Better focus, improved memory, mood enhancement, and stress management, all benefits of a group of neuro enhancers termed “Nootropics”. The development of nootropics began in the 60’s to combat motion sickness. As the 70’s rolled around, drug development continued, focused on memory enhancement. As the decades advanced, more and more studies went into more and more nootropics, to end up where we are today.
So, where are we today? To answer that we have to first look at what’s considered a nootropic. That definition can vary depending on who you’re asking. Anything that creates cognitive enhancement can be considered a nootropic. So to some, that means caffeine and sunshine, to others that means synthetic racetams or naturally derived plant adaptogens in supplement form. To make things even more complicated many nootropics don’t come by themselves. They are in what are called stacks, a combination of 2-4 (usually) nootropics and/or extracts put together for a certain function, i.e. improved focus or stress management. I think the best way to explain what nootropics are is to list some common ones.
- Racetams: The term racetam actually refers to a group of 7 synthetics with similar pyrrolidone structure. Both Piracetam and Aniracetam are ampakines, meaning they interact with the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor; this is what gives them some of their nootropic properties. It is still unclear if the other racetams interact with the AMPA receptor in the same fashion.
- Here is a rundown of what each racetam can do.
- Piracetam: Considered the original racetam, it is a derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA that enhances working and short-term memory, focus, and the ability to learn new information. They are also used to improve mood and lessen anxiety. Help reduce symptoms of mental decline from disease such as Alzheimer’s.
- Aniracetam: Fast acting, fat soluble, highly bioavailable nootropic that increases blood flow to the brain which promotes holistic thinking, meaning it allows you to put pieces of the mental puzzle together much more efficiently. This improves learning and memory. It can also help improve mood (decreases depression and anxiety) and help stave off mental decline.
- Oxiracetam: This one has stimulating effects without the jitters of caffeine. Plus it is the one known to be most effective in treating brain damage and preventing neuronal loss. It too has positive influences on memory and learning and can help reduce symptoms of mental decline. Most often people (without sustained brain damage) take Oxiracetam when taking tough exams.
- Pramiracetam: This racetam is thought to offer the same benefits as the others, but is not well researched.
- Nefiracetam: Is most structurally like Aniracetam. However, while it does enhance memory it does so only with prolonged use. This is also true with its neurogenesis ability. Toxicity, at least in dogs, has been a concern. Typically, though, the doses sold for us humans are below toxic levels.
- Phenylpiracetam: Offers the same benefits as the other racetams, but is 60 times more potent than Piracetam. However, it is banned by all Olympic organizations because its stimulating properties give an unfair advantage. But for the average Joe it’s totally legal.
Piracetam, Aniracetam, and Oxiracetam are the ones most often taken. Aniracetam is often given the most kudos because it is more powerful than Piracetam (although this is great for beginners) and doesn’t seem to cause as many headaches or GI issues as Oxiracetam. Headaches associated with racetams can be reduced if choline supplements, such as Alpha GPC, are taking along with the racetam. Of course, this is individual based.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR): This one is what I like to call the renaissance nootropic. Does so much and does it oh so well. Our bodies make this stuff and we can get it from animal protein, but supplementation has a lot of benefits, both physical and mental. ALCAR is highly bioavailable and well tolerated by most. ALCAR also has a neat little habit of being able to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore is a rock-star in reducing mental fatigue while improving overall cognitive function and learning ability. It possesses antioxidant properties and can prevent and repair damage to brain cells caused by free radicals, while reducing brain toxins (who here drinks?). Also as we get older, ALCAR can slow dementia and memory loss. It is also effective in the elderly (as well as younger folk) to boost mood and act as an antidepressant. Choline enhances ALCAR’s capabilities and ALCAR compliments racetams abilities (these 3 do make a nice stack). ALCAR is also good for the body as it improves metabolism efficiency and reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Choline: Is the precursor to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that maintains memory muscle function. This often declines with aging. It can come in the form of supplements such as Alpha-GPC (Alpha-glycerophosphocholine) or CDP choline (citicoline). It is also present in foods such as eggs and liver. It is often taken in supplement form because it can be concentrated into higher and more bioavailable doses, plus most people simply don’t intake the proper amounts of choline. As mentioned before choline is good to take with racetams and ALCAR. If you choose to supplement with choline you should note the differences between Alpha GPC and CDP choline. CDP is broken down into phosphatidylcholine, which helps with cell membrane creation and creates acetylcholine when needed. Alpha-GPC is a byproduct of phosphatidylcholine and is therefore more similar to the form used by your cells. Typically Alpha-GPC is your best choice of supplement form as it tends to be more effective in improving cognitive function and circulating at higher levels in the body.
Bacopa Monnieri: Is a herb well known in the Ayurveda world. It’s an adaptogen and helps manage stress and anxiety and therefore improves overall cognition and brings about mental alertness.
Rhodiola Rosea: This is a herb and it works similar to Bacopa Monnieri. It helps reduce mental and physical fatigue which promotes better cognitive function. It also works as a neuroprotective against toxins and works to increase serotonin. One study even found it is beneficial in reducing stress-induced binge eating in rats.
