Are you having trouble studying for a big exam? Or perhaps you’re swamped with work, but you just can’t seem to concentrate?
If so, you might want to give nootropics a try.
But, wait. Noo-what? You may be asking. What on Earth are they? And what do they do? Nootropics are supplements that supposedly boost your brainpower and improve your concentration. In the past few years, they’ve become all the rage. But are they the real deal or just empty hype? More importantly, are they safe, or can they do more harm than good?
Read on to find out.
What Are Nootropics?
The term ‘nootropic’ was coined in 1972 by Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr Corneliu Giurgea; and is based on the ancient Greek words nous (mind) and trepein (to bend or turn).
Dr Giurgea also set out five fairly strict criteria that a substance has to meet in order to be considered a nootropic. In particular, it should enhance memory and the ability to learn, as well as increase the efficiency of your brain’s mechanisms. More importantly, a nootropic must be completely non-toxic and have little or no side effects.
Unfortunately, this is far from a definitive description.
These days, there are lots of different interpretations, some of which may include substances - coffee, for example - which don’t satisfy all of Dr Giurgea’s five criterias. Broadly speaking, however, it’s safe to say that any substance which boosts brain power and enhances your cognitive function may be considered a nootropic.
How Do Nootropics Work?
Depending on the particular substance, a nootropic can affect your cognitive function in one of several ways.
Some nootropics work by strengthening your synapses - the highways through which your brain communicates with the rest of your body, while others work by increasing blood flow to your brain.
Other nootropics work by increasing your brain’s acetylcholine levels - the substance responsible for memory.
Either way, though, the boost isn’t going to be instantly noticeable.
You won’t suddenly be able to work out really complicated equations or see things you never noticed before. There should however be an increase in brain function which will improve your ability to concentrate, and acquire and store information.
What Are Some Of The Most Popular Nootropics?
Nootropics can be broadly divided into seven categories, each having their own specific mechanisms.
Some - like Ginkgo Biloba, fish oil and creatine - are natural substances that have either been part of our diet or used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years. While the beneficial effects of some of these substances have been scientifically proven, it’s debatable whether others have any effect at all.
Fish oil, for example, is known to not only boost memory, but also help slow down age-related mental decline. On the other hand, while Gingko Biloba does increase blood flow to the brain and act as an antioxidant, whether it actually has any effect on your memory at all is up for debate.
Either way, most natural nootropics are perfectly safe to use.
The situation is less clear when it comes to man-made nootropics such as racetams, which are arguably the most popular type of synthetic nootropic around. Of course, nootropics are designed to be non-toxic and have little to no side effects. That said, most man-made nootropics have been created fairly recently, which means there isn’t much information on possible long-term effects as yet.
The Bottom Line
The subject of nootropics is vast, simply because there are so many substances that can arguably fit the definition. Many nootropics do have scientifically proven benefits, and most should not have any harmful effects. However, as with anything else, it’s always best to take a common sense approach.
You should always do your research before trying out a supplement. Make sure you understand how it works and what the ingredients are. Most importantly, never take more than the recommended dose.
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