Nootropics are supplements, drugs, or functional foods, that enhance cognitive functions such as intelligence, memory, and focus.
Nootropics, colloquially referred to as “smart drugs,” have seen an influx of interest over the last several years as people search for ways to maximize their brain’s potential.
The word itself, coined by the Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea who synthesized the first nootropic piracetam over 50 years ago, is a combination of the Greek words nous (mind) and trepein (to bend or turn).
According to Dr. Giurgea’s definition, nootropics:
- Enhance learning and memory.
- Enhance the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them.
- Protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries.
- Increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms.
- Lack the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs (e.g. sedation, motor stimulation) and possess very few side effects and extremely low toxicity.
It should also be noted that piracetam (also known by trade name Nootropil), the first nootropic ever discovered, is still widely regarded as one of the best nootropics available, particularly a good choice for first-time users. However, since piracetam was first synthesized, several more nootropics have been synthesized meaning that today we now have a whole array of options to choose from when selecting nootropics.
While nootropics are not a miracle drugs that will turn an ordinary person into a genius overnight they are able to augment the power of the human brain, especially its capacity for memory and ability to learn, essentially making people smarter. You still need to work hard when learning however the improvement in your cognitive functions allow you to learn and retain information at an advanced rate.
Nootropics are also regarded for their ability to contribute to the brain’s overall long-term well-being. The brain and all of its functions are controlled by billions of neurotransmitters and receptors, and by modulating their behavior can result in improved brain function. In addition to providing enhanced learning ability, the improved responses of neurotransmitters means greater resistance to the normal cognitive decline that comes with aging as well as to cognitive disorders such as amnesia and dementia.
Some nootropics work by increasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the brain or by increasing the brain’s acetylcholine levels, the neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for the brain’s memory, learning, and mood functions.
Other nootropics, such as Lion’s Mane can even stimulate the production of Nerve Growth Factor wherein protein synthesis results in the growth of brain cells, particularly in the cells’ dendrites that make the communication of impulses possible throughout the central nervous system. Dendritic growth means faster communication, which in turn translates into improved learning and memory. It must be noted that some nootropics must be taken for days or weeks for its beneficial effects to kick in.
Nootropics are generally categorized into three main groups: racetams, stimulants, and nutraceuticals. Each nootropic group has a specific set of functions that contribute to preserving and improving the brain’s capability and health.
- Racetams – Racetams affect the acetylcholine in the brain and therefore also affect memory, mood, mental agility, and focus. The benefits of the use of racetams include increased memory capacity, enhanced mental clarity, greater concentration, increased calmness, better recall of ideas whether factual or hypothetical, and quicker recognition of patterns and distinctions in data. Racetams reportedly allow both analytical and creative work to be performed simultaneously as is the case with answering rather lengthy essays that require facts and careful positioning of those facts to properly bring across a message.
- Stimulants – Whereas racetams augment the brain’s ability to gather many ideas and to understand them, stimulants increase attention and alertness which make concentration easier. Stimulants also make the brain more tolerant to stress by increasing energy levels, blood pressure, and heart and respiration rates, but the effects are longer-lasting compared to those of cognitive enhancers.
- Nutraceuticals – Nutraceuticals are simply food or food products whose content combines some of the effects of both racetams and stimulants but only to a limited extent. These are safe to consume frequently as are racetams and stimulants, but the effects are much less pronounced. While already proven effective in preserving and improving brain activity, these may also be used as supplementary means of treatment in the case of more severe mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
It is possible also possible to combine different nootropics, known as “stacking,” resulting in a powerful synergistic effect where the individual components of the stack produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects.
If you’re a student facing difficulty in exams, a working professional looking for that extra edge, and an older person that wants to continue enjoying the mental agility of a young mind, nootropics may be the answer you’re looking for.
Planning to start a new supplementation regimen? See our medical disclaimer.