The market for over the counter (OTC) nootropics is growing all the time. From naturally derived ingredients in drinks to supplements and pills, nootropics are catching on fast. Aimed at people who want to improve their memory, brain power and focus, nootropics are marketed as doing just that. But how do they work? And what are the best ones to try?
Many researchers and drug companies are looking at developing nootropics in one form or another. Whether they are in pill, supplement or drink form, they all have one thing in common – they are designed to improve brain function.
Roughly translated from the Greek word, ‘nootropic’ means ‘to bend or shape the mind’. There are many OTC nootropic supplements available online or in shops, all containing a mix of ingredients thought to boost brain function. These supplements generally contain lipids, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are scientifically linked to positively affecting memory and attention.
Many of their ingredients are derived from food, such as flavonoids and Omega 3. Do these ingredients actively boost cognitive function or are they just generally good for your brain? Scientists disagree on the extent to which nootropics work, but as Dr David Hogan from the University of Calgary points out, there are what he calls “plausible mechanisms” to link these ingredients with improve brain function.
It seems that benefits from nootropics are cumulative, which means you have to take them for a long time to boost your memory. There are also pharmaceutical nootropics, not derived from natural ingredients. The most well-known are Adderall and Ritalin which are meant to be prescribed to people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD).
As they are stimulants, they help people with ADHD but for people who don’t have this condition, they have a different affect. They can boost focus for the short-term, and help you retain information for a while. This is why they’re very popular with students and people who need to retain a lot of information quickly. However, as they are stimulants, they can also cause all kinds of problems in people without ADHD. These include heart problems, seizures and even sudden death. They can also be addictive.
Other prescription nootropics are in development, but at present there are none currently considered safe. This is why people who want to try nootropics should absolutely stick to supplements and food-derived ingredients.
An ingredient that has an effect on alertness and cognitive ability is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Proven to boost alertness and memory, this chemical is better known as caffeine. Most scientists today agree that caffeine ingested in moderate amounts is a safe way to improve brain function. Here’s more information on this and other nootropic drinks that could help:
As mentioned, caffeine is one of the most popular nootropic substances. It also contains an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid that is thought to positively boost brain function. Studies show that caffeine in doses between 40 and 300mg can improve memory and alertness – the equivalent to between half and three cups of coffee in a day. Safe levels are thought to be a maximum of 400 mg a day, or about four cups.
Green tea also contains caffeine but in much lower levels than coffee. It also contains two nootropic compounds – I-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). There is scientific evidence that green tea can support focus, attention and memory.
A fermented drink that is becoming very popular, kombucha is made from green or black tea with added fruit or botanicals. It introduces beneficial bacteria to the gut, and this is increasingly linked with brain function.
Blueberries contain polyphenol plant compounds, which are considered to have brain enhancing benefits. Blueberries are also crammed full of anthocyanins, which is an antioxidant. A study of 400 people showed that drinking blueberry juice can boost focus and memory.
A hot drink made with turmeric, these lattes are a delicious way to ingest a spice called curcumin. This antioxidant is thought to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Low levels of this are linked with neurological disorders.
Beetroot is rich in nitrates, which are turned into nitric oxide. The body uses this to improve oxygenation and blood flow in its cells. As well as improving blood flow, it’s thought that beetroot also has benefits for the brain.
Depending on their ingredients, herbal teas could boost focus, including: