Thanks in part to our obsession with perfection and perhaps in small part due to the movie, Limitless, a category of brain supplements known as nootropics have gained increasing popularity over the years.
The best brain supplement solutions give you an extra edge thanks to nutrients that help support cognition and fight brain fog. When seeking nootropic enlightenment, a bunch of questions rise, obstacles form, and the aim of this article is to provide you with some guidance.
For a little synopsis of what to expect from this educational mini-course, here’s what this article will go over.
- Definition of Nootropics
- If Nootropics Really Work (or if it’s all marketing hype)
- Spoiler: How Nootropics work
- Purported Benefits of Nootropics
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics are naturally (or synthetic) substances that many intelligent organisms known as humans often take to improve mental performance.
Supplements for boosting cognition and brain function have gained a massive amount of popularity, and for good reason. What with the fact that we exist in a highly competitive — comparison —culture that measures a human’s worth by what they’ve accomplished and of course, how many likes their IG posts receive.
Because of course a person’s life is only as worthwhile as the value they bring to the table. The fact that this malformed marauding can be incredibly damaging to the individual’s sense of mattering and self-esteem is negligible.
What’s really important is figuring out how to gain an edge in this scarcity driven rat race so we can beat the other guys. That’s where powerful supplements such as nootropics come in. They’re most often used to:
- Boost Memory
- Increase Focus
- Enhance Creativity
- Improve Intelligence
- Manifest Positive Moods
- Maximize Motivation
Those benefits look pretty dope. But these are all merely purported, as neurosciences are constantly evolving. As such, there’s one important question that must be answered…
Do Nootropics Actually Work?
As the category of supplements known as nootropics gains traction in our society, this becomes an increasingly prevalent inquiry.
To answer this question, we must first define what we mean by “work” as well as how to measure any given nootropic supplement’s efficacy.
So, let me get one thing out of the way. There’s no single vitamin or mineral that will transform you into any of the following pop culture characters:
- The Joker: Considered a mad genius in DC Comics, you can rest assured that no over-the-counter nootropic will imbue you with Joker-level intelligence (and psychosis). And on that note, am I the only one that thinks the 2019 Joker with Jaoquin Phoenix is offensive to the character as a whole? I mean, come on…you’re telling me that that Joker is who becomes Batman’s arch-nemesis and rules the crime world? Pfft. Still, decent film. Anyway…
- Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless: As much as we’d all love to unlock some magic part of our brain and gain so much intelligence we surpass even the great (possibly alien) Elon Musk, there’s sadly no evidence that suggests such feats are feasible…for now.
That being said, there’s gotta be some reason so many are utilizing nootropics. Right?
There is indeed, so long as you temper expectations. Like I said, we have to shift our definition of “works.” Studies suggest that many nootropics can prove beneficial to varying degrees in the following areas:
- Memory recall
- Mood & motivation
- Focus and alertness
Let me digress really quick. Regarding tempered expectations: Let’s say we have a scale of 1-10, with Limitless as a 10 and nothing changed as the 1. Most nootropics, if taken as individual vitamins/minerals, will probably fall between 3-5. Which is why most suggest alchemical cocktails or full spectrum cognition multivitamins.
How Nootropics Work
Cognition and mood boosting “smart drugs” can range from plant extracts to chemicals produced by the body. As a term, brain supplements is actually a massive category of supplements that may boost brain function. And they all work in slightly different ways.
For example, one well-known vitamin is Huperzine A, a particularly useful extract used for hundreds of years in Ancient Chinese Medicine, and presently in the west, found to be a powerful tool for memory recall. Another would be AlphaSize (Alpha GPC), for its benefits in sharpening focus through its role in shuttling acetylcholine levels in the brain.
To give you a better understanding of what I meant by “slightly different,” here are some examples.
Some supplements work by filling in gaps in your diet. After all, our bodies and brains are extremely complex organisms, with vitamins and what not all coming together to make things work optimally.
Think of it like this: within us all is some sort of biological orchestra, with vitamins and minerals comprising various sections, instruments, etc. Our Self is essentially the conductor. But when we’re deficient in something, it’s like losing the entire string section, and on top of that getting a call from your first chair saxophonist that a skyscraper sized squid is holding up traffic so they won’t make it to that night’s concert.
- Vitamin B12: Many of us are deficient in this powerful B-vitamin. Bringing the levels to optimization is crucial for supporting healthy brain cells.
- GABA: A neurotransmitter that plays several critical roles in the brain and body, many of us have low levels of GABA. As a supplement, it’s been taken for everything from relieving anxiety, improving mood, enhancing sleep quality, treating ADHD, promoting lean muscle growth, and even burning fat. So, basically…OPAF.
