Nootropics, sometimes called “smart drugs” is a broad term referring to any type of cognitive enhancing supplements, drugs or food sources that are used by individuals to enhance mental performance and mood such as memory, attention span, focus, concentration, and motivation.
The word “Nootropic” is derived from the Greek words “nous” meaning mind and “trepein” meaning to bend or turn which was coined by psychopharmacologist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, who in 1963 invented the first and today one of the most popular Nootropic supplements, Piracetam (also known as Nootropil).
Over 50 years ago Dr. Giurgea said: “Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain” and that set forth a massively popular and growing set of available compounds both man-made and natural called Nootropics to help enhance cognitive performance, mood and promote brain health.
The original characteristics that should define a Nootropic were than set by Dr. Giurgea which included;
1) Able to enhance memory and learning
2) Improve the resistance to learned behaviors and memories that circumstances may disrupt
3) Protect the brain from potential chemical and physical injuries
4) Boost the productivity of the cortical/subcortical control mechanisms (increase the effectiveness of neuronal firing)
5) Should possess extremely low toxicity with very minimal side effects (lack pharmacology of typical psychotropic drugs)
Once the general mechanisms of action of Piracetam, a well-studied Nootropic were established, other Racetams sharing a similar chemical structure were synthesized with their own unique effects, which today are considered the most widely popular family of Nootropics.
Some Nootropics are naturally occurring compounds while others are made in a lab
While there are many powerful cognitive enhancers or synthetically produced Nootropics (made in a lab) that are considered safe when used appropriately, they are not the only types of Nootropics to choose from since there are also many effective Natural or Herbal nootropics available to help improve brain functions.
The use of plant matter as herbal remedies to influence positive effects on brain function is not new and in fact has been around since the dawn of time. Today, modern science has validated many of the beneficial cognitive effects associated with these herbs that were long ago suspected.
Although there are many Nootropics to choose from, they do share similar mechanisms of action. Some work by promoting healthy brain cells while others may help to enhance the communication between neurons or encourage balanced levels and improved responses of neurotransmitters that are highly involved in the brains memory, learning and mood functions, which may also mean a greater defense against normal cognitive decline due to aging.
While Nootropic supplements are not “cognitive miracle workers” they do tend to modulate and influence various chemicals and systems in the brain, may boost energy metabolism in the neurons, support neural plasticity and may even stimulate neurogenesis which are all involved in the processes of facilitating cognition, mental clarity, decision making, reasoning, mental alertness, focus, memory, learning capacity and the health of the brain.
This article will serve as a guide on the basics of Nootropics and provide an overview of how they work, what they are most commonly used for and list some of the most popular ones.
How do Nootropics Work?
Although the effectiveness of many Nootropics is generally quite clear, they are not instantaneous IQ boosters but may optimize brain functions and boost brainpower by acting to increase production and signaling of chemical messengers in the brain known as neurotransmitters.
The human brain is a massive control center thought to contain an estimated 86 billion neurons that transmit information from one to another through chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters across synapses or gaps that permit neurons to pass signals and bind to receptors in accordance with the message that is sent.
These systems between neurotransmitters and receptors are what many Nootropics aim to target while regarded to additionally serve as neuroprotective agents that may contribute to the long-term well-being of the brain.
When these chemical messengers are able to send signals more competently or when the number of neurons and synapses increases, it can result in enhanced memory, cognition, learning capacity, an elevation in mood and improvements in concentration, attention span, focus and the ability to process information.
Other Nootropics work by increasing oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain, supplying the brain with more fuel to produce energy. The brain uses more of our entire daily energy supply than any other organ, constantly maintaining neurons and processing information while depleting reserves. Thinking, concentrating, learning intensely for long periods of time and even staying alert can burn up a lot of this energy.
By using Nootropics known to boost energy supply to brain cells like Vinpocetine, Caffeine, Ginkgo Biloba or Acetyl-L-Carnitine, you may reduce some of the symptoms like states of brain fog, mental fatigue, and cognitive deficits which have all been linked to low cerebral uptake of oxygen and nutrients.
