Table of Contents
- 1 Do Nootropics Really Work?
- 1.1 Purpose of Nootropics
- 1.2 Effects and Side Effects of Nootropics
- 1.3 Workings of Various Nootropics
- 1.4 Why Nootropics Work?
- 1.5 Final Thoughts
Do Nootropics Really Work?
Majority of the nutritional supplements are aimed at building immunity and helping the body function at its optimal best. The benefits being no diseases and good health. Supplements solely focused on boosting brain health are a lot less in circulation.
Nootropics are drugs known for their ability to significantly improve various aspects of the brain’s workings related to memory and attention. These drugs are a mix of supplements and neurochemicals that boost memory, attention, and brainpower. Nootropics are also sold as nutritional supplements although in common parlance they are better known as smart drugs. Nootropics are not required to be clinically tested prior to sale thereby making their safety rather questionable. Due to the popularity of these drugs, the ambiguity around their safety is being addressed. However, a question that often crops up is — do nootropics really work?
Purpose of Nootropics
In order to know if nootropics even work it is important to understand the various purposes for which they are used. The common ones include:
- Nootropics are often used for medical reasons ranging from the treatment of motor dysfunction to cognitive issues caused by diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and also aging.
- Stimulants: These smart drugs are also widely used to stimulate the nervous system by improving the efficiency of neurotransmitters within the brain and enhancing certain cognitive functions.
Effects and Side Effects of Nootropics
Nootropics work in different ways for different types of neurotransmitters and receptor systems. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between neurons. Based on the messages received, neurotransmitters bind themselves to unique receptors. Receptors and neurotransmitters come together to form a system which is what nootropics target. Nootropics help enhance the efficiency of this system with respect to their cognitive functions and abilities. Let’s discover these neurotransmitters and their systems in greater detail to understand the effects of nootropics on them.
Acetylcholine (Neurotransmitter)/Cholinergic System
This system relies on acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that directly affects cognitive function such as decision-making, concentration, memory, and learning. Cholinergic drugs are supplements that increase acetylcholine. Choline is found in natural foods which include eggs, liver, kidneys, brain, various species of fish and whey to name a few. Thus you can consume choline through your diet but you will need to consume very large quantities to achieve the optimum level. Most people are deficient in choline. Supplements that provide choline are often stacked with supplements from the racetam group. These nootropics help increase acetylcholine levels and boost brain function. They are also known to cause headaches while affecting this system because the brain is working faster and harder than normal. Acetylcholine receptors have also been known to experience fatigue due to the sheer intensity of brain activity. Thus an acetylcholine precursor is advised along with the nootropic to avoid headaches.
Dopamine and Serotonin (Neurotransmitters) Dopaminergic and Serotonergic System
Both dopamine and serotonin directly influence your moods, motivation and certain aspects of focus and memory. Dopaminergic and serotonergic systems are the least affected by nootropics but there are some supplements that manage to influence them. These supplements are generally stacked with those that enhance cognitive functions. Thus supplements with mood enhancing abilities hugely affect serotonin. When dopamine is stimulated, it improves cognition while you experience a heightened state of brain energy. Sulbutiamine is one such supplement that manages to do this. Basically, any mood enhancing nootropic will affect the dopamine and serotonin levels in one way or the other. Please note these nootropics are addictive in nature and using them regularly is not recommended.
Glutamate (Neurotransmitter)/Glutamatergic System
Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter present in large abundance within our nervous system. It plays an important role in maintaining brain health and optimized levels of memory and learning. The glutamate levels within the brain need to be balanced. This neurotransmitter is not as widely affected as dopamine or acetylcholine, but some nootropics do affect the glutamatergic system. The intake of a nootropic called aniracetam reduces sensitivity to glutamate, leading to increased brain activity and improvement in cognitive functioning.
Side Effects of High Dosage
High dosages of nootropics tend to impact the digestive system adversely. They often lead to diarrhea, nausea, and discomfort in the stomach. This can be remedied by reducing the dosage or using a more concentrated nootropic which would be a lot easier to digest.
Workings of Various Nootropics
Let’s look at the most commonly used nootropics to understand their inner workings.
This is the pioneer of nootropic drugs, the very first. It is often used as an entry-level drug due to its mild nature. Proven benefits of piracetam include:
- It has shown significant improvement in attention and verbal and nonverbal memory (short-term and long-term).
