Nootropics: What Are They and Do They Work?
We all want to be ‘on point’ 24/7 - to feel alert, focused, able to rise to the challenges of the day and to perform well.
This is where nootropics come in - these ‘mind shaping’ yet legal substances claim to increase our cognitive function so that we can just get stuff done.
Despite there being a large number of over-the-counter nootropic products available now, there is still a veil of mystery over exactly what these products are, and whether they actually work.
Here we reveal all.
WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?
Nootropics are essentially any substances, whether natural or man-made, which claim to enhance cognitive function in some capacity.
Nootropics might aim to enhance memory, focus, executive function or simply motivation.
With nootropics, we are not talking about the reduction in cognitive decline experienced with ageing or other forms of pathological cognitive impairment, but rather the maintenance or enhancement of cognition in healthy individuals.
Examples of nootropic ingredients include omega 3, flavonoids such as those found in berries, as well as the Indian herb Bacopa Monnieri, and even good old caffeine.
Prescription nootropics do exist, but these are largely for people with diagnosable conditions such as ADHD and are not designed to be used to enhance mental focus for the day-to-day.
DO NOOTROPICS WORK?
Well, the truth is that we probably need a bit more evidence than we currently have to give an 100% concrete answer here. Nootropic supplements don't have to validate their claims through rigorous testing, so there is a lack of detailed evidence available on many products.
However, there are undoubtedly some impressive findings from current research into the effect of certain natural substances on our cognition.
We only have to look to the MIND diet to see how eating berries, dark green leafy veg, nuts, olive oil and oily fish can positively impact our working memory and executive function as we age.
Here are a few nootropic ingredients which show real promise:
We all know that reaching for a coffee during an afternoon slump can bring us back from the edge - but research also indicates a role for caffeine supplements in giving us a more concentrated ‘kick’.
Caffeine stimulates our mental focus by blocking fatigue-inducing adenosine receptors - with studies showing this natural stimulant can enhance both physical and mental performance.
If you find that caffeine gives you the jitters then consider combining it with the calming amino acid L-theanine - another powerful nootropic found in green tea and brain focused supplements.
L-theanine promotes mental focus and can negate the anxiety inducing effects of caffeine - Buddhist monks traditionally consumed lots of L-theanine via green tea to support their long meditation sessions.
Whilst creatine's main reputation is as the supplement of choice for elite athletes - evidence suggests it may boost mental performance as well.
Creatine monohydrate can cross the blood brain barrier to form phospohocreatine which is the precursor to our energy currency ATP (Adenosine triphosphate).
This increased energy availability can promote better short-term recall and mental reasoning, particularly if you are under pressure.
As creatine is abundant in meat products, vegetarians and vegans may benefit the most with an additional intake.
THE 5 BEST NOOTROPICS
We've talked about the key nootropic ingredients but what about the best overall nootropic supplements on the market?
Here are our top five picks:
There is no such thing as mental focus without a good night's sleep, which is why we rate this carefully curated blend of slumber inducing ingredients.
Enjoy natures tranquiliser Magnesium Citrate, calming L-theanine and crucial amino acid L-glycine.
Of course no good sleep supplement would be complete without 5HTP - precursor to sleep hormone melatonin.
In addition to a soporific wind down regime these nootropic add ons might help you get more of the brain restoring deep sleep you need to function well the following day.
This is the daytime accompaniment to Form Nutrition’s nighttime ZZZ’s.
Benefit from tried and tested energy boosting B vitamins, with specific nootropic add ins such as CDP-choline, caffeine and the aptly named euphoria fruit.
You can expect the reliable pick me up of caffeine in its potent anhydrous form, with anti anxiety L-theanine taking the edge off the jitters and promoting mental calm.
A good option for those ‘all in’ days which demand too much of you.
3. Indi -Mind
This nootropic powerhouse of a supplement boasts a very unique selection of focus enhancing ingredients.
Here you can find the memory boosting superstars such as cocoa and berry with bacopa monnieri - which is touted to speed up information processing in your brain over time.
This comprehensive product also features blood flow enhancing beetroot and anxiety reducing rhodiola rhodea, which makes it a very balanced and well crafted supplement choice.
Impressively, The Nue Co's nootrophic ingredients have demonstrated measurable brain based improvements after 6 weeks of supplementation.
Brain energy production increased, as did memory recall and formation of brain cell membranes.
Their patented formula includes caffeine free focus inducing substances, making it a great choice for every day use, even if you are sensitive to coffee.
And finally a nootropic supplement comprised solely of memory enhancing mushrooms.
This nootropic combines Lion’s Mane with Reishi mushrooms to offer you both short term mental focus and longer term neuroprotection.
Special components of these brain boosting mushrooms include hericenones and erinacines which have the potential to increase brain cell growth and protect against neuronal damage.
A BRAIN HEALTH ALTERNATIVE TO NOOTROPICS
For those of you who find the concept of nootropics slightly strange - we have another option for you.
Your Heights has produced a comprehensive, evidence based brain health formula which includes some of the key nutrients identified as having brain boosting benefits. It has received rave reviews since launching in 2020, and we rate it very highly as an evidence based brain health supplement.
Its impressive blend of flavonoid rich blueberry extract, EPA, DHA and IQ enhancing Iodine is a good insurance policy against lifestyle and age related cognitive impairment.
Whilst you may not get immediately noticeable effects, this product is a future proof investment against mental decline - something we all long to avoid.