Brain fog, forgetfulness, lack of focus…we’ve all struggled with it occasionally.
If you’re interested in maximizing your brainpower, nootropics (aka “smart drugs”) are your answer.
Maybe you’ve heard about them from the movie with Bradley Cooper called “Limitless”. That is an exaggerated example of nootropics’ abilities but it does set the high expectations for what nootropics are capable of. Believe it or not, a high percentage of you reading this have already had a dose of a nootropic today. If you’ve had coffee, tea or soda then that caffeine you consumed is actually a nootropic. Though, there are plenty of others.
Nootropics were developed in the 1960s by Corneliu E. Giurgea. The Romanian chemist coined the term “nootropic” from Greek words meaning “mind” and “to bend or turn”. He wanted to create safer alternatives for amphetamine derivatives such as Adderall that were being used to treat ADHD.
Nootropics work by increasing the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow messages to be passed between neurons (brain cells). This means they increase levels of dopamine (excitatory), acetylcholine (excitatory), serotonin (modulatory), norepinephrine (excitatory), histamine (modulatory), glutamate (excitatory) and GABA (inhibitory).
The number of nootropics available on the market has increased significantly. As a result, it’s easy to find a nootropic that works well with people’s unique physiology and needs.
ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine) is an amino acid that helps produce energy and improves memory, focus and overall cognitive function. It also protects against age-related cognitive decline and improve symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.(1)
Alpha GPC (Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine) is a natural compound found in the brain that boosts the production of acetylcholine. Alpha-GPC is a naturally-occurring choline. Cholines are a class of molecules that play a major part in brain function in the areas associated with memory, concentration and triggering muscle contraction. It may also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression and ADHD.(2)
Rhodiola is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress. It improves mental and physical performance and reduce fatigue. It may also help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve athletic performance and aid in weight management. Rhodiola is a remedy for people who are stressed and fatigued from work that requires a heavy mental effort, specifically in alertness, memory and advanced concentration.(3)
Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine that reduces stress and improves cognitive function. It is also an adaptogen. Studies have found it can improve memory and reduce anxiety and depression. Ashwagandha also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as improve male fertility and testosterone levels.(4)
Lion’s Mane is a mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine that improves memory and cognitive function and protects against age-related cognitive decline. Lion’s Mane may also help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, boost nerve growth and reduce inflammation.(5)
Methylcobalamin (B12) is an essential vitamin for red blood cell production, nervous system function, and DNA metabolism. It improves cognitive function and overall well-being. B12 deficiency is common among vegetarians and vegans and the elderly. Supplementation can help prevent deficiencies.(6)
TeaCrine is a compound found in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It improves mental and physical performance and reduces fatigue. Teacrine may also boost mood, reduce stress and enhance cardiovascular health.(7)
Dynamine is structurally similar to caffeine and increases mental and physical performance, reduces fatigue, and improves overall well-being. However, it has smoother, less jittery effect on the body and mind, making it a popular choice among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.(8)
C8 MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) are found in coconut oil and improve cognitive function and protect against age-related cognitive decline. MCTs are rapidly metabolized by the liver and converted into ketones (alternative energy source for the brain).(9)
L-theanine + Caffeine: This is probably the most common stack, as L-theanine tends to balance out the less desirable effects of caffeine (e.g., nervousness, anxiety and heart rate). The result is usually a calmer sense of heightened energy and focus.
Racetam + Choline: These are combined because the racetams (e.g., piracetam, aniracetam, phenylpiracetam and noopept) affect choline and acetylcholine use in your brain. In general, racetams inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine (an excitatory neurotransmitter), of which choline is a building block.
TeaCrine + Dynamine: These two methylxanthines, which come from the same family as caffeine and theobromine, have become popular with energy and nootropic stacks. They each have different half-lives (meaning how long they stay in the body and have an effect). Stacking caffeine with these two can work well. TeaCrine and Dynamine do not have the adaptation effect of caffeine, which doesn’t work as well with chronic use. Additionally, studies also show they have fewer side effects (like sleep disturbance). Both also stack well with a choline source.
Nootropics may be beneficial for many people looking to boost their cognitive function and overall well-being. Please use nootropics with caution and consult your healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen. Additionally, It’s important to note that nootropics are not a replacement for a healthy diet, regular exercise and good sleep. Use these supplements to complement to a healthy lifestyle.
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1. G;, Traina. “The Neurobiology of Acetyl-l-Carnitine.” Frontiers in Bioscience (Landmark Edition), U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27100509/.
2. Defina, Philip A, et al. “Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical and Research Update for Health Care Practitioners.” Journal of Aging Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3776389/.
3. Darbinyan V;Kteyan A;Panossian A;Gabrielian E;Wikman G;Wagner H; “Rhodiola Rosea in Stress Induced Fatigue–a Double Blind Cross-over Study of a Standardized Extract SHR-5 with a Repeated Low-Dose Regimen on the Mental Performance of Healthy Physicians during Night Duty.” Phytomedicine : International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11081987/.
4. Wankhede S;Langade D;Joshi K;Sinha SR;Bhattacharyya S; “Examining the Effect of Withania Somnifera Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Recovery: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26609282/.
5. Julson, Erica. “9 Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom (plus Side Effects).” Healthline, Healthline Media, 19 May 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lions-mane-mushroom.
6. Health Quality Ontario. “Vitamin B12 and Cognitive Function: An Evidence-Based Analysis.” Ontario Health Technology Assessment Series, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Nov. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874776/.
7. Qiao H;Ye X;Bai X;He J;Li T;Zhang J;Zhang W;Xu J; “Theacrine: A Purine Alkaloid from Camellia Assamica Var. Kucha with a Hypnotic Property via the Adenosine System.” Neuroscience Letters, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28864241/.
8. VanDusseldorp, Trisha A, et al. “Safety of Short-Term Supplementation with Methylliberine (Dynamine®) Alone and in Combination with Teacrine® in Young Adults.” Nutrients, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Feb. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7146520/.
9. MS, Sharon O’Brien. “7 Science-Based Benefits of MCT Oil.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 Nov. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mct-oil-benefits.