Ashwagandha: This is another herb and adaptogen also used in Ayurveda medicine. It can reduce stress and its effects, reduce cortisol levels, and helps alleviate insomnia. Ashwagandha also improves physical performance, lowers LDL cholesterol, and improves memory formation. One other benefit to this herb is that it can boost testosterone levels up to 40% due to its ability to neutralize free radicals. Isn’t that handy?
Adrafinil and Modafinil: Adrafinil is a precursor to Modafinil. Adrafinil is considered a prodrug, meaning it’s the inactive form of a drug that is metabolized into an active form of a drug – Modafinil. So the first question is why not just skip taking Adrafinil and go straight for the Modafinil? Well mostly because around here you can’t get Modafinil without a prescription. It’s usually only prescribed if you have narcolepsy or shift work sleep disorder. So what exactly are Adrafinil and Modafinil? Both are considered synthetic stimulants that don’t produce amphetamine-like effects. Modafinil is often compared with Adderall, which is a combo of amphetamines. Both Adrafinil and Modafinil are taken to promote alertness and wakefulness and can help people focus and complete tasks. They are not to be taken every day.
To completely list every nootropic would require a whole lot more space. The above list is one that has what you will see most often on websites selling these supplements. The benefits of nootropics are similar to one another with the goals being to improve overall cognition, memory, learning, and mood and also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Some help reduce mental and physical fatigue which in turn improves our ability to use our minds.
Make it Simple…What do I take?
If you don’t want to wade through all the nootropics details and just want to know what to take, here is a stack that might work for you:
When I started taking nootropics this is how I began. This may not be for everyone, but it was a good place to start for me.
Muscle Pharm Carnitine Core Capsules 1000 mg + Jarrow Formulas Alpha GPC 300 mg+ Pure Nootropics Aniracetam Capsules 750 mg. I took these morning and night, every day.
They work well for me.
I now also add in some Bacopa and Rhodiola in the mornings (on different days, and not every day, for a little mental and energy boost). I take Ashwagandha at night a couple times a week to help drop my cortisol levels and stave off insomnia. The one I use for days I know will be full of stress, long hours, and require a lot of focus is Adrafinil. I found it gets me through and keeps me on task. I haven’t tried Modafinil, due to difficulty acquiring without a prescription. So that was just a quick rundown of what works for me and could work for you.
Be careful when jumping into nootropics. Anything you put into your body (food, supplements, medication, etc.) has side effects, good or bad. Read warning labels on the products you buy, feel out how YOUR BODY REACTS (you know yourself better than anyone), and start out minimally (with both products and dosage). Also, nootropics can get expensive. So buy what you need, then add slowly, and buy from trusted sellers. Also to be clear, the FDA has a disclosure and warning about nootropics (as with all supplements). Here it is: The statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Got that? So again use caution and find a reputable seller.
So where to buy some of this stuff?
Below is a list of sellers. The sellers I have listed, I did so because they are reputable in the world of nootropics. They independently (3rd party) lab test their products and/or test products under the rules and procedures set by the FDA, state, and federal health departments. However, understand I am not promoting any one of these companies, just giving you an idea of those that have been found to be on the up-and-up.
- Axon Labs: https://axonlabs.io/pages/about-us
- Note: Axon Labs is created in partnership with Smart Drug Smarts, which is a podcast about nootropics and cognitive enhancement. The host Jesse Lawler goes into many topics related to brain health. Take a listen to him if you want to delve further into the neuro world.
- Jarrow Formulas. http://www.jarrow.com/
- Natural Stacks. https://www.naturalstacks.com/pages/about-us
- NOW. https://www.nowfoods.com/now/about-now
- Pure Nootropics. https://www.purenootropics.net/about/
- Thorne Research: https://www.thorne.com/products/neurological-support
Be Smart and Remember
If you are new to taking nootropics here is the best advice I can give you.
- Find a reputable seller. (Have I said this enough?) They will provide pure substances that have been independently (3rd party) lab tested, and will be upfront about what is in their products.
- If you find a seller that meets these criteria buy the pill form, not the loose powder form. This will give you a way to learn dosing.
- As you start out, use the nootropics as the seller recommends. They usually package these in appropriate quantities (milligrams per pill) that are effective in doing what they promise (focus, improve mood, etc.) without overdosing you. Note to self (you): OD’ing is NEVER good.
You are in charge of you and everyone will react differently to nootropics (or really anything, even coffee). So don’t do stupid stuff especially when it comes to your brain! Start slowly, one nootropic or recommended stack at a time, and see how you feel. If it doesn’t work for you and makes you feel awful, quit taking it! When you do find what works for you, keep working on dosing (slowly) to find your optimal level. Once you find that, then go out there, get smarter, and conquer the world!
Axon Labs. 2016. Axon Labs, LLC. https://axonlabs.io/
BRAINTROPIC. 2017. BRAINTROPIC. Acetyl-L-Carnitine. https://www.braintropic.com/nootropics/acetyl-l-carnitine/
Examine.com 2017. Examine.com, LLC. List of Supplements. https://examine.com/supplements/
Natural Stacks. https://www.naturalstacks.com/pages/about-us
Pure Nootropics. https://www.purenootropics.net/