It seems like there’s always a new thing popping up that can assist in keeping you fit, healthy, and even mentally stable. While not a brand-new thing, nootropics are catching on and we should pay attention if we want to get a bit of an edge while working on the “Mind” part of our Mind-Body Upgrade.
What are Nootropics?
Great question! Also known as “smart drugs”, nootropics are compounds (either synthetic or natural) which have been shown to improve and support mental and cognitive abilities in healthy people. They’re naturally occurring in our brains or in foods but we sometimes are deficient because of the stressful conditions of modern life. Nootropics don’t so much fix problems as they do help restore a natural balance, which helps our brains function as they are meant to despite all the environmental and mental stress we are constantly under.
Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea coined the term in 1972 (from the Greek “nous trepein” meaning “turn the mind”) and he set the following guidelines for what constitutes a nootropic substance:
- Should enhance memory and learning ability.
- Should enhance brain function even under conditions that tend to disrupt it.
- Should protect the brain from chemical and/or physical damage.
- Should improve neuronal firing.
- Should not have sedative or stimulant effects and should have little to no side effects or toxicity.
They sound great, right? Well, they are. But like with everything, every individual is different and while most may not experience side effects, some nootropics may cause mild ones like headaches, sadness, irritability, etc. in some people—especially in larger doses than recommended) so it’s good to start slow (with low doses) and build up while paying attention to how we feel when taking any new supplement.
[Reminder: I am not a doctor and this article does not constitute medical advice. And while nootropics aren’t medicine, It’s always best to consult a medical professional before starting any new supplement regimen. Especially since there can be interactions with medications or other supplements.]
Under these criteria, all kinds of things qualify as nootropics! Even things you already consume, like caffeine, which actually does follow Dr. Giurgea’s guidelines and has a ton of brain-boosting properties besides waking you up. The reason I’m so excited about smart drugs is that they have been shown to work as well, or even better than many prescription drugs to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, ADHD, and even degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with minimal to no nasty side-effects at all. Why spend all that money and suffer the negative effects of these chemical compounds when we can use something that works with our brain and body because it’s meant to be there!?
Types of Nootropics
As mentioned before, there are natural and synthetic nootropics in the market, and as with anything you put in your body, you should do research and read labels before purchasing anything to avoid consuming anything contaminated.
Synthetic nootropics are usually stronger, but they also tend to have more—though still usually mild—side effects. However, care must be taken to not overdose, as this can cause the side-effects to become stronger and even do more harm than good. Always do your research and follow proper dosing.
A few of the most popular synthetic nootropics and their benefits are:
Racetams: Aniracetam, Piracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, and Noopept (among others) help boost cognitive abilities, memory, and ability to focus, facilitating learning and memorizing. They also help boost energy and mood.
Phenibut: Used as an anxiolytic and antidepressant. Its calming effects aid in mood regulation, motivation and improve cognitive function. It even helps improve sleep and muscle growth and recovery. This is one I may try in the near future. Phenibut is very potent and only taken 1-3 times per week so following dosing guidelines is important.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid: A synthetic version of a compound produced by the brain, it improves energy and memory and protects brain cells from free radical damage.
Natural Nootropics have—unsurprisingly—been used for thousands of years in some cultures like Indian Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. As you’d expect from me, these are the ones I prefer since I’ve apparently already been using several of them and because anything natural will always be preferable in my book. While I’m sure the synthetic compounds have great benefits as well, I’m still experimenting with nootropics so I prefer sticking to natural first and then experimenting with synthetics later. Here are some of the most popular natural nootropics, including some I use:
Ashwagandha: Originally used in Ayurveda, this adaptogen improves focus and memory, regulates blood sugar levels, is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and boosts energy.
Bacopa Monnieri: Another Ayurvedic adaptogen. Bacopa has been used for ages to combat anxiety, stress, and depression since it stops the damage from stress before it happens. It also improves memory and focus.
Choline: This essential nutrient supports brain health and a deficiency of it can cause headaches, fatigue, memory problems, and muscle pain. It occurs naturally in certain foods, but if you’re having those symptoms, you’re likely not getting enough from your diet.
DHA (Omega-3): I know you’ve heard of this one and yes! it is considered a nootropic too! It improves communication between brain synapses which in turn improves memory, learning, concentration, and reverses the effects of stress in the brain. It has even been correlated with a decrease in dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms.
5-HTP: A derivative of Tryptophan (also a nootropic), it is a serotonin precursor, which means it helps create serotonin in the brain, meaning it improves mood, controls behavior, appetite, and it improves sleep. This one can only be taken for short periods of time or in small doses so beware.
