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NOOTROPICS: WANNA PLAY THE BRAIN GAME?

NOOTROPICS: WANNA PLAY THE BRAIN GAME?

Nootropics are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around for thousands of years. So why is everyone suddenly going bonkers for brain boosters?

 

What Does Nootropic Mean & What Does It Do?

 

First some background. Don’t worry, this will be quick. The term nootropic is a catch all for a group of molecules that act selectively towards the brain's higher-level integrative activity. You may have heard other terms for nootropics such as adaptogen or smart drugs? Simply put, they help you think faster, remember more, stay focused longer and reason better. They also help with more complex choice making behaviour such as speaking and purposeful movement. Like thumbing through your social feed and stopping to read this article.

 

Romanian scientist Corneliu Giurgea coined the term Nootropics back in 1972 based on the Greek word noos, meaning "mind", and trope, meaning "bending". Giurgea was actually searching for a chemical to aid sleep when he discovered Piracetam. Piracetam didn’t help any of his patients get a decent night’s sleep, but it did have a positive impact on their memory when taken over time. Giurgea quickly realised the impact of his findings and set about classifying the category.

 

For a product to qualify as a true nootropic, it must fulfil Giurgea's five criteria:

 

1. Help improve working memory and learning.

2. Support brain function under hypoxic conditions or after electroconvulsive therapy.

3. Protect the brain from physical or chemical toxicity.

4. Enhance natural cognitive functions.

5. Non-toxic to humans, without depression or stimulation of the brain.

 

But Giurgea was just following on from what Eastern medicine already knew.

 

A Brief History of Nootropics

 

Thousands of years before the Romanian set foot on the planet, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine had been experimenting with the brain altering qualities of plants and seeds. The herbal nootropics of India and China were used to promote brain health and thought to help stave off brain disease. They recognised the powerful properties of the plant kingdom and the feeling of well-being when regularly ingested over time.

It took the West thousands of years to catch up. And when they did, they began synthesising faster acting, stronger, and altogether more powerful nootropics commonly called smart drugs. Examples include Ritalin, Adderall, and other amphetamine-based medicine.   

 

Synthetic Vs Natural Nootropics – Which is Best To Use?

 

Synthetic nootropics are great in the short term, in fact they are around 10 times more effective than natural nootropics, but they are not great for the mid to long term and therefore not a viable solution for many. The reasons being, smart drugs can also have side effects like increased anxiety, stomach pain, nausea, and sleep pain, and they also have the propensity for abuse as shown in Alison Klayman’s feature documentary on Netflix ‘Take your Pills’.

 

A 2017 worldwide study revealed nearly 30% of Americans have used ‘smart drugs’ in the last year. A huge proportion of those numbers amongst students and young professionals.

 

And who can blame them with glorified adverts like box office hit Limitless, a 2011 movie following average guy Eddie Morra (played by Bradly Cooper) and his smart drug journey from zero to hero and back again. Watching Eddie master new languages in minutes and decode the stock exchange in hours got everyone thinking - How far away are we from discovering a drug that could do this? 

The truth is, very far.

 

Nootropics synthetic or natural can only function within our biological framework. The amount of grey matter available in each of our brains is not sufficient to make leaps of ‘Limitless’ magnitude. So, if your starting point is Mr Bean, there’s not a nootropic on the planet that’ll turn you into Elon Musk. Thank goodness!

Natural nootropics generally have fewer perceptible negative effects compared to smart drugs, making them more useful as long-term supplements to increase motivation, mental clarity, focus, balance, and overall productivity. They also have been proven to increase brain health overtime helping stave off many forms of brain disease including Alzheimer’s.

So, if you’re looking for a long-term approach to better performance and overall brain health, it may be prudent to lean on the ancient teachings of Ayurvedic and Chinese in favour of Western medicine.

 

Can Nootropics Really Boost Brain Function?

 

A journal published in 2016 reports: "Natural nootropics are proven in boosting the brain function while at the same time making the brain healthier. Nootropics act as a vasodilator against the small arteries and veins in the brain. Introduction of natural nootropics in the system will increase the blood circulation to the brain and at the same time provide the important nutrient and increase energy and oxygen flow to the brain. Despite the 3% weight of total body weight, the brain receives around 15% of the body’s total blood supply and oxygen. In fact, the brain can only generate energy from burning the glucose, proving that neurons depend on the continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients".

