An Introduction to Nootropics
The term nootropics (new-tro-pics) describes a family of brain-enhancing compounds and nutrients discovered in the 1960's, initially used to relieve symptoms of mind-degrading illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Also referred to as smart drugs or memory enhancers, nootropics have been shown to improve many aspects of brain & body function, along with elevating mood and concentration levels.
There are literally hundreds of studies performed on nootropics, many of which demonstrate their cognitive enhancing abilities many times over. We’ll address only the ones we consider the most beneficial, and explain how to best take advantage of them.
Nootropics primarily affect the corpus callosum, the part of the brain which joins the left and right hemispheres. Solely acting on this area is what separates nootropics from other ‘smart drugs’, as they have little-to-no effects on the body’s central nervous system. This makes nootropics known to safely work with and improve brain activity while enhancing memory as they present virtually no side-effects. This is also due to their low toxicity levels in the body within the typical dosage range.
Certain nootropics can have a therapeutic effect on the body by acting as antioxidants and ridding it of any free radicals in the brain caused by oxidation of dead brain cells. This process is known to help to restore brain health as well as exhibiting strong anti-stress properties.
Cover your bases
While nootropics work very well on their own, you should do a few things to maximize their effectiveness. After all there is no point in trying to better something that isn’t getting the basic necessities in the first place. We’ll outline what you should already be doing to ensure your mind has all the nutrients needed for optimal function. These are in no particular order since they are all important:
- Eat a diet that is rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs), along with an equal mixture of mono/poly/unsaturated fats. If you are supplementing with fish oil (which you should be, ideally 3-5g daily), we strongly recommend to use a brand that has the correct EPA/DHA ratio. DHA has plays an important role in optimizing brain health and should be present in larger quantities when compared to the EPA content. DHA can be considered a ‘bigger brother’ to EPA, as it can convert to EPA if the body requires, whereas EPA cannot do the same. We suggest Biotest Flameout as a high quality fish oil supplement.
- Sleep. Make sure you get a good amount of restful sleep every night – anywhere between 6½-8 hours is typical, but it does vary from person to person. Minimizing stress is essential in aiding the quality of your sleep, due to it being the largest contributing factor of short term sleeping difficulties. Taking nootropic seratonergics such as 5-HTP or neuroprotectants such as melatonin before sleep can both help you fall asleep faster and put you into a deeper, more restful sleep.
- Regular exercise is a huge component and should be a part of everyone’s routine. Getting into the gym 3-4 times a week is a great way to flush toxins out of the body and improve your overall mood because of the ‘feel good’ chemicals that your body releases during and after physical activity.
- Drinking lots of fluids daily is important, however the primary source of these should be water or green tea as they contain no ‘added extras’ such as sugar or artificial sweeteners. Try to consume at least 2 litres of water a day; carrying around a bottle is a convenient way to keep yourself hydrated at all times.
- Vitamins, primarily vitamin B, are vital for brain health. Make sure you take a vitamin B complex daily to maintain energy production, good digestion and a healthy nervous system (which of course relates to brain function).
- Avoid high GI (glycemic index) foods where possible – this is because foods that spike blood glucose (sugar) have a negative effect on mental function. Substitute these for low GI foods instead, such as complex carbohydrates, whole-grains, proteins and vegetables. Conversely, not getting enough low GI glucose can have the same effect as the brain cannot store carbohydrates and needs a constant source of energy to function optimally.
The brain works like most other machines in that it needs a source of energy and an efficient method of transporting nutrients in and getting waste out. Good blood flow and an ample supply of nutrients in the blood (oxygen, glucose, antioxidants, etc.) is essential in maintaining a healthy brain and optimal mental function.
Nootropics and their uses
So, what is the best nootropic application? Well, each ‘noop’ has its own mechanism of action (all share a similarity, although the exact mechanisms of action have not yet fully been established for all kinds) so the experience between the different types available varies. Furthermore, combining certain nootropics (especially of the racetam family) greatly potentiates their effects, so you can get more ‘bang for your buck’ with the right combination.
