Nootropics, which are also referred to as brain supplements, have become quite a controversial topic as they get more and more popular.
They are said to be a good method to improve various aspects of our brain and help us become better in different aspects such as learning abilities, memory, and even in treating some mental health disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Here, we aim to look into nootropics deeply and help you understand what they are all about and what their real stand in the mental health industry is.
What Are Nootropics
Nootropics are supplements, drugs, or any other substances that are known to have a positive impact on the brain and that enhance different functions of the brain (1).
Some are able to improve learning abilities, increase attention and concentration, boost levels of motivation and alertness, enhance both short term and long term memory, and even reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
Nootropics come in a wide variety and they are believed to help the user function better, mentally, as well as improve their cognition as a whole.
There are many categories of nootropics based on their function in the brain and their mechanism of action. Some of the popular categories include racetams and stimulants.
Nootropics are also known as brain supplements, memory supplements, smart drugs, or cognitive enhancers.
While some nootropics have been proven safe and effective for improving certain areas of the brain and increasing aspects like memory and concentration, many others that are being used are not entirely safe.
They may show potential effects of brain enhancement but they could also have much greater risks when taken, compared to the benefits they bring.
That is why it is advised that you make sure you know the supplement you are about to take very well and determine if it is safe for you generally and if it will work for you based on your current health condition.
How Nootropics Work
When we take nootropics for improving aspects of our brain, they get into our bodies and aim for the brain. When they get to the brain, they affect certain brain regions that are responsible for different tasks such as learning, remembering, and concentrating to bring the kind of results we expect them to.
Here are some of the ways through which nootropics work on influencing brain functions:
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that allow communication between neurons in the brain.
Some of the popular neurotransmitters include GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline.
When the levels of these neurotransmitters are regulated in the brain, their abilities to carry out different functions are improved, which results in better brain performance.
2. Increasing the growth rate of dendrites that in turn enhance the communication of neurons in the brain that influence positive structural changes in the brain (5).
These changes improve cognitive function.
Dendrites are extensions of nerve cells in the brain that look like branches.
3. Improving the utilization of oxygen and circulation of blood in the brain that helps to solve the mild cognitively related issues (6).
4. Stimulating Nerve Growth Factor, which is a type of protein that is essential for various nerve cells including brain cells to survive, grow, and remain healthy (7).
Through these ways, nootropics are able to influence the brain regions that handle different tasks and make them work better, which results in better cognitive function.
When it comes to categorizing nootropics, many approaches can be taken. They can be classified according to the way they affect the brain or whether they are prescribed or not, or if they are natural or synthetic, among other classifications.
That is why you will find a lot of contrasting types out there.
Going by the mechanism of action, they can be categorized into 3 main categories:
– Stimulants. These are the types of nootropics that work on stimulating your brain. When you take them, they increase your level of alertness, focus, and wakefulness. A good example of a stimulant is caffeine. It not only makes your mind alert but also increases your rate of respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and even boosts your levels of energy.
– Racetams. This is another category of supplements that share a similar chemical structure having a two-pyrrolidone nucleus that is made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. They mainly target a neurotransmitter in the brain known as acetylcholine, which is associated with memory, focus, mood, and high mental performance. Racetams are known to heighten various mental functions such as calmness, memory, mental agility, concentration, and mental clarity.
– Nutraceuticals. Nutraceuticals are a type that consists of food or food components that are aimed at providing nutrition benefits while regulating health conditions. Most often, they provide the same effects that other nootropics offer although not the exact measure of effects (8).
Brain supplements come with a wide variety of benefits. They include:
– Improving memory capacity and recall
– Improving focus and attention (9)
– Improving concentration
– Improving alertness
– Protecting the brain and maintaining good mental health
– Reducing anxiety, depression, and stress
– Managing mental health conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Parkinson’s disease (10)
– Increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)
– Promoting the creation of new brain cells
– Reducing inflammation
– Increasing the flow of blood to the brain
– Improving moods and energy levels
– Increasing the rate of productivity
– Promoting anti-aging effects by reducing cognitive decline (11)
– Improving learning abilities
While there are some cognitive enhancers that are known to have barely any side effects, a good number of them, especially the ones that researchers have not fully understood how they work, tend to bring side effects to the users (12)(13).
Side effects can be as mild as experiencing headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and sleepiness, feeling generally weak and brain fog, to name a few.
They can also be adverse to the point of the user being addicted to them, having insomnia, or uneven heart rate (14).
However, those who experience the adverse effects are mostly the people who take these supplements while they are struggling with another health condition or they are on other medications and combine with nootropics without a doctor’s guidance on it.
To avoid many of these negative effects, users are always advised to check with their doctor before taking any brain supplements so that they can determine if they are fit enough to take them, if the medications they are taking for other conditions may affect their experience with nootropics and their current health status, among other factors.