For years Silicon Valley tech workers have been trying to ‘optimise’ their brain performance to get ahead in the highly competitive world of coding. Understandably elite gamers and athletes are also playing the brain game, realising that on an otherwise level playing field, speed of thought and sustained focus will ultimately determine greater success.

 

Nootropics & Gamers

 

recent study conducted at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane explored stress levels and coping techniques in professional eSports players.

The researchers found that elite eSport pros require the same mental agility and stamina it takes to be a top Olympian. And high performing eSports professionals have found that nootropic supplements give them the edge and mental stamina required to be at the top of their game. This is why top eSport teams such as Astralis are turning to natural nootropic based drinks in favour of energy drinks.

 

Our lives are faster, we are working harder, sleeping less, dealing with more stress, and placing more demand on our brains than ever before. Add to this the fact that our brains sap over 20% of our body’s energy, it’s no wonder so many of us are turning to natural nootropics to optimise and keep our minds healthy.

So, if you’re interested in getting plugged in the way nature intended, here are some of the most popular natural nootropics and their function.

 

Nature’s Nootropics & Their Effects

 

Caffeine. Let’s start with the most obvious and most widely consumed natural nootropic on the planet. Most experts now agree that caffeine from natural sources is more beneficial than harmful when it’s consumed in moderation. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends adults take no more than 400 milligrams per day (4 cups of coffee) and adolescents should be limited to 100 milligrams per day. Caffeine is a psychoactive substance which works by blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine in your brain.

 

 According to Healthline ‘Not only can caffeine make you smarter in the short term, but it may also protect your brain in old age. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world and a leading cause of dementia. In prospective studies, coffee drinkers have up to a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia (16Trusted Source). Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, characterised by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Coffee may also lower your risk of Parkinson’s by 32–60%.

 

 

Bacopa Monnieri. Another popular natural nootropic is Bacopa Monnieri. Ayurvedic medical practitioners have been using Bacopa for centuries. Uses include memory enhancement, reducing anxiety, and treating epilepsy (2Trusted Source). Research shows it’s a class of powerful compounds called bacosides in Bacopa Monnieri that are responsible for these benefits.

 

According to Healthline ‘A 12-week study in 60 older adults found that taking either 300 mg or 600 mg of Bacopa Monnieri extract daily improved memory, attention, and the ability to process information, compared with the placebo treatment (16Trusted Source). Interestingly, research has also shown that Bacopa Monnieri may also help reduce ADHD symptoms.

 

One study in 31 children aged 6–12 years found that taking 225 mg of Bacopa Monnieri extract daily for 6 months significantly reduced ADHD symptoms, such as restlessness, poor self-control, inattention, and impulsivity in 85% of the children (18Trusted Source).

 

Another study in 120 children with ADHD observed that taking a herbal blend that contained 125 mg of Bacopa Monnieri improved attention, cognition, and impulse control, compared with the placebo group (19Trusted Source). Research also suggests that Bacopa Monnieri helps reduce stress and anxiety by elevating your mood and reducing levels of cortisol, a hormone that is closely linked to stress levels. (21Trusted Source).

 

 

Rhodiola Rosea. Next on the list is Rhodiola rosea, best known for its effects on balancing stress-levels, decreasing mental fatigue and increasing physical stamina. The Vikings used Rhodiola to enhance physical strength, the Sherpa people in the Himalayas used it when climbing at high altitudes, and Soviet astronauts were given Rhodiola for its physical & mental benefits when venturing into the unknown. Perhaps Captain Kirk would have benefited from this unique herb? Sometimes known as ‘golden root’, Rhodiola grows in the arctic areas of Asia and Eastern Europe at high altitudes and has been used as part of Scandinavian, Russian and Asian traditional medicine practices for centuries.

 

Rhodiola is said to contain more than 150 kinds of bioactive chemical compounds including rosavins and salidroside - the active ingredients responsible for its therapeutic effects.

Rhodiola has also been shown to improve memory, learning and cognitive abilities whilst decreasing mental fatigue and symptoms like brain fog. Studies have shown Rhodiola to increase the strength of nerve impulses in the hippocampus, related to improvements in spatial and temporal memory.

