Supplementation is often used as a means to enhance your physical performance, but another interesting part of supplementation is nootropics. Nootropics are chemicals that you can use to enhance different forms of mental performance. This can be things like reaction time, concentration, and memory. There are a number of different nootropics on the market that have a variety of individual ingredients in them that may or may not have a positive effect on performance. This post is meant to be a basic primer of different major classifications of nootropics that might be worth you money.
Don’t worry about supplementation as a means to enhance your cognitive performance if you are failing to do basic things for brain health like sleeping and eating a healthy diet. Just picking better food sources that have things like omega 3s and avoiding running huge amounts of sugar seems to do you more favors for performance than you would see from using these substances detailed below.
As with all supplements remember there is always individual response, so you might find some are worth you money and others have no effect. Also, if you cycle off and don’t notice any changes keep in mind that some supplements take time to build up effectiveness and have some residual effects, so do your diligence (on research). Furthermore, the placebo effect is a major confounding factor where your own psychology is what gives the supplement its power not the pharmacology. Be careful to not abuse these substances, since high intakes of any compound can cause desensitization on occasion (decreased number of receptors) which in turn will cause you to become dependent on them for just normal function and when you stop you can have a decline in performance.
Another little note on using nootropics is that when you take them you might have an enhancement of your cognition, memory, focus, etc., but they also tend to have a fall out afterwards in that you can simple be cognitively tired (feel like your brain is fried). I have had friends use these compounds and all it gave them was a headache. Others I know that have used these thought they would wait for them to kick in before they started studying so they would clean for a few minutes, and 6 hours later had completely cleaned their entire apartment. So individual effects may vary, read up on the dosages yourself and start conservatively and work your way up. Also some of these agents work well by being “stacked”, this means taking one with another can help bolster the effect of both. I won’t really advise how to stack these compounds, but do your own research here is you think that it might be useful for you.
This is anything that will help you speed up. The most commonly used amphetamine in the world is caffeine. Caffeine not only increases energy, but also improve aerobic performance, decrease perceptions of pain, and potential increase power production. There are other amphetamines like ephedra, Adderall, and cocaine. Now these amphetamines also have their issues like putting stress on your cardiovascular system, can cause anxiety, and have habituation/addictive effects. Keep in mind that you will get used to the effects of caffeine and with time require larger doses in order to have the same effect. The ergogenic effects of caffeine seem to be seen at a dosage of 3-6mg/kg of bodyweight, so for a person that weighs about 155lbs. we are talking about a total dosage of 210-420mg of caffeine. This comes out to a good espresso or two. Things like ephedra have been linked to sudden death in athletes and other more potent ones like DMAA have also been taken off the market for having serious life threatening side effects. Dosage on all of these compounds is incredibly important to follow and should not be used on a frequent basis.
This is a class of chemicals that have a positive effect on cognition and learning. There are a number of variations in the racetam class with the first one to come across would be piracetam. This racetam has been investigated for its positive effect on cognition specifically it seems to be useful with things like potentially decrease the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s and other neuro degenerative diseases. As far as its ability to improve cognition that is relatively mild compared to some other racetams. I’m going to discuss a few of the more popular racetams, but this list is far from comprehensive. Do some personal research on this if you think you might be interested in using one of these supplements.
This is a more potent version of the racetam family that can help with excitatory neurotransmitters along with potentially help with increasing memory. The key here is once again related to their ability to decrease cognitive decline with age. The research in humans to enhance overall performance in young people isn’t quite there (but rats and mice seem to work).
This is another more potent form of piracetam that I have experience with using. This seemed to have a positive effect on my memory retention along with allowing me to visualize structures in biochemistry (felt like having a photographic memory). Overall use in humans has shown it to have effects on association and might have some uses with anxiety and depression. I did like this compound, but it is fat soluble so you need to make sure that you are taking this with some form of fat.
This is the racetam that is illegal in Olympic competition. It conveys benefits by having the same effects as piracetam but is known to be stimulating of the nervous system (hence being illegal in sports) along with enhancing tolerance of cold. This was used by a friend that informed me that it greatly increased his energy to a point that was uncomfortable.
These are compounds that help you calm down. One of the most popular here to look at is theanine. Theanine is an amino acid that you will find in things like green tea. Taking an equivalent dosage of theanine with you caffeine can help with decrease the jitters and anxiety you might get from larger caffeine consumption. There are other compounds like 5-HTP which work as a serotonin precursor which can also help with relaxation of the mind. Phenibut is another one that helps with relaxation and specifically can be used as a sleep aid. I have used this some and found it to work well, but if you don’t sleep enough you will feel like you have a hangover when you wake up in the morning (for me sleep less than eight hours). The research on this is mostly Russian, but it seems to have an effect, be sure to not use this on a daily basis since it seems it can be habit forming.
Choline is a molecule that is an important precursor to neurotransmitters in the brain (such as acetyl choline which causes muscle contraction among other roles) and works to help with membrane integrity and health. Variations on this compound like DMAE can help with avoiding the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques but like to not really enhance cognitive performance. Other versions like Alpha-GPC potentially can improve power output and cognitively decline also, but further research must be done. The nice thing about choline is a good source of it are foods like eggs.
There are a number of mushrooms that are being popularized for their ability to improve cognitive processes. These are not the type of mushrooms that will cause you to trip out, but instead have individual factors that help with cell signaling in the brain specifically to grow more structures. Currently, one popular mushroom for cognitive performance is lion’s main (also known as Yamabushitake mushroom) which does seem to help increase signaling molecules to build neurons (neurological growth factors). The dosage here seems to vary on the study but it might help with anxiety, depression, or cognition in general. Cordyceps is another mushroom that is currently touted to have a positive effect on aerobic performance and health in general, but for now the research in this area is lacking. It is often mixed in with a variety of other compounds for supplements so it is hard to pare down to see if it really had the main effect. One final mushroom to highlight is Chaga, which might have some effects on cognition and being an anti-inflammatory but further research must be performed before any serious conclusions can be made.
Adaptogens are herbs and spices that can have positive effects on the body’s adaptations to stress. Some popular examples of these are rhodalia rosia, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba. Rhodalia is an herb that has been shown to have effects on decreasing fatigue, but hasn’t been shown to have the greatest effect on cognitive performance. It might help with depression and dealing with toxins or stressors on the brain, but more research must be performed. There may also be positive effects on longevity by taking this compound. Ginkgo Biloba is a popular herb that can help with slight improvements in cognition and help avoid cognitive decline. Overall it has a good amount of research backing its effects and it is a plant that is relatively easy to grow.
Ginseng is the most popular herb to take throughout the world as an adaptogen. Ginseng has been shown to have a variety of effects on the brain and body. Overall, it can help with improving mood, decreasing fatigue, and perhaps having other positive effects on performance from improved circulation. There isn’t a huge body of knowledge on this compound (compared to caffeine and creatine) but there is a solid amount which suggests a variety of positive effects on cognition, but nothing too massive.
This is just a quick list of different compounds that may have some positive effect on cognition. Always keep in mind that the dosage of the compounds are important. Taking too little will give no benefits and taking too much can cause some negative health consequences. If you are going to try any of them go read up on them some more (examine.com and peer reviewed research is the place to start). I hope this has been useful for you and if you have any questions of otherwise please leave a comment. Thanks as always for reading.
Used a number of them but below are the big ones to take a look at outside of peer reviewed journals.