What happens when no matter how much you exercise, and no matter how healthy your diet is, you still find yourself struggling to focus and struggling to motivate yourself every day? What happens when no matter how much you sleep, and how many unhealthy habits you drop, you continue to find yourself struggling with physical fatigue, general irritability and mental lethargy?
If you are like many people out there who have tried to improve their lifestyles and habits but have failed to escape from the daily prison of mental fog, this article might be of great benefit to you.
Let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the world of nootropics – also known as “smart drugs.” But don’t cringe just yet. While there are many synthesized versions of nootropics out there, this article will provide you with some of the most potent natural “smart drugs” that exist in the world today.
The term “nootropics” refers to a wide range of natural and artificial compounds which are thought to enhance your cognitive function by changing your brain’s neurochemistry and creating a neurological balance.
Read on to explore “the tip of the iceberg” of this fascinating world.
What Are Nootropics?
The desire to be more mentally sharp and astute has existed for hundreds of years, and can be traced back to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. These days, Nootropics provide us with a window of opportunity into the world of higher brain functioning.
But what are nootropics exactly? In essence, nootropics are substances that are composed of a wide range of natural and artificial compounds which are thought to enhance your cognitive functioning (i.e. they make you more “intelligent”) – this is done by changing you brain’s neurochemistry.
The word “nootropic” was first coined by chemist and psychologist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea in 1972, and derives from the Greek words “nous” (mind) and “trepein” (to turn, to bend). Giurgea defined “nootropics” as substances that are capable of increasing memory, concentration, motivation, intelligence, mood and anything else related to cognition and thought enhancement.
Nootropics work by supporting or altering our brain’s neurochemicals. Specifically, nootropics work by altering neurotransmitters, stimulating neurogenesis, improving blood flow in the brain (and subsequently oxygen and glucose delivery), modifying synapses, enhancing our nerve growth rate, and improving cell membrane fluidity.
So what does this all mean when summed up? Basically, nootropics help to create positive changes within your body that help to support your lifestyle and individual needs. In other words, nootropics make your life flow more smoothly.
But don’t get me wrong – nootropics shouldn’t substitute proper sleeping habits, regular exercise, or healthy eating habits. Rather, nootropics best compliment your lifestyle, while enhancing your memory, mood and intelligence.
Nootropics span across vitamin supplements to prescription drugs. As with all mind altering substances, they have the potential of being abused, or being used carefully and thoughtfully. While some people use them conscientiously to improve the quality of their lives, others go as far as mixing huge numbers of “cognitive enhances” and “stimulants” to induce the feeling of being “super human” (think of the protagonist in the movie Limitless).
As I mentioned before, this article only recommends nootropics that I define as being:
- Well established supplements that are as natural as possible (i.e. non-prescription based).
- Beneficial for the brain (e.g. the substance enhances, repairs and/or protects cognitive function).
- Non-addictive (scientifically proven) and builds minimum tolerance.
- Few side-effects.
Where to Begin?
There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to nootropics – each person expects different benefits from them. While some people want more physical energy, others want to relax more easily, and still others want to sleep deeper, and some want to concentrate more.
There are also many different “genres” of nootropics (e.g. some are used to improve memory, others are used to stimulate the body, and so forth). Below I include all foundational supplements that you should consider exploring.
1. Bacopa Monnieri
Uses: Memory and anxiety relief.
Dosage: Bacopa is fat soluble and should be taken with a meal. A dose of 150mg bacosides (assuming 50% extract) twice a day is a good starting point.
Side Effects: Some people report nausea, cramps and drowsiness after ingestion. Bacopa might also reduce spermatogenesis in males (but this is easily reversible).
Also known by the names of “Brahmi” and “Water Hyssop,” Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that features prominently in Ayuvedic medicine and has been traditionally recommended for memory enhancement, epilepsy, and asthma. Recent studies have shown that Bacopa has effective memory enhancing effects, and effectively reduces anxiety. Bacopa Monnieri is one of the safest and most effective memory enhancers out there.
