Could These Nootropics Help You Achieve Peak Mental Performance?
If you are a student striving hard to get good grades on your exam, or if you are a competitive corporate worker aiming for a significant leap in your career or if you feel tired at work for no reason and want to do something , it’s about time you hear about those pills that boost your brainpower.
The idea that some pills can enhance your brain activity and foster your intelligence may sound like fiction to many.
But recently, a lot of money is going into drug research to create these pills and supplements.
These are called Nootropics and they have been gaining popularity especially among the youth who find themselves in the never-ending rat race to outdo others and thereby feel the compulsion to rely on external agents (in this case pills, to increase their productivity).
Nootropics are also sometimes called “smart drugs” as they are associated with increased intelligence and mental energy that drives your motivation to do anything you aim to do.
Primarily, these drugs belong to a class of neurological enhancing supplements, herbs, extracts and medicines that are designed to complement brain activity.
The word ‘Nootropic’ comes from Greek. νόος (nóos) means “mind” and τροπή (tropḗ) means “a turning”.
In total, the word means “to bend or to shape the mind”. Under normal and appropriate usage, these drugs exhibit a very low risk of side effects. Even with long term usage, unlike most drugs, the Nootropics should do you no harm.
One of the first known Nootropics is called ‘Piracetam’ that was invented in 1963 by two Belgian pharmacologists, S. Giurgea and V. Skondia. Since then, many new Nootropics have been developed for various purposes.
According to surveys, 0.7 to 4.5% of German students have used cognitive enhancers at least once in their lifetime.
And these trends follow elsewhere around the world as well. These students (and other users) have a wide range of options to choose from.
But the question we should be asking ourselves is: Do nootropic enhance mental performance?
WHAT DO RESEARCHERS SAY?
Barry Gordon, MD, Ph.D., director of the cognitive neurology/neuropsychology division at John Hopkins Medicine has pointed to the fact that in the absence of any strong evidence, it is unfair to say that the memory-boosting supplements that are in the market right now are ‘helpful’.
It is generally believed that Nootropics take time to build up in the body before they start exhibiting their intended effects.
But Gordon is of the view that even after confirming such effects in the body, no strong association between the mind-enhancing effects and the drugs can be logically established.
Another study published in 2015 claimed that after reviewing various supplements and nutrients, no substantiating evidence for brain enhancement was found.
Dr. Guillaume Fond, a psychiatrist who hails from France’s Aix-Marseille University Medical School published his findings on cognitive enhancement drugs back in 2015 and concluded the same thing:
We still lack the relevant data to prove that these drugs are effective in brain enhancements.
The thing with research is that it relies on empirical data to make any sound conclusions.
When conduction a causal-effect analysis, we need to somehow make sure that all other variables are held constant.
With Nootropic research, it is generally believed that these drugs take some time before they exhibit their actions inside the body. And in that period, a lot of things can happen to your body. How, then, do you know which stimulus was responsible for which response?
As a human being, you are constantly experiencing a plethora of emotions that introduce a variety of chemicals in your body and any of these can improve or deplete your capacity to work efficiently. Remember, there is a strong correlation between productivity and happiness.
Smiling while doing a task can affect how you are processing information in a good way. It increases your ability to focus and overall perceptions.
Similarly, negative emotions can drive you to the edge and make you feel suffocated.
We are habitual of the cycle in which we receive these emotions.
So how do we evaluate the efficacy of Nootropics when millions of intern chemicals are coming in our way of analysis?
That is a tricky puzzle that we hope scientists will eventually be able to solve someday.
HOW DO NOOTROPICS ACHIEVE ENHANCED MENTAL PERFORMANCE?
Before we dive further, at this point it is befitting that we study the overall road map that involves our brain, these cognitive enhancement drugs and the interplay between the two that eventually “bends” our brain. In this section, we provide you a summary of what is happening up there when you take these drugs.
