Part 2: What Exactly Are Nootropics and Do They Really (Safely) Give Your Brain a Boost?
Nootropics are the newest category of cognition and mood-improving supplements that are available over the counter. These supplements are used to support a healthy mood, enhance mental speed and alertness, improve memory and verbal recall, and reduce brain fog, all without the stimulation of caffeine.
In the first Nootropics blog post, I gave a brief overview of the first set of nootropics which included Adrafinil, Citicoline, Noopept, Phenylpiracetam, and Panax Ginseng.
Here are 5 more popular nootropics and how they can help you perform better:
- Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo biloba is a herbal supplement made from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, also known as the maidenhair tree, which is native to China. Ginkgo is thought to increase blood supply by dilating blood vessels, reducing blood viscosity (thickness), affecting neurotransmitters, and reducing free radicals1. In addition, Ginkgo biloba supplements have been shown to improve memory and mental processing in healthy older adults when taken daily for six weeks2,3,4. Furthermore, taking Ginkgo biloba before a highly stressful task also reduces stress-related high blood pressure and decreases levels of cortisol, a type of stress hormone5. For healthy adults, Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe when taken orally in moderate amounts. While these results are promising, not all studies have shown beneficial effects. More research is needed to better understand the potential benefits of Ginkgo biloba on your brain6.
- Bacopa monnieri: Bacopa monnieri is an aquatic herb and the nootropic benefits of it was first revealed in ancient Ayurvedic texts. It was recommended to devotees to help memorize long passages of text and enhance cognition. It’s been shown to improve thinking skills and memory, both in healthy people and in elderly people suffering from a decline in brain function7. It's worth noting, however, that this effect has only been observed with repeated usage of Bacopa monnieri. The average dose is 300 mg per day, and results can take four to six weeks to appear. Additionally, a 12-week study in 46 healthy adults observed that taking 300 mg of Bacopa monnieri daily significantly improved the speed of processing visual information, learning rate, and memory, compared with the placebo treatment8. While Bacopa monnieri is considered safe, it may cause side effects in some people. For example, it may cause digestive symptoms, including nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
- Royal jelly: Royal jelly is a milky-white secretion produced by worker bees that helps nurture development of the queen bee. Royal jelly may boost brain function and one study revealed that stress-induced mice treated with royal jelly had lower levels of stress hormones and a more robust central nervous system than the control group9. A separate study resulted in improved memory and reduced symptoms of depression in postmenopausal rats given royal jelly9. Another animal study found that rats given royal jelly were more capable of removing chemical deposits in the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease10. The antioxidant activity of royal jelly is credited in most of these research studies for the protective effect on brain and nerve tissue. Despite the fact that this data is encouraging, more human research is needed.
- Mucuna pruriens: Mucuna pruriens is a type of tropical bean native to parts of Africa, India and Southern China.These beans are often processed into a dried powder and sold as dietary supplements. The most significant compound found in Mucuna pruriens is an amino acid called levodopa (L-dopa), which is needed for your brain to produce dopamine11. In addition, L-dopa helps to increase growth hormone levels in the brain, boosting the production of neurons and glia cells affecting the formation of memories, and overall brain health. L-DOPA is a necessary precursor for your brain to make dopamine, and dopamine is then synthesized into the neurotransmitters epinephrine, and norepinephrine. This helps to improve cognition, learning, memory, movement, motivation and pleasure11.
- Huperzine: Huperzine is a chemical extracted from Chinese club moss or fir club moss plants. Huperzine is a reversible acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor, which means it prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine (ACh), boosting short-term memory and long-term brain health12. Taking this supplement by mouth for up to 6 months may improve memory, thinking skills, and behavior in people with Alzheimer disease13. However, there's a lack of long-term safety data — most studies have lasted three months or less — and many participants in the trials had side effects, including nausea and vomiting. More studies are needed to determine possible benefits and long-term risks of huperzine.
- Ginkgo Biloba. Poison.org. Accessed August 18, 2021.
- Mix JA, Crews WD Jr. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in a sample of cognitively intact older adults: neuropsychological findings: GINKGO BILOBA. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2002;17(6):267-277.
- Kaschel R. Specific memory effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in middle-aged healthy volunteers. Phytomedicine. 2011;18(14):1202-1207.
- Mix JA, Crews WD Jr. An examination of the efficacy of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 on the neuropsychologic functioning of cognitively intact older adults. J Altern Complement Med. 2000;6(3):219-229.
- Jezova D, Duncko R, Lassanova M, Kriska M, Moncek F. Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2002;53(3):337-348.
- Laws KR, Sweetnam H, Kondel TK. Is Ginkgo biloba a cognitive enhancer in healthy individuals? A meta-analysis: GINKGO BILOBAAND COGNITION: A META-ANALYSIS. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2012;27(6):527-533.
- Kongkeaw C, Dilokthornsakul P, Thanarangsarit P, Limpeanchob N, Norman Scholfield C. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):528-535.
- Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;156(4):481-484.
- Teixeira RR, de Souza AV, Peixoto LG, et al. Royal jelly decreases corticosterone levels and improves the brain antioxidant system in restraint and cold stressed rats. Neurosci Lett. 2017;655:179-185.
- Pan Y, Xu J, Chen C, et al. Royal jelly reduces cholesterol levels, ameliorates Aβ pathology and enhances neuronal metabolic activities in a rabbit model of Alzheimer’s disease. Front Aging Neurosci. 2018;10:50.
- Tomen D. L-DOPA. Nootropicsexpert.com. Published May 27, 2016. Accessed August 18, 2021.
- Tomen D. Huperzine-A. Nootropicsexpert.com. Published May 4, 2021. Accessed August 19, 2021.
- HUPERZINE A. Webmd.com. Accessed August 19, 2021.