Other Nootropics like Lion’s Mane Mushroom even stimulate the production of NGF (nerve growth factor) which encourages protein synthesis that can result in the growth of dendrites in brain cells, over time, this promotes faster communication which may, in turn, equate to improvements in learning capacity and memory functions.
What Are Nootropics Used For?
What do Nootropics do? Nootropics or brain supplements are generally used to enhance cognitive abilities and to boost intellectual power such as executive functions, memory formation and recall, focus, creative thinking, logical reasoning, concentration, learning capacity or lengthening attention span.
Some individuals use these types of supplements to balance mood, boost motivation, mental stamina, for symptoms of anxiety, depression, composure under high stress and as sleep aids.
There are many options available and a wide variety of Nootropic supplements and drugs to choose from classified under seven different types.
The effects, timing and targeted result can vary from person to person. Individuals have their own unique body chemistry and some may notice huge positive changes in certain cognitive abilities, mood or even overall mental performance while others may experience more subtle effects.
It must be noted that some Nootropics can take days or weeks to experience their full beneficial effects while others are faster acting such as Noopept, Phenylpiracetam or Coluracetam which is why it is important to do your research prior to taking these supplements to ensure they may be right for you.
While Nootropics are sometimes used simply to help defend against cognitive decline due to aging, there is also continuing research into the use of Nootropics to potentially treat many diseases like Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, ADHD and other issues.
List Of Popular Nootropics
Here is some of the most popular Nootropic supplements, each having their own unique Nootropic effects and mechanisms of action. Nootropics can be taken on their own or combined together in what is known as a Nootropic stack in order to create a synergistic effect, leading to a more powerful or enhanced result than one supplement may produce on its own.
There are also many pre-formulated Nootropic stacks you can buy that already combine several naturals, herbals or synthetic compounds together or you can create your own by purchasing bulk powder and capsules and mixing your own formula. It is important to note if you are buying bulk powders to always check for the “certificate of analysis” which contains a purity score of the ingredient.
Racetams are a class of widely used synthetic Nootropics which includes Aniracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, Piracetam and others that share a similar chemical structure but have their own unique effects and potency. These cognitive enhancers work by significantly increasing the levels of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that are important for brain function such as Acetylcholine and Glutamate.
They have been tested for positive effects on cognitive function, heightening the communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and impeding the damaging effects of alcohol consumption and other factors.
Choline supplements can be taken on their own but are commonly used in many Nootropic stacks, especially in combination with Racetams for a synergistic effect.
Choline is required by neurons to synthesize Acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that is believed to be involved in many cognitive functions like memory, focus, attention control and learning. It has also been linked to better health and maintenance of cell membranes of neurons and nerve cells.
Noopept is a popular and inexpensive derivative member of the Racetam family and considered to be one of the most powerful and fast acting Nootropics available. It has received much attention for its related benefits on cognition, memory, learning capacity, focus, concentration and mental energy. It is also regarded for its high neuroprotective properties that have been demonstrated in several studies.
Noopept helps to inhibit the breakdown of an important neurotransmitter, has a positive effect on increasing communication between the two hemispheres of the brain and thought to help increase the amount of oxygen within the brain enhancing glucose metabolism, the brains main source of energy.
Vinpocetine is a biosynthetic alkaloid derived from vincamine extract found in the periwinkle plant. It is considered one of the most effective Nootropics for increasing blood flow to the brain by dilating blood vessels and allowing the brain to receive more nutrients and materials it needs to function optimally.
This can lead to immediate and noticeable effects, where you experience greater clarity of thought, mental fluidity, enhanced concentration, more energy and motivation.
There are many different Nootropics to choose from beyond this list that may help you enhance brain function and assist in giving your mind a boost. Whether you are a student looking to enhance your mental performance, your work requires a demanding amount of mental energy, focus and a good memory or you are an older individual looking for the continued sharpness of a young mind, Nootropics may be the answer.
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