The concept of nootropics is quickly taking off across the web and among important executives. These are supplements and medications that can improve concentration, memory and decision making and more and more students and CEOs are starting to rely on them.
Do they work? That all depends on which ones you use. Some don’t do anything, some are highly effective and others are dangerous.
It’s the dangerous ones that you really need to worry about. These are the nootropics that work by drastically altering neurochemicals for short periods of time. In the short run, these can give you a boost in concentration. In the long term though, they might risk tolerance and dependence – or might just make you too ‘wired’ to function normally.
But not every nootropic is a synthetic substance formulated in a lab. Many nootropics are actually completely natural and may already be a part of your normal diet. In this article we’ll look at some natural, earth growth supplements that can enhance your brain power and we’ll discuss which ones are worth your money.
Vitamins and Minerals
The best place to start are with vitamins and minerals. We already get all sorts of vitamins and minerals in our diet and many of these are already supportive to brain function. Supplementing with extra vitamins and minerals though can help us to take these benefits further, without introducing anything new or strange into our regime.
In terms of vitamins and minerals, B complex vitamins are some of the most potent and effective for improving brain power. B6 is considered by many to be a good ‘starter’ supplement for those getting into nootropics. That’s because B6 is a key building block in a number of key neurotransmitters. By getting more of this in your diet, your brain will be able to produce more catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine which enhance focus and concentration. B6 is also a precursor to serotonin – the ‘feel good hormone’ that can be used to treat depression.
Another common nutrient that’s great for enhancing brain function is zinc. Zinc is implicated in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change shape and adapt as it learns and takes in new information. It also plays a role in the production of testosterone along with testosterone. Zinc is crucial for improving the function of the central nervous system (1) as well as for improving overall cognitive performance (2).
Amino acids are also important and also used in the formation of many key neurotransmitters. Tryptophan, found in turkey, is another precursor to serotonin, while L-carnitine additionally helps to enhance mitochondrial performance and therefore brain energy metabolism (3). L-theanine is found in a number of green teas like yerba mate and is often used alongside caffeine to promote a ‘calm alertness’.
Choline found in eggs is a key precursor to acetylcholine, the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain and key for aiding memory.
Herbs and Supplements
If you want to get more adventurous and start branching out to some herbs and tress (bad pun intended), then there’s plenty on offer that might be of interest.
Ginkgo Biloba for instance is a commonly promoted ‘earth grown nootropic’ which works as a vasodilator in order to widen the blood vessels and help more blood to circulate around the body, delivering increased oxygen to the brain (4). You’re unlikely to notice much of a change upon taking this though and you can get the same benefit from garlic which also acts via the nitric oxide pathway.
Vinpocetine is another vasodilator. This one is found in a number of nootropics like Alpha Brain and comes from the Vinca Minor plant. What makes Vinpocetine a little more interesting though, is the fact that it targets the cerebrum specifically. Not only does this have a more direct impact on brain function but it also means you don’t get the broader effects of reduced blood pressure – which can potentially lead to light-headedness and other effects. It’s also anti-inflammatory for the brain, which will likely appeal to some.
Then there are other herbs and supplements that have broad, minor impacts on brain function. These include the generally nutritious ‘oat straw extract’ which appears to mobilize luteinizing hormone for increased testosterone and also encourage cell growth. Uncaria tomentosa (cat’s claw) is sorely lacking in evidence despite many claims to the contrary, while mucuna pruriens is a dopamine precursor but not something you should go out of your way for.
And don’t assume that just because something is ‘natural’ means it’s safe either. Kratom is a highly controversial ‘nootropic’ responsible for at least nine deaths (5) but which is said to enhance the motivation and tolerance of workers in Thailand. Not recommended!
And There’s More!
Forskolin meanwhile can increase cAMP in brain cells and comes from the coleus forskohlii plant. This might aid neuroplasticity and also works to increase testosterone and dilate blood vessels on top of that. Again though, proceed with caution as the research backing this is limited and you’re unlikely to notice much benefit.
Lion’s Mane though is more appealing when it comes to neuroplasticity and has shown some promise in a few interesting studies (6). This particular substance works by increasing nerve growth factor, which encourages the growth of nerves as well as neuronal connections.
Bacopa monnieri is a creeping herb that you can find in India, Africa, Asia and Europe (you’re better of looking in the shops though). Some people say it’s the best natural nootropic and compare it to Piracetam. It contains bacosides which appear to improve synaptic transmission and signaling through the brain by enhancing electrical conductivity. Apparently the effects are most profound in the hippocampus, which is the brain area associated with formulating long-term memories. Bacopa is also an anxiolytic but unfortunately might additionally have sedative effects – sending you to sleep!
Huperzine A meanwhile comes from club moss, a Chinese plant, and is a cholinesterase inhibitor. This means that it blocks the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine – which you may remember is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain. Huperzine A has very positive effects on memory and is commonly recommended for those suffering with dementia.
This article is not meant to serve as a recommendation for any particular course of nootropics – or even as a recommendation for nootropics in general. Rather, it should serve as an overview and hopefully outlines the fact that you can get significant mental boosts from using completely natural ingredients. Everything you eat has an impact on your brain function and there are many herbs, spices and plants that claim to take this further.
If you’re interested in enhancing your brain function through natural means, my recommendation is to do thorough research first and to be very cynical of what you read. A good starting point is to improve your general nutrition and to stock up on vitamins and minerals. You might also be interested in some mild vasodilators and perhaps nutrients that encourage cellular energy metabolism.
Be cautious and remember that the best way to get a healthier brain is to get a healthier body and lifestyle! The ultimate way to naturally improve your brain power is to learn more, sleep more and exercise more.