A nootropic is a substance that enhances cognition. But given the brain’s complexity, this descriptor is inadequate. How do nootropics enhance cognition? Are there any safety requirements? There are many other questions to consider when trying to figure out if a supplement meets the true definition of nootropics.
Dr. Giurgea’s Original Definition of Nootropic: Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, the founding father of nootropics, was the first to attempt a descriptive criteria for what qualifies as a nootropic, which includes:
- Enhancement of memory and learning
- Improved cognition under stress
- Protection of brain cells (neuroprotective)
- Facilitation of cell-to-cell communication
- Backed by human research demonstrating brain bioactivity
- Absence of usual pharmacological effects of psychotropic drugs
By the strictest definition, only a handful of true nootropics exist, but as science has learned more about the brain and identified more brain-beneficial supplements since the 1960s, the original Dr. Giurgea-inspired nootropic definition has expanded dramatically.
As the list of nootropics has grown, so has appreciation for the brain’s capacity to enhance all aspects of life in all types of people — broadening the scope of brain-boosting nootropics even further.
What Are Nootropics’ Benefits?
As a result of the evolving meaning of nootropic and widening nootropic audience, the benefits associated with brain supplements are more numerous and expansive than ever before.
They include enhancements for:
Memory – traditional memory pills have evolved into performance-enhancing nootropics that support working memory, storage, recall, learning, knowledge retention and more
Attention – various aspects of attention, focus and concentration that are enhanced by nootropics can give users an edge in productivity.
Learning – students of academia and lifelong learners can benefit from nootropics’ various enhancements for cognitive learning processes like memory formation, storage and recall
Mood – nootropics that help with relaxation, confidence, mood balance, motivation, sociability, anxiety, happiness and more can optimize cognitive function and life performance.
Creativity – Brain wave-tuning nootropics can foster relaxed, free-flowing thinking that is conducive to creative thinking, artistic exploration and quiet contemplation
Physical – Although they are brain supplements, nootropics are now in the sports nutrition canon due to their ability to improve motivation, intensify training, and promote focus in the gym.
Stress Resistance – Nootropics have well-documented anti-stress benefits that can improve the performance of everyone from multitasking professionals to competitive athletes
How Do Nootropics Work?
Nootropics that benefit brain health tend to enhance cognition as well, by boosting brain pathways in ways that support sharp cognition.
Typically, nootropics and stack supplements are designed to target one or more (ideally, all) of the six following brain pathways:
Brain Energy – The brain consumes about 20% of the body’s total energy, qualifying as the body’s most demanding organ. Nootropics may support energy metabolism by enhancing mitochondrial efficiency, delivering raw fuel material, and more.
Brain Chemicals – Neurotransmitters facilitate neuron-to-neuron communication, essentially regulating all cognitive and memory functions. Increasing neurotransmitter production, sharpening receptor sensitivity, inhibiting brain chemical breakdown, etc. contribute to a more fully optimized neurotransmitter status.
Brain Blood flow – Whether affected by injury or age, impaired cerebral circulation can diminish cerebral function. Supporting blood vessel integrity and nitric oxide levels may help increase delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Brain Waves – Different brainwave frequencies — in order from highest to lowest: gamma, beta, alpha, theta, delta — correspond to different mental states. Some nootropics can help raise certain frequencies to stimulate desired cognitive effects.
Brain Protection – Antioxidant reduction in free radical damage. Adaptogenic resistance to stress. Nootropic neuroprotectors may assist the brain’s natural defenses against toxic compounds and conditions through several adaptive processes.
Brain Regeneration – Very few compounds may benefit neurogenesis, the process by which the brain grows and develops neuronal tissue with goals of brain cell repair, maintenance, and plasticity. Some nootropics find potential neurogenesis success in supplying raw nutritional building blocks and signalling growth factor synthesis and release.
What Are the Different Types of Nootropics?
In the long run, enhanced brain health ultimately results in elevated and sustained mental performance.
Vitally essential to brain health and function, immunity and metabolism, vitamin and minerals encompass a wide range of dietary compounds that, depending on your diet, may require supplementation to achieve healthy levels.
