We’re all looking for something that will help us deal with the fast-paced, deadline-rich, time-poor schedules that we lead. In the 2011 film Limitless, Bradley Cooper’s character gets his hands on a smart drug (NZT-48) that enables him to be cognitively super human. The only known side effect is that his eyes change colour while he is on the drug, but that changes over the course of the film as side effects, including withdrawal symptoms, begin to get worse and worse. Well what if I told you that you can now take a pill just like this, without the side effects?
Almost any substance that can have some positive effect on brain function is now known as a nootropic. A nootropic is a substance that improves mental functions such as memory, intelligence, motivation, attention and concentration, while doing no harm and comes from the Greek word ‘noos’ meaning ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’. However, over time, this has included any substance, pharmaceutical or natural, that temporarily enhances brain function, regardless of the risks or side effects, and in 2015 alone, the nootropics business raked in almost £1bn!
There’s an abundance of natural substances that act as nootropics by supporting, nourishing and protecting the brain – amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs, phytonutrients, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and more.
The quest to enhance mental functions such as concentration or memory is no new phenomenon. Humans have been seeking to alter and enhance physiological performance with various foods, tonics and supplements throughout history. Ancient physicians recognised this fact and often recommended complex prescriptions made up of several plants and herbs, ground and mixed together. These ancient prescriptions could be considered the original versions.
Nootropics are becoming more and more mainstream, but we still lack a deep level of understanding about how they work and independent research is still quite limited. One drug class heavily associated with nootropics are racetams, of which there are about 20. The original nootropic, piracetam, was first synthesised in 1964 by Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist, and has had many advocates over the years such as Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss.
There are a lot of the natural versions on the market today, with many containing caffeine and L-theanine, which is a natural compound often extracted from green tea. The caffeine will help to promote alertness, attention and wakefulness, which anyone who drinks coffee knows. Though the L-theanine helps to mitigate many of the negative side effects of caffeine.
Nootropic enthusiasts are known to ‘stack’ – meaning they combine two or more known nootropics into a personal regimen, to get even greater brain benefit. True nootropic ingredients and ‘stacks’ can now be found largely sourced from natural ingredients. The goal with nootropics should always be to allow for greater and more consistent cognitive effort and flow, without the side effects of a stimulant or other harsh substance.
Much like the film Limitless, modern society wants a pill to solve a problem immediately. The problem is, your body doesn’t work that way. My recommendation if you want to explore nootropics, is to do your research, although eating healthy and having a balanced lifestyle, will probably have similar effects and advantages for those who are not doing so already, so would recommend making these changes first.
Image credit: Freepik
Dean Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Energy Fusion, the first interactive online platform to subjectively assess physical and mental health.