Nootropics are a broad term for compounds that are known to enhance mental performance and positively affect memory, focus, concentration, attention, reasoning, intelligence and motivation. These supplements, drugs or functional foods are categorized into different types or classes and can either be man-made or naturally occurring.
Some of these classes of cognitive enhancers have been around for decades while some have just come out within the last few years.
The best way to choose which Nootropic will suit your needs is by determining what result you would like to achieve and matching a Nootropic within these categories that may address it.
Nootropic types include Racetams, Cholines, Natural Nootropics, Vitamin B derivatives, Peptides, Ampakines and “Smart Drugs”.
Some Nootropics can overlap into different types but the benefits and effects of each Nootropic are unique and in some cases, they can be taken in Nootropic stacks or combined with other Nootropics or supplements in different categories to achieve optimal results.
Here is a guide to the seven different types of Nootropics and what they do in order to help you choose which one may be best for you.
Racetams are a synthetic class of Nootropics and the most widely used to date. The first Nootropic ever synthesized was Piracetam, which falls into this category. There are quite a few other types of Racetams but the most common include Piracetam, Aniracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam and Phenylpiracetam.
Additionally, the powerful Noopept is worth mentioning. It has a different chemical structure to a Racetam (see peptides) but is often “considered” a member of this class of Nootropics since it works very similarly to Piracetam.
Racetams share a similar chemical structure called a pyrrolidone nucleus. Since the birth of Piracetam over 50 years ago, there are now these different unique derivatives that have slight structural differences, potencies, strengths and dosages which also allows for differences in resulting effects.
This class of cognitive enhancers are generally known for boosting memory, learning, focus, mood and energy. Most Racetams generally work by stimulating receptors for the important neurotransmitter Acetylcholine (ACh), a neurochemical that sends signals across synapses and is involved in memory, attention, logical thinking and many other vital cognitive functions. They can also fall under the Ampakine class of Nootropics, due to additionally stimulating glutamic receptor activity.
Racetams are also known to have neuroprotective properties. They encourage the speed of brain cell regrowth and decrease the rate of cell death and deterioration.
Natural or Herbal Nootropic supplements are derived from plant-based substances or natural plant extracts that have shown to improve the health of the brain and its abilities.
Some of these substances that are now known as Natural Nootropic supplements, can even be traced back hundreds of centuries used in ancient Chinese traditional medicine and in India’s traditional Ayurveda medicine where they were used with the intention to improve and protect the brain.
People who are interested in the idea of Nootropics but would prefer naturals will have some great, powerful options to choose from to help boost mental performance and elevate mood. Some of the most notable Natural Nootropics are Ginkgo Biloba, Huperzine-A, Vinpocetine and Bacopa Monnieri.
Natural Nootropics tend to be very safe but are less effective than synthetics. To improve the resulting effects, these compounds can be taken in combination, known as Nootropic stacks.
Choline is a water-soluble nutrient, related to the vitamin B group. It is found naturally in our bodies but deficiencies are very common. It is vital to cognition, nerve function and critical to the synthesis of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, its chief method of action in relation to Nootropics which plays an important role in mood, memory, learning, focus and many other cognitive functions.
While taking Nootropic cholines on their own have many associated brain-boosting benefits such as increased mental energy levels, enhanced memory, more clarity and alertness, they are often stacked or taken in combination with other Nootropics, especially those in the Racetam family.
Racetams stimulate acetylcholine receptors to encourage cognitive enhancement while supplementing choline ensures that you are provided your brain with the choline it needs to synthesize Acetylcholine and raise its availability.
Some are considered more effective than others in their ability to convert into Acetylcholine efficiently. Alpha GPC, Citicoline (also known as CDP Choline) and Centrophenoxine are all acetylcholine intermediates and some which are considered excellent sources of choline for Nootropic use.
Vitamin B Derivatives
There is a limited amount of synthetic Nootropics that fall under this class which is made from the modification of B Vitamins but nonetheless important.
Sulbutiamine is an example of this type of Nootropic which is a derivative of vitamin B1 or what is known as Thiamine which plays an important role in energy metabolism, the maintenance of brain function and mood.
Sulbutiamine was originally synthesized by Japanese scientists to help overcome a health crisis in the population at the time due to large consumptions of rice in their diet that left them deficient in nutrients, one being thiamine and was used as a treatment for fatigue and low energy levels. In studies, this compound has also shown to improve memory function by affecting choline, Dopamine and Glutamate.
There are many different peptide Nootropics on the market although they don’t share in how they are administered which is why Noopept (N-phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester) or GVS-111 which is taken orally is so popular and is even considered to be the best performing peptide Nootropic available.
Noopept is highly bioavailable and very effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier. It has a similar action to the Racetam class of compounds but is considered 1000 times more potent than the first Nootropic ever synthesized, Piracetam and could definitely fall into the old adage “less is more” to achieve considerable results.
It works by stimulating AMPA and NDMA receptors that encourage the release of Glutamate and modulates Acetylcholine transmission. Noopept also increases NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) a protein vital to the growth and maintenance of neurons and nerve cells.
All these factors promote enhanced mental performance and mood with positive effects on memory, learning, energy, alertness, logical thinking and motivation.
Ampakines are known to be some of the strongest Nootropics but are a newer type in comparison to others. They get their name from acting as positive allosteric modulators of AMPA receptors but they are also NMDA receptor agonists, meaning they enhance the actions of Glutamate.
Glutamate is a powerful neurotransmitter playing an important role in the processes of memory, learning and is also considered crucial to brain functions at normal levels.
Ampakines are believed to increase alertness and heighten attention span and can have stimulant and Nootropic effects but unlike stimulants such as caffeine, they don’t result in the same associated side effects.
Popular Ampakine Nootropics are Sunifiram and Unifiram but they lack research into their long-term effects. Racetams such as Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, Aniracetam and Piracetam are all considered weak Ampakine Nootropics and might be a better option to consider for stimulating glutamatergic receptors.
The usage of the term “smart drugs” can refer to different products since its definition is any drug or a substance that may enhance cognitive functions which is also why it can often be confused with Nootropics.
While there are many Nootropic drugs, “smart drugs” is also a term used to refer to stimulants or amphetamines which do not qualify as Nootropics such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse, prescription drugs that are used to treat cognitive conditions such as ADHD.
However, eugeroic drugs which act somewhat like stimulants with low addictive potential and few if any adverse effects like Modafinil borders a Nootropic.
It is a prescription drug used to promote wakefulness and alertness by increasing the level of the neurotransmitter hypocretin “orexin” as well as influencing levels of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and focus.
Modafinil is highly regulated which is why many people often choose to take Adrafinil instead, an unregulated wakefulness-promoting agent that converts into Modafinil in the body and sometimes used to promote enhanced concentration in people with ADHD.
Adrafinil may not be right for everyone and it is not recommended for people with heart problems or those taking medications so it is advised to consult with your doctor first before taking it.
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