One of the most popular uses of Rhodiola is as a natural way to help enhance physical performance and recovery. Rhodiola can help increase stamina and endurance by increasing the body’s red blood cell count thereby carrying more oxygen to muscles and delaying the onset of fatigue.

 

 

Lion’s Mane. Now for a magic mushroom, but not that kind! Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is an ancient medicinal mushroom which has been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for hundreds of years to support health and wellbeing.

 

This mushy contains tonnes of vitamins and minerals, as well as compounds that have been shown to have neuroprotective effects and help improve cognitive function & brain health.

 

Lion’s Mane can also help to reduce anxiety & depression, protect the digestive tract, and has antibiotic, anti-fatigue, and anti-aging properties. One of the most studied benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom is its function as a cognitive enhancer. When ingested for a sustained period users notice an improvement in focus, mental clarity, memory & verbal fluency.

Studies suggest they can help slow the progress of cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s & Dementia, by reducing symptoms of memory loss and preventing neuronal damage.

Not bad for fungi!!

 

 

Ginkgo Biloba has numerous health benefits and has been a firm favourite in Chinese medicine for about 1,000 years. A few centuries ago, it was adopted into Western culture and over the last 30 years has enjoyed a surge of popularity.

 

According to David Tomen of Nootropicsexpert.com, ‘Gingko improves circulation including in the brain. Thinking, reaction time, energy, and memory should improve. Cold hands and feet are often an indication of poor circulation and Ginkgo could help. Ginkgo has a reputation for helping reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. And it’s also developed a good rep for helping erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. Many neurohackers report it takes several weeks of continued use of Gingko to experience all the benefits this healing herb provides.

 

A study involving 1,570 men and women in England took either no dietary supplement or 120 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract daily for 4, 6, or 10 months. Participants who took Ginkgo extract experienced improvement in activities of daily livingmood and alertness compared to the control (who took nothing). Participants in this study who took Ginkgo Biloba extract the longest reported the greatest improvement in all ratings measured. 10 continuous months of supplementing with Ginkgo extract was more effective than 4 months. Their life improved even more the longer they took Ginkgo Biloba extract.’

 

According to Healthline.com, ‘It’s often used to treat mental health conditions, Alzheimer’s disease, and fatigue. According to a 2013 systematic review, ginkgo can be considered an adjuvant therapy for schizophrenia. Researchers found ginkgo seemed “to exert a beneficial effect on positive psychotic symptoms” in people with chronic schizophrenia who take antipsychotic medication. Researchers in that study also found positive study results for ADHD, autism, and generalized anxiety disorder, but indicated more research is needed.’

 

 

Maca root – nothing to do with Paul McCartney - is another buzzy superfood that also functions as a nootropic.
According to Healthline.com ‘A 2006 report shows maca root works directly upon two regions of the brain (the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland) to help boost focus. A later study found it may boost physical and mental energy, reduce stress, alleviate depression, and calm anxiety while also stimulating brain activity. Maca root can be cooked the way you’d cook a potato or added to soup or tea. While maca is categorised as a cruciferous vegetable it’s almost never consumed the way you’d consume broccoli or cabbage. Instead, the root is dried and then ground into power which people add to their food.’

Maca is used as a sports supplement by strength and endurance athletes to improve trial performance. This is likely due to better energy metabolism and improved antioxidant status. Natives in the central Peruvian Andes traditionally had their children eat Maca to improve their performance in school. Likely due to its ability to boost acetylcholine and act as an antioxidant.

According to David Tomen of Nootropicsexpert.com, Maca is rich in calcium, copper, Vitamins B1, B2 & B6, Vitamins C, iron, iodine, manganese, niacin, potassium, zinc, 20 different fatty acids (including linolenic, palmitic, and oleic acids), and 19 amino acids (including leucine, arginine, phenylalanine, histidine, threonine, tyrosine, and methionine), choline and GABA. Is there anything this wonder root doesn’t contain?

And if that wasn’t all, Healthline.com informs us of a 2010 review that included four high quality studies with a total of 131 participants, found evidence that taking maca improved sexual desire after at least 6 weeks (4Trusted Source).

