As our lives get more competitive, more people are asking how to increase their brain function. Nootropics, or smart drugs are becoming popular as we look for that added edge. It might be for career advancement or monetary gain, or due to social pressures (keeping up with the Joneses). Maybe it’s just the simple realisation that we can do better and could get more out of life if our brains functioned more efficiently.
However, this quest is not new – it has been going on for thousands of years, from the ancient Greeks onwards.
We all know that the human brain is an incredibly complex organism. Did you know though that we only harness a fragment of its full potential? Studies suggest this to be as little as 12% of the brain’s processing power. Imagine the possibilities if we could harness the other 88%.
Research into brain function is not new either. Recent years have seen an explosion of knowledge in medicine, pharmaceutics, psychology, biology, nutrition and other human sciences. Similarly there has been exploration and experimentation into the impact of different substances that affect brain operation and performance.
This includes stimulants – both natural and synthetic, and how these affect our neural pathways and brain function. These are now referred to as nootropics.
They include herbs, supplements, or synthetic substances that can enhance the way our brains work—including things like memory and learning. These have also known as smart drugs. They have become all the rage lately, as we look for an edge in a competitive world, or seek to delay the ageing process.
Some of the early adopters were College students looking to get better grades. Following on from this, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have also embraced them, looking for enhance creativity and the ability to stay focussed for longer. Others such as Stock Brokers and management types have been similarly attracted, whilst athletes look to improve their performance. They are not alone, as older people look for ways to delay the atrophy of old age. All have taken to the many variants that are now available.
This post provides an introduction to the topic of nootropics and improved brain performance. It covers what nootropics are, how they work to increase brain function, how to benefit from, and how to get the most from these supplements. We encourage you to undertake further research and investigate individual products to determine which will best suit your needs.
So, What Are Nootropics?
In General Terms
They are known as ‘brain boosters’ that enhance cognitive function, especially memory, creativity, or motivation. They can also have preventative properties which delay the ageing process.
Even though thought of as a ‘now’ product, the term was first coined in 1972. It combines the Greek word ‘nous’ (or mind), and ‘trepein’ (or bend). The use of certain herbs to promote brain activity and health has also been in practice for thousands of years.
The term nootropics now refers to commercially formulated supplements. These supplements combine mainly natural (and sometimes synthetic) ingredients. They are designed to improve brain power, give better concentration, enhanced focus, faster mental speed and better memory as well as improving long term brain health.
The use of everyday stimulants such as coffee and tea is hardly new. Nor is the use of various herbs and vitamins for their remedial properties. Modern science has been exploring the effects of these and how they can be improved, sometimes adding synthetic substances. This combination of ingredients and the ability to concentrate dosages to specifically target neural pathways is one of the new frontiers of mind medicine.
The Nootropics Market
Following extensive research and testing, we now have a range of new-age supplements that have come onto the market. These offer to safely and effectively improve cognitive functioning. A blend of vitamins, amino acids and other essential building blocks combine for a healthy, well-functioning brain. The largest demand is for memory enhancement products. The promise of reduced age-related declines in brain function is also popular.
Demand for these products is growing at an escalating pace, as more people are looking to improve their brain’s performance. Globally, the nootropics market is currently estimated to be around $USD2.6b, with over a third of this in the USA.
With further continued growth expected, especially in the Asia Pacific region, it is expected to reach $USD6b 2025.
What’s In Them?
Nootropics and smart drugs include a range of natural and naturally substances as well as synthetic or prescription formulations. Many combine several ingredients for maximum effect, and are referred to as stacks.
Amongst the nootropics family are prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin. These have the strongest and most significant effects on memory and attention.
Synthetic nootropic supplements like Noopept and piracetam are also widely available.
Natural or herbal nootropics include any kind of plant-derived or plant-based compounds that have been shown to enhance cognitive ability and health. Some of the more popular ones include Alpha GPC, Bacopa Monnieri, Cat’s Claw, Creatine, Ginkgo Biloba, Holy Basil, Huperzine A., L-Theanine & L-Tyrosine, Omega 3, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea and Vitamins B & E.
They have been used in alternative medicine for thousands of years. Commonly consumed stimulants such as coffee, tea and nicotine all provide a short term boost to the brain.
Herbal nootropics can be just as effective as their synthetic cousins and can be combined in stacks to boost effectiveness. This is where the new formulations come into their own. They are able to combine higher concentrations of key ingredients for specific purposes.
How Do They Increase Brain Function?
The continuing body of research into brain cognition has given us more knowledge about how this remarkable organ works. As a result of this, we now have better insights into how various substances might impact it and improve its performance.
