Everyone needs a brain stimulant from time to time.
After a long day at work, several nights of no or poor sleep, or a number of days of reviewing for a tough exam, you will feel like your brain is asleep and not working anymore and, therefore, would benefit from something that can jumpstart it.
Certain natural supplements can give your brain the boost you’re looking for.
Many people are already using nootropics, which are also known as ‘smart drugs’, ‘brain boosters’, and ‘cognitive enhancers’. These are natural compounds and manufactured products that can enhance various mental functions such as memory, focus and attention span.
How Nootropics Work
Nootropics work in different ways to improve mental functioning. They:
1. Regulate and facilitate neurotransmission activities
Neurotransmitters, or the body’s chemical messengers, are molecules that transmit messages between neurons and from neurons to muscles.
Nootropics can enhance the activity of neurotransmitters and neurochemicals in your brain including serotonin (a mood-boosting monoamine) and acetylcholine (the learning and memory enhancing neurotransmitter).
Taking nootropics can also lower stress-related neurotransmitters such as cortisol and glutamate. As a result, you will have a better mood and lower anxiety levels. In addition, your learning and information acquisition abilities will improve. You will experience better quality of sleep as well.
2. Improve Brain Growth Factors
Certain nootropics also have positive effects on neurotrophic factors – biomolecules that facilitate the growth, existence and disparity of all neurons.
Some of the most important neurotrophic factors in the body are the brain growth factors which include the brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). Another type are the nerve growth factors (NGF) which regulate the function and growth of neurons in the brain. These factors also play a critical role in facilitating the survival of sympathetic and sensory neurons.
The increase in BDNF and NGF helps keep the brain in optimal shape. This effect also enhances the neuroplasticity of the brain – its ability to adapt and reorder itself in the middle of a stressful situation such as an injury or illness.
3. Provide Better Neuroprotection
One of the noteworthy qualities of nootropics is their neuroprotective feature or their ability to protect the brain from damage and age-related degeneration.
Studies have shown that some nootropics can considerably improve memory and attention span in people with age-related or heart surgery-related cognitive deterioration. In addition, certain natural and synthetic nootropics have also been found to be effective in improving the color discrimination abilities of people who have suffered from brain trauma.
4. Lower Brain Inflammation
Many nootropics also improve mental performance by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. These factors have been associated with the decrease in brain function. With reduced inflammation, learning and spatial memory will be improved.
In addition, brain enhancers can help prevent the production of reactive pro-inflammatory, unstable molecules that cause damage to your brain and body. As a result, your brain will be able to focus on producing more energy to optimize cognitive functions instead of repairing damaged cells.
5. Improve Blood Flow
Lastly, nootropics are efficient vasodilators. They effectively increase blood flow in the small arteries and veins in the brain and throughout the body.
With better blood flow, the brain will be subjected to lower stress. The brain will also receive and absorb more oxygen and other nutrients faster and with ease. All these will enhance mental functioning and overall physical performance.
Choosing Your Nootropics
Before you start taking nootropics to improve brain health and functioning, you need to understand the different types first.
There are three basic types of nootropics which are:
1. Synthetic Nootropics
Synthetic nootropics are man-made compounds manufactured in laboratories.
Examples of this type are:
- Piracetam – a neuroprotective nootropic
- Adderall – often prescribed for treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Modafinil – an ‘energy’ drug which treats sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and hypersomnia
Nearly all synthetic nootropics have to be prescribed by a medical professional. This is because they can be strong and, when taken for a long time, they can cause more harm than good.
2. Natural Nootropics
A safer and better option, natural or herbal nootropics are made from organic substances. These herbs have already been proven effective since they have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
The most popular herbal nootropics are ashwagandha and ginseng. They have been proven effective in improving cognition, enhancing memory, providing overall brain protection, and combating stress and fatigue.
Ashwagandha and ginseng come in pill or capsule form, and can also be drunk as tea or liquid extract.
3. Nootropic Extracts
Nootropic extracts come from natural substances but still go through certain laboratory processes. They do not contain synthetic ingredients and, as such, are safer and healthier options than synthetic brain enhancers.
The most popular nootropic extracts are:
- Huperzine – a substance extracted from the Huperzia serrata, a Chinese herb. It accelerates learning since it increases the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
- L-Theanine – an amino acid found in the leaves of black and green tea. It can improve focus, and reduce anxiety and stress.
- Ginkgo Biloba – an herb that boosts cognitive performance.
These extracts come in pill, capsule, or ready-to-drink beverages as well.
Certain foods are naturally high in brain-stimulating compounds, too. These include:
- Coffee and green tea – these beverages are rich in caffeine and L-Theanine which stimulate and help your brain work better.
- Coconut oil – contains medium chain fatty acids or MCTs which are converted into ketones. These ketones then help produce adenosine triphosphate or ATP, a substance that literally fuels the brain and improves memory and alertness.
- Tuna, salmon, and other fatty fishes, walnuts, and chia seeds – they contain omega-3 which helps improve memory and helps keep the brain working sharply and efficiently.
- Eggs – rich in choline, a substance that helps the brain transmit signals across neuronal membranes. It also helps the body produce acetylcholine – a compound that helps the brain retain new memories.
- Dark leafy vegetables – spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – two proven effective brain-boosting nutrients. These substances have been linked to quicker mental recall and increased capacity for memory.
- Lion’s Mane – a type of mushroom which enhances cognitive function.
- Dark chocolate – 80% dark chocolates are rich in flavonol – a substance that increases blood flow in the brain.
To get your brain working more efficiently, it is best to load your diet with natural nootropic foods. It is the safest, healthiest, and even the most affordable way of giving your brain the nutrients it needs to function properly.
In case you want to try a natural or synthetic supplement, consult your doctor first.
AUTHOR BIO: Dave Asprey is the creator of the widely popular Bulletproof Coffee, host of the #1 health podcast, Bulletproof Radio, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Bulletproof Diet.” Through his work, the Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur provides information, techniques and keys to taking control of and improving your biochemistry, your body and your mind so they work in unison, helping you execute at levels far beyond what you’d expect, without burning out, getting sick, or allowing stress to control your decisions.