Nootropics is a term used to describe supplements that help increase cognitive performance and support brain health.
The term nootropic was coined in the 1970s by Romanian scientist Corneliu Giurgea. It originated from combining the Greek words for ‘mind’ and ‘bending.’
Today there are more than 80 different substances classified as nootropics. These include specific vitamins, herbs, phospholipids, choline sources, and amino acids.
Benefits of Nootropics
Nootropics can support brain health in many ways, with a growing body of research demonstrating their benefit in fending off age-related cognitive decline.
Key cognitive benefits include:
- Memory and learning: Nootropics can impact various aspects of memory, improving memory recall and our ability to learn and process new information.
- Focus and motivation: Nootropics can enhance attention, improving focus, motivation, and productivity.
- Stress resilience: Nootropics can help improve our resilience to mental and physical stress, enabling us to perform at our best in stressful situations. Nootropics may also help reduce nervous energy and help us better deal with our anxieties.
- Mood and creativity: Nootropics can support our mental well-being, helping to balance our mood and promote mental states of creativity.
How Nootropics Work
Nootropics work in a variety of ways to improve our brain health and cognitive performance.
These mechanisms can include:
- Brain Regeneration: Nootropics can help promote neurogenesis, the process in which new brain cells (neurons) are created. Some nootropics can also help boost neurotrophic growth factors such as BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which help support the survival of our existing neurons and promote the growth of new neurons and synapses. Supporting neuronal and synapse health can help improve our brain plasticity, which impacts our learning ability and how we engage with new experiences.
- Brain Blood Supply: Nootropics can help increase blood flow to and throughout our brain by dilating blood vessels and improving circulation of oxygen, glucose, and other vital neuro-nutrients.
- Brain Energy: The brain consumes approximately 20% of our body’s energy. Brain fog and mental fatigue can occur if the brain isn’t getting enough energy. Consistently low brain energy is linked to cognitive decline and brain degeneration. Nootropics can support cellular energy production by improving our mitochondrial efficiency, the powerhouses of our brain cells.
- Neurochemical Modulation: Neurotransmitters send chemical messages between neurons. Effective cell-to-cell communication is critical to a highly optimised brain, with imbalances impacting our health. Nootropics are known to modulate neurotransmitter levels in our brain, such as serotonin, acetylcholine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a vital role in sleep, mood, motivation, memory, learning, and focus.
- Brain Protection: Nootropics can help reduce brain inflammation and oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant activity and eliminating neurotoxins. Some nootropics have even been shown to help fight the formation of irregular protein clusters called amyloids, associated with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Brain Waves: We have five brain wave frequencies that correspond to different mental states. Some nootropics can modulate our brain waves to achieve specific states of mind to better suit a task.
Why Nootropics Are So Beneficial
Today’s modern lifestyle means optimising cognitive performance and mental well-being is more critical now than ever before.
As we grow older, we face an increased risk of cognitive decline and of the development of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Neurodegenerative disorders are characterised by the breaking down of neurons responsible for nerve transmission that facilitates mental function and movement. Genetic and environmental factors are considered the cause of most neurodegenerative disorders, but there is growing research to suggest that these conditions can be prevented.
Nootropics, in conjunction with other nutritional and lifestyle interventions, represent an exciting frontier in helping to prevent the continued rise of these conditions. Many nootropics have already undergone scientific investigation to explore their ability to help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
Bacopa monnieri – BacoMind®
Some of the most effective and widely researched nootropics are herbs, roots, and plants. One such example is Bacopa monnieri, a herb traditionally used to boost memory and cognitive performance in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
BacoMind® is a unique, clinically validated, premium extract of Bacopa monnieri. Research shows it can significantly improve cognition, such as memory function and focus, in both younger and older age groups.
Phosphatidylserine – Sharp PS®
The phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PS) is arguably the most evidence-backed nootropic for supporting cognition and brain health currently available.
Numerous clinical studies on premium branded phosphatidylserine material, Sharp PS®, have demonstrated its ability to improve memory, concentration, learning, and vocabulary in just six weeks. Results have been replicated across multiple age groups spanning from children to older adults with age-associated memory impairment.