It is possible to improve the production and flow of cellular energy, blood circulation and flow, reducing inflammation, and engaging neural support for a healthier network of cells and the levels of key chemicals in the brain.
In a non-technical sense – it’s a bit like giving your car a service and tune-up – cleaning out the gunk and getting everything working a bit better.
In a more technical sense, most nootropics work by affecting neurotransmitters in your brain like acetylcholine, glutamate, serotonin and dopamine. The neurotransmitters are chemicals which act as information messengers between your brain’s nerve cells (neurons). They give the signals to your brain to tell your heart to beat, and your lungs to breathe. They also play a crucial role in your cognitive function.
Nootropics can be used to alter these neurotransmitters, and thereby improve the way your brain functions. Some nootropics also act as vasodilators, which work by boosting the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. Others work by stimulating nerve growth in the brain. But all of them have the same cognitive-enhancing effect.
What Are The Benefits?
Countless studies into nootropics have shown that they increase brain function and power, and proving their cognitive-enhancing effects. As a result, nootropics have been used for many years by doctors to help treat various conditions relating to the brain such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and ADHD.
The effectiveness of these drugs has also encouraged those who aren’t suffering from these conditions, but who are looking for improved mental capacity. Their use can lead to positive enhancements such as better coordination, increased learning and memory abilities, and increased attention and motivation. They can also reduce the symptoms of depression and stress.
Everyone’s brain chemistry is different, so not everyone will experience the same effects with the same dosage. The most important thing to realise is that this is not some “pie in the sky” idea. Nootropics do work and can give you a number of benefits.
There are 6 widely recognised benefits from taking nootropic supplements:
- Better learning and memory. The retention of both new knowledge (learning) and the ability to store and retrieve it (memory) are vital to leading a successful life. These are important both for older adults experiencing memory loss as well as younger, ambitious types looking to improve their work performance.
- Focus and attention. The ability to concentrate on an important task helps achievement and improves many other cognitive functions.
- Brain Energy. The brain consumes around 20 percent of the body’s energy, and sufficient energy is important for all cognitive processing.
- Mood. A poor mood impacts on brain energy, stress resistance, and brain circulation.
- Stress reduction. Stress impacts mental performance and overall well-being.
- Slowing the ageing process. Age-related cognitive decline can begin in healthy, educated adults as early as in their 20s and 30s, so it’s never too early to start taking care of your brain.
Are They Safe?
Natural based nootropics are non-toxic and side effects are extremely rare. In other words, they are suitable for everyday use to improve brain function over an extended period of time, and, despite being labelled smart ‘drugs’, they are perfectly safe and legal to use.
It is very unlikely you will experience any side effects when taking natural nootropic supplements, but if you do, you should reduce your dosage immediately. If you continue to suffer side effects, you should consult your doctor. Synthetic, or pharmaceutical products should only be only taken under advice from a medical practitioner.
Be Wary of Cheaply Formulated Products
Nootropic vitamins, herbs, and amino acids are generally safe at the recommended doses and many have been used for thousands of years. However, it is important to be wary of cheaply formulated nootropic supplements.
There has been much conjecture about the real advantages of nootropics – just as there has been with the use of vitamin supplements. The industry has certainly had its reputation tarnished by unscrupulous operators and questionable claims and marketing practices.
How Do I Get the Most From Them?
Nootropics are supplements – so the impact they have will be at least partially dependant on what they are supplementing. A well fed, well exercised body with an active mind is a better base from which to work, so we suggest the following to help you get the most benefit from them.
- Get plenty of sleep. This allows your brain to be more focussed and active, so rest and recovery time is important.
- Exercise regularly. A healthy body helps a healthy mind.
- Follow a proper diet. Eating fish (Omega-3 fatty acids), fruit and vegetables, with minimal processed foods and lots of water will keep you in good trim.
- Keep your mind active. Everything benefits from a workout, and so does your brain. Help it along by reading, doing brain teasers and the like.
- Explore and enjoy your newly expanded capabilities!
In conclusion, there appears little doubt that Nootropics truly are able to increase brain function. The bigger question remains – which one? or which combination will suit me best?
Despite the various contentious issues regarding spurious marketing and product claims, the category is very broad and continues to grow. Similarly, the enthusiasm with which these formulations have been embraced suggests they are a product category which is here to stay. Growth forecasts suggest more and more people are likely to be using these so-called smart drugs in the future, as they seek to increase their brain function.
Meanwhile, will you be left behind? Or part of the pack?