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I’m glad you asked! We really need to talk about what Nootropics are. You may have seen the term around.
What They Are:
There are two very basic categories of nootropics: Natural substances like some supplements and some foods I talk about here at mywellbrain.com and some are man-made drugs, like Adderall, as well as some over the counter drugs.
So it’s any substance that helps memory and brain function. It’s not what’s in Nootropics but certain substances that are classified as nootropics.
If you want to get into it, I’ll give the detailed categories of Nootropics here but our discussion will revolve around the natural or over the counter options (which can be among the detailed categories below).
Science of it
From an article on Mental Health Daily online (2014) [Only included for educational purposes. Not all have been thoroughly tested or proven safe. Some have. Be careful]:
- Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors – Inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase which is known to break down acetylcholine in the brain, which lowers brain function. ex. Galantamine
- Ampakines – Stimulant-like properties, affect AMPA receptors. Drugs thought to improve symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders and some psychiatric illnesses. ex. Unifiram.
- Cholinergic – Influences neurotransmission of acetylcholine in the brain. Not to be confused with acetylcholinesterase, above. ex. Choline, Lecithin
- Dopaminergic – Influences dopamine. Includes some enzymes and other antidepressants. ex. L-Theanine, Phenylethylamine (PEA).
- Eugeroics – Wakefulness-promoting. Said to influence arousal-promoting , such as norepinephrine and dopamine. ex. Modafinil.
- GABAergics – Opposite of Eugeroics. It decreases levels of arousal and stress in the central nervous system. It can reduce anxiety and gives feelings of calmness. ex. GABA.
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- Herbal Supplements – self-explanatory.
- Hormones – ex. Cortisol, DHEA.
- Metabolic Enhancers – Increase metabolic processes and helps give brain cells more energy. ex Acetyl l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid.
- Neuroprotective Agents – Lion’s Mane Mushrooms. properties and repair damage and promote nerve growth. ex. Co-Enzyme Q10,
- Nutrients – ex. Iodine, Magnesium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Psychostimulants – Stimulate dopamine, stimulant properties. ex. caffeine, nicotine, Ritalin.
- Racetams – Compounds promoted to improve cognition. ex. Parecitam.
- Serotonergic – You guessed it. Serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘happy chemical’ which nerve cells produce. It effectively is 5-HTP. It can be included in supplements, enzymes, and some antidepressants. ex, Tryptophan, 5-HTP.
- Stacks – Just compounds of various nootropic substances, labeled and sold as a one pill nootropic compound.
- Vitamins – Obviously found in foods and available in supplements. ex B1, B5.
Okay. Enough of the science-ese. I think it does help to realize there are many categories of substances that can help memory and brain function though.
Popular Natural Nootropics (growing list):
Taken from: Mental Health Daily (2014)
Acetyl l-Carnitine: Metabolic Enhancers. Found to significantly reduce neurotoxicity and possibly prevent substances from killing brain cells.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): Metabolic Enhancers. Believed to prevent damage from free radicals that may lead to tissue damage and/or in the brain. Antioxidant. Considered essential for brain health.
B-Complex: Vitamins. Most of the B-complexes have great properties for health and especially brain health. The one you don’t want to overdo is B6 (Pyridoxine) as it has toxicity when taken in higher doses (>200mg/day) over long periods.
Blueberries and grapes (contains Ptersbilbene): Foods. Antioxidant properties. In studies, reversed cognitive decline and improved motor skills.
Bacopa monnieri: Herbal Supplements. In history, has been used as a treatment for asthma and epilepsy as well as inflammation and oxidation. Several studies have shown it helps provide memory enhancement.
Caffeine: Stimulants. Increases alertness and many report major performance enhancement.
Co-Enzyme Q10: Neuroprotective Agents. An enzyme that helps cellular functioning and generates energy. Helpful for the heart and brain.
DHEA: Hormones. A steroid hormone produced in adrenals, gonads, and the brain. Stimulates testosterone and/or estrogen and helps energy, mental performance, and memory functioning.
GABA: GABAergics. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. It helps with relaxation during stressful times. Naturally produced in the body, it’s an amino acid that functions as a .
Ginkgo biloba: Herbal Supplements. Used throughout history in traditional medicine. Mixed reviews on whether this provides cognitive benefits. Some say that long term use improves attention, executive functioning, and long-term memory.
Isoflavones: Herbal Supplements. In the same family of natural compounds as isoflavonoids. Studies have shown better spatial working memory and studies on soy isoflavone can improve verbal fluency, dexterity, and spatial memory.
L-theanine (found in green tea): May help the ability to concentrate without the stimulant effects. It can be found as a supplement.
Lion’s Mane: Herbal Supplements. Mushroom. Ancient Chinese traditional medicine. Some research shows improved mental functioning. It is found to repair nerves and promotes regeneration of neurons.
Melatonin: Hormones. It helps with insomnia and improves the quality of sleep. Found naturally in the body. Helps with circadian rhythm and some have suggested it offers nootropic benefits by restoring the brain after significant stress.
Panax Ginseng: Herbal Supplements. The ‘Panax’ species of ginseng has been found to improve the accuracy of memorization, increase quickness in mental performance and enhances the performance of complex arithmetic tasks. Reviews I’ve seen show people find it gives great energy! Some people also use it to improve feelings of well-being. Used for depression, anxiety, fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS and more.
Piperine (in black pepper): Aids in transporting essential nutrients within the body. It can influence levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Rhodiola Rosea: Herbal Supplements. Supplement to improve mood and depression. Touted to improve mental performance. Believed to stimulate AMPK enzymes.
St. John’s Wort: Herbal Supplements. Used to treat mild depression. Believed that mood improves improvements might help with increased focus and attention.
Yerba Mate: Herbal Supplements. Found in several health beverages. Delivers antioxidants which help protect the brain and nervous system.
Recap on Nootropics and Final Notes
As you can see, they come in a vast number of forms and sources. Many of the supplements and foods discussed here at mywellbrain.com are nootropics. But I also go into more well-rounded techniques for memory and brain function so you’ll find additional topics that I hope you find helpful around the site. I also recommend not trying too many things at once. If you’re going to add supplements to the mix, try one or two at a time so you know what works.
You can certainly test your brain with the link on the right side of every page to a free brain function test. It doesn’t tell you if it’s good or bad but gives a baseline to see what effect various activities or supplements have on you. You can create your own experiment and just repeat it every day, either before or after your activity or supplement to test it out. 🙂
Above all, I hope this has clarified the classifications of different supplements and substances that abound in the world of Nootropics and brain health as you pursue your brain health quest. I’ll be creating more articles on the different nootropic supplements, foods, and substances individually as mywellbrain continues to grow. 🙂
If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please leave them below and I’ll be sure to answer or respond. Thank you!
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Matthews, M. Men’sHealth (2018) Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/health/a22737582/what-are-nootropics/
Mental Health Daily. Extensive List of Nootropics: 130+ Smart Drugs. (2014). https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/11/26/extensive-list-of-nootropics-130-smart-drugs/
Merriam-Webster online dictionary. (2019) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nootropic