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Are ‘Nootropics’ the Next Wellness Trend Everyone Will Be Talking About?

Are ‘Nootropics’ the Next Wellness Trend Everyone Will Be Talking About?

Nootropics could be the newest health fad for people who want to enhance their overall mental performance. But do they really work?

Nootropics - The Next Wellness Trend

Brain treatment low poly 3D render. Drug nootropic human ability stimulant smart mental health. Medicine cognitive rehabilitation in Alzheimer disease and dementia patient vector illustration. Shutterstock Images

Nootropics Overview

Nootropics are drugs that enhance overall cognitive performance, including skills such as memory, language, information processing, attention, perception, and processing knowledge. The term ‘nootropics’ was first used in 1972 when research uncovered the particular benefits of the drug piracetam[3].

There are actually two different types of nootropics, those that occur organically in nature and those that are created synthetically in a laboratory. Organic nootropics are commonly used as ingredients in brain-boosting supplements.

Nootropic drugs are prescribed to patients to treat a number of conditions, but many people take them non-medicinally to boost brain performance; they’re referred to as ‘smart drugs.’ There are numerous over-the-counter substances for sale that claim to have some brain-enhancing effects. These drugs are so much in demand that pharmacologists are constantly working to develop new ones.

Nootropic Prescription Medications

The most well-known prescription medications that are considered nootropics are the amphetamine Adderall (used as a weight reduction medication), the methylphenidate Ritalin (used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children), and modafinil (used to treat sleep disorders).

Nootropic Natural Substances

There are numerous supplements on the market with nootropic benefits. These include a collection of vitamins, nutrients, amino acids, and other organic ingredients that have been linked to brain enhancement, but these supplements vary in terms of the impact they have on cognitive performance. Some of the organic substances included in these supplements are:

  1. Resveratrol

    This is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance that occurs naturally in grapes, red wine, peanuts, and certain berries. It’s classed as a nootropic because it greatly enhances memory. Some of its other reported benefits include strengthening the immune system and heart health.[13]

  2. Choline Bitartrate

    This brain chemical converts into the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is a brain chemical that deals with learning and memory. Taking this substance can enhance brain functioning.[10]

  3. Folic Acid

    Studies have shown that folic acid improves memory function and critical thinking. Other research has concluded that elderly people with cognitive decline benefit from taking folic acid on a regular basis, demonstrating an improved cognitive performance on tests.[8]

  4. Ginseng

    This comes from the root of the Panax plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. Studies have shown that ginseng can enhance memory functioning so it’s a common ingredient in nootropic supplements.[12]

  5. Bacopa Monnieri

    This is an herb that has been used for its medicinal benefits for many centuries, largely in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s a powerful nootropic that can be used to boost cognitive functioning in the healthy. In addition, it’s effective in decreasing the symptoms of dementia in the elderly.[2]

  6. Ginkgo Biloba

    This is a tree whose leaves contain powerful health properties due to the presence of antioxidants called flavonoids. For centuries, it’s been known to be an effective memory booster.[7]

  7. Creatine

    This amino acid enhances critical thinking and memory skills, by binding with phosphate in the brain, leading to the creation of a molecule that your cells then use as energy. The more stress a person is under, the more effective creatine will be. A dose of 5 mg of creatine each day is quite safe, although more than that can do damage to your system.[6]

Medical Uses of Nootropics

Medically, nootropics are used to treat conditions including:[3]

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obesity
  • Narcolepsy and other sleep issues
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Other Users of Nootropics

Nootropics are used frequently by students to increase brain function and improve their academic performance. Usage of smart drugs by students has increased over time, however, this is a controversial practice, as it’s considered unethical by students who don’t take cognitive enhancers. However, the immense pressure of performing academically often pushes students to take smart drugs.[9]

Incidence of Nootropic Use for Non-Medicinal Purposes

Studies have indicated a big increase in the number of people using these drugs for non-medicinal purposes all over the world, and particularly on the European continent. This is referred to as Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement (PCE).

A 2015 study indicated the use of nootropic medications for brain enhancement purposes at least once in the past year was 9%. This study looked at medications like Ritalin, modafinil, and Adderall, while a 2017 follow-up project showed the rate to be 14%[4]. This result was indicated in the 15 countries examined in the study.

