Are Nootropics Safe? It Depends.
Have you been feeling run-down lately? Does it feel like you’re constantly falling behind in work or school? The fast-paced nature and high expectations of today’s society pressure us to stay focused, highly motivated, and perform our best at all times. Whether it’s for work, school, or personal life, we’re often trying to be better, faster, and more productive.
It’s no surprise, then, that many people turn to nootropics for an added brain boost. Also called “smart drugs”, nootropics are used to improve mental performance, helping us stay focused and achieve more.
But what are these brain enhancers and how do they work? Should you take plant-based or synthetic nootropics? Finally, are nootropics safe to take, and are they worth the investment?
Nootropics Definition and Use
The word nootropic is from the Greek words “nous” which means mind, and “bend” which means turn. Nootropics simply means “mind bending”. While they don’t actually “bend” the mind, nootropics do influence the brain and how it performs.
Nootropics is a broad term used to describe substances that improve mental performance through increased creativity, motivation, learning, and attention. They were first invented in the 1970’s and their popularity has grown exponentially since.
Nootropics have three brain-boosting effects
- Increase blood flow. Blood flow is very important for brain function; it’s how the body delivers oxygen and other important nutrients to the brain. Some neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, are associated with decreased brain blood flow. Nootropics increase the amount of blood that goes to the brain, which helps the brain work at a high rate. This also supports the growth and repair of brain cells.
- Protect brain cells. Nootropics defend brain cells from toxins and other damaging agents. Our brain cells especially need protection during times of high stress because this is when toxins can do the most damage.
- Improve communication. Nootropics increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are tiny chemicals that brain cells use to send messages to one another. Nootropics, therefore, strengthen connections between cells in the brain, which makes it easier for messages to travel along important neural pathways.
Types of Nootropics: Natural vs Synthetic
There are many different types of nootropics, ranging from natural substances to prescription medications. Some plant-based nootropics are quite common and can likely be purchased at your local health food store.
Best natural nootropics
Common examples of natural nootropics include ginseng, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Bacopa Monnieri.
- Ginseng is an herb that improves brain function and decreases mental stress. You can eat it as a root or purchase it in powder, pill, and oil forms.
- L-Theanine is an amino acid found in black, green, and white tea leaves. It boosts creativity and decreases psychological stress. Try it in its natural form by drinking black, green, or white tea. You can also purchase it as a supplement in powder and pill forms.
- Rhodiola Rosea is an herb that grows in cold, mountainous areas that reduces mental fatigue and lowers psychological stress. You can consume Rhodiola Rosea as a tea or in pill and powder forms.
- Bacopa Monnieri, also known as brahmi, is an herb that was used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine. It boosts brain function by increasing the number of neurotransmitters in the brain that contribute to thinking and learning.
These natural nootropics typically have weaker and slower acting effects than synthetic ones. However, they are typically more affordable, plant-based, and have fewer side effects than some of the synthetic nootropics.
Synthetic nootropics are often found in supplements that you can purchase over the counter or as prescription medications. There are dozens of different types of over the counter nootropics, such as Phenotropil, Adrafinil, Phenibut, and Piracetam. Prescription nootropics include Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta.
Do Nootropics Work?
Research and Markets reports that the brain-boosting supplement industry is growing; in fact, it’s projected to grow by $1.63 billion between 2020-2024. If you haven’t seen them already, you’ll likely see more nootropics on the market in the immediate future, and it’s important to determine whether they actually work and if they’re safe to take before incorporating these “smart drugs” into your daily routine.
Many people swear by nootropics’ ability to boost brain power and there’s some evidence to support these claims. A study in 2010, for example, found that taking 400 mg of ginseng was associated with improved ability to do arithmetic, and another study found that L-Theanine reduces psychological stress when compared to a placebo group. A third study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri a day improves performance on a memory task in older adults.
Are Nootropics Safe?
Despite the positive results related to nootropics, however, other studies report that they may have little to no effect on cognitive function and may actually produce unwanted side effects. A study by the National Institute of Health, for example, found that nootropics are related to obsessive compulsive disorder and addictive behaviors. In general, more research is needed to demonstrate their effectiveness and to understand exactly how nootropics interact with our bodies.
It’s also important to keep in mind that nootropics work differently across different individuals and most take days or weeks before they’re effective. Furthermore, nootropics are not regulated by the FDA. Natural nootropics are usually a safer bet than synthetic ones, even ones sold over-the-counter. Before starting either, however, you should seek out medical advice.
Think twice before spending lots of money on supplements that guarantee quick, temporary results, because nootropics don’t normally work this way. Always talk to your doctor before taking nootropics.
Natural Ways to Boost Brain Power
Nootropics may be one way to enhance brain function but improving your overall health may be just as effective — or even more effective. After all, if your body isn’t functioning at its best, your brain won’t either.
Healthy fats and essential vitamins and minerals, for example, support brain function and keep brain cells healthy. Try to include foods like fish, nuts, leafy green vegetables, and berries into your diet whenever possible.
Physical activity can also enhance focus, mood, and concentration (not to mention the many other health benefits of exercise!). Try to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, even if it’s a quick walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Finally, we all know that getting enough sleep is important, but many of us still neglect to do so. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can have drastic effects on our brain function. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, failure to get enough sleep has been shown to decrease attention and concentration. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night for good brain health.
The Final Word on Nootropics
Nootropics are substances that enhance brain function. Plant-based nootropics such as ginseng, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Bacopa Monnieri are popular for their brain-boosting effects and typically safer to use than synthetic nootropics. Despite their popularity, however, research showing the effectiveness of these substances is limited and some may have harsh side effects. Improving overall health through diet, exercise, and sleep are great alternatives that are proven to enhance brain function. If you’re considering nootropics, be sure to consult a medical professional before taking them.
Have you tried nootropics before? Tell us in the comments below!
XO - Serena