You may be inclined to think that nootropics act in the same way as stimulants such as caffeine (which, by the way, is a dual nootropic/stimulant chemical that makes you feel more energetic and sharpens your alertness and increases your focus.
But while stimulants are good for short term effects such as increased heart rate and peaking alertness, nootropics can help you sustain both long-term and short-term effects.
They are in a traditional sense neuro activating and may not even increase your blood pressure or heart rate like stimulants do (note: some of the nootropics do that).
They can help your brain elicit profound behavior by:
- Regulating the activity of the neurotransmitters
- Improving blood flow
- Increasing neuroprotection
- Regulating neuroinflammation
- Increasing brain growth factors
Fun Fact: Your brain is an electrochemical organ that can generate up to 10 watts of power.
That is almost 87.6 kWh per year. An LED bulb consumes the same figure of power per hour. Your brain generates this electricity to propel the business of neurotransmitters.
To understand the effect of nootropics on enhancing alertness and focus, let us understand how the stimuli-response cycle works.
Neurotransmitters can send chemical messages between neurons.
To start with, there is a stimulus that enables the receptors to use the environmental stimuli to generate electrical signals which are carried across the Central Nervous System to the effectors which elicit a response.
This cycle is called a negative feedback mechanism.
Whenever something in your environment goes wrong, negative feedback is the process by which your body ensures that you stay safe and sharp.
The efficient handling of these electrical signals is critical to the robustness of this system. These are the neurotransmitters that can be aided by the use of nootropics:
- Acetylcholine is an excitatory neurotransmitter associated with neuromuscular junction activation as well as the cognitive processes of learning and memory formation, knowledge retention, arousal, and attention.
- Seratonin is responsible for functions like sleep, appetite, and mood. In case you are not having enough of these, you can experience depression and bad moods
- Dopamine is responsible for managing movements and aids in carrying information to the front of the brain. It also referred to as ‘feel-good hormone’.
- Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for sending signals between neurons in the brain. This plays an important role in learning and forming memories.
- Norepinephrine is called stress hormone that regulates it in parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled. Along with epinephrine, norepinephrine is responsible for the fight-or-flight response.
Reading the descriptions of these neurotransmitters has probably got you thinking just how important these chemicals are.
Any mishandling in case of any neurotransmitters can ruinously upset your whole system. From depression, stress to anxiety, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, and many other ailments can victimize you if these chemicals are not regulated properly.
Fortunately, nootropics are ideal supplements that support neurotransmitters in our bodies. These include Tyrosine, magnesium, turmeric, ginkgo biloba, and L-Theanine. More on these later.
Cerebral Blood Flow
Ensuring blood flow to the brain is critical to our survival. After all, this valuable organ demands 15% of the entire body’s blood flow.
Blood is needed by the brain to deliver oxygen, glucose and other enriching nutrients to foster brain activity. Additionally, many waste products are removed from the brain through the bloodstream.
These include carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Any mismanagement of blood flow can be fatal to the functioning of the brain. If the blood flow slows down in the brain, the brain cells suffocate because they do not get sufficient oxygen to live.
These cells begin to die in millions and eventually lead to a stroke.
Vascular dementia is a renowned condition describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow.
Nootropics can again come in handy to ensure that such a situation does not arise.
- Vinpocetine is used for preventing and reducing the chance of disability and death from ischemic stroke. This is the type of stroke that occurs when a blood clot stops blood flow in the brain, causing brain cells (neurons) to die because they are not receiving oxygen.
- Bacopa Monnier, as suggested by research, may help keep blood pressure within a healthy range.
- Gingko Biloba improves blood circulation by opening up blood vessels and making blood less sticky
These are the most popular nootropics used to increase blood flow to and throughout the brain.
Research has indicated that nootropics have the potential to play a key role in reducing neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation is the inflammation of the nervous tissues due to a variety of reasons such as infections, traumatic brain injury and autoimmunity.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a well-known disease that is also associated with neuroinflammation. Auto-inflammatory molecules released in the body eventually result in the AD.