Ginkgo Biloba: This Chinese medicine classic is an overall brain booster, improving short-term memory and recall, while also reducing anxiety and stress. This means it improves mood as well, and it has been shown to help patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s too.
Ginseng: Another gift from the Far East, Ginseng has long been known to have all sorts of benefits. Aids with memory and mood, lowers anxiety, and increases endurance and energy. Especially recommended for those over 40.
Melatonin: A naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleep. If levels are low, we have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. However, Tryptophan is a precursor of Melatonin and it’s debated whether taking the precursor is better than taking the actual Melatonin. Also, taking it at the wrong time or too much of it can have the exact opposite effect. (I took a large does too late at night once and was extremely groggy most of the next day, felt irritable, sluggish, foggy, and had a weird headache).
Tryptophan: This amino acid is a precursor to melatonin, serotonin, and niacin. This means it makes you happy, helps with anxiety, pain, ADHD, and depression, while it also improves quality of sleep and memory. See why some say it’s better to take Tryptophan instead of just straight Melatonin?
N-Acetyl L-Cysteine: An amino acid which is also a precursor to glutathione (reduces free radicals in the brain). It’s so good at its job that it can eliminate heavy metals and it’s used as an antidote for Tylenol overdose and CO poisoning. It also boosts concentration and motivation, aids with ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease, and depression.
Phenylalanine: Another multi-purpose nootropic. This amino acid is a precursor to Tyrosine which helps create and handles dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and melatonin. This means it reduces chronic pain and anxiety, improves focus and lack of motivation, improves mood, and boosts energy. It also helps control ADHD and Parkinson’s!
CBD (Cannabidiol): This non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis plant has become more and more popular thanks to research which shows that it works as an antidepressant and anxiolytic, reduces oxidative stress and inflammation. More recently, it has shown promise even treating conditions like schizophrenia.
There are many other everyday items you may already consume that are also nootropics in their own right, and when taken as supplements, can prove beneficial: Caffeine boosts energy (duh) and improves mood; cacao is an antioxidant, improves cognition and memory; magnesium is an anxiolytic and antidepressant, improves memory and cognitive function, and even helps regulate blood pressure. Other things like reservatrol, valerian, and other roots and herbs are also adaptogens or nootropics as well!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of nootropics. Since most are unaware of nootropics/smart drugs, I’ve just put together some of the most popular, most interesting to me, or the ones I think could be of use to most of us as an introduction. I encourage you to go out and look into nootropics, they’re a great way to adapt to the stressful world we have created without letting it have a negative effect on our brain and therefore, body, mind, and soul.
Now that I’ve introduced you to the world of nootropics, I suggest visiting Nootropics Expert for a full list, tons more information on effects and side-effects, dosing, and all kinds of interesting stuff regarding smart drugs.
What Nootropics Do I Take?
I use Ashwagandha in combination with Bacopa Monnieri to keep my physically and mentally demanding lifestyle from causing me unneeded stress which tends to lead to anxiety and depression. My husband suffers from anxiety now and then and his job has become more demanding. It got to the point that we ended up in the ER after a really bad panic attack. From there, not only did I start him on a daily healing meditation regimen, but we also both started taking this Ashwagandha+Bacopa stack. Since then, I’ve actually gotten a heavier workload (I work 3 jobs) and have gone through a lot of what could be considered stressful situations and I have been able to improve my focus on work, getting more stuff done in less time, and I’m able to teach 11 fitness classes per week without becoming depressed or feeling exhausted and grumpy.
Besides these, I also take a Quercetin (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and Bromelain (anti-inflammatory, immunity booster) stack which helps me with hay fever, athletic asthma, and quick recovery after exercising. While not nootropics per se, they’re a nice extra boost to what my stack already does.
I may try out either Noopept or Phenibut (both synthetic) in the future because the benefits sound amazing, but I’m not so thrilled about the possible side effects.
The wonderful thing is that there are many nootropics that do the same thing but affect you a bit differently so you are bound to find something that works for You. Another bonus is that you can “stack” compounds to get the right combination for your particular situation. Some companies already sell nootropic stacks aimed at specific needs—energy, focus, memory, etcetera—so it takes the guesswork and homework out of it. I, however, am a chronic DIYer and I make my own stacks! I buy the powders, empty capsules, and fill them myself; saving me a ton of money and ensuring I know where each ingredient came from. I suggest buying prepackaged ones first since buying the powders makes hundreds of capsules and is quite the commitment. I’d be terrible if you bought that much and it didn’t work well for you.
I hope this was enjoyable and informative. Do you take any smart drugs? Have you felt an improvement? Have any recommendations? If not, will you look into it and maybe give one or two a try? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget you can always send a direct message too!