Call it eternal pregnancy brain or even plain old brain fog, there is no hiding that I find myself reaching for some extra help. From pregnancy brain to college students trying to concentrate on studying, to business people wanting to be the next success story, it seems nootropics are becoming seriously mainstream. The term may seem a little foreign to you, trust me, I wasn’t even aware that unknowingly I was already taking a handful of natural nootropics. So let’s delve into these brain-boosting supplements.
So, please tell me – what are Nootropics?
The term “nootropics” encompasses many substances, both natural and synthetic, over the counter and prescription, legal and illegal. It is also referred to as “smart drugs” – think Bradley Cooper in Limitless – as its goal is to improve memory and cognitive performance. There have also been claims that they have neuroprotective benefits, meaning they boost brain power and can possibly protect your brain from deterioration over time. The common spice turmeric is considered a nootropic, but so also Ritalin, Adderall, and even LSD. With the surge of synthetic options being pushed on the market recently, there is an increase in research trying to confirm their long-term effects.
Nootropics as the umbrella term can get quite confusing, but I want to focus on the natural supplements. Natural smart drugs include herbs, like our beloved adaptogens, and even nutrients found in our daily foods. When comparing natural to synthetic nootropics, the major difference is the amount of time they take effect. Prescription and synthetic smart drugs are rapid in their reaction time, but in return may have more intense side effects.
Research has been done on natural nutrients and their role in cognitive function. Folate, vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 are considered essential for normal brain function as we age. Long-term oxidative stress is a culprit implicated in cognitive decline and dementia. Keeping that in mind, nutrients with antioxidant effects will advance your cognitive performance. Vitamin E could potentially decrease free radical damage and reduce toxicity.
These nutrients can be found in a plethora of natural nootropics to integrate into your wellness routine.
Caffeine: A natural nootropic that you may have never even considered to be a brain booster. Your daily coffee, green tea, and even chocolate are all part of making you feel more alert and awake. It does so by blocking adenosine receptors, which when adenosine binds to its receptors can slow down neural activity, hence that sleepy feeling. Because of its stimulant effects, it helps boost mental focus and may work on brain speed and reaction time.
L-Theanine: An amino acid found naturally in tea, especially green tea. Tea contains both caffeine and L-theanine, which has shown to result in faster reaction time and improved mental fatigue compared to coffee alone. It has also been shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety.
Creatine: Another amino acid, is mostly known for muscle growth because your body uses it to make protein. Found mostly in meat, fish and other animal products, creatine has a positive influence on brain function with improving brain energy, memory, and attention.
Omega-3: Fatty acids important for brain health. They are important for repairing and renewing brain cells because they build membranes around the body’s cells – including neurons. You can find Omega-3’s naturally in walnuts, chia seeds, and certain fish, but supplements like fish or krill oil can also do the trick.
Curcumin: A compound in turmeric, is not only a superhero against battling inflammation, but it has been shown to boost memory with consistent use.
If you are an adaptogen aficionado or even just want the ease of having all the herbal supplements in one mixture, adaptogens can make a great addition. While trying to get over my major brain fog after my first pregnancy, I experimented with Moon Juice’s Brain Dust. After several months of a healthy diet and use of the Brain Dust, I did experience a lift of the brain fog.
When going the herbal route, some brain boosters to look out for include:
- Lion’s Mane – mushrooms that are known to be neuroprotective (protect your brain from damage and degeneration)
- Ginkgo Biloba- leaves from a tree native to China, Japan and Korea supports speedy processing, shown to improve memory and alleviate stress by decreasing cortisol, your stress hormone
- Rhodiola- promotes alertness and concentration, have neuroprotective effects and may help neurodegenerative diseases.
- Ashwagandha- promotes mental stamina and clarity
- Astragalus- known to promote healthy blood flow
- Maca- traditionally used to promote energy and memory function
- Panax Ginseng- helps to reduce oxidative stress to promote nitric oxide, able to prevent age-related memory loss and improve long term memory.
Natural nootropics boast having varying jobs, so combining different nootropics, or stacking, can be beneficial. Try adding brain-boosting adaptogens to your coffee or green tea. Some evidence suggests the combination helps boost cognitive performance and alertness.
My focus may be on going the natural route, but for those of you out there that require something with a quicker or stronger effect, I just wanted to highlight synthetic nootropics. Prescription nootropics are used to counteract symptoms of medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy or Alzheimer’s disease.
These are some of the well-known prescription Nootropics:
- Modafinil (Provigil), a stimulant that addresses the sudden drowsiness of narcolepsy
- Adderall, which contains amphetamines to treat ADHD
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin), a stimulant that can manage symptoms of narcolepsy and ADHD
- Memantine (Axura), which treats symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
The data is still a bit lacking to confirm the efficacy of these smart pills, but plenty of world researchers and drug makers are continuously trying to develop nootropics.
Nootropics will not be the end-all, cure-all, but if you are following a rather healthy lifestyle supplementing nootropics can support a healthy brain. As with any new supplement or prescription, please talk to your doctor if you are having cognitive issues before adding anything into your daily routine. Some people may also be sensitive to caffeine and L-theanine. So listening to how your body reacts is important. And if you feel you are already living a nootropic-rich diet, but not feeling any relief from fatigue, brain fog or memory loss please consult your doctor for the possibility of using more potent, synthetic forms of nootropics.
Before trying to jump in any type of supplement for boosting brain function, make sure you are getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and managing stress.
Image by David Stenbeck