Biomedical

Boost your brain power with nootropics_ Risks, benefits, side effects.

 

bigstock-Human-Brain-Anatomy-45860284.jpgMany substances can be considered nootropic. It essentially means that they have some effect that enhances your ability to focus or be an antioxidant. Coffee even can be considered a nootropic under this definition.

But i am sure you came here to find the real nootropics, the drugs that actually cause your brain to work “faster”. There are some. The problem is that cognition is extremely complicated. Many drugs instead focus on decreasing cognitive decline associated with ageing. It makes sense. Drugs that make think as fast as when you were 20 at your 60s have a large audience, possibly willing to take a small risk and results easily quantifiable. Changes in diet, or any change that can improve health, can have a positive impact on the CNS (central nervous system).

Let’s examine though the drugs with the superpower claims. The ones that promise to make you a rocket scientist overnight.

Citicoline (cytidine 5’-diphosphocholine) is a nootropic, that has neuroprotective effects. Under harsh conditions, it has been shown to reduce damage to the neurons. This drug may be beneficial to reduce ageing related damage and cognitive decline on the brain. The study referenced bellow, used mice, large dosage and didn’t perform cognitive tests in ageing mice. It uses valid methods though and the results are clear, citicoline appears to have a great therapeutic potential. It won’t really help you though get the best marks on your dissertation.

Bacopa monnieri extract has been shown to improve many cognitive aspects in older individuals. A high quality study (randomized, use of placebo control group, large sample size)  showed that indeed it improves cognition, but again like the previous drug will probably decelerate cognitive deterioration with neuroprotective effects but the benefits in young individuals have not been tested.

L-Tyrosine may be what you are looking for. This drug appears to have bigger potential for students who can’t stay concentrated than old or diseased individuals experiencing cognitive decline. According to a fairly recent study (2015) it does indeed improve cognitive performance in general regardless of damage to the neurons. It works partly due to its ability to enhance neurotransmitter production. 

There are less evidence on L-Theanine, but some studies suggest that it does indeed enhance cognitive performance.

The problem with all those substances is that most of the studies are either not reliable or funded by companies with an interest on the effectiveness of the specific substance. Due to a lack of regulation all those “drugs” are sold as supplements, while studies still need to be done in order to understand the effectiveness and safety of them.

Its not all bad though. You do need to be sceptical and know the risks with such supplements. You are basically trying something “untested” on yourself. The good thing is that there don’t seem to be any side-effects… but it is expensive to buy all those supplements, you need large amounts of them, and nothing is certain. I am interested though. I am not the person who would try something so early but if you think you did your research and want to try it there are certainly benefits. 1) You support the industry and the development of new better nootropics. 2) You do get at least some antioxidant, anti-aging benefits. 3) I couldn’t find any major side effects.
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The following list shows substances and the way it is thought by the “nootropics community”. It is now supported by my research. It is here just to show what people consider as “nootropics”.

 