 

 

Tulsi (holy basil) is considered the "Mother Medicine of Nature." Worshipped by Hindu people, holy basil holy basil has been revered since ancient times as a herb that can promote a healthy body, mind, and spirit. The sacred plant is often planted around Hindu shrines. The name tulsi means "the incomparable one."

 

Medicinal preparations are made from holy basil's leaves, stems, and seeds of the plant and it’s commonly used to combat stress and recovery, promote mental clarity and prevent exhaustion or burnout. Studies show holy basil has a wide range of other health-promoting properties. Including anti-arthritic, anti-coagulant, anti-diabetic, antioxidant.

 

 A 2017 study of 24 people suggests ‘tulsi is a safe herbal intervention that may assist in normalising glucose, blood pressure and lipid profiles, and dealing with psychological and immunological stress. Furthermore, these studies indicate the daily addition of tulsi to the diet and/or as adjunct to drug therapy can potentially assist in prevention or reduction of various health conditions and warrants further clinical evaluation.’

 

 

Cacao Husk (Theobromine) stimulates the release of phenylethylamine (PEA) which in turn releases norepinephrine and dopamine, says nootropics expert David Tomen, producing the euphoric effect often associated with a “runner’s high”. Cacao also boosts the release of anandamide which is also known as the “bliss molecule”.

Flavanol-rich cacao improves blood flow to the brain which boosts oxygen and nutrient delivery to brain cells. Resulting in better memory and processing speed. Cacao also helps relieve stress by suppressing the release of cortisol. And providing a substantial amount of magnesium which improves memory, focus, mood, and sleep.

Theobromine also found in cacao is related to caffeine and belongs to a class of organic compounds called xanthines. They have several physiological effects on the body. Theobromine can stimulate the heart and improves blood flow around the body, leading to a net reduction in blood pressure.

 

 

Ashwagandha. According to Healthline.com, ‘Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. People have used ashwagandha for thousands of years to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration.

 

Ashwagandha appears to help control mediators of stress, including heat shock proteins (Hsp70), cortisol, and stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1). It also reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system in your body that regulates the stress response.

 

In a small study with 58 participants, those who took 250 or 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for 8 weeks had significantly reduced perceived stress and levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared with those who took a placebo. What’s more, the participants who took the ashwagandha supplements experienced significant improvements in sleep quality compared with the placebo group.

 

Research has shown that ashwagandha may have beneficial effects on athletic performance and may be a worthwhile supplement for athletes. One analysis of research included 12 studies in men and women who took ashwagandha doses between 120 mg and 1,250 mg per day. The results suggest the herb may enhance physical performance, including strength and oxygen use during exercise.

 

An analysis of five studies found that taking ashwagandha significantly enhanced maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in healthy adults and athletes. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense activity. It’s a measurement of heart and lung fitness.

 

Taking ashwagandha may also benefit cognitive function. A study in 50 adults showed that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha extract per day for 8 weeks led to significant improvements in the following measures compared with taking a placebo: immediate and general memory, attention and information-processing speed.

 

Many people take ashwagandha to promote restful sleep, and some evidence suggests it may help with sleep issues. For example, a study in 50 adults ages 65–80 found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha root per day for 12 weeks significantly improved sleep quality and mental alertness upon waking compared with a placebo treatment.’

 

 

Valerian ‘is native to Europe and Northern Asia and has been used for millennia as a sleep aid says Nootropics expert David Tomen. Valerian promotes feelings of calm, decreases levels of anxiety and stress, and enhances sleep. It has traditionally been used for the treatment of headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, irritable bowel, menstrual cramps, epilepsy, and childhood behaviour problems.

 

Valerian helps boost GABA in your brain, inhibits GABA reuptake, modulates serotonin and norepinephrine, and activates adenosines receptors. Valerian acts like an anti-inflammatory by reducing NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa-B). And improves blood flow by acting as a smooth muscle dilator. Valerian also helps eliminate stress by boosting GABA, serotonin, activating adenosine receptors, and reducing the stress hormone cortisol.’

 

 

Gotu Kola is one of the most important herbs in the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine. It’s a low, ground-hugging vine found throughout the wetlands of Southeast Asia.

