I imagine that many of us have fantasized about taking a pill which can make us smarter. Maybe it could make you more alert, or allow you to remember things in vivid detail. But does such a pill, or substance, really exist?
The answer may be on the shelf of your local health food store! Nootropics are supplements or substances that improve cognitive functioning such as executive thinking, memory, creativity, and motivation, more or less.
In this article, we are going to examine some examples of commonly used nootropic supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We’ve all been told how good Omega-3’s are for our health. The truth is that these substances are indeed beneficial, especially to our brains.
Fish oil supplements contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both fatty acids that offer great benefits to brain health and cognitive performance.
DHA can help to maintain the structure and function of the brain. EPA acts as an anti-inflammatory to protect the brain from the damage of aging.
DHA can improve thinking skills, memory, and reaction time, while EPA, not linked to any improved brain function, has been shown to lift the mood of people suffering from depression.
These Omega-3 fatty acids are best provided by two portions a week of oily fish such as sardines, herring, tuna, or mackerel. Fish oil dietary supplements are also widely available and can make up for lack of Omega-3 sources in a person’s diet.
Recommended: EPA/DHA Fish Oil with Vitamin D.
Resveratrol is a substance that occurs naturally in the skin of red and purple fruits such as grapes, raspberries, and blueberries. It can also be found in red wine, chocolate, and peanuts.
Laboratory studies in animals have shown that resveratrol can boost brain function and enhance memory. It is also an antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative damage and fight the effects of aging. While there have not yet been enough human studies conducted, the results of animal testing seem quite promising.
Recommended: Natural Resveratrol by NOW Foods.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that has been shown in studies to be of benefit when taken in supplement form. A dose of 100mg three times a day has been shown to improve age-related decline in memory and other brain functions.
Doses of up to 400mg per day can be taken by healthy people to improve thinking skills and memory, but experts agree that larger studies in humans are needed to further assess its value as a brain enhancer.
Recommended: PS 100 by Jarrow Formulas.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid naturally produced in the body and is said to help you feel more alert, improve your memory, and protect against age-related brain damage.
Some animal studies have even shown an increase in individual learning capacity. Studies in humans, however, have not been as optimistic.
This amino acid may help against mental decline and may be beneficial for individuals suffering from mild dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but has not been proven to be of benefit to healthy individuals.
Recommended: Acetyl-L-Carnitine by NOW Foods.
Ginkgo biloba leaf powder and extracts are among the most popular supplements that are widely available and used by quite many people to prevent age-related damage to the brain and boost brain power in general.
Some studies indicate that ginkgo may reduce the symptoms of dementia, and may also enhance cognitive performance and mental skills. But quite a few other studies have failed to support this conclusion. So the jury is still out on this supplement.
Recommended: Extra Strength Ginkgo.
Creatine, another substance that occurs naturally in the body, is also popular in supplemental form. Creatine is important for energy metabolism and is found in red meat, fish, and other meats.
This substance has been shown to enhance memory and thinking skills, but there is a catch. It only seems to work with individuals who do not eat meat, while having virtually no effect on those who consume a normal amount of meat products as part of their regular diet. This may be because they suffer from no deficiency in the first place.
There are certainly many other nootropic supplements available. Bacopa monnieri is believed to improve memory and thinking skills in healthy people. Rhodiola rosea is commonly used in China, where it is believed to improve mental processing by reducing stress and fatigue.
But probably the most common brain enhancing supplement, used all over the world, is caffeine. Caffeine is so common, found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and other things we commonly ingest, that we seldom need to use it as a supplement. It energizes us while potentially supporting focus, memory, reaction time, and brain function.
A dose of 200 to 400 mg of caffeine a day will usually provide these benefits, but too much can cause anxiety, nausea, and sleeplessness. Bear in mind that a single cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 50 to 400mg of caffeine, so it is relatively easy to overdose and thereby negate its positive effects.
In conclusion, there is no magic brain booster out there. There are supplements that can be effective in reducing the negative effects of stress, oxidative damage, aging, and a poor diet on your brain. Some natural compounds can potentially help with memory, thinking, or general cognitive function, but most of these supplements only seem to work if there is an underlying deficiency or mental condition.