Nootropics - A Beginners Guide
You may have come across the word 'Nootropic' as you float around the internet, and if you are like the vast majority of people it was probably not a word that you would have heard of before relatively recently. So what are they, and why is this word now a “thing”?
Looking at the Google Trends chart above you can see that the usage of the word if growing, but 'Nootropic' has been around since 1972 when it was coined by a Romanian Scientist called Corneliu E. Giurgea, and it comes from the Greek words for ‘Mind’ (νους nous) and ‘To Turn or Bend’ (τρέπειν trepein).
With the word Nootropic essentially translating as ‘Mind Bending’ you would be forgiven for thinking they are hallucinogenic narcotics or some other recreational drug, but that’s not what they are at all, something is being lost in translation here, so let’s look at what a Nootropic is supposed to be.
In a nutshell a good Nootropic is supposed to enhance, improve, or augment aspects of mental performance, focus, memory, and to a degree, overall intelligence. I say ‘to a degree’ as there is no substance on the earth that is going to turn you into a Good Will Hunting style genius; you will not find yourself solving equations on your shaving mirror a week after taking some Alpha Brain, unless of course you do that already.
In fact saying it will improve intelligence is probably a poor choice of words, I should say instead that the best Nootropics allow for a realisation of potential that already exists within you, which is unlocked simply by being sharper and on-the-ball more consistently, and for longer periods of time. Given the fact that Nootropics are generally taken over several months to steadily improve cognitive performance, I think that a more accurate translation of what Dr. Giurgea was trying to convey with the word Nootropic would be ‘Mind-Shaping’.
Now, the idea of Nootropics is not new, in fact I’d wager that every single person reading this has attempted successfully or unsuccessfully to influence their mental performance using ingested substances. The most common example of this is, of course, Caffeine. Having tea or coffee in the morning to wake you up, and maybe in the afternoon to perk you back up, are the most common examples, and of course we have all heard that Fish is a brain food, and that we should try to eat more of it to improve the health of our brains.
So what do they do?
Nootropics are designed to be used as a dietary supplement in healthy adults, and use naturally occurring compounds to improve mental processes over time. When Dr. Giurgea coined his famous word he attached a number of criteria that substances had to meet to be classified as Nootropics:
- They should enhance learning and memory.
- They should enhance the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them.
- They should protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries.
- They should increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms.
- They should lack the usual pharmacology of psychotropic drugs and possess very few side effects and extremely low toxicity.
Life is busy and stressful, we all know it. Be it work, kids, college, girlfriends, boyfriends, money, etc, etc, etc. The demands of being constantly busy and regularly stressed take a toll on our mental performance, in the same way that physically running around in circles would take a toll on your legs; your legs would tire...so does your brain. We’ve all felt it - that ‘fog’ that settles into your head in the afternoon or evening, or the lack of focus that leads to reduced productivity. It can be really hard to refocus and get work done, and yet you are aware that you are not spending time as efficiently as you could, and that adds to the cycle of stress. It’s that feeling of staring at a textbook, and willing the information to settle in, and having to reread paragraphs as you mentally drifted off while you were reading.
Nootropics can help clear that fog, help you maintain focus longer, and therefore improve productivity. But before you go rushing off to the checkout you have to be aware that this is not a magic bullet type solution. Nootropics will not enable you to function on just 4 hours sleep a night, they will not give you an eidetic memory which will allow you to memorise your chemistry textbook verbatim, complete with 300 diagrams, and it will not affect you in Bradley Cooper, Limitless-esque type of fashion...if that’s what you’re hoping for, save your money.
A very important aspect of Nootropics is that you shouldn’t feel drastically different after taking your first capsule, nor will they alter and affect your ability to make decisions, just the speed at which you can make decisions, and the clarity with which you can make connections. Let’s look at the morning coffee analogy again...it can perk you up and make you more energetic and ready to face the day, but it doesn’t make you start texting your ex that you broke up with 2 months ago.
So whats in them?
The diverse range of Nootropics available means that there are a wide variety of ingredients which are grouped or ‘stacked’ together to achieve specific results. As such there is no hard and fast definition of a Nootropic based on its ingredients, so we recommend reading each product description carefully, and do some background research on the supplier to make sure that the product is coming from a reputable source. You should always make sure that the ingredients are all naturally derived, and there are no artificial compounds and certainly no pharmaceutical drugs.