Doses vary based on individual tolerance however the commonly used ranges work perfectly well for most people – a good method of establishing your tolerance is to start with the minimum recommended dose and then assessing your results from there.
Now since there are a large variety of benefits that you can gain from nootropic use we won’t go into too much detail about all of them in this specific article. We will however outline the main effects associated with their use. These include vastly improved memory retention, prolonged mental energy & concentration levels, reduced anxiety and deeper sleep. All of which can be had side-effect free due to the aforementioned low toxicity levels and direct effects on the brain. After all, the term ‘nootropic’ refers to them directly as cognitive enhancers that are neuro-protective or extremely nontoxic.
Furthermore, your physical training can also benefit from the use of certain nootropics (such as oxiracetam or alpha-gpc), which are great at enhancing the mind-muscle connection when learning or re-learning certain exercises & techniques that recruit muscles in a specific way. In short, they improve your ability to focus on embedding the new movements into neural pathways in the brain. This means you will be able to master exercises in a much shorter period of time, and with greater ease.
It all sounds really great, and it is – but a good formulation will help you get the most out of what noops have to offer.
Planning a basic ‘stack’
One of the first points to note when planning a noop stack is that there are very few contraindications associated with nootropics. This means you can combine them with virtually any other smart drug without experiencing any adverse side-effects, and often only heightening their effects. An effective nootropic stack will usually consist of a choline source and some form of nootropic(s). You cannot, however, just throw together any old combination and hope for the best, you need to find a synergy between the substances so that they work together and you get to experience the most potent results possible.
We’ll start with choline. This is a naturally occurring substance that can be found in foods such as beef, eggs, liver and nuts. When ingested, choline converts to acetylcholine (ACh), which is an essential neurotransmitter present in the brain. ACh is not like other neurotransmitters in that it is broken down by enzymes for energy during the thought process. This means that ACh levels need to be replenished or else your cognitive abilities will suffer from lack of ‘mental fuel’. And since we are speeding up the mental functioning of our brains through the use of nootropics, we will need to include choline in our stacks to render them as effective as possible.
There are a few sources available to choose from but our primary choice is DMAE (or choline bitartate). It not only provides a great source of choline, but studies have shown that people report a mild stimulant effect after using it continuously for at least 3 weeks. Ideal when you are planning a stack that will be aimed as a ‘pick-me-up’ without a crash. Dosages are normally in the 300-500mg range, taken 2-3 times a day.
Next, you need to consider a racetam that will be the ‘workhorse’ of your formula. There are many to choose from and they are again, situation dependent; piracetam, oxiracetam, aniracetam, pramiracetam and nebracetam are just a few examples. Some racetams require large doses (around 20g) while others only need a few hundred milligrams to be effective. For this reason, our favourite is aniracetam for use as a ‘base’ racetam as we find that it 1. can be used in smaller quantities when compared with piracetam, 2. synergizes very well with most of the other racetams and 3. improves inter-hemispheric communication while reducing anxiety.
Finally, in order to improve the nutrient uptake and blood flow to the brain we strongly suggest you include a cerebral vasodilator such as vinpocetine. Without going into too much detail about it just yet (we’ll save it for a future article), vinpocetine primarily works by increasing blood flow to the brain, and no where else, while acting as a powerful antioxidant. This mean that you won’t experience any unwanted side effects from it such as increased blood pressure, and it helps to remove nasty free-radicals from the brain at the same time.
Overall, nootropics are a safe, effective way of increasing cognitive ability beyond what could normally be achieved, and are a good way to restore and promote healthy brain function. But this does not mean they can replace an unhealthy lifestyle, as we’ve already pointed out, so while they are definitely a worthy addition to ones set of tools on a path to optimum mental function, we need to keep in mind that they are supplemental to the fundamentals.