When the weather is nice out, it seems harder and harder to concentrate on things at work. Living in a climate where summers are to be cherished because winters are certain, as soon as those sunny, seventy-plus-degree days come along, I would rather be outside. When my mind starts to wander, I usually reach for coffee. It turns out that caffeine is a nootropic — the trending buzzword I’ve been dying to learn more about.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics, also called smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, are drugs, supplements or other substances that improve cognitive function. There’s not one common ingredient in nootropics. What unites them is their brain-benefitting performance. Usually, these drugs focus on executive functions, like memory, creativity, and motivation. They promise increased concentration, enhanced memory, improved brain health and functioning, and even anti-aging.
Believe it or not, the nootropic movement has been around for decades. It began with Piracetam, one of the United State’s most popular nootropic drugs used to improve memory, learning ability and focus. It was first synthesized in 1964 by scientists at the Belgian pharmaceutical company, UCB. The team was struck by piracetam’s ability to boost mental function in healthy individuals. Thus the nootropics movement was born.
Responsible nootropic use
Noopept is a popular nootropic that claims to be 1,000 times more powerful than Piracetam. It is being sold all over the Internet, despite claims of negative side effects. Some are even calling it “the nootropic to end all nootropics”.
I looked into it and realized something rather alarming. It turns out both Piracetam and Noopept are currently uncontrolled and thus unregulated. These products are completely legal as long as they are labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Wow! There must be a lot of daredevils out there.
There are many options to help enhance your cognitive ability. In this post, I want to highlight eight safe, legal, over-the-counter (OTC) nootropics that have been thoroughly researched and found to demonstrate some degree of cognitive boost.
8 OTC nootropics that work
- Ginkgo biloba — These trees have unique properties. They can grow more than 130 feet tall and can live for over a thousand years. The plant has a number of therapeutic properties and contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids — antioxidants that provide protection against oxidative cell damage from harmful free radicals. It is thought that ginkgo biloba also improves blood circulation to the brain, which can enhance cognitive activities, specifically memory.
- Phosphatidylserine complex — Phosphatidylserine is a chemical that is abundant in the brain. The body makes phosphatidylserine but gets most of what it needs from foods. Phosphatidylserine is used for Alzheimer’s disease and age-related declines in mental function, improving thinking skills in young people, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, preventing exercise-induced stress and improving athletic performance.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) — ALC has been extensively studied and found to have significant cognitive and anti-aging effects. It is an acetylated form of the compound L-carnitine. Unlike L-carnitine, acetyl L-carnitine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier when it is converted to acetyl-COA. Acetyl-COA latches onto choline and becomes acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter closely tied to many important cognitive functions, such as the formation of memory, reasoning skills, the processing of perceptual data and the growth of neural structures. It can be effective in improving memory, focus, and mood, as well as access to thoughts and response to stress.
- St. John’s wort — Also known as Hypericum perforatum, is a medicinal herb with potent anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains an active component called hyperforin, which can alter the amount of the nerve-chemical messenger acetylcholine.
- Glutamine — My absolute favorite amino acid. While it may not be essential, it is one of the building blocks of protein. I’m going to ignore all the magical properties of glutamine to focus just on its brain-boosting power. Glutamine provides brain cells with a supply of glutamic acid. It’s also an important element in the production of GABA and glutamate. Those two substances are responsible for regulating excitatory nerve messages in the central nervous system, aka the brain. The benefits of L-glutamine include stronger reasoning abilities, improved creativity, and enhanced verbal skills.
- DMAE bitartrate — A chemical that your brain makes, but can also be found in foods like fish and is a direct precursor for choline. DMAE is thought to have a cleaning effect inside the brain by binding to phospholipids. It is particularly beneficial for memory function, but can also increase concentration, mental adaptability and give you better analytical processing skills. Shown to reduce beta-amyloid buildup in the brain, DMAE may improve cognitive function in elderly individuals.
- Bacopin — Derived from Bacopa monnieri, a North Indian herb widely used in ayurvedic medicine. Bacopin contains high levels of hersaponin, shown to have anti-anxiety properties. This helps maintain the speed of nerve transmissions in the hippocampus. Bacosides, chemical compounds isolated from Bacopa monnieri, also aid in the repair of damaged neurons by enhancing kinase activity, neuronal synthesis, restoration of synaptic activity and ultimately, nerve impulse transmission.
- Vinpocetine — The synthesis of a chemical found in the vinca minor plant. Through cerebral vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels within the brain, vinpocetine is able to increase blood flow to the brain without increasing blood pressure. This brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain, thereby increasing glucose production. Brain metabolism is increased and more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is released. The real benefits are improved memory, reduction of stress, increased attention span and even increased motivation. Vinpocetine stimulates the receptors of key neurotransmitters like dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin, simulating their effects in the brain without creating dangerous spikes in hormone levels.
This list is by no means comprehensive. These are just a couple of my top picks for performance-enhancing nootropics for the brain. There are many other nootropics out there and new research coming out every day.For more ideas on how to hack your brain, check out 30 Ways to Increase Brain Power and Improve Mental Health, Naturally.
What are your top picks for performance-enhancing nootropics? Let us know in the comments section.
Our Nootropic Pick
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