Based on research, it was concluded that the nootropic drug helped with inflammation and improved cognition.
Increasing Brain Growth Factor
Neurogenesis is the creation of fresh new brain cells. It is a process of utmost importance that ensures consistency in the functioning of your brain.
As old cells are overused and depleted, new cells take their place to perform the same functions.
At any point in your lifecycle, if these cells were to stop coming in, you’d run into the terrible scenario: neurodegeneration – where your current cells are dying, and new cells are not being formed to take their place.
In case you are susceptible to neurodegeneration, you will experience memory loss, anxiety, mood changes, forgetfulness and many more. In extreme cases, it could lead to permanent mental disabilities as your brain shrinks away in size. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder.
Nootropics have been found to assist neurogenesis primarily by enhancing Nerve Growth Factors (NGF) and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF) while also raising levels of brain-building blocks.
Some nootropics will increase brain power production to meet the high energy demands of making new brain cells
There are a bunch of nootropics that aid neurogenesis:
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom can enhance the formation and regulation of myelin sheaths around nerve cells. It can also speed up neural recovery following a neuronal damage
- Citicoline is a “brain-builder” nootropic that supplies both raw materials and energy for brain development.
- Phosphatidylserine supplements memory performance and concentration by supplying brain building blocks
Apart from these use cases for nootropics, our brain can benefit from the ability of these drugs to repair and maintain our brain by removing harmful substances.
Conditions such as brain aging are caused by out of control free radicals.
These can damage the brain permanently but some nootropics that boost choline in the brain can prevent this from happening.
This is called oxidative stress. Nootropics such as Noopept have been proved to assist in repairing oxidative damage.
Moreover, nootropics can help reduce brain fatigue. There are several causes of brain disease.
Most commonly, it can be associated with a lack of oxygen or an insufficient supply of glucose reaching the brain cells. It can also be attributed to a persistent negative feedback cycle that drains brainpower.
Luckily, nootropics such as Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, and Ashwagandha can complement endocrine system – responsible for communicating chemicals around the body – by ensuring efficient delivery of chemicals to the brain that ensures that bloodstream carries a balanced amount of raw materials for usage by the brain and thereby prevent brain fatigue.
DISADVANTAGES OF USING NOOTROPICS
Let’s get one thing straight; the advantages of nootropics outdo the disadvantages.
If you browse the internet and search about the effects of nootropics, you will come across a variety of content whereby each author has to say something different about these drugs.
The fact that each nootropic performs differently than the other makes it harder to draw a generalization out of them.
Added to this is the fact that research often fails to conclude with complete guarantee that the efficacy of these drugs.
But still, we have cases of people who have been taking these drugs years report back that the drugs have made a huge impact in their lives.
But not always.
Even if the whole world keeps shouting the benefits of these cognitive enhancers, we cannot rule out the case where these drugs are taken the wrong way and result in potential side effects that can compromise their intended usage.
Let’s go one by one through these side effects:
Taking too much of these at once means you are enforcing too much brain activity on your body – perhaps more than it could take – which can ‘short-circuit’ cognition and even harm the blood circulatory system (Remember, some of the nootropics increase blood pressure to pump more blood to the brain).
What good is your nootropic dosage if it ends up doing you more harm than good. You cannot work with a headache and believe it or not, nootropics work on your head.
Again, this is related to the first point about overdosage. If you are taking too much of these drugs or if your frequency of intake is inappropriate, then at some point you will experience ugly headaches that can last for some time.
Added to this is the fact that each person’s body reacts uniquely to these supplements so make sure you draw a chart or a log where you document whatever it is that you are experiencing after an intake.
Asses this log at the end of the week to extrapolate the right dosage for yourself.
A dense network of neurotransmitters spans the gut.
For this reason, your gut is also called your “second brain”. Since nootropics excite neurotransmitters by regulating and upholding their activities, an increase bio-activity in the gut can cause disruptive irregularities that can lead to a bad day.