In Bali, it’s called “the student herb” because it helps focus and improved alertness. It’s famous in southeast Asia as a longevity herb. The ancient people were convinced that when elephants ate Gotu Kola, they lived longer than those that didn’t. According to the National library of Medicine a study published in October 2019 showed that Gotu Kola extract provides an 8.8 fold increase in telomerase activity which indicates some truth to the elephant hypothesis. Telomerase is the enzyme that reduces telomere shortening. There have been many claims that telomere shortening is a major contributor to the aging process and development of disease. A 2003 study linked their shortening to an increase rate of death from heart disease and infectious diseases.

 

Gotu kola improves acetylcholine levels in your brain. It increases blood flow and helps reduce oxidative damage and toxins in brain cells. As a result, you may feel a boost in mental activity, which is probably why some say taking Gotu Kola is like “energising the brain”. Particularly during a period of high mental demand. Mental blocks or mental fatigue feel like they’re swept away.

 

 

Lemon balm, ‘a member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb’ writes Mountsinai.org. ‘It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to promote relaxation. It is also used in creams to treat cold sores (oral herpes).

 

Several studies show that lemon balm combined with other calming herbs (such as valerian, hops, and chamomile) helps reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Few studies have examined lemon balm by itself, except for topical use. For example, in one study of people with minor sleep problems, 81% of those who took an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who took a placebo. It is not clear from this and other studies whether lemon balm or valerian (or the combination) is responsible for the result. The same is true of several studies for anxiety, which used a combination of herbs to reduce symptoms. In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 18 healthy volunteers received 2 separate single doses of a standardized lemon balm extract (300 mg and 600 mg) or placebo for 7 days. The 600 mg dose of lemon balm increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.’

 

L-theanine ‘is an amino acid that’s a major component of black and green tea.’ According to Healthline.com, ‘on its own, research shows that it may promote anything from relaxation to arousal. One small 2007 study found that L-theanine intake resulted in a reduction of stress responses such as in the heart rate relative to the placebo. Another study found that consuming L-theanine can both increase mental focus and arousal. L-theanine can be found in green, black, and white teas — with green tea containing the most L-theanine — usually with 25 to 60 mg.’

 

 

If You Are Going To Use Nootropics, Keep It Natural!

 

Ok that’s enough to be getting on with, and if you’ve read all this in one sitting it’s time to give your brain a break!

 

Whether reading this helps you on your way to better brain health and optimisation or just reaffirms your decision to leave well alone, one thing is for sure, the human brain is incredible!! The most complex machine on the planet, the extent of which we still don’t truly understand.

 

One of the few food & beverage companies that is embracing the benefits of nootropics is Go Mate Drinks. The work they are doing in trying to bring good energy to the gaming community is inspiring. Their extensive knowledge of blending the right nootropics to promote brain health and brain function has led to a unique drinks system.

 

 

The company has created a perfectly balanced remedy for the digital age. They have combined the perfect selection of natural nootropics among those mentioned in this article with South American super herb Yerba Mate. Using only the best ingredients sustainably sourced from around the world and through extensive research and focused trials they have formulated a system that promotes health and wellbeing, focus, alertness, and calm. One drink to help you stay focused and alert when you need to perform and one to help you relax and unwind when you need to recover.

 

In fact, they have partnered with Argentinian football legend, Sergio Aguero, and professional eSports organisations Astralis and KRU to incorporate the health, nutrition and wellness regimen knowledge of elite professional athletes and digital athletes to inform their drinks system. You can find them here.

 

Modern life continues to up the pace and as our work and play habits continue to change placing more emphasis on our minds over our bodies, it has never been more important to look after our brain. To nourish it, exercise, optimise and rest it. After all, it’s the only one you’ve got! Unless of course you’re Steve Martin.

 

 

Sources: National Library of Medicine, Healthline.com, Secrets of the Optimized Brain - David Tomen, Nootropicsexpert.com, Mindlabpro.com, singularityhub.com, Nootroo.com, Organic India, Time Magazine, Men’s Health, GQ, Quantified-mind.com, Sciencedirect.com, Supplementsinreview.com, Alzdiscovery.org, hindawi.com, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu, srhr.org

 

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