Phosphatidylserine is a major structural component of all our cells, with the highest concentrations found in the brain. It is essential for the healthy formation and function of your brain’s cell membranes and myelin (coating on nerves), which facilitate healthy cell-to-cell communications and synaptic neurotransmission of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin.
Ginkgo is one of the most widely used and researched nootropic brain herbs on the planet. Native to China and used widely in traditional Chinese Medicine, Ginkgo supports brain health, mental function and memory recall. Gingko supports several neurotransmitter systems as well as neurogenesis, the process in which new brain cells (neurons) are formed in the brain. It also helps maintain healthy blood circulation and cerebral blood flow, which is crucial to delivering the oxygen and nutrients your brain needs to function at its best.
Coleus and Artichoke.
Coleus and Artichoke have complementary actions in the brain and work well in unison to deliver nootropic benefits. Coleus contains a unique compound called forskolin, which can naturally increase levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), and Artichoke naturally inhibits another compound called PDE4 in the brain. We don’t want PDE4 to be high because it breaks down and depletes cAMP, which is an important compound for plasticity and neuroprotection.
By using Coleus and Artichoke in combination, we have the opportunity to maximise cAMP concentrations which helps protect the brain from damage and maximise the brain’s ability to form and store memories and to learn new information.
Alpha-glyceryl phosphorylcholine (αGPC) is a natural choline compound that acts as a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Boosting acetylcholine levels is desirable for brain well-being because it is important for learning and memory. When acetylcholine levels are enhanced, we have better attention, focus and memory. Alpha GPC also positively influences dopamine production, which enhances our motivation and further supports cognition and performance.
Alpha GPC has also been shown to increase the production of phosphatidylcholine, which is a key component of cell membranes in the brain. Healthy cell membrane structures are critical to proper communication between brain cells and supporting cognitive function. Alpha GPC also exhibits neuroprotective properties, and researchers have been exploring the opportunity to incorporate it into treating cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane, a medicinal mushroom, has been traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese cultures for its adaptogen and nootropic qualities. Studies have shown that Lion’s Mane can help to improve cognitive function, including memory and concentration, in people with mild cognitive impairment. It also has neuroprotective properties, meaning it can help to protect the brain from damage that might lead to cognitive decline. Lion’s Mane can also provide soothing support for the nervous system during times of stress, as well as support nerve growth factors for neurogenesis.
Ashwagandha – KSM66®
Ashwagandha, also known as Withania, is a popular traditional Chinese medicine with demonstrated nootropic benefits. Ashwagandha is used to help the body to cope better with the mental demands of stress and improve cognition. KSM-66® ashwagandha is a premium ashwagandha herbal extract with a growing portfolio of clinical studies demonstrating its benefit for brain and nervous system support.
In one 8-week study using 300mg of KSM-66 ® Ashwagandha daily, researchers found that it helped with immediate memory, general memory, attention and processing speed without any side effects. Another study exploring its potential benefits for neurodegenerative disease, it was demonstrated ashwagandha had neuroprotective-antioxidant activity and supported ATP (energy) production. Ashwagandha is the ideal nootropic choice for anyone feeling burnt out, but it may also help protect the brain and nervous system from damage and decline in the long term.
Who are Nootropics for?
Realistically, nootropics are for anyone who wants to cultivate a mental edge or support their nervous system to meet everyday needs or prevent cognitive decline.
To name a few, nootropics can be of benefit to;
- High-stress executives
- Busy business leaders & entrepreneurs
- Tired and overwhelmed parents
- Athletes who need to be sharp and focused
- Students with exams and lots of material to recall
- Those advancing in age
- Menopausal women
Almost everyone can benefit from the long-term benefits of brain and nervous system protection, reduced inflammation, better mood balance and enhanced brain nutrition and energy support. Nootropics typically work across a wide range of mechanisms and are often employed in combinations usually referred to as ‘stacks’ based on the needs of the person using them.