The day to day grind of modern life is busier than ever and we navigate a world full of distractions that pull our focus in many different directions. The use of Nootropics or “smart drugs” has exploded in response to this reality. Nootropics are compounds that support the brain and nervous system which results in improvements in cognitive function, focus, mood and motivation. Some nootropics are already firmly embedded in our daily routines ie…caffeine, while others require a lot of research and secret handshakes to obtain.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics are classically defined as substances that enhance cognition, memory, learning, concentration, energy and motivation. These compounds are also known as smart drugs and have been used to enhance performance since the dawn of time. There is a wide range of nootropics in circulation today including many herbs, vitamins and prescriptive drugs.
Nootropics have been made mainstream by biohackers such as Dave Asprey who famously hacked his own biology using nootropics as a cognitive catalyst. The awareness that he and many other brilliant biohackers and health care professionals have brought to the field of cognitive research opened the door for many to nootropics. (I honestly don’t think silicon valley would still be standing if it weren’t for many of these compounds).
Despite the recent surge in popularity, you will find that some of these compounds compounds have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic healing. Adaptogens such as ginseng, bacopa and maca are examples of these ancient herbs and its quite clear that their efficacy has survived the test of time.
Health benefits of Nootropics
Nootropics can increase our neurogenesis and neuroplasticity and expand our capacity to learn and retain information while staying focused, organized and in a “flow” state. They are also used to combat the degeneration of the brain caused by diseases of aging and or genetics. Dale Bredesen’s research around reversing Alzheimer's uses compounds that are deemed “nootropic in origin” and has opened the door to new approaches to treating diseases that cause brain degeneration. Ultimately, as we learn more about nootropics that help the brain function better we will likely continue to see them being used for more and more therapeutic approaches.
Synthetic versus Natural Nootropics
Synthetic nootropics are supplements designed to boost cognitive functioning using chemical ingredients. Smart drugs like Modafinil, Racetams, Adrafinil, and Noopept fall into this category. These compounds do improve mental function, but many also come with side effects. Natural nootropics are often viewed as safer than synthetic nootropics but it's important to do your homework with any herb or compound and proceed with caution.
Personally I have used a few popular formula stacks and have experienced some impressive gains both in school and with brain tracking apps like luminosity. On the flip side, I have also incurred some terrible headaches and anxiety windfalls as a result of certain formulas that did not work well with my chemistry. It’s worth researching and requires due diligence .
Consider your genetics
In my own experience with nootropics, using genetic information helped me to better understand my brain function as well as the nutrients needed for optimized function. Some important genes to consider include COMT, DRD2, ADRA2B, BDNF, APOE and NOS3 to name a few. We all have unique genetic information that can be taken into account when contemplating different forms of nootropic support.
Stacks are combinations of nootropics that create a synergistic effect on the body. The benefit of using nootropic stacks should be weighed against the negatives. If you want to enhance your cognitive performance quickly, a pre-made stack can be worth trying but you may have to experiment with several stacks before finding one that works for you. Personally I prefer to identify single compounds that work for me individually before combining compounds.
Top 5 Individual Nootropics that Enhance Cognition, Memory and Neuroprotection
This white mushroom has been used as a “brain tonic tea” for thousands of years for its brain supporting effects. It contains compounds such as hericenones and erinacines which help the brain produce more nerve growth factor and has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier to boost the production of neurons. Studies link lion's mane to Alzheimer disease prevention . This mushroom has been found to prevent the progression of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain.
Choline is found in every cell of your body and is vital for creating neuron membranes.
Your brain requires choline to make acetylcholine and dopamine. Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter which regulates memory, learning, and focus. Dopamine is the reward molecule which keeps you motivated to chase your goals. Alpha-GPC and citicoline are considered the nootropic form of choline. This essential nutrient may be especially helpful for those with PEMT genetic SNPS.
This extremely well known compound is commonly found in coffee, cocoa and green tea. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain keeping you alert and leads to faster neural activity. Caffeine consumption prolongs adrenaline activity and circulates calcium into cells. These mechanisms provide neuroprotection, increases heart rate, vascular tone, blood pressure, and attention. It should be noted that those with adrenal issues should steer clear of caffeine as the benefits do not outweigh the risks.
I prefer to take a green coffee extract which has a higher phenolic acid content meaning you get a higher level of antioxidants. Green coffee extract is also shown in studies to have higher neuroprotective properties than from drinking a roasted coffee.
L-Theanine, is an amino acid found most commonly in the leaves of tea. Theanine is known to have a relaxing effect on the brain and body without a tendency to drowsiness. Theanine stimulates alpha-wave activity in the brain, which promotes a relaxed state.
Alpha-wave activity in the brain is associated with a “relaxed alert” state, which plays an important role in attention. Theanine in combination with caffeine can reduce anxious feelings and enhance working memory and attention.
Also known as water hyssop, bacopa has been used as a neural tonic and to boost memory through two active components called bacosides A and B. These bacosides improve signaling between neurons in the brain. Bacosides also help rebuild damaged neurons. Bacopa is also used to improve cholinergic function. Bacopa monnieri traditionally has been used in Ayurveda as a tonic for the nervous system to reduce brain stress hormones which results in decreased anxiety.
Brain boosting foods
The food you eat can also improve memory and focus. These nutrient dense superfoods often include phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins that support cognitive health.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Egg yolks
- Olive oil
- Wild caught Salmon
- Bone broth
- Dark Chocolate
One of the most powerful ways to increase cognitive prowess is through proper exercise, deep restful sleep and brain building exercises. Use it or lose it is a saying worth its weight in gold when it comes to brain health. Regular exercise increases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin while also stimulating BDNF which stimulates the growth of new neurons. Quality sleep is necessary for neurogenesis which allows healing of the brain. For more information on the benefits of neurogenesis : https://www.radiantrealitynutrition.com/2016/03/25/top-3-ways-to-boost-your-brain-with-neurogenesis/
At the end of the day, your brain is the sum of all its parts. Care for your body and your brain and you will live a healthier, more radiant life.
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Wishing you a Radiant Reality!