Healthy neurotransmitter status, brain energy and cerebral circulation, for example, rely heavily on nootropic B-Vitamins: B6, B9 and B12.
Many of the most popular nootropic ingredients are botanical, ranging from chewed, brewed, and steeped roots and leaves to herbal extracts standardized to their bioactive constituents — e.g., bacosides of Bacopa monnieri.
The herbal class of nootropics is not limited to botanicals, however; Lion’s Mane Mushroom is another brain-booster that is associated with traditional herbalism and classified among the herbal nootropics.
Originally classified by Soviet scientists, adaptogens are a referred sub-category of herbal nootropics that may help bolster the brain and body against the negative effects of stress – be it emotional, physical, chemical, etc.
Essentially, adaptogens strengthen the body’s adaptive resistance to stress, enhancing focus, clarity, and emotional stability during stressful conditions. Rhodiola Rosea is among the best adaptogen nootropics.
Sourced from fish, sunflower, soy, egg yolks, and animal organs, phospholipids are a particular type of fat that play important structural roles in brain cell growth, genesis, and repair.
As we age, brain phospholipid levels decline, a condition potentially ameliorated by phospholipid supplementation. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is the top-ranked phospholipid nootropic.
Choline is a natural nootropic used by the body to make and use fats. The brain is itself 60% fat. Therefore, Choline is an important nootropic for supporting brain structure; invaluable for brain repair, regeneration and plasticity. It also helps form the brain chemical acetylcholine.
Nootropic choline sources either provide choline, or help to raise brain choline significantly via indirect pathways. Choline nootropics work well with phospholipids, and are associated with enhancements to memory, mood and mental energy.
Citicoline features unique multi-tasking nootropic activity — including an ability to efficiently raise brain phosphatidylcholine levels — that make it the best nootropic choline source.
Antioxidants help to protect the brain against free radicals: Unstable molecules that smash against brain cells, damage their membranes and accelerate aging. There are many antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals. But not all can cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract is an excellent nootropic antioxidant because it can cross the blood-brain barrier, possesses high antioxidant activity, and offers complementary support for brain regeneration.
Perhaps the most multi-functional resource of nootropics, amino acids include a set of organic compounds that may benefit cognition by alleviating brain burnout (L-tyrosine), promoting alpha brainwave concentration (L-theanine), or improving mitochondrial energy output (L-carnitine). Bodybuilders and intermittent fasters also share interest in amino acid nootropics for their metabolic benefits.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine and L-Theanine are the best nootropic amino acids, with complementary anti-stress, pro-relaxation, clarity sharpening brain benefits.
Individual Nootropics vs. Nootropic Stacks
Nootropic supplements categorize into standalone ingredients and multi-ingredient stacks, and the latter category subdivides into homemade stacks and pre-made stacks.
Depending on any number of personal factors, you may be drawn to any of the main methods of nootropic supplementation.
What Are Individual Nootropic Supplements?
Single ingredient supplements often supplied for specialised purposes — e.g., L-Tyrosine for stress relief — or cheaply bought in bulk and in conjunction with other standalone bulk ingredients to craft specially enhanced nootropic stack supplements.
What Are Nootropic Stack Supplements?
Stacking is the process of combining diverse nootropics into a formula with the goal of compounding and synergising individual ingredient bioactivities for greater brain-boosting effects. The two types of stacks are called:
What is the Best Nootropic Supplement?
Generally, nootropic stack supplements are the best because they combine effective nootropics to produce superior brainpower results.
However, stack supplements’ effectiveness depends on their formula design. The best nootropic supplements will heavily leverage smart nootropic stacking strategies including:
Synergy – Stacking ingredients that mutually amplify and enhance the results of each other’s brain-boosting bioactivities.
Multiplication – Targeting the same bio effect through multiple, diverse bio pathways for a greater, comprehensive result.
Complementation – Complementing, the effects of one nootropic with another nootropic that rounds out the experience.
By effectively covering a wide range of cognitive pathways through synergy, multiplication, and complementation, one may achieve an optimised brain state prepared to take on any demanding mental task.
In addition to being formulated and stacked to work, the best nootropic supplement must also stay true to the original nootropic definition by having no side effects and no risks while enhancing the brain’s overall health.
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