What are Nootropics & How do They Affect Working Memory?
Wanting a better memory is the main reason people turn to nootropics. So how can you tell which is the best nootropic for working memory?
In this article we touch on what nootropics do, and how they impact on memory, especially short-term memory. For more information on nootropics generally, read our post – How to Increase Brain Function.
We’ll mix the article up with a bit of science; some lay conclusions and finish with a review of the top nootropics formulations that will improve working memory.
Nootropics are active compounds that are pharmacologically important for the central nervous system. They can have a number of affects on individual brain processing and efficiency, with reported enhancement of mental functions such as memory, motivation, concentration, and attention. Note that these affects will vary from person to person.
We’re focusing here on working memory. It’s often used synonymously with short-term memory, and is important for reasoning and in guiding decision-making and behavior. Career oriented individuals, entrepreneurs, technophobes and college students are amongst those who recognise the incredible advantage to be derived from having better working memory.
But the nootropic field is wide, and there are several competing claims out there. In this article we describe some of the most commonly used individual nootropics and their efficacy.
Mechanisms of Action of Nootropics
In broad terms, nootropics are a heterogeneous group of drugs that became prevalent in the treatment of dementia and other cerebral disorders. They elicit pharmacological effects by various mechanisms of action.
There are four modes of action, each having a different effect. This is how nootropics work:
- Effects on energy metabolism to help the brain process information faster
- Effects on cholinergic mechanisms to improve memory and learning
- Effects on excitatory amino-acid-receptor-mediated functions for better short term memory
- Steroid sensitivity for augmented memory storage.
Let’s look at these a little closer.
The brain, like any other organ, needs energy to function properly. The study of energy metabolism in the brain a relatively new scientific field, but is widening.
Nootropics induce psychopharmacological effects by their biochemical effect. They increase adenylate kinase activity and uptake of 32P into phosphatidylinositol
and phosphatidylcholine in glial cells and neurons and an increase in glucose utilization under hypoxic conditions and accelerated recovery.
In more straightforward terms, the neuronal metabolic processes suggest that they facilitate more energy, which in turn equates to a faster, more efficient brain. And if you are processing information faster, your working memory will be better.
Cholinergic mechanisms are involved in improving learning and memory processes.
The parasympathetic nervous system, which uses acetylcholine almost exclusively to send its messages, is said to be almost entirely cholinergic. Selective nootropics can increase neurotransmission of acetylcholine in the brain, which leads to improved focus and attention.
In other words, they work to speed up the highway speeds. It’s a bit like the difference between 5G and 4G (or 3G).
Excitatory amino acids
Excitatory amino acids are the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain. The most studied of these are glutamate and aspartate. These have been shown to influence memory storage.
Nootropics can increase glutamate release in hippocampal slices that in turn results in improvement of long term memory – more storage and better retrieval processes.
Involvement of steroids
The right steroids can also be involved in the effects of the nootropics to improve working memory. In emotional states, the combination of cortisol and steroids can augment memory storage. This combination can bring on those ‘flashbulb memories’.
But studies have shown that continued use of anabolic-androgenic steroids, such as those used by body builders, have a negative impact on memory.
How Vitamins and Natural Supplements Improve Memory?
The term nootropics includes both natural pharmacological products such as amphetamines and Ritalin, Provigil, Modafinil and the like, we are more concerned here with the use of natural supplements.
The potential for vitamins and natural supplements to improve memory has been known for thousands of years and practiced in many ancient medicines. It’s one of the main reas
ons we look to nootropics to give us an edge in this competitive world of ours.
The neuroprotective effects of Nootropic to improve working memory is done in the following ways:
improve scores on various tests and to write papeThe potential role of nootropics in improving memory is actually well known. The neuroprotective effects of Nootropic to improve working memory is done by
- Biosynthesis of neurotrophic factors in the brain;
- Increasing global or regional blood flow;
- Direct support of neuronal metabolism;
- Enhancement of neurotransmission;
- Improvement of oxygen and blood supply to the brain; and
- Nerve growth stimulation and brain cell protections.
Which supplements are most important?
Some of the best natural supplements nootropics that improve working memory are:
Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC) is thought to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter – chemical messengers that communicate between brain cells. It is important for memory, learning and concentration, which is why it is known as the learning neurotransmitter.
The Indian herb Bacopa Monnieri contains compounds called bacosides that are thought to help repair damaged neurons and promote new nerve growth. This improves neuron communication with the brain, helping improve your cognitive function and mental performance.
