Over the past decade, there has been a lot of excitement over a new category of supplements called nootropics, which are marketed as compounds that can improve cognitive performance, memory, and focus while providing neuroprotective benefits (meaning, they protect your brain from damage and degeneration).
These days, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't want to boost their brain power, so it's pretty clear why you can now find nootropics in the form of oils, shots, and snack foods. From college students struggling to pass exams to entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level, many people are experimenting with nootropics in some form.
But this is a tricky conversation, because there is a wide range of compounds that could technically be categorized as "nootropics"—including antioxidant-rich foods (like extra virgin olive oil and turmeric). In fact, many foods that you eat on a regular basis contain these compounds. For instance, coffee and green tea contain caffeine, which is a nootropic.
Having a complete and balanced diet is one of the best ways to get plenty of nootropics in their natural form. However, many people feel that supplementing with additional nootropics, either natural or synthetic, gives their brain the added boost they crave. Before we dive in, it's important to mention that if you're concerned about any cognitive symptoms you're having, be sure to consult your doctor (and while you're there, see if they have any recommendations for nootropics that you, in particular, might benefit from).
How do nootropics work?
Simply put, in order for your brain to work effectively, it needs the right levels of neurotransmitters to be in the right place at the right time. Different nootropics actually vary in how they work in the brain, which is why many people combine different nootropics into what's known as "stacks"—basically just combinations of nootropics—for maximum benefits. One common combination is 100 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a cup of coffee) and 200 mg of L-Theanine, a compound found in black tea that is thought to help improve concentration. So, if you wanted to "stack" these, you could add the L-Theanine powder to your morning cup of coffee for a little extra boost.
You can't "out-supplement" a poor lifestyle
Nootropics are NOT a cure-all.
I'm sure most other physicians would agree: You can't "out-supplement" a poor lifestyle. Nootropics should not be used to cover up the effects of a lifestyle that doesn't support a healthy brain. It's like trying to drink 10 cups of coffee to combat countless nights of bad sleep.
Those who feel that a nootropic-rich diet just isn’t cutting it and are still experiencing symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, chronic stress, brain fog, or even memory loss may look toward more potent, synthetic forms of nootropics such as Modafinil, Piracetam, or Adrafinil to bridge the gap. But many of these synthetic versions require a prescription and come with serious side effects, so you should speak with your doctor before taking them.
Fortunately, there are many all-natural nootropics available that don't carry the same risks.
Five promising natural nootropics
Optimal brain health and performance begins with a solid foundation of a healthy habits, and you can think of nootropics as another addition to help give your brain a little extra boost. Here are five natural ones that have proven effective in clinical trials. Your goal should be to have a diet rich in nootropic foods to give your brain everything it needs to perform at its peak, so consider adding some more of these ingredients to your routine to see what works for you.
When you think of creatine, you may have thoughts of bodybuilders using it to bulk up—but it's actually considered a nootropic too! It works by helping to deliver more energy to muscles, but it has also been shown to help improve brain energy, memory, and attention.
Coffee and tea lovers rejoice! Caffeine is a natural central nervous system stimulant that has been shown to improve alertness and concentration. Some studies suggest it may also help brain speed and reaction time. Caffeine also may even be able to help protect your brain from stress.
Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA are essential building blocks for a healthy brain. Being deficient in omega-3's can impair proper communication between brain cells, slow your thinking, and impair your memory and focus. Thankfully, a ton of foods contain Omega-3's, like walnuts, chia seeds, and certain fish.
The future of optimizing brain health is beyond fascinating—check out mbg's take on it here.
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