There isn’t a shortage of nootropics to try on the market if you’re looking to boost your cognitive function and performance. They are roughly classified between natural and prescription or synthetic nootropics, with differences in outcomes, how soon those results manifest, and any potential side effects on the body.
Here’s a quick exploration of five natural and synthetic nootropics available today.
Ah, good ol’ caffeine. This comes in the form of coffee, tea, energy drinks, as well as supplements. But we’re just scratching the surface when we talk about caffeine sources, as there are many common everyday foods and drinks that contain this substance.
So how does caffeine work anyway to give you that midday boost or serve as a needed pick-me-up when the cramming for school or a work presentation gets real? It blocks adenosine receptors in the brain that make you feel tired and out of it. This is why caffeine makes you instantly feel less tired, more focused, and generally more awake when you drink that cup of joe.
Pros: You get energy, it’s non-addictive, and there are long-term health benefits associated with caffeine consumption. It’s not just for coffee lovers, too, and can actually provide social interaction and bonding with coffee sessions.
Cons: If you consume it often, you will build tolerance, meaning you will need more and more caffeine to get the same boost. If you overdo your caffeine intake, it can also lead to side effects like sleeplessness, anxiety, and even tremors.
Naturally found in black and green tea, L-theanine is a common cognitive supplement. It boasts of a calming and relaxing effect while also improving alertness. In a 2019 study, subjects who took 200 mg of L-theanine tablets for four weeks had reduced stress and enhanced executive function.
How does it work? L-theanine boosts serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which are neurotransmitters that are key in regulating mood and stress.
Pros: Increased focus, better sleep and immune system, and increased focus and neuroprotection.
Cons: You may experience a change in appetite, a drop in blood pressure, GI discomfort, and possible drug interaction.
3. Omega-3 Fats
These building blocks of brain cell membranes couldn’t be more important for cognitive enhancement. They increase the fluidity of cell membranes, which is crucial for brain cell functioning. Studies show that these supplements, usually in the form of fish oil, helped adults who had a mild form of cognitive impairment.
Pros: Omega-3s are also a great aid for cardiovascular health, maintenance of cholesterol levels, and overall health and wellness. This has earned these fats a special place in the nutritional supplement space as a brain and overall health enhancer.
Cons: The purity and cleanliness of fish oil source matter, as some fish are high in contaminants like lead and mercury. It’s important to ensure you’re getting high-quality omega-3 sources.
This prescription drug is commonly prescribed to individuals with ADHD and even narcolepsy. This stimulant works by enhancing dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which can both improve focus and concentration. Adderall has also been linked to better alertness and energy levels.
Experts, however, point to a ceiling effect with stimulants such as this, as people with OK levels of attention may not be able to “supercharge” their brain or become super smart.
Pros: Stimulants like Adderall have a good track record in helping ward off distractions present in daily life.
Cons: However, they have been associated with side effects such as jitters, trouble sleeping, appetite loss, irritability, dizziness, headaches, depression, weight loss, and similar effects. It’s best to work with your doctor as this is a prescription drug and there’s plenty of monitoring that may need to be done to prevent the adverse reactions.
This prescription drug is a hit for those looking for wakefulness. It’s prescribed for patients of narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, as well as conditions such as shift work sleep disorder.
How it works is that modafinil increases dopamine levels. The increased levels may assist in improving memory, concentration, and motivation, to name a few.
Pros: The Modafinil “brain state” stays a while, meaning it may make you feel super-smart for quite a long time.
Cons: If you started taking it while young, you risk becoming dependent on the drug to work hard. Unfortunately, Modafinil also runs your system significantly hard or for more than 16 hours or so, which means you may experience a particularly taxing effect on your immune system.