Citicoline helps energize brain cells, while optimizing the neural electrical impulses that power all thought. Energizes and enhances mental performance without the crash of stimulants
Derived naturally from Uncaria tomentosa, a vine that grows in the Amazon rainforest, Cat’s Claw is believed to have neuroprotective benefits. It contains antioxidants that can help enhance the body’s natural ability to repair environmental-stress related DNA damage to cells. Cat’s Claw can help improve your brain health and cognitive performance.
Choline is a nutrient that is found in many foods. Your brain and nervous system need it to regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions. You also need choline to form the membranes that surround your body’s cells. You can make a small amount of choline in your liver, but most of the choline in your body comes from the food you eat.
Ginkgo Biloba, or maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been grown for thousands of years for a variety of uses. Because it’s the only surviving member of an ancient order of plants, it’s sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
While its leaves and seeds are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, modern research primarily focuses on ginkgo extract, which is made from the leaves. Ginkgo has been repeatedly evaluated for its ability to reduce anxiety, stress and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline associated with aging.
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This slow-growing, short plant with fleshy roots can be classified three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red.
Fresh ginseng is harvested before 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years.
There are many types of this herb, but the most popular are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).
American and Asian ginsengs vary in their concentration of active compounds and effects on the body. It is believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect
An extract from the Chinese club moss plant, Huperzine-A is an acetyl cholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor. AChE breaks down the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine. By preventing acetylcholine levels from decreasing, Huperzine A creates a surplus of acetylcholine, which can lead to improved mental clarity, concentration and memory.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
A unique mushroom that supports brain health, Lion’s Mane supplies active nootropics called hericenones and erinacines.
Clinical research suggests Lion’s Mane stimulates Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) production, which may help with neural regeneration and myelin nerve sheath synthesis
An amino acid that can help relieve stress while stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain, creating a relaxed but alert feeling
Another amino acid, is involved in the manufacture of dopamine and noradrenaline; neurotransmitters that play a key role in mental alertness and focus, particularly in stressful situations.
Maritime Bark Extract
Supplies a potent complex of proanthocyanidin antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier and help to neutralize the damaging effects of toxic free radicals that are concentrated in the brain. Pine bark extract’s proanthocyanidin compounds are suggested to enhance mental energy, attention, learning and focus in the short-term; as well as maintain memory, mental clarity and brain health in later years.
Oat straw has been used as a brain booster in folk medicine since the Middle Ages. Oat straw is believed to work by increasing alpha-2 waves in the brain – which are highly active during periods of wakefulness – as well as controlling inflammation within artery walls. This increases blood flow to the brain, helping you feel more awake and alert.
Derived from sunflowers, PS is a phospholipid compound that comprises 15% of the brain’s fats. It is concentrated in brain cell membranes, where it helps maintain fluidity, optimizes receptors and promotes neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and dopamine. PS may sharpen memory, slow cognitive decline and promote a positive-minded outlook.
Rhodiola Rosea is believed to stimulate and sustain cognition-critical neurotransmitters – including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. It may further optimize these neurotransmitters by helping their transport across the blood-brain barrier.
All B-vitamins contribute to brain health but most research focuses on B6, B9 and B12 – due to their key role in homocysteine metabolism.
Quality and safety are primary considerations when choosing an off-the-shelf stack. It is advisable to only buy reputable products. You should be considering the quality of ingredients, safety record and efficacy of the product. Check the ingredients list and the dosage of each. Many supplements are loaded with “filler” that allows a cheaper price, but lowers effectiveness.
Beware of the claims made by the manufacture. Sometimes the claims made by the manufactures are misleading to deceive their customer to enhance the sale of their product.
Remember that the name and location of the manufacturer should be included on the label. If it’s not there, be even more cautious.
You may have to undertake a bit of trial and error before finding the best match, as everyone’s body will relate differently to the same ingredient combination.
Nowadays memory loss is a problem many of us experience. It‘s a bit like the filing cabinet is full, and we find it more difficult to retrieve the information we want. For others, its just a matter of how much better could we perform if our memories were sharper, faster.
Nootropics provide a solution to these problems, and this is the main reason their use has exploded over the past decade. They improve working memory, boosting memory functions and have had a big impact on dementia.
It has been shown they can boost the memory function and help students to remember more and study more efficiently. These are non-prescription products offer healthy people to improve thinking and focus.