Bacopa’s anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) effects can usually be felt shortly after ingestion. However, its memory enhancing effects may take 8-12 weeks of use to build up.
Uses: Physical energy, reasoning and fatigue relief.
Dosage: 3-5g daily should be enough to raise creatine stores to their maximum.
Side Effects: Some people report stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Creatine is a substance that the liver makes which is stored in the muscle and brain tissue to support our energy demands. Creatine stores can be increased with supplementation, and this increase helps to enhance our tissue’s ability to create energy in demanding circumstances (e.g. physical exhaustion or stress). For this reason, Creatine is an excellent supplement for athletes, and also supports cognitive functioning – particularly in vegans, vegetarians and the elderly.
Recent studies have found that this energy enhancer may increase the performance of demanding tasks related to the IQ.
Uses: Alertness and concentration.
Dosage: Standard dose is 50-200mg.
Side Effects: There are rare reports of subtle increases in anxiety, headaches, nausea, and blood pressure.
CDP-choline, also known as citicoline, is a substance that is absorbed into the gut and is quickly broken down into cytidine and free choline. Both of these smaller compounds then cross the blood-brain barrier. Inside the brain, choline is required for the production of the neurotransmitter “acetylcholine” and for cell membrane synthesis.
Uses: Memory and attention enhancement.
Dosage: 500mgs per day.
Side Effects: Minor appetite suppressing effect.
Caffeine is the most popular and well-known nootropic out there. It’s commonly found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, and even chocolate. Caffeine seems to have acute cognitive effects that involve significantly increasing mental alertness and attention. But whether these effects go away with regular use is still a matter of debate as caffeine is known to build tolerance after regular use.
The routine moderate consumption of caffeine seems to be associated with many positive outcomes including decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
Uses: Memory enhancement, deeper sleep, and anxiety relief. L-Theanine also significantly enhances mental focus when combined with other nootropics (see the “Stacks” section below).
Dosage: 200mg taken 45 minutes prior to sleep.
Side Effects: Headaches (rare).
Theanine is an amino acid and a glutamic acid that was discovered as a component of green tea in 1949. Since it’s discovery, Theanine has been extensively studied and has been proven to be a safe psychoactive substance with anxiety reducing and cognitive enhancing effects.
Other interesting amino acids that you might like to consider exploring include: L-Taurine, L-Methionine, L-Lysine, and L-Tyrosine.
Creating a “Stack”
In many nootropic circles, “stacking” is basically known as the process of combining multiple nootropics to create harmony within the brain. Each nootropic comes with its own unique benefits, and when one nootropic is combined with another in a complementary way, your brain’s chemistry is altered positively. One example of this “stacking” technique includes Caffeine and L-Theanine.
L-Theanine by itself relaxes the brain and relieves stress. However, when combined with caffeine, L-Theanine has been shown to decrease the negative side effects of caffeine such as anxiety, heightened blood pressure and reduced sleep quality – at the same time improving caffeine’s positive side effects (mental clarity, focus and energy).
L-Theanine’s ability to enhance caffeine’s benefits has repeatedly been verified in scientific experiments. For example, a recent review of the effects of L-Theanine and caffeine combined has confirmed that the combination seems to improve aspects of attention and drastically increases concentration focus.
Adding 200mg of L-Theanine to your coffee every morning can give you a “clean,” jitter free caffeine experience of what a nootropic stack feels like.
If you are interested in exploring nootropic stacks for yourself, one important rule to remember is to do your research and carefully read up on the substances you’re planning to try. For example, you might like to ask the questions, “Does this nootropic have a long history of use?” “Have there been many scientific experiments that reveal the nootropic’s positive effects and negative side effects?” “Will the substance influence any other medications or supplements I’m taking (e.g. the birth control pill, SSRI’s, etc.)?”
Also, remember not to stack too many nootropics together. Always add one new nootropic at a time and take your stack for a week to determine what effects it has on you.
So there you go! I hope you found this basic exploration of the world of nootropics interesting and beneficial.
Have you experimented with any of these Nootropics? Do you have any to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.