- It improves cell membrane fluidity.
- It improves the brain’s potential to use glucose.
- It increases the functioning of muscarinic choline receptors (a form of acetylcholine receptor) and NMDA receptors.
- Improvement in memory is clearly the biggest positive effect of piracetam. However, this drug often shows better results for patients with aging-related mental ailments and only moderate benefits for relatively healthier individuals.
Aniracetam is known to be a lot stronger than piracetam. Almost five times. But because it is a fat-soluble drug the body takes longer to break it down and thus its effects too last longer. For those who think piracetam is too mild, aniracetam is clearly a step up. Its benefits include:
- It is known to help the two hemispheres within the brain communicate effectively thereby improving focus, creativity and reducing anxiety.
- There are claims that it has potent anxiolytic properties and is able to cure anxiety but there isn’t enough human clinical research to prove it. According to some sources, those who are sensitive may find aniracetam very effective leading to sedation which can be counter-productive.
- Aniracetam should ideally be taken with fatty acids because it is fat-soluble and not dissolvable in water.
This drug is one of the most expensive ones in the racetam family. It also acts a lot faster than some of the others due to which you can resort to taking smaller doses. It works in the following ways:
- Oxiracetam is probably one of the few nootropics that acts as a stimulant though its effects are a lot different than caffeine. Its stimulation appears to release neurotransmitters that cause excitation and aid memory formation.
- In addition to boosting cognition and memory, the one distinct use of this drug is its ability to enhance logic-based thinking.
- This drug should be administered for a short period of time and should be taken only when you need it.
This drug was originally created in Russia to deal with the stresses of working in space. This is a very potent drug and you will believe this when you know that it has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because its effects are known to prove unfairly advantageous in sports. Athletes should avoid this drug at all costs or else it could cost you dearly. For non-athletes, it works in the following ways:
- Phenylpiracetam is known to improve memory and productivity by boosting focus and energy, that too without any unnecessary jitters.
- This drug has improved memory, brain functions and ability to count in patients with brain damage.
- It has also managed to restore brain function and daily routine in patients suffering from a stroke.
- It has also proven effective in animals. It helped to retain their memory and vitality when the blood flow to the brain had diminished.
Pramiracetam is the strongest among the nootropics. It is apparently 30 times more potent than piracetam. The benefits it offers include:
- It helps enhance energy levels and increases alertness for approximately 10 hours after consumption.
- It is a good productivity supplement and helps boost memory, focus and improve cognitive elements. Simply put it clears brain fog and provides clarity of thought.
- It reduces the likelihood of distraction.
- It also has a significant effect on memory enhancement in patients with lack of oxygen in the brain.
- Pramiracetam is often included in stacks along with other nootropics or racetams because it aids the positive effects of other drugs.
Why Nootropics Work?
There is diverse evidence to show that nootropics are effective and really do work. Two important reasons that demonstrate how and in what way are mainly –
Improved Flow of Blood and Oxygen to the Brain
Nootropic supplements are known to improve the flow of blood and oxygen upstairs. There is also a notable increase in glucose metabolism. The increase in oxygen and nutrients to the brain tend to increase the brain energy which in turn leads to an increase in focus and alertness. The simple reason for this being, oxygen, and glucose are the main sources of energy in the brain and their optimum levels are essential to the smooth running of the brain. With our energy reserves perpetually declining, the intake of nootropic supplements helps increase these energy sources, thus reducing fatigue and improving cognition. It also makes you a lot more motivated and restores a sense of well-being. The nootropic pramiracetam is especially good at this because it is known to improve blood flow, facilitate glucose metabolism, increase focus and boost energy levels in order to keep the brain well stocked with what it needs to run efficiently.
This is important in order to know how the brain adjusts to experience. Nootropic supplements affect the brain’s plasticity and also its synapses. Synapses are structures that aid communication through signals. Memories are hugely affected by synapses. The ability to recall a memory or information depends a great deal on how well these synapses are linked. When the brain’s plasticity is improved through nootropics, that makes it simpler for the synapses to communicate. Some nootropics also help improve communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Thus it is all interconnected because an improvement in memory and learning are the most popular and commonly experienced benefits of nootropics.
Despite the growing concern over the use of nootropics due to lack of research and reliable information from the manufacturers and distributors, these supplements continue to grow both in demand and consumption because they clearly do work.