Nootropics- A Complete Guide

December 4, 2015

What are Nootropics?

After watching the movie “Limitless,” you may have asked yourself a question; “Is there such pill that gives an extra boost to the brain?” If the same question has troubled your mind for long then this article will put an end to your curiosity! Yes, we’re talking about “Nootropics.”
Nootropics are “smart drugs” for the current smart age. These are supplements meant to enhance various aspects of brain function. These neuro-enhancers come in various forms. They are available as super foods, drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, etc. 1) Nootropics are known to sharpen memory, improve motivation levels, and prolong the attention span. If a drug doesn’t enhance your learning ability and memory, it’s not a nootropic 2)

Nootropics are included in a broader category of “lifestyle drugs” that enhance the performance of an individual 3) These magic pills make your thought processes accurate and mask the aging effects on your brain 4) Owing to their popularity among students, they are also known as “study drugs” 5)

These drugs are also known as “mood enhancers” because they increase the level of hormones related to a feeling of “pleasure, happiness and satisfaction”, like dopamine and serotonin 6) So, they are not like common stimulants but a magic formula for your brain health.

How do they act?

The human brain is one of the most complex body organs. Researchers are still trying to figure out how our brain works. The human brain consists of billions of interlinked cells known as “neurons.” These neurons communicate with each other by means of chemicals known as “neurotransmitters.”
The exact mechanism through which nootropics act is still under a lot of debate. But, we do know is that the effects of these drugs on the brain are multifaceted. There are multiple classes of nootropics each with a unique mechanism of action 7)
Piracetam is perhaps the oldest known and most commonly used nootropic. It functions by increasing the brain activity of corticosteroids: 8) hormones that are known for their potential to improve brain plasticity, cognition, and learning 9)
Another mechanism of nootropic action involves their ability to increase the level of brain neurotransmitters. For instance, methylphenidate is a nootropic known for its ability to increase the level of neurotransmitters like dopamine and acetylcholine in the neuronal synapses 10) increased levels of these chemicals is linked to improved memory, attention, and mood.
Another mechanism of nootropic action is to directly bind to the site of a neurotransmitter and produce desired effects. For instance, ampakines 11) are known for their ability to bind to glutamate receptors in the brain which leads to improved brain activity.

Nootropics don’t just alter the level of brain neurotransmitters; they might actually improve the structure of brain itself. Research has recently shown that use of some nootropics can improve the structure of brain neurons and can improve the blood supply to the brain as well 12)

What are the effects of Nootropics on Memory?

The first mention of nootropics in the scientific literature 13) dates back to 1972 when some drugs were studied for their ability to improve the memory. Later on, it was discovered that nootropics can enhance several aspects of human memory 14) The underlying mechanism of nootropics in improving different aspects of memory is complex and poorly understood 15) But, we do know that nootropics do affect different aspects of memory like working memory, short term memory, long-term memory, memory consolidation, memory recall and so on.
Out of the several body hormones that are crucial for human memory, corticosteroids are the most important 16) It has been proved through different clinical trials 17) that corticosteroids play a crucial role in memory and its consolidation. Nootropics, like piracetam, are known to affect memory through their ability to enhance the activity of corticosteroids 18)

What are the effects of Nootropics on Cognition and Learning?

The main reason why nootropics are so popular these days is because of their ability to boost cognition and learning capacity 19) Use of these drugs gives you a kind of “unfair advantage” over your peers as it improves your cognitive and problem-solving abilities 20)
These drugs don’t make you a genius instantly. Researchers suggest 21) that it can take several weeks for nootropics to have any effect on one’s cognition. The exact mechanism through which nootropics like piracetam improve the cognitive functions and learning is still incompletely understood 22) But, researchers believe that in addition to altering the level of brain neurotransmitters, use of nootropics can actually improve the structure of brain cells and improve blood supply to brain tissues 23)

What are the effects of Nootropics on Brain Aging?

