Smart drugs, also known as nootropics, work to improve various aspects of mental function, such as attention, memory, motivation, and even creativity. There are several ways in which they achieve this, one of them being through the dopaminergic pathways, which are important for functions like learning and motivation, among others. It appears as though natural nootropics also reduce inflammation in the brain, while protecting it from toxins.
Nootropics come in two different forms: synthetic, and natural. While many people love the strong effect synthetic nootropics have, some worry about the long-term effect they have on the brain. This is why natural nootropics are becoming more and more popular, as they bring many of the benefits synthetic ones do, but with fewer to no potential side-effects.
Nootropics: A Short History
The first nootropic drug was actually not created for improving cognitive function; rather, it was made for lessening motion sickness, back in the 1960s. Then, as researchers studied its effects, they realized that this drug also helped enhance memory performance. Around the same time, piracetam, which is considered the original nootropic, was invented by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. He is also the one who first came up with the word “nootropics”, by combining “nous”, which is Greek for “mind”, with “trepein”, or “to bend.”
Mechanisms through which Natural Nootropics Work
There are different types of natural nootropics out there, each working on a different brain mechanism. For instance, there is the Glutaminergic signaling mechanism. Glutamate activates the NMDA receptor, which is one of the neurotransmitters connected to cognitive function. This activation, in turn, directly affects memory and learning.
Another way in which nootropics may work is by means of the cholinergic system, whose declined performance is observed in cognitive dysfunction. For instance, in Alzheimer’s disease, the neuronal cholinergic activity starts to diminish. Administering nootropics helps to upregulate cholinergic activity in both the hippocampus and the frontal cortex.
Amyloid precursor protein (APP) is involved in memory foundation. Sadly, APP is one of the things affected by Alzheimer’s disease, resulting in the well-known memory issues. With the introduction of natural nootropics, expression of APP is upregulated, resulting in an increased memory and learning function, making it yet another way in which nootropics work on the brain.
There is an abundance of natural compounds that are used in nootropics. Below are listed some of them:
This is an extract that comes from a plant called Brahmi, which is used for several reasons, including memory enhancement. There is some evidence that it could also help with anxiety and epilepsy, though further research is needed to clarify just how useful it is in this regard.
Lion’s Mane is a mushroom that can be cooked in lots of different ways, but which is also studied for its neuroprotective power. Scientists have discovered in it two molecules that stimulate re-myelination and differentiation of neurons, while studies done on mice suggest that this mushroom is great for improving memory. In addition, it reduces beta amyloid plaques, whose formation is connected to Alzheimer’s disease. To top things off, other studies suggest that Lion’s Mane has a positive effect on mood, reducing anxiety and depression.
Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, named so because human bodies cannot create it, and thus need to get it from food. The body then converts it to serotonin, which is why it is used in treating depression, since among other brain chemicals, serotonin sustains an imbalance during depression. Some studies suggest that using Tryptophan as a supplement betters both concentration and memory.
Tyrosine is an amino acid, which is present in soybeans, seaweed, eggs, and beef, among others. It is used when creating norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which are neurotransmitters that play an important part in the regulation of mood. Taking Tyrosine provides relief against depression, while for those suffering from chronic stress, it prevents cognitive deterioration.
Naturally occurring in green tea, L-Theanine is an amino acid, which may be able to help in reducing symptoms of anxiety, as one study done on patients with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. In addition, another study linked L-Theanine with a lessening of the neurodegeneration found in diabetes patients. When used together with caffeine, it enhances concentration and accuracy.
Rhodiola Rosea originates from the northern parts of Europe, Alaska and Asia. It has been used as a medicinal plant in countries like Russia, Sweden, Iceland and France. Early research shows that it can help with enhancing athletic performance and provide benefits in bladder cancer. As far as the brain goes, early research suggests that it can help with lowering symptoms of depression, anxiety, and with lowering stress. It can also work to lower fatigue felt in stressful situations. Not only this, but it also betters learning and memory.
Panax ginseng has been named the “king herb”, being heavily used in traditional Chinese medicine. There are studies suggesting that it can be used for improving cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, it appears as if the antioxidants found in this plant suppress pathological expressions of Alzheimer’s. When administered to healthy individuals, Panax ginseng enhances memory.
Cera-Q is found in silkworm cocoons. Early research indicates that Cera-Q reduces amyloid plaques in the brain. In addition, it improves the uptake of glucose, which results in an improved cognitive function, better short-term memory, and an enhanced learning capacity.
More and more research is emerging, bringing evidence for natural compounds that have positive effects on the brain. This is wonderful news, especially for those who prefer taking natural supplements over those synthetic ones. Indeed, as even more studies come to life, scientists gain a better understanding of the effects of different natural compounds, and the world of nootropics will grow even more than it already has.