If you do any research on Nootropics online you may find that in many articles and blog posts drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are lumped into the Nootropic category, but these are Prescription Drugs, designed to correct imbalances and problems within the body and brain, rather than to enhance or improve normal functioning. As such, they are purely psychotropic medicinal drugs, and NOT Nootropic at all. It goes without saying that taking prescription drugs without a doctor prescribing them to you is beyond stupid, but there...I said it anyway.
Abuse and Misuse
As stated above, good Nootropics should be all natural, certainly all the ones we stock are, and because they are all natural dietary supplements the potential for abuse or misuse is very limited. Qualifying as a Nootropic means that a substance cannot be addictive or habit forming, as this would breach Giurgea's fifth criteria as addiction is a side-effect of some pharmacological drugs, so if you are buying a product that is labelled a Nootropic make sure you are buying from a reputable source and you’ll be ok.
All supplements have instructions, even a good old bottle of Cod-Liver Oil capsules will tell you how many to take a day and not to exceed the recommended dose, and Nootropics are no different. What would happen if you went over? Well, that depends on the person and the ingredients, for example, what would happen if you took 30 One-a-Day capsules of Cod-Liver Oil in one go? I’m not sure, but I certainly wouldn’t advise it, and I suspect that whatever did happen would happen in the bathroom.
Using Coffee as the example again...one cup of coffee perks you up, drink 10 in a row and you’ll probably feel weird, I know I would, and that much caffeine may have negative mental and physical effects. So it’s the same with Nootropics...use as directed.
Are you thinking of trying them?
We talked about the stresses and strains of everyday life earlier on, and how this can cause fatigue, and ‘fogginess’ and a feeling of under-performing. The number one cause for these symptoms is lack of sleep. In fact chronic lack of sleep is rapidly becoming a major health concern as study after study is released saying that not getting eight hours a night can be responsible for a range of health issues, both cognitive and physical. I’m not a doctor or a sleep specialist, but it's fairly obvious that if you are regularly getting less than 6 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period and you feel tired all the time...well...there’s your problem. Sort that first...change your schedule and do some research on working hours effectiveness. People who are getting enough sleep get more done in 6 hours than fatigued people do in 10.
Secondly, if you are living a completely sedentary lifestyle; getting out of bed, then sitting in a bus or a car, sitting at a desk, then in the car again and vegging on the couch for the night...again, that’s a problem and one that no nootropic is going to miraculously solve. We are biological engines designed for movement, and we go into a weird power save mode when we don’t move around. If this is you, I would really recommend cardio...the easiest and one of the best is walking. A nootropic might be for you as part of this change in regimen, but only if accompanied by the other, and frankly I would recommend the exercise first, as you haven’t even established a baseline for your mental performance if you are not active. Again the research is there online for all to see, and there is a good chance that you have already seen it, but the physiological benefits of exercise are beyond doubt. Get 40 mins of activity in 3 times a week for 3 months, and then come back and have a look at Nootropics again.
Also it is very important to note that these substances are not medicine and I am not a doctor. If you feel there is something ‘wrong’ physically or mentally, or suspect you are suffering from an illness such as depression or anxiety and are looking to take Nootropics to treat it, you should abandon the idea and talk to your GP.
Many Nootropics will talk about Mood and Stress and have elements or aspects to improve the former or decrease the latter, but these are for Day-to-Day mood and stress issues and often are simply a by-product of being on top of things. For example exam day stress is reduced if you were able to focus on your studies properly, deadline day is less stressful if you were able to work more productively for the preceding fortnight, and aren’t we all in better form when we aren’t tired and cranky and stressed? Depression and other medically defined issues will not go away by self-medicating a course of Nootropics, and if there are any question marks over your medical health or mental well-being you need to talk to a healthcare professional first and foremost.
However, if you are nice and alert at certain points of the day such as in the morning, but you feel you dip or wane as they day goes on, or if you try and study for three hours and find that the second half is a complete waste of time, then Nootropics may be for you. The nature of Nootropics and the cumulative way they work means that you need to give them at least a month’s trial, and to truly evaluate their potential you should consider 3 months. Most brands come with 30 Capsule or 30 Day supply options so this can be a good starting point, as you will see results after just a few days to a week or so, but keep going for the month and you will have a fair idea if they are for you.
As with anything else, finding the right product for you is down to some research, check your sources, and only buy from reputable suppliers.
If you would like to browse our collection of Nootropics, click here.