Also, avoiding the supplements that have not been fully researched on allows you to escape the unknown negative effects they carry. If you use the popular and well researched on nootropics, there is less likelihood of having nasty side effects.
How to Use Brain Supplements
Nootropics are consumed in different ways.
There are people who choose to take brain supplements on an individual level, where if they want to improve their memory, they only take one supplement that is known to have memory enhancement effects.
And they make sure to follow the dosage and frequency of dosing as per the instructions.
There are also those who decide to take a number of supplements that have a common benefit which the user is looking to enjoy.
Suppose you want to become more focused and attentive and you want to use this method of use.
You will look for the brain supplements that have the best effects of concentration and you will take them in a prescribed careful way that will allow you to get the kind of results you are looking for without suffering the side effects of overdosing.
This method where you use a number of brain supplements to experience specific effects is called nootropic stacking.
There are 2 types of stacking.
Firstly, you can stack the supplements manually. This is done by purchasing the best supplements for a certain benefit, like concentration as earlier mentioned, and take them.
Secondly, you can buy nootropics stacks that have been premixed to become a single capsule that has the combination of the best supplements carefully blended by an expert clinician.
A good example of a nootropic stack is Mind Lab Pro, which has numerous ingredients for different mental health benefits.
Experts recommend that users work with the nootropic stacks that have been made by expert clinicians as they have advantages of safety, effectiveness, and right dosage over the ones you mix at home all by yourself without proper knowledge of how to go about it.
There are also different forms of brain supplements.
Some are in the form of powder, others in capsules, and others are in liquid form. Capsules are the most common form and most people prefer taking them this way.
However, it is entirely up to you how you decide to take them provided you are fit enough for them and you have visited a doctor first.
A good way of taking nootropics that has helped many people avoid the side effects and get them to enjoy more benefits from them is by using them only when they need them.
Don’t fall into the habit of taking cognitive enhancers frequently or you may gain tolerance that might reduce the brain-boosting effects they have on you, making you want to overdose to feel the effect.
Unless you have been advised by a doctor to take them on a daily basis, you should aim to use them when you want to experience a given benefit there and then.
Also, using cycles where you have a period of taking the supplements followed by a period of rest and then repeating the cycle, helps a lot, if the supplement requires long term use.
More importantly, you should always follow the recommended dosage.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Nootropics
Question: Are nootropics safe?
Answer: There are a lot of factors that go into the safety of nootropics such as the research and knowledge about the supplement in question, how you use it, and how it reacts to you as an individual.
To start with, not all supplements out there have been well researched on and studied by experts. This makes the less studied supplements unsafe for consumption. To overcome this safety concern, you should aim to work with well-studied brain-boosting supplements such as modafinil as well as the ones that were used as herbs decades ago like Bacopa Monierri, Gingko Biloba, Rhodiola Rosea, and Ashwagandha, by our ancestors for different purposes.
Secondly. If you use the supplements as prescribed by the manufacturers, you should not have problems. But if you overdose, you risk your health. So, experts recommend that you take the lowest dosage possible to assess your reaction to the supplement and then slowly work your way up to the optimal dosage. Also, checking with a doctor comes before everything else (15).
Thirdly, it is worth noting that we all respond differently to things including medication and supplements.
There are people who will get good results with a certain brain supplement and there are those who won’t. So, if you find that a supplement that you tried did not work for you, go ahead and try out another one, and maybe that might work for you.
Question: Will nootropics make you like Bradley Copper in the Limitless movie?
Answer: Nootropics may have a substantial amount of effect on your brain but they don’t go as far as it is depicted by the supplement called NZT-48 in the limitless movie. They may have some effects shown in the movie but are often a bit toned down.
At the moment, there is no supplement that can do everything NZT-48 has been shown to do in the movie. If you want to find nootropics useful you should have realistic expectations from them as they are not magical pills.
Question: What does research say about nootropics?
Answer: There has been a good deal of research on nootropics over the years. Since they were first discovered, continuous studies have shown their abilities to affect different brain areas that are linked to various functions that make us perform better as human beings (16)(17)(18)(19).
Some nootropics have been found to offer some level of effect to the users when taken according to instructions and others have not been p found to be effective. Research has revealed that there are nootropics that show potential effective results, others which don’t bring any effect at all, and others that cause negative effects (20)(21).
And although there are some nootropics that are fairly effective, more research on them is still ongoing together with the other nootropics that are being discovered (22).
Nootropics experts also advise users to buy supplements from recognized sellers online in order to avoid buying contaminated forms of any given supplements, not to mention to remember to practice moderation in the use of the supplements.
Essentially, brain supplements have been found to be a potentially effective method to boost different areas of our cognition. Some supplements have been experimented on and known how they work while others have not.
For that reason, you are advised to do good research on the supplement you are about to take and determine if experts agree with what the supplement is said to help with.
Nootropics is a growing body of study and we believe with more research and trials, we are going to better understand which nootropics are best to take to improve our brains and their mechanism of action (23).