One often over-looked aspect of maintaining overall well-being is the health of the brain. Every day it seems that new reports on Alzheimer’s or other cognitive-based diseases are released.
Researchers are seeking a cure, but prevention is the only means of slowing it’s onset. Anything that contributes to healthy brain function may be a means of preventing problems.
Besides prevention, you may want to increase mental focus for a big exam or a major work project, where ideas and sharpness are needed most. Nootropics can help in all of these areas.
Some people assume that any effects from brain-boosting supplements are mostly psychosomatic, but I know from both personal experience and research that that’s just not the case. But with so many to choose from, how do you know which ones do work, and which work the best?
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropic drugs and supplements improve cognitive functions and brain health. Nootropic substances act to increase brain activity.
The caffeine in your morning cup of coffee or tea is a nootropic compound. So is nicotine, though the side effects from smoking tobacco generally outweigh the benefits.
Nootropics are often used to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and ADHD. They are also used to treat strokes, brain damage and epilepsy.
College students use nootropics to improve performance in school, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs use them to increase focus and enhance their natural creative ability.
They are often found in prescription drugs. Amphetamines and other stimulants that increase brain activity are classified as nootropics.
Modafinil, a prescription drug used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy, is used by students and others who rely on their brain for a living to keep awake and alert.
Another common class of nootropics are racetams. These increase the efficiency of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and glutamate, can help with creativity and overall thinking, and reduce anxiety and depression.
Substances in over-the-counter supplements are usually botanicals and herbs. Gingko biloba and ginseng have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to help improve brain function and memory.
Bacopa monnieri, a perennial herb, may improve cognitive abilities, memory and reduce anxiety. Even the mushroom yama bushitake can be added to the diet and act as a brain enhancer.
How Do They Work?
It’s unknown how some of these substances work. The mechanism that racetams use to increase neurotransmitter efficiency is, for example, unclear.
Others regulate the brain’s production of dopamine. Some, like modafinil, reduce the brains production of dopamine increasing wakefulness and awareness.
Amphetamines, such as Adderall widely used for the treatment of ADHD, make dopamine act more effectively in the brain and stimulate brain activity in a variety of ways. Supplements mimic the activity of these different classes of drugs in less harmful ways to the brain and body.
What Nootropics Can Do For You
Nootropics have a wide variety of effects and can be used for different purposes. In general, they stimulate brain activity and give a person the feeling of more energy and cognitive ability. Many people say that they are ‘more themselves’ when using nootropics.
They can also help in specific instances, particularly with well tested and widely used prescription drugs. Some help the brain recover from trauma. Others lead to increased reaction times, improve verbal learning, or stimulate cellular energy levels in the cerebral cortex.
L-theanine (found in black and green tea) helps with mental endurance, the ability to stay focused and sharp for longer periods of time. Certain combinations of nootropics defend the brain against itself in the face of environmental toxins.
Many nootropic substances help regulate moods. They can help the brain adapt to stress or reduce anxiety. Others act as anti-depressants.
There are an increasing number of over-the-counter supplements available which can simulate the effects of many prescription-only drugs. Primarily made with all-natural herbs and nutrients, these products are generally as effective, considerably safer, and produce fewer side effects than their pharmaceutical counterparts.
Some of the more popular nootropic products that I can personally recommend include:
- BrainPill by Leading Edge Health – endorsed by none other than Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest winning streak on the game show Jeopardy! (appearing on 75 episodes in a row), and collecting nearly $3.2 million in total winnings.
- CILTEP by Natural Stacks
Recommended: Mind Lab Pro
Product: Mind Lab Pro
Manufacturer: Opti-Nutra Ltd.
Like all drugs and supplements, nootropics can have negative side effects. In large doses they can be addictive. Studies suggest that small, prescribed doses are fairly safe, but they will affect people in different ways.
Supplements have fewer studies of long-term benefits and effects, but some side effects are known. Bacopa monnieri has been shown to reduce sperm counts in mice.
A man looking at taking a nootropic supplement containing bacopa may want to try something different if he is planning on conceiving children at the same time.
Nootropics can also have unpredictable effects. A supplement that is supposed to enhance memory may actually reduce memory and cognition is some people.
Someone considering a supplement or prescription drug should do their homework, and when they are ready, try different combinations of nootropics to find the ones that work for them.
How to Take Nootropics
Many stimulants and other drugs can only be obtained by prescription. This should be done in consultation with a healthcare provider.
Doses and interactions will be covered by the prescription and these instructions should be followed.
Supplements come in the form of ‘stacks’, combinations of certain substances that appear to work well together. Nootropic stacks are often pre-made, and can be found on the shelves of stores and supplement providers (see above).
Stacks also help provide assistance for the absorption and efficacy of individual components.
If you are using a supplement, make sure the dosage is the right one to get the full benefit. Pre-made stacks of nootropic supplements may not have enough of a particular compound to provide the brain what it needs.
Be sure to read the label after doing the research on the supplement you are looking at taking.
Results to Expect
You’ve done your research, found the right supplement or stack, and are ready to start taking them. How long before you see the effects?
Some will act almost immediately. Prescription drugs, caffeine and nicotine quickly stimulate the brain. Brain activity will increase, and you’ll be more alert and focused from the start.
Others will take time to have an effect. Products containing bocopa may take up to four weeks before it begins to improve brain function.
Depending on your regimen, you’ll need to be patient and wait for the effects to appear.
Changes may come gradually. Since the changes are happening to natural brain activity, you may be experiencing increases in cognitive function without recognizing the changes.
This is especially true when using supplements. If you stop taking the stack for fear it’s not working, you may find that you are no longer as focused as you were.
All nootropics may help with brain function, memory and cognitive functions. Anyone looking to increase their brain’s activity, whether to keep the brain stimulated, do their jobs or lessons faster and better, or just feel better and smarter on an everyday basis, could benefit from adding nootropics to their daily routine.
Mark McIntyre is the founder of MaleHealthReview.com and acts as it’s chief contributor. He is a fitness trainer and avid mountain biker who also enjoys camping, hiking and fishing. Besides managing Male Health Review, Mark is also a guest columnist for several blogs related to men’s health. More about this author…