Aging takes tool on all body organs and the brain is no exception. With increasing age, the brain undergoes significant structural and functional changes. The problem with the brain aging is that neurons in the brain have extremely limited potential to divide as compared to the cells of other parts of the body. When the brain cells start to die at an exponential rate, this is when one suffers from conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. According to the American Alzheimer’s Association 24), 5.3 million Americans are suffering from this condition.
Brain Aging-Nootropics
What can you do to protect your brain from aging fast? The one-word answer to your question is “nootropics”. Several clinical studies have shown that the use of nootropics can have protective effects for brain neurons and can save brain neurons from age-related damage 25) Results of a French study 26) showed that the use of nootropics is an effective strategy to slow down the onset and progression of age-related loss of neuronal structure and function. In addition, the use of nootropics can save brain cells from the damage caused by different chemicals or toxins 27)

Mitochondria are the energy-producing structures of human cells. Dysfunction of mitochondria leads to increased production of toxins called the “Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)”. Increased level of ROS is certainly not a good news for your brain neurons because ROS act as toxins for brain cells and lead to their destruction. But, research 28) has shown that the use of nootropics can correct mitochondrial dysfunction and lower ROS levels.
Use of nootropics rescue brain neurons in several other ways as well. Research 29) shows that the use of these drugs can improve the structural status of brain neurons, improve oxygen supply to the brain, boost the supply of blood and glucose to neurons, and enhance energy production as well.

What are the various types of nootropics?

There are different types of nootropics 30), each having its own efficacy and mechanism of action. Some of the nootropic types are:
Racetams, and mostly importantly piracetam 31), are the most commonly used and studied group of nootropics. Other members of this group include Aniracetam, Pramiracetam, and Oxiracetam.
These drugs mainly act on the acetylcholine receptors and increase cognitive functions, learning, motivation, memory, and focus.
Acetylcholine Intermediates
These nootropics function by increasing the level and activity of a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is the most important neurotransmitter with a pivotal role in brain activity. Higher acetylcholine levels would mean increased brain activity.
The most important member of this group is Alpha GPC 32) Other members of this family include Citicoline and Centrophenoxine.
This represents a newer group of nootropics. These nootropics increase brain activity by increasing the level of an important neurotransmitter known as “glutamate.” Research 33) shows that the use of ampakines increases glutaminergic transmission in the brain.
The most important members of this group include Unifram and Sunifram.
Natural Nootropics
Natural nootropics are derived from active ingredients isolated from herbs and plants. For instance, Huperzine A is a nootropic that is derived from a moss. This nootropic functions by increasing the brain levels of acetylcholine. It is now used as an effective drug for the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease 34)
Other members of this group include Bacopa Monnieri and Vinpocetine.
Vitamin B derivatives
These drugs are made by the modification of B vitamins and boost energy production in the brain and improve memory, focus and cognition. The most important members of this family include Pyritinol and Sulbutiamine.
Peptide Nootropics
These are the most interesting group of nootropics, the use of which is increasing exponentially. These nootropics easily cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and have an effect that is a thousand times more potent when compared to conventional nootropics like piracetam. However, the downside of these nootropics is that most of them can’t be taken through the oral route, and have to be taken via injections. The most common example is Noopept.
Smart Drugs
Smart drugs, like Adderall 35), are perhaps the most commonly abused group of nootropics. These drugs increase focus and attention. That’s why their use is very common among students and athletes.

List of some Effective Nootropics

The 10 most effective nootropics include:
• Noopept
• Pramiracetam
• Modafinil
• Adrafinil
• Sulbutiamine
• Phenylpiracetam
• Aniracetam
• 5-HTP
• Huperzine A
• Choline

Are Nootropics Legal?

The legal status of nootropics is still a matter of a lot of debate and confusion 36) To be honest, there are not strict FDA guidelines regarding the use and selling of nootropic supplements in the US 37) Same goes for the UK. In the UK, you can buy, sell or consume nootropics as long as they are sold or purchased without strict medicinal claims 38) Also, you don’t need to have a prescription for buying nootropic supplements, as for now at least 39)

Are nootropics safe to use?

Well, nootropics are generally considered safe, but the information available explaining their safety is quite limited 40) Like all other drugs, use of nootropics can have some downside too. Some research 41) shows that un-interrupted use of nootropics in early age, in high doses and for longer durations can have drastic effects on brain structure and function. Therefore, caution should be observed with the use of nootropics.

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References   [ + ]

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