Without a doubt, you’ve stumbled across the term “nootropics” somewhere on the internet and wondered what they were. They’ve become one of the hottest trends, driven in popularity by celebrity endorsements that tout claims that they’ll enhance your memory and focus, and increase your intelligence. But what exactly are nootropics, and are they beneficial for your cognitive function?
The word itself was coined by a Romanian chemist and psychologist, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, who was the first to synthesize a nootropic more than 50 years ago. According to Dr. Giurgea, his piracetam was able to enhance learning, disassociate memories to conditions that led to the development of undesirable learned behaviors, protect the brain from chemical injury, and was very low toxicity, thereby producing very limited side effects.
Today, there are a wide variety of nootropics, often grouped in with what is frequently referred to as “smart drugs.” In actuality, they are a class of supplements, made from both naturally occurring chemicals and synthetic, that are designed to enhance the cognitive functioning of the brain. They’re often used to help individuals focus and increase attention span, especially as they age, though many college students have begun to use them as study aids.
Unlike real “smart drugs,” nootropics do not produce the adverse side effects when used long-term. They are safe, posing little risk of any side effects, and are neuroprotective when used as directed.
All nootropics operate by enhancing communication between neurons in the brain, improving neurotransmitter functioning and promoting brain health. There are even some that believe that nootropics stimulate neuron growth, facilitate the formation of synapses in the brain, enhance neuroplasticity, and improve energy metabolism in the brain.
Essentially, your brain is a network of neurons, which are interconnected through pathways called synapses. There are billions of neurons in your brain, and their purpose is to communicate through neurotransmitters, specific chemicals that facilitate the ability to send signals from one neuron to another. When your neurons operate efficiently, you experience better moods, the capacity to process mental work more quickly, longer attention spans for even the most tedious of tasks, and better memory and concentration.
Supplementation with nootropics improves the synaptic plasticity of your brain’s neurons to provide all these benefits. Over an extended period of time, consistent supplementation with nootropics can even slow down the signs of aging, such as brain fog and memory loss. They’re even able to counteract the development of brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s Disease.
In addition to improving the synaptic plasticity of your neurons, Nootropics improve the health of your brain, and thereby it’s functioning, by increasing the amount of blood flow to it. This increased blood flow carries with it more nutrients, glucose, and oxygen, all primary fuel sources that your brain uses for energy when it focuses.
Interestingly, the brain only makes up 2% of your total body weight, but it is responsible for 20% of your energy consumption. This is because the brain requires a lot of energy to function properly and to be able to focus on the external environment. It even takes a significant amount of energy just to sustain consciousness.
The anecdotal evidence supports claims that nootropics can provide all of these benefits, but there is still the need for more studies. If you choose to try them out for yourself, look for signs that they are working, such as less brain fog and more mental clarity. They may just be what your brain needs, and could even be life-changing.