Nootropics are supplements or drugs that are designed to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or mental focus. They are often referred to as cognitive enhancers or smart drugs for their ability to impact intelligence and mental motivation. Nootropic is something of an umbrella term that covers a class of chemicals that are either naturally occurring or manmade, all of which provide some sort of cognitive benefit to the brain.
The term nootropic was coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972, and he also created five criteria that a substance must meet to be considered a nootropic. Those criteria included the ability to enhance memory and the ability to learn, help the brain to function under disruptive conditions, protect the brain from chemical and physical assault, increase the efficiency of neuronal firing control mechanisms, and possess few to no side effects.
As time has passed, what actually classifies as a nootropic and what does not is not set in stone. Ideally, Nootropics are supposed to have minimal to no side effects and can be used on a long-term basis, while enhancing cognitive ability. Generally, Nootropics function the same way – by promoting communication between neurons and increasing the health of brain cells.
The supplements were initially developed to help treat diseases that affect the brain and cognitive function, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or ADHD. However, as the supplements have continued to develop, the use of Nootropics has increased substantially over the years as students or those looking for mental boost have begun to utilize the supplements for performance enhancement.
How do they work?
To understand how Nootropics work, it is important first understand how the brain functions. The human brain functions as a system of billions of neurons that are connected by synapses. The neurons are able to communicate with each other through neurotransmitters, which send signals between the neurons. The more efficient and effectively the neurotransmitters are able to convey signals and messages between the neurons, the better the brain will function, with high levels of focus, concentration, memory, mood, and attention spans.
Nootropics function to maintain a high level of communication between neurons in the brain by improving what is called synaptic plasticity, or the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time. Effective Nootropics will keep the synapses strong and functioning at a high level, thereby allowing the brain to process ideas and situations quicker, and with more attention to detail.
In addition to improving communication between neurons, there are some Nootropics that show the ability to function as vasodilators. Vasodilators work to widen blood vessels within the body, allowing for increased blood circulation throughout the system. Increased blood flow to the brain means more valuable oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the brain, leading to an increase in mental energy, which directly leads to improved focus and communication.
The brain requires a lot or energy in order to continue to function at a high level, and there are several Nootropics that are designed to provide the brain with the fuel that it needs to fire on all cylinders. Amino acids such as L-Citrulline, stimulants like caffeine, or supplements like ginseng can all help your brain to maintain the high level of energy it requires to think clearly and maintain focus.
The most popular version of Nootropics currently come in the form of synthetic drugs. They are generally the most potent versions of Nootropics, and while some people may be reluctant to take a pharmaceutical drug to improve brain function, it is important to keep in mind that in order to be considered a nootropic the supplement must be neuroprotective, meaning it has to have a low occurrence of side effects.
Most Nootropics fall into two categories: Racetams and Ampakines.
Racetams are a class that include some of the most widely utilized versions of Nootropics. They are defined by their similar chemical structure and all function by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter in called acetylcholine. Racetams were the first kind of nootropic to be invented and include some of the most widely used versions of cognitive enhancers, such as Piracetam, Pramiracetam, Aniracetam, and Oxiracetam.
Ampakines are a less commonly used form of Nootropics that generally function by stimulating glutamate production. Glutamate is the most important neurotransmitter in the brain, as it has significant effect on improving memory and synaptic plasticity. By supplementing the glutamate, the brain can experience increased attention span and higher levels of alertness. Some popular forms of Ampakines are Sunifiram and Unifiram, both of which are potent stimulators of the glutamate receptors.
Ampakines are significantly newer than Racetams, so research into their effectiveness is more limited, meaning that currently the effects of the long-term use of the class of supplement are not known. Generally, consumers are advised to stick with Racetams if they are concerned about potential long-term effects.
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