Nootropics are known for their ability to increase mental capacity and general well-being. Since they are substances with a lot of mental health benefits coupled with the fact that they have low toxicity levels and minimal side effects, nootropics have gained popularity over the years, more so as there are natural alternatives. So how do they work?
How Nootropics Work
Some of the mechanisms by which nootropics work have not been fully understood. In fact, it is difficult to tell in very clear terms, what exactly makes a drug or supplement a nootropic. However, what is clear is that they are part of a class of drugs and nutraceuticals that enhance the cognitive function of the brain. In the same way, based on the definition given by the doctor who coined the phrase ‘’nootropic’’ in 1972, for a substance to qualify as one, it must enhance learning and memory, show neuro protective qualities, be low in toxicity and have minimal side effects.
Nootropics, also known as brain supplements or smart pills, can either be formulated in the lab or derived naturally. From the way they work, they can be classified based on how they act on the brain. This is because nootropics work on the brain by either increasing levels of chemicals that affect learning
and memory, increasing vasodilation of the brain (widening its blood vessels) or preserving and protecting the brain’s neurons. For example, a natural nootropic like Lion’s mane mushroom works by ensuring the maintenance and survival of some neurons in the brain which contribute to brain health.
In the same way, caffeine qualifies as a nootropic (it is probably the world’s most popular nootropic supplement) because it functions as a stimulant that acts on key parts of the brain and enhances focus. As such, based on the effects they have, nootropics can be stimulants, cholinergics, metabolics, racetams, serotonergics, dopaminergics or adaptogens. However, there is a debate as to whether or not stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine fit cleanly into the nootropics category. Since ‘’nootropics’’ is a broad term, the controversy is to be expected. This is understandable because, although some stimulants have nootropic effects, these effects do not last for long, they have side effects and there is also the risk of addiction.
There are various natural nootropics available. It is even possible to ‘stack’ them in order to get multiple benefits. This involves combining nootropics that complement one another, thereby combining their mechanisms for greater brain benefits and desired results.
Choline is a natural nootropic that the body synthesizes from diet comprising meat and dairy products. However, because our bodies do not produce enough, choline supplementation provides the body with required amounts, for the prevention of memory loss. Some nootropics occur in plants such as Ginkgo Biloba, which is known to support clearer and faster memory. The Camellia sinesis plant also provides L-Theanine which boosts the function of neurotransmitters in the brain. It can be found in green and black tea. In the same way other some natural occurring nootropics can be found in sea creatures such as Krill oil, which contains essential acids that boost brain function. There are others naturally created in the body such as creatine, which enhances cognitive function.
Many opt for natural nootropics, available in plants and supplements and today, multiple nootropics can be ‘stacked’ for increased cognitive function.