Effectiveness of Nootropics

Many nootropics greatly enhance brain health, memory, concentration, and critical thinking, however, not all nootropics are created equal. When you purchase a nootropic supplement, make sure you research the ingredients carefully and check the quality and effectiveness of the product.

Benefits of Nootropics

Nootropics can have tremendous benefits for mental functioning. They have the ability to improve memory, creativity, motivation, and concentration. There’s a large body of research that shows that nootropics can improve conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s, as these diseases affect the same areas of the brain that are enhanced through taking nootropics.[11]

Biological Process

Nootropics increase the amount of the key neurotransmitters dopamine and choline. Dopamine increases motivation and research has shown that it can also effectively treat ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.[11] Choline is the precursor to the memory neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances memory and mental functioning.

Interestingly enough, it’s the brain chemical acetylcholine that is depleted in illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. For this reason, nootropics are often very effective at improving the condition of patients with Alzheimer’s.[1]

Another impact that nootropics have on brain health is improving blood flow to the brain and increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients, thereby greatly enhancing brain functioning.[1]

Risks of Nootropics

Many nootropic agents are addictive, so once you start taking them you may have difficulty stopping. In addition, the actual effect on people who are otherwise healthy isn’t well-understood at this point. There is also no research on the long-term impact of taking nootropics.[9]

The other risk involved for students taking nootropics, particularly those who are studying to be professionals, is that these individuals may succeed in school by using nootropics but then be ill-prepared later at work when they stop taking them.

Other Ways to Boost Cognitive Functioning

Likely, the most effective way to boost brain health and cognitive functioning is to exercise on a regular basis. Research indicates that fitness can enhance memory, prevent dementia, and improve overall brain health. In addition, it reduces the risk of developing a number of other diseases.[5]

Another very popular, risk-free way to enhance cognitive functioning is caffeine. Research has shown that, despite its potentially negative reputation, it’s healthy to drink coffee in moderation. Caffeine gives people energy and boosts brain health, and it’s also a key ingredient in many nootropic supplements.

Feedback:

13 sources

1. Colucci, L., Bosco, M., Rosario Ziello, A., Rea, R., Amenta, F., & Fasanaro, A. M. (2012). Effectiveness of nootropic drugs with cholinergic activity in the treatment of cognitive deficit: a review. Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, 4, 163–172. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863555/
2. Davis, John. (September 2018). Ranking the best bacopa monnieri supplements of 2019. Body Nutrition. Retrieved online at https://bodynutrition.org/bacopa/
3. Froestl W., Muhs A., & Pfeifer A. (2010). Cognitive enhancers (nootropics). Part 1: drugs interacting with receptors. J Alzheimer’s Dis, 32(4):793-887. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22886028
4. Frood, A. (July 2018) Use of ‘Smart Drugs’ on the Rise. International Journal of Science. Retrieved online at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05599-8
5. Heid, M. (January 2019). Nootropics, or ‘Smart Drugs,’ Are Gaining Popularity. But Should You Take Them? Time. Retrieved online at https://time.com/5509993/nootropics-smart-drugs-brain/
6. Julson, E. (June 2018). The 14 Best Nootropics and Smart Drugs Reviewed. Healthline. Retrieved online at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nootropics#section3
7. Mayo Clinic Staff (2019). Gingko. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-ginkgo/art-20362032
8. Medline Plus (April 2015). Folic Acid. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved online at https://medlineplus.gov/folicacid.html
9. Naeem, S. (July 2010). Enhanced intelligence: the rising use of “smart drugs" among students. The Pharmaceutical Journal. Retrieved online at https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/comment/enhanced-intelligence-the-rising-use-of-smart-drugs-among-students/11017908.fullarticle?firstPass=false
10. Psychonaut Wiki (April 2019). Choline Bitartrate. Psychonaut Wiki. Retrieved online at https://psychonautwiki.org/wiki/Choline_bitartrate
11. Suliman, N. A., Mat Taib, C. N., Mohd Moklas, M. A., Adenan, M. I., Hidayat Baharuldin, M. T., & Basir, R. (2016). Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2016, 4391375. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
12. Wikipedia (2019). Ginseng. Wikipedia. Retrieved online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginseng
13. Wikipedia (2019). Resveratrol. Wikipedia. Retrieved online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resveratrol
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Dr. Meghan Scott, BScH, BScAHN, MBBS, RD

Meghan has nutrition counselling experience in acute and long term care, and in private practice. She is an experienced sports nutriti...

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