwagandha on in vitro and in vivo models of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injury.
Ashwagandha, also called “Queen of Ayurveda”
This review concludes “the results of recent studies on Ashwagandha suggesting its extensive potential as neuroprotective in various brain disorders as supported by preclinical studies, clinical trials and published patents.”
This study discusses Ashwagandha as a nootropic. It concluded “The effects of Ashwagandha leaf extracts are multidimensional ranging from differentiation of neuroblastoma and glioma cells, reversal of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s pathologies, protection against environmental neurotoxins and enhancement of memory.”
Recommended Product: Ashwaganda Supreme by Supreme Nutrition. You will need to register at Amrita to order this.
It has been reported to inhibit glutamate decarboxylase activity and protect against NMDA receptor-mediated neurotoxicity in the brain. Furthermore, it increases nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis in mouse astroglial cells, but has to be bound to glycine to penetrate and exert this effect in whole brain.
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But let’s not forget some more common nootropic substances:
- Green tea: L-theanine is a major amino acid uniquely found in green tea. L-theanine has been historically reported as a relaxing agent..
- Caffeine: Caffeine has been reported to prevent cognitive decline in healthy subjects. A study looking at the ‘Effects of Caffeine, Sleep Loss, and Stress on Cognitive Performance and Mood During U.S. Navy SEAL Training’ concluded “Even in the most adverse circumstances, moderate doses of caffeine can improve cognitive function, including vigilance, learning, memory, and mood state. When cognitive performance is critical and must be maintained during exposure to severe stress, administration of caffeine may provide a significant advantage. A dose of 200 mg appears to be optimal under such conditions.”
- Nicotine: Dave Asprey has a great blog on nicotine and discusses how “it gives you faster, more precise motor function, more controlled and fluent handwriting, sharpens your short-term memory, makes you more vigilant, able to pay attention to a mentally tiring task longer than controls could”.
There are also supplements that bundle numerous nootropics together for our convenience such as Qualia. This blend is a “shotgun” approach, providing over forty-two different ingredients, including a host of herbal adaptogens, brain vitamins, amino acids, choline donors, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants too long to list here.
David Tomen, during my interview with him, on The Alex Manos Podcast stated that these supplements that bundle numerous nootropics together are better for the experienced person who knows which nutrients/compounds work best for him/her. He strongly recommends trying one nootropic at a time so you can learn and understand which are needed at this point in time.
Psilocybin, the active constituent in magic mushrooms, primarily interacts with the serotonin receptors in the brain and has been used in therapeutic settings to treat disorders such as headaches, anxiety, depression, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
The Third Wave website, you can find a host of valuable information on best practices and an entire instructional course on microdosing.
See my blog post ‘microdosing psychedelics: what, why, when, how‘ for more info.
Are Nootropics Safe?
The nootropics discussed in this blog all have evidence behind them, and are generally safe to take , when at the correct dose and with any contraindications taken in to consideration. I do recommend working with a practitioner and receiving professional advice before supplementing however – especially if you have a diagnosed condition, or/and, are on any medications.
Are Nootropics Legal In The UK?
Psychedelics are illegal in the UK and have been mentioned for educational purposes only.
The other products are all legal and easily accessible. I cannot stress enough the importance of using the best quality products you can afford.
- My episode with David Tomen on The Alex Manos Podcast.