It’s no secret that with ambition comes cortisol. For those who don’t know, cortisol is a stress hormone. Some nootropics can be powerful aids in keeping cortisol levels manageable so you don’t feel like an irritable ball of rage that everyone’s kinda scared of and no one actually likes. All without therapy! (Don’t quote me on that, thanks)
Not to be confused with Acute Stress, which can be greatly beneficial, (Chronic) Stress is probably one of the most damaging maladies when it comes to getting shit done. It’s also a vicious cycle…
All the racing thoughts of our immense to-do lists, our past mistakes, self-doubt, etc, are basically like a constant game of Tetris being played in our brain; categorized by color of stress-source, the falling blocks are basically cortisol levels building up in our brain, walling us off from the goals on the other side of the pixelated blocks (double entendre intended).
Luckily, there’s a surplus of compounds that can step to the front lines of your mind’s military. Like a variety of super soldiers from the SPARTAN program. Equipped with weapons ranging from energy swords and battle rifles to fuel rod cannons and, of course, the shotgun, this class of nootropics arrive to blast and slash away the Flood, a terrifying & infuriating parasitic species in Halo 3 — also known as the stress’s spirit species.
- L-tyrosine: Shown to help reduce feelings of stress, which can cap a lid on distractions.
- L-Theanine: A naturally occurring amino acid found in tea, L-theanine can also be taken as a supplement. Several studies have shown that taking 200mg of L-theanine has a calming effect, without causing drowsiness.
Neuroprotective, Battling Age-Related Problems
The brain’s ability to grow and form new connections typically declines with age, which could explain why you might notice losing your keys more frequently as the years go on.
Other ways nootropic supplements can help is in being neuroprotective, meaning they can basically guard against oxidative stress and damage to brain cells; this might not be the most noticeable benefit right off the bat, but it’s critically important over the long term. Some vitamins, minerals and adaptogens that fit this role would be:
- Lion’s Mane: One study in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming 3 grams of powdered lion’s mane mushroom daily for four months significantly improved mental functioning.
- Cordyceps: Amongst many other studied benefits, Cordyceps have been shown to increase antioxidants in aged subjects, thereby helping improve memory.
Energy: Delaying Mental Fatigue
One way in which some nootropic supplements can increase mental energy is due to the interplay between mitochondria and ATP. If you want a deeper understanding, I go into more detail about both in this article. For this article, however, it’s most important to know that mitochondria are considered the powerhouse of the cell, and ATP is the energy currency of the cell.
- Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ): Renowned for its potent antioxidant effects, PQQ is also involved in a variety of cellular processes. Additionally, PQQ supports proper mitochondrial function as well as the cellular development of new mitochondria.
- Reishi Mushroom: One study examined Reishi’s effects on 132 people with neurasthenia, a condition associated with aches, pains, dizziness, and irritability. Researchers discovered that fatigue was reduced and well-being was improved after 8 weeks of supplementation.
As is likely evident by now, nootropics could potentially help you reach your goals through a myriad of methods and applications.
In the following section, I’ll shed some light on the benefits of nootropics, and how they help you accomplish your dreams (that society and social media ‘suggest’ must be loftily ambitious AF), and even decrease some of that severe stress said dreams spiked.
Just in case your memory is so severely impaired that you’ve already forgotten some of the purported benefits (and as such probably really need nootropics in your life), here’s a little refresher.
- Boost Memory
- Increase Focus
- Enhance Creativity
- Improve Intelligence:
- Manifest Positive Moods
- Maximize Motivation
In summary, there is no one compound that will magically elevate us into mental enlightenment. There’s no master key, and sadly, no Sorcerer’s Stone, such as seen in the United States release of Harry Potter. Interestingly, however, the first installment of J.K. Rowling’s series was actually first published in the UK under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
It’s in this title that we can draw from ancient alchemy for some hope in the quest for attaining legendary cognitive function.
The philosopher’s stone is a mythical alchemical substance capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gleaming gold or shimmering silver. It’s also commonly called the elixir of life, useful rejuvenation and for achieving immortality. For centuries, it was the most sought goal in alchemy. As the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, the philosopher’s stone symbolized perfection, bliss, and most importantly, enlightenment.
Efforts to discover the philosopher’s stone were known as the Magnum Opus (“Great Work”). One of the methods for finding the philosopher’s stone had to do with combining various elements (symbolized by The Squared Circle). It was believed that if a specific combination of elements with perfectly blended doses was created, it could forge the philosopher’s stone.
And that is the aim for many who seek cognitive greatness: To combine base elements (i.e. vitamins, minerals, and compounds) and forge a nootropic cocktail, or rather, the mentalist’s Magnum Opus.
Who knows, there might even be just such a supplement in the works…
In the meantime, at least you can rest assured that there is a pre-workout that exists to achieve just such a mystical form of enlightenment during the gym. That pre-workout is, of course, BAMF. And, you can get it here, using this ingenious little link.
Author’s Advisory Note: I wouldn’t suggest using BAMF to achieve such a state outside training because it’s powers are simply too great to do anything but enlighten fellow gymgoers with your epicness.