Nootropics are becoming more popular with people who want to boost their focus, memory and cognition. But what exactly are they? And are they worth trying?
Lots of drug companies and researchers are developing nootropics, whether in supplement, pill or in the form of other substances. However, they’re presented, nootropics have one thing in common and that’s they’re designed to improve cognitive function.
What exactly are nootropics and what do they do?
‘Nootropic’ can be roughly translated from the original Greek word and means ‘to bend or shape the mind’. The world of nootropics may be relatively new but there are many over the counter nootropic supplements available online or in retail outlets. They all claim to boost decision-making, memory, creativity and other brain functions.
Supplements labelled nootropics usually contain a mix of antioxidants, lipids, vitamins and phytochemicals that scientific studies link with good brain function. Many nootropics contain substances like bacopa and Ginseng, which have both been shown to have a positive effect on attention and memory. Similarly, lots of the ingredients that are derived from food, such as Omega 3 and flavonoids can be shown to improve brain function.
However, being good for your brain doesn’t necessarily correlate with enhanced cognitive thinking. Dr David Hogan is a Professor Medicine at the University of Calgary, Canada. He points out that there are many “plausible mechanisms” that can link these ingredients with enhanced cognitive functions. However, he goes on to say that it’s difficult for supplements to completely replicate the benefits of the complexity of natural foods.
Benefits of nootropics are cumulative
Evidence shows that supplements containing these ingredients or eating foods with brain boosting nutrients are cumulative. This means that you need to ingest them for a long period of time. There is also some evidence that more benefit can be gained from these nootropics before middle age.
However, OTC nootropics can also help your focus, brain power and memory regardless of the scant scientific evidence to support this. As well as food-derived ingredients, some pharmaceuticals are also nootropics. For example, well-known study-enhancers such as Ritalin and Adderall have been taken for the last 20 years by students looking for a boost. These drugs, of course, are for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) but in people without this condition can boost focus. This is because they are stimulants, and as such are also linked with seizures, heart problems and even sudden death. Importantly, they are also addictive.
There are other prescription drugs emerging that could have brain boosting effects. But there are none that are currently considered safe and without side effects. While prescription drugs should be avoided for those seeking the ideal nootropic, other substances can help.
Caffeine and food-derived nootropics
One of the ingredients that does have an effect on alertness and cognitive ability in some people is called 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. This chemical has been shown to help memory and alertness and is better known as caffeine. While some experts in the past said that caffeine is risky, today’s scientists generally agree that caffeine in the form of green tea and caffeine gives lots of benefits as long as it’s only consumed in moderate amounts.
Here’s a look at some of the drinks and juices that can also boost your brain health. A mix of regular exercise, a good-quality nootropic supplement and a moderate intake of the following will all help to boost your focus and mental alertness.
As mentioned above, caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed nootropics. Coffee also contains chlorogenic acid, which is an antioxidant proven to have some effect on the brain. Studies show that caffeine taken in doses of between 40 and 300 mg can improve reaction times, memory and alertness. This is the equivalent of between half and three cups of coffee. Caffeine is considered scientifically safe at a level of up to around 400 mg per day – equivalent to about four cups of coffee.
- Green tea
Another way to take caffeine, green tea contains less than coffee. But it still contains caffeine and also includes two nootropic compounds – epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and I-theanine. A review of more than 20 studies on humans show that there is evidence to show that green tea supports memory, attention and focus.
This fermented drink is made from either black or green tea with added botanicals and fruit. It introduces probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to the gut and is increasingly popular with people who want to eat clean. Scientists increasingly think that gut health is linked to brain function, and therefore it’s possible that kombucha could boost alertness.
- Blueberry juice
Polyphenol plant compounds are thought to have brain enhancing benefits, and they are found in blueberries. The berry is also packed full of anthocyanins, which are the antioxidants responsible for the colour of the berries. Results from a study of 400 people suggested that eating blueberries or drinking blueberry juice can lead to enhanced memory and focus.
- Turmeric latte
Turmeric lattes are hot drinks that include the yellow spice turmeric. The spice contains curcumin, which is an antioxidant that could increase the neurotrophic factor in the brain. Low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is linked with neurological disorders. Raising levels of BDNF is thought to increase brain function.
- Beetroot juice
Beetroots are rich in nitrates, which become nitric oxide. This is used by the body to improve blood flow and oxygenation of the cells. Many people who exercise a lot drink beetroot juice before they work out for its blood flow boosting qualities, it could also potentially provide benefits for the brain. Scientists think that nitric oxide could boost the part of the brain that governs decision-making and learning.
- Herbal teas with different ingredients
It’s thought that some herbal teas could boost focus and brain power. These include:
- Sage – thought to boost mood and memory.
- Gingko biloba – could help symptoms of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Ginseng – some studies show it promotes brain function.
- Ashwagandha – a popular nootropic could help against neurodegenerative diseases.
- Rhodiola – thought to help mental fatigue.