08. Neuroscience

Can Nootropic Supplements Improve Brain Functions and Brain Health?

April 8, 2023

The human brain is the most complex and powerful organ in the body. It is responsible for controlling everything we do, from breathing and sleeping to thinking and feeling. As society becomes more focused on productivity, there has been a growing interest in nootropic supplements as a potential way to enhance brain function, improve memory, increase focus, and even promote brain health. But can nootropics truly improve brain function and brain health?

What Are Nootropic Supplements?

Nootropic supplements, also known as cognitive enhancers, are substances claimed to improve brain function and cognitive abilities. They can come in different forms, including pills, powders, and drinks. They are typically made up of natural substances, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids, however they can also be made synthetically.

The term "nootropic" was first coined by Romanian psychologist and chemist Corneliu E. Giurgea in the 1970s. Giurgea defined nootropics as substances that enhance learning and memory while being safe and non-toxic. The first nootropic drug, piracetam, was developed by Giurgea and is still used today to treat cognitive decline in elderly patients.

Since then, numerous nootropic supplements have been developed and marketed as brain boosters. These supplements are often touted as being able to improve memory, focus, creativity, and overall cognitive performance. However, the scientific evidence behind these claims is often limited.

Furthermore, things many people ordinarily consume have been identified as being nootropics, such as caffeine and nicotine, as well as dietary components like omega 3s.

7 Examples of Nootropic Supplements and Their Benefits

The proposed benefits on brain function include increasing focus, learning, memory, creativity, and mental energy, but the most common reason people take nootropics is to improve focus and concentration.

1. Caffeine

Found in coffee and tea, caffeine is a well-known nootropic stimulant that can increase alertness and can improve cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and reaction time. Additionally, l-theanine, an amino acid in green tea, has been shown to affect brain functions by relieving stress disorders and improving mood. However, the effects are generally short-lived and can vary depending on individual factors such as caffeine tolerance and dose, as well as produce side effects such as anxiety or loss of sleep.

2. Creatine

Creatine is a popular sports performance supplement that’s also used as a nootropic. Creatine is an amino acid that’s found in muscle tissue, and it’s known to play a role in energy production. Some studies have found that creatine can improve cognitive performance in tasks that require short-term memory and mental processing speed. However, the effects of creatine on cognitive performance may be more pronounced in people who don’t consume enough creatine in their diets.

3. Omega-3

These fatty acids are another popular nootropic. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are found in high concentrations in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Omega-3s have been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline in older adults. However, more research is needed to establish if isolated omega-3 taken supplement form, can replicate these effects.

4. Ginkgo biloba

This herbal supplement has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Some studies have found that ginkgo biloba can improve cognitive function in healthy people, although the effects may be more pronounced in older adults. However, other studies have found no significant effects of ginkgo biloba on cognitive function.

5. Racetams

This class of synthetic compounds are specifically designed for cognitive enhancement. The most well-known racetam is piracetam, which has been shown to improve cognitive function in people with cognitive impairment. However, the effects of piracetam on cognitive function in healthy people are less clear. Other racetams, like aniracetam and oxiracetam, have been studied less extensively.

6. Nicotine

One of the most surprising nootropic supplements is pure nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that is naturally found in tobacco leaves. While smoking is a major health hazard, pure nicotine supplements are being researched for their potential cognitive benefits. An analysis of 41 studies concluded that nicotine safely improved fine motor skills, attention, accuracy, response time, short-term memory, and working memory. It's suspected that nicotine might protect dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, keeping them from dying.

7. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a well-known polyphenolic compound in various plants, including grape, peanut, and berry fruits. It has unique anti-inflammatory properties, and health benefits being researched include anti-obesity, cardioprotective neuroprotective, antitumor, antidiabetic, antioxidants, anti-age effects, and glucose metabolism. Promising therapeutic properties have also been reported in various treatments of cancer.

However, it’s important to note that the scientific evidence for the brain health benefits of nootropics is still limited, and challenged by the fact that long-term studies are often needed to establish their true relevance on brain development.

That said research in this space is growing with some exciting prospects. For example, a recent animal study with Lion’s Mane showed dramatic benefits for promoting neurogenesis, with a direct impact on neural growth and improved memory formation. Researchers have proposed it's potential value in clinical applications treating and preventing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

The Bottom Line

Nootropic supplements have gained popularity in recent years as a potential way to improve brain functions and brain health. While some supplements have shown promise in improving cognitive functions such as memory and attention, the scientific evidence behind their effectiveness is still limited, even though promising. Additionally, it’s important to remember that nootropics are not a magic bullet for brain health.

That said, many nootropics that are naturally based are unlikely to have negative effects on the brain when taken in moderation. Combining such nootropics into your regular diet is likely to have general health benefits, and be a relatively safe way to reap some of the possible brain benefits.

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