5-HTP – amino acid that regulates serotonin and other brain chemicals for relaxation, sleep, and appetite satisfaction
Acetyl L-Carnitine – antioxidant suggested to protect and power brain cells; may help age-related cognitive issues
Alpha Lipoic Acid – fat-soluble antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain barrier and help protect the brain against aging
Alpha-GPC – phospholipid choline source suggested to support brain structure and brain chemicals; used for age-related cognitive decline
Aniracetam – synthetic Russian racetam primarily used for memory and mood in the elderly
Apoaequorin – jellyfish protein used for neuroprotective activity; brand-sponsored research showed benefits for memory and focus
Artichoke – supplies luteolin, an active ingredient that may balance the cAMP that regulates memory and mental performance
Ashwagandha – adaptogen root herb with benefits for mental energy, stress resistance and mood; may also help with healthy brain aging
Astaxanthin – potent antioxidant found in algae and seafood that may offer some brain-protective activity, especially in the context of aging
Bacopa monnieri – best nootropic herb for students, shown to improve retention of knowledge and strengthen stress resistance
Caffeine – not a true nootropic, but a stimulant that boosts alertness and almost always is accompanied by a subsequent crash
California poppy – suggested to interact with GABA and HTP receptors for anxiety-soothing effects; also helps sleep
Cat’s Claw – South American vine herb with early research suggesting neuroprotective activity that may help with brain aging
Catuaba – traditional Brazilian bark herb suggested in early animal research to have neuroprotective potential  
CBD – cannabis derived compound that is suggested to ease anxiety and possess some neuroprotective effects  
Celastrus paniculatus –  woody shrub seeds used in Ayurvedic herbalism; animal research suggests it may help overall brain health
Centrophenoxine – synthetic smart drug related to DMAE suggested in animal research to help brain energy and cerebral vascular function
Citicoline – best overall nootropic choline source for brain energy and healthy brain structure; shown to help focus, attention, memory, mood
Clitoria ternatea – traditional Asian herb suggested in animal research to have memory-enhancing nootropic effects
Coluracetam – otherwise called MKC-231, a rarely seen synthetic racetams created to help with brain degeneration
Convolvulus pluricaulis – Indian tonic herb and Ayurvedic brain-booster; suggested to help learning, mood and memory in animal research
CoQ10 – coenzyme pseudo-vitamin that helps brain health by powering up brain cell mitochondria and supplying anti-aging antioxidant activity
Creatine – popularly used by athletes to charge-up their muscles, may work in the same way in the brain to enhance mental energy
Choline – similar to B vitamins and related to lecithin, it declines with age but is important for brain chemical acetylcholine and maintaining healthy brain structure
DHA – essential fatty acid that is crucial for early brain development and helpful for sharp cognition in old age
DMAE – found in sardines, helps to optimize brain cell structure and has been suggested to help with attention, mood and cognitive decline
Forskolin – active ingredients of Coleus Forskohlii, promotes cAMP molecules that helps regulate cell to cell communication, mood and memory storage
GABA – inhibitory amino acid that settles nerves producing relaxation and pleasant mood, suggested to help with sleep and potentially attention
Ginkgo biloba – ancient Chinese wellness herb enhances brain circulation, strong reputation for helping with memory and age-related cognitive performance
Ginseng – adaptogen herb that supports brain chemicals and cAMP while countering stress; energizes mental and physical performance
Gotu Kola – traditional Chinese herbal best known for its blood vessel support; maintains circulation to the brain to promote memory and mood, especially in the elderly
Guarana – South American Berry that is one of the best natural sources of caffeine, traditionally used to boost mind energy and physical endurance
Huperzine-A – synthetic alkaloid from Chinese club Moss, used to sustain acetylcholine levels and shown to help with memory and degenerative brain concerns
Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) – South African herb shown in research to help with mental performance in seniors with brain degeneration
Kava Kava – psychoactive root herb used in traditional South Pacific ceremonies; may help promote relaxation, ease anxiety and improve sleep
Kratom – controversial legality and questionable safety; a traditional Asian herb that is believed to promote feelings of calmness and positivity
L-Glutamine – amino acid that supports glutamate, a key brain chemical for healthy cognition; may also help to protect the brain
L-Phenylalanine – amino acid that is a precursor to many of the brain chemicals needed for sharp, clear mental function and mood balance and
L-Theanine – green tea amino acid that raises Alpha brain waves to promote wakeful relaxation for creativity and productivity; also shown to support sharp mental clarity during aging
L-Tryptophan – precursor to five HTP that helps enhance brain chemicals for calm, relaxed moods; also influences melatonin and has been shown to improve sleep quality
Lecithin – phospholipid found in egg yolk that supplies choline that in turn forms acetylcholine brain chemical while optimizing brain cell healthy structure

Lemon Balm – traditional herb that regulates brain chemicals and their receptors to promote calmness and induce sleep
Lion’s Mane Mushroom – raises nerve growth factor to help with brain plasticity, regeneration and repair; shown to enhance mood
Magnolia – bark herb supplies active honokiol, which is suggested to balance brain chemistry for relaxation without sedation
MCT Oil – supports the use of ketones for brain energy instead of carbohydrates; helpful for mental clarity on keto diet
NADH – antioxidants coenzyme related to vitamin B3 that is required for ATP energy production; also supports the brain chemical dopamine
Nefiracetam – synthetic racetam smart drug linked with brain chemicals and suggested for helping with age-related memory and cognitive issues
Nicotine – hard to classify it as a nootropic, but nicotine has shown nootropic effects in the realm of brainpower
Noopept – patented racetam, little research suggests it may have stimulating effects that help with cognitive function
Oatstraw – increases Alpha brain waves associated with a state of relaxed alertness
Oxiracetam – stimulating racetam used for acetylcholine; may help memory and focus
Passionflower – traditional herb with calming properties, believed to balance brain chemicals for relaxation and healthy sleep
Phenibut – controversial synthetic nootropic appears to regulate dopamine; suggested to help with mood issues
Phenylpiracetam – considered one of the harsher and more powerful racetams, suggested to help with higher-order cognitive function
Phosphatidylcholine – phospholipid nootropic that is key for brain regeneration; linked to benefits for memory, mood and overall brain health
Phosphatidylserine (PS) – multitasking phospholipid that helps build, power and protect brain cells; best evidence-backed nootropic for memory

