The wellness industry’s latest obsession isn’t a soothing, crystal-infused facial or a calming CBD gummy — but actually quite the opposite: Introducing nootropics, a somewhat vaguely defined category of supplements created to increase cognitive function, enhance alertness, boost energy, and help manage stress. During a time when most of us are always plugged in and logged on, when the notion of work-life balance is especially elusive and when the “cult of busyness” seems ever-present, the appeal of these energizing, mind-sharpening products is obvious.
Nootropics are a class of compounds also commonly referred to as smart drugs. While this might be a new term for many reading this, the truth is, that nootropics have been around for decades, and a few of them have been around for centuries. It’s only recently that nootropics have come into the limelight as they’re being adopted by everyone from athletes to movie stars and even high-level executives on Wall Street.
The reason nootropics are called smart drugs is that they enhance all aspects of brain function, and certain nootropics even offer neuroprotective benefits, helping stave of mental decline that can occur as a result of aging or exposure to toxins. Essentially, think of nootropics as compounds that ignite your neurological pathways that improve your creativity, thinking, memory, learning, and mental processing all while protecting those abilities from the evil forces of your external environment.
Given the cognitive spark that certain nootropics deliver, you might think they’re much like stimulants, such as caffeine, which is a dual nootropic/stimulant compound that improves energy, focus, and alertness. But not all nootropics are stimulants in the traditional sense in that they increase mental alertness and affect cardiovascular markers (blood pressure, heart rate, etc). Some nootropics are only neuro activating, while not impacting the heart or blood flow at all. Another big difference between nootropics and stimulants is that stimulants then to have only very acute (immediate, short-lived) effects, and when the “buzz” wears off, you feel depleted, sluggish, and drained.
Nootropics For Particular Cognitive Goals
Different nootropics effect different cognitive functions — there isn’t one single nootropic that helps improve all brain-related processes. If you’re looking to improve one particular cognitive area, then this list is for you — the best nootropics for each of several cognitive issues is given here.
Ashwagandha, Tryptophan, 5-HTP, Rhodiola rosea
Anxiety and Stress
Rhodiola rosea, Tyrosine, Ashwagandha, Theanine
Brain Cell Formation and Protection
Pterostilbene, Maritime Pine Bark Extract, Citicoline, Vinpocetine, PQQ, DHA, Phosphatidylserine, Uridine, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Bacopa monnieri, Reishi Mushroom,
Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Bacopa monnieri, , Alpha-GPCPhosphatidylserine, Ginkgo biloba, Citicoline
Caffeine, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12
Choline bitartrate, Caffeine, Citicoline, Alpha-GPC, N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine
Popular and Powerful Nootropics
These substances all have different effects. While they all have different mechanisms of action, they all contribute to better cognitive function. Some enhance memory formation. Others promote faster memory recall. Many sharpen focus and promote concentration. Others increase mental energy. A few of them increase neuron growth and dendrite branching, while a small number promote the formation of new brain cells.
Importantly, many of these substances have a synergistic effect when used in combination with one another. By stacking two or more nootropics you can get effects far more powerful than you can using the substances individually.
Ginkgo biloba is quickly making a name for itself as the best natural nootropic supplement for older people. Ginkgo biloba contains two compounds – terpenes and glycosides. The former reduces the viscosity of your blood (making it thinner and ‘runnier‘), while the latter causes vasodilation (where your blood vessels expand).
The end result is greater blood flow in the brain, which means better oxygenated, better fed brain cells. This is why older people are using Ginkgo biloba; restricted blood flow is one of the leading causes of age-related cognitive decline. Using Gingko biloba on a daily basis might help slow down cognitive decline.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in high concentrations in the human brain. It is a primary constituent of brain cell membranes.
Phosphatidylserine is also needed for cell signalling. When a brain cell is ready to die and be replaced, phosphatidylserine moves to the outside of the cell membrane. This is the signal for immune cells to come in and destroy the cell.
Phospholipid levels decline as we get older. Supplementing with phosphatidylserine has been shown to promote good cognitive function. Some studies have even found phosphatidylserine has short-term benefits.
B12 is probably the first supplement that many people take. Nothing gives you the kind of general pep boost that B12 can. It increases energy, reduces brain fog, improves mood, supports healthy skin, and more.
Many people overlook B12s nootropic properties. But this is a mistake; B12 is a good nootropic substance. Studies have shown that B12 deficiencies lead to a steady decline in cognitive performance. Other clinical trials have demonstrated that B12 supplementation improves various aspects of mental function; specifically, those relating to brain cell energy metabolism.
Pterostilbene is another antioxidant. Pterostilbene is structurally similar to resveratrol; the antioxidant found in large quantities in red wine. It acts in a very similar way to resveratrol in the body. The only difference between the two is that only about 20% of the resveratrol you consume ends up active in the blood. Pterostilbene, on the other hand, is far more bioavailable — about 80% ends up in the blood.
When you really start to understand what nootropics have to offer, it’s a no-brainer why they’re so popular these days, and a big reason you’re starting to see them included in everything from energy drinks to pre workouts, and before long, they’ll probably be part of your daily multi-vitamin.