Do Nootropics Work? Let’s See What the Experts Say

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    Nootropics are gaining popularity due to their cognitive enhancing effects. The question remains: do these substances actually work?

    Nootropics have gained immense popularity over the years as a means to enhance cognitive function, boost memory retention, and boost overall brain performance. However, with so many options available in the market, it can be challenging to distinguish between legitimate claims and marketing hype.

    While some users swear by the benefits of nootropics, others remain skeptical about their efficacy. So, the question remains, do nootropics really work? In this blog post, we will explore the science behind nootropics and attempt to shed light on the question of their effective use.

    What are nootropics?

    Nootropics are a diverse group of medicinal substances that have the ability to enhance cognitive function, especially in regards to thinking, learning, and memory. These compounds are also of great interest to healthy individuals as they can boost intelligence and improve memory.

    Natural nootropics, which are not subject to prescription, can usually be obtained in the form of food supplements or herbal extracts. Some examples of natural nootropics include caffeine, L-theanine, and ginkgo biloba.

    On the other hand, there are prescription nootropics, which are medications that are specifically designed to treat medical or mental health conditions. While natural nootropics are relatively safe and easy to access, prescription nootropics require a doctor's supervision and approval.

    How do nootropics work? Are they effective?

    The mechanisms underlying nootropics are complex and not yet fully understood. Yet, many herbal nootropics have a rich history of traditional use, and a growing body of research supports their use in improving cognitive function. Generally speaking, they have been shown to improve the effects of certain neurotransmitters, while boosting circulation in the brain.

    Although research is ongoing and the evidence for some nootropics is mixed, many people report positive experiences with these supplements. It is important to note that individual responses to nootropics can vary, and the effects may depend on various factors, such as age, health status, and dosage.

    What are the different types of nootropics?

    There are three main types of nootropics: prescription, natural/herbal, and synthetic. Each type has its own unique set of characteristics and effects on the brain. Here's a breakdown of each type:

    [Prescription Nootropics]( "Prescription Nootropics"): These are medications that are prescribed. They should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Some examples include:

    • Adderall: An amphetamine that is prescribed to help people manage symptoms of ADHD
    • Provigil (modafinil): A stimulant that is prescribed to treat conditions such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder
    • Ritalin (methylphenidate): A stimulant medication that is prescribed for people with ADHD

    Natural/Herbal Nootropics: These are natural substances found in food, beverages, and other sources that are believed to enhance cognitive function. Some examples include:

    • Caffeine: the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world and can increase attention and alertness
    • Creatine: an amino acid that may influence memory and reasoning abilities
    • Ginkgo biloba: an herb that may improve cognition, fight brain fog, and improve dementia symptoms
    • L-theanine: an amino acid that can boost alertness and cognitive performance, commonly found in dietary supplements and green or black teas
    • Omega-3 fatty acid: these are polyunsaturated fats found in fish oil supplements and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and cod
    • Panax ginseng: these herbs have a long history of traditional use and may improve brain health
    • Rhodiola: a plant native to parts of Europe and Asia that has long been used as an herbal adaptogen for fatigue, stress, and as a nootropic it is used to help improve memory, learning, and brain function

    [Synthetic Nootropics]( "Synthetic Nootropics"): These are a class of drugs known as racetams, which are legal, non-prescription drugs that some users believe to enhance cognition. Some commonly used racetams include Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Piracetam, and Pramiracetam.

    What does the research say about nootropics? Do nootropics work?

    Since the use of nootropics remains a relatively new field, the research on their effectiveness is ongoing, but there is some evidence to suggest that certain substances can have beneficial effects.

    For example, research has demonstrated that low (40 mg) to moderate (300 mg) doses of caffeine resulted in improvements in alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time. But, there were less consistent effects observed on memory and higher-order executive function, such as judgment and decision making.

    Bacopa has also demonstrated some effectiveness in improving memory free recall, and rhodiola has been shown to reduce self-reported stressafter 14 days, while also improving overall mood.

    Additionally, nicotine has been found to increase alertness in non-smokers, and L-theanine has been shown to significantly improve mental alertness and arousal. Interestingly, there have also been reports that L-theanine is able to enhance alpha activity, which are brain waves that are commonly observed in individuals who are awake, but relaxed.

    Are nootropics safe?

    Herbal nootropics have varying safety data. While many natural nootropics are generally considered safe, there are still potential side effects and interactions to consider. And if you are pregnant or lactating, nootropics are not recommended as there isn’t enough research.

    Always talk to your doctor about your health goals. If you are looking into nootropics your doctor can guide you in the right direction. Whenever considering the addition of a new supplement, always inform your medical team.

    What are the side effects of nootropics?

    The side effects of nootropics can vary depending on the type and dosage. Prescription nootropics can have side effects that can impact sleep, appetite, and even increased heart rate due to some stimulating nootropics. Herbal nootropics may also have potential side effects such as gastrointestinal issues, headache, and allergic reactions. Synthetic nootropics, such as racetams, may cause headaches, nausea, and gastrointestinal distress. It is important to note that the long-term effects of nootropics are not well-known and, as with any drug, they can be misused. Therefore, it is always recommended to discuss any concerns with a doctor or healthcare professional before beginning the use of nootropics.

    Are there any permanent effects from nootropics?

    As nootropics are a relatively new field, there is still limited research on their long-term effects. With data still emerging, we can not definitively say what those long-term effects would be.

    Who should and shouldn't use nootropics?

    When it comes to who should and shouldn't use nootropics, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind. Pregnant and lactating individuals should generally avoid nootropics, as they are often excluded from clinical trials, thus safety data on this population is limited. Further, anyone with a known hypersensitivity or allergy to a specific ingredient should avoid using that particular nootropic.

    Final takeaways

    Nootropics have the potential to enhance cognitive function and offer a variety of benefits for those looking to improve their mental performance. Although more research is needed to fully understand their effectiveness and long-term safety, there is promising evidence that certain natural and synthetic nootropics can improve attention, age related memory, and mood. While prescription nootropics have been shown to be highly effective in treating specific medical conditions, their use by healthy individuals remains a concern due to the lack of clinical evidence regarding their efficacy and safety.

    Overall, with responsible use and proper professional guidance, nootropics may be a useful tool for those seeking to enhance their cognitive abilities.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.