The term nootropic may not be familiar to you, but it’s practically impossible that you haven’t had a cup of coffee to wake up in the morning or a black tea to better focus on a project. These popular drinks can be classified as nootropics, which are nothing more than substances that enhance our cognitive functions.
Composed of the ancient Greek words νόος (nous), which means “mind”, “intellect” or “thinking” and τροπή (tropein) which implies “to turn” or “bend”, nootropics are a way of “hacking” our brain to enhance its functioning, generally helping us to stay more attentive, focused and relaxed or even enhancing mental agility or memory.
What exactly are nootropics for?
Corneliu E. Giurgea was the one who first used the term nootropic in the early 1970s. He was not only a psychologist, but also a chemist, which is why he synthesized piracetam, a nootropic drug that improves the metabolism of neurons by optimizing uptake of oxygen. Giurgea described nootropics as substances that activate cognitive functions, such as memory and learning, especially when these are affected.
Over the years have been discovered different nootropics and each one acts in a different way, although they all intervene in one way or another in the metabolism of the nerve cells that make up our central nervous system. In some cases they can improve the supply of glucose and oxygen to the brain, thus exerting antihypoxic activity and protecting brain tissue from neurotoxicity.
Other nootropics may be involved in the synthesis of neuronal proteins and nucleic acids and stimulate the metabolism of phospholipids in neuronal membranes. That means they can improve the metabolism of the brain, although to achieve stable changes it is necessary to consume them during a certain periods of time.
Today nootropics are used to treat disorders of memory, consciousness, and learning. They are recommended to stop early brain damage that manifests itself with symptoms such as memory loss and qualitative changes in consciousness. In fact, they tend to be more effective in people who suffer from mild cognitive disorders or have a slight slowdown in brain function.
However, nootropics can also be used to address attention and memory disorders due to fatigue and exhaustion. For this reason, they can be a useful tool when we are under great stress or when we need an extra dose of energy.
The most effective natural nootropics used for centuries
Did you know that Caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive substance in the world? It is found naturally in coffee, but also in cocoa and guarana. It acts as a powerful energizer that reduces drowsiness as it blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, inhibiting the signal of tiredness to help us stay awake and focused.
In fact, a study conducted in Canada found that low (40 mg or 0.5 mg kg) or moderate (300 mg or 4 mg kg) levels of caffeine improve our alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time. Therefore, two cups of coffee a day could help us fight fatigue and keep us more attentive.
Tea is the most consumed drink in the world after water. It contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can also be found as a supplement. In general, black tea and pu-erh tea contain the highest amount of theine, followed by oolong tea and green tea.
L-theanine is interesting because it has a calming effect, but without causing drowsiness. It keeps us awake without generating a state of arousal, as found by researchers at the Unilever Food and Health Research Institute. After analyzing the brain function of people after drinking a cup of black tea, they found an increase in alpha activity, which is linked to relaxation, but also to an activation of memory and to intuition and creativity.
Rhodiola is a herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. It helps our body to deal more effectively with the effects of stress. In fact, it is useful to reduce the feeling of exhaustion and mental fatigue, especially those generated by anxiety and psychological tension.
In this sense, researchers from the University of Surrey found that people who consumed an extract of this nootropic reported a significant reduction in their levels of anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression in just 14 days, accompanied by a significant improvement in overall mood.
Ginseng root has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and to stimulate brain function. Although its mechanism of action is not known yet, the hypothesis is that it could be due to its powerful anti-inflammatory effect, which would help protect the brain from oxidative stress improving its functioning.
A series of experiments carried out at Northumbria University revealed that Ginseng reduces mental fatigue and significantly improves performance in complex and particularly intellectually demanding tasks. It also improves memory and creates a sense of calm and well-being.
5. Ginkgo Biloba
The leaves of the Ginkgo Biloba tree may also have positive effects on the brain. This medicinal plant from Asia has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat different ailments, but especially those related to the brain and blood flow. In fact, its benefits are believed to be due to the fact that it stimulates blood flow to the brain.
Its daily consumption can improve memory and mental processing in older adults. However, it is also useful for reducing stress. A study carried out at the Slovak Academy of Sciences showed that if we consume Ginkgo Biloba before undergoing a very stressful task, it exerts an inhibitory action on blood pressure and blocks the release of cortisol in response, which translates into less stress.
Beyond natural nootropics
The main advantage of natural nootropics is that they can have a greater variety of beneficial effects, due to the fact that they are made up of several substances that can have synergistic effects with each other. However, sometimes those same active substances can inhibit the activity of others.
Natural nootropics also tend to have lower toxicity, which reduces the chance of overdosing. That also means higher doses are needed to achieve the desired effect, which is why often have to be used extracts that are marketed as supplements.
In fact, the market for nootropics is very large. Piracetam nootropics are some of the best known for their ability to improve memory and concentration. However, Alpha GPC supplements are among the best nootropic supplements as this substance is an excellent source of choline, so it also contributes to enhance memory and improves concentration.
Compared to natural nootropics, synthetic compounds stand out for their pharmaceutical purity and specificity of action, which is why they may be more effective. However, if you decide to consume nootropics, please find out first about their characteristics and buy them from secure websites, or pharmacies, that guarantee their authenticity. And if you are taking any medication or suffer from any pathology, remember to consult your family doctor first.
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