Your day was supposed to be the product after these drugs but now you are just holding your belly tight and waiting for the weird and annoying feeling to go away.
ARE NOOTROPICS LEGAL?
A lot of people ask the question “are nootropics legal?”.
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you would expect. The legality of nootropics depends on where you live, what are the region’s medical policies and whether you belong to the right age group.
A closer look into the maze of nootropics’ regulations will reveal to you how confounding the whole matter is.
There exists no universal law that can regulate these drugs, and neither do any two governments share the same laws when it comes to nootropics.
A lot of times, regulation of these drugs is left to manufacturers and consumers.
To begin with, a lot of countries around the world recognize nootropics as dietary supplements. In this regard, these drugs are considered harmless mostly.
The best way to understand the legal aspect of nootropics, it makes sense to divide these drugs into different categories of:
- Herbs and their extracts
- Dietary nutrients
It is intuitive to suppose that the first two categories of nootropics are legal almost everywhere around the world
Herbs and Their Extracts
So far, we have mentioned many nootropics that belong to this category. Bacopa monnieri, Rhodiola rosea and Camellia sinensis belong to this category of nootropics.
Almost all of these drugs have been used by earlier civilizations for hundreds of years.
The fact that for a long time, humans have clung to their usages attests to their efficacy and safety in usage.
Almost everywhere around the world, these drugs are legalized.
This one a no brainer also.
Nootropic supplements that complement your diet by providing you with a rich supply of vitamins, minerals, and amino are overwhelmingly accepted all around the world.
To ban them based on their category (nutrient-providers) would be catastrophic since the same logic could be applied to other food materials as well.
So, rest assured, these drugs will be up to their somewhere on the shelf the next time you visit your nearest medical store.
One of the main reasons why dietary nutritious nootropics enjoy the free trade is that a comprehensive quality assurance okays the production and selling of these drugs in suitable environments for end consumption.
This is the category that should get you concerned because this is where the majority of the drama brews. But first, let us understand the difference between synthetic and semi-synthetic nootropics:
- Synthetic nootropics are made from inorganic materials (e.g. piracetam)
- Semi-synthetic nootropics come from natural materials (e.g. vinpocetine)
To make matters complex, consider this; piracetam is allowed in North America but is banned by prescription in Australia and the United Kingdom. Bear in mind that piracetam was the first synthetic nootropic.
The reason why countries differ in their approach regarding the regulation of synthetic/semi-synthetic nootropics is that some nations consider them as dietary supplements while others do not.
As stated initially, each country treats the categories of nootropics different. Each country has a special set of laws that dictate which of these drugs are permissible for consumption and which are not. As an intrigued potential user, you should visit the medical regulatory authorities of your country (or simply go to their website or send them an email) and enquire about the legality of nootropic of interest. That is the most recommended way.
We all desire to reach our limits to make way for success in our lives.
Everything in life is tied up to how productive we are and what we are capable of making out of our lives. Nootropics are wonderful supplements that have for centuries aided mankind in their quest to be ever more pushing and progressive.
They have been our constant companions.
You may be turned off by the fact that there isn’t enough research literature out there to back the efficacy of these beautiful cognitive enhancers.
But that is a function of the limitation of the methods that are employed by researchers and there is nothing wrong with this at all.
By no fault of their own, nootropics exhibit their activity only after a while and by then, researchers begin to lose the hold of many variables that they try so hard to control.
Empirical data is dirtied and thus cannot be relied upon to substantiate a case for nootropics.
But what has remained steadfast is the countless stories by nootropic users who have expressed gratitude for having found these drugs that have made a huge impact in their lives without costing them much in terms of the side effects. If inherently a nootropic is there to harm your system, then it cannot be called nootropic at all.
It immediately false outside this category.
But if you still don’t buy this, then you are free to leave it be and save your money. Indulging yourself in healthy physical exercise can enhance your brain activity just as much.
That is if you have the time to do so.