Picamilon – synthetic compound that binds GABA with niacin; suggested to help with attention and anxiety, but complex legal status
Pine Bark Extract – antioxidant complex protects the brain and blood vessels; also promotes nitric oxide to boost blood flow to the brain; suggested to help with attention and overall brain health
Piracetam – the original racetam, and the first “nootropic” – optimizes brain chemicals for stimulating, mood balancing effects
Psychobiotics – The gut and the brain are closely connected, and science is discovering that beneficial flora in the GI tract can influence mood and cognitive function
Pramiracetam – racetam suggested to help with acetylcholine; may help with memory formation and recall
Pterostilbene – antioxidant found in berries believed to help strengthen the brain’s resistance to aging
PQQ – super antioxidant that is required for the production of energy within brain cells mitochondria; suggested to help with overall brain health during the aging process

Resveratrol – red wine antioxidant that helps to support healthy brain aging by protecting brain cells against free radicals and inflammation
Rhodiola rosea – legendary adaptogen root herb from Russia that optimizes mental energy and physical endurance by regulating the body’s stress responses
Rosemary – Worn as wreath by students in ancient Greece because its aroma sharpens focus; modern uses include age-related cognitive support
SAMe – catalyzes and supports several brain functions, including cell signaling and cell membrane function; most popularly used to support mood balance
Schizandrol-A – Asian berry supplies this active ingredients suggested to have anti-stress activity and to help protect the brain
St. John’s Wort – bright flower herb supplies active hypericin and hyperforin, which balance brain chemicals related to mood; good research profile for helping with depression
Sulbutiamine – synthetic vitamin B1 that is molecularly altered to make it fat-soluble and capable of crossing the blood brain barrier; may help general brain health
Taurine – amino acid that regulates cell to cell communication, often seen in energy drinks though the only evidence suggests nerve-calming effects
Theobromine – Caffeine-like compound sourced from cocoa believed to have stimulating properties with fewer side effects
Turmeric – root herb supplies antioxidant complex linked to brain cell protection and long-range cognitive health
Tyrosine – precursor used to form brain chemicals tied to attention and focus; shown in research to enhance multiple aspects of mental performance in distracting, multitasking settings.
Uridine – raw material that is used by the body to make brain-supportive choline and acetylcholine; suggested to have potential for brain degeneration
Valerian – ancient root herb that may work by sustaining GABA (soothing brain chemical) levels to promote relaxation and ultimately, sleep
Vinpocetine – synthetic form of periwinkle that has a complex legal status but is one of the best brain circulation boosters
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – low levels may be linked to pour cognitive performance; suggested to help brain chemicals to function properly
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – suggested to have roles and brain chemical synthesis and brain protection; may help with healthy brain function later in life
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – suggested as part of a multivitamin to help with attention-related issues, although evidence is conflicted
Vitamin B6 – contributes to nerve sheathing, blood vessel flexibility and brain chemical conversion and synthesis
Vitamin B8 – also called inositol, helps with brain cell membrane synthesis and optimizes some neurotransmitters, mainly serotonin
Vitamin B9 – plays a key role in regulating homocysteine levels in the blood, thereby supporting cerebrovascular health
Vitamin B12 – raw material for nerve-protective myelin, also a key player in brain energy; suggested to help maintain brain volume during aging
Yerba Mate – Traditional herb that is brewed into a stimulating tea with focus-enhancing support

Sources: l-Theanine and caffeine improve target-specific attention to visual stimuli by decreasing mind wandering: a human functional magnetic resonance imaging study, Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial, Neuroprotective effect of Bacopa monnieri on beta-amyloid-induced cell death in primary cortical culture
, Acetylcholine precursor, citicoline (cytidine 5′‐diphosphocholine), reduces hypoglycaemia‐induced neuronal death in rats
, Effect of tyrosine supplementation on clinical and healthy populations under stress or cognitive demands—A review

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