Many different compounds are known to have positive effects on cognitive function and brain health. These may be referred to as “nootropics“, “smart drugs“, or “brain health supplements“, and include things like caffeine, L-theanine, creatine, Bacopa Monnieri, and omega-3 fatty acids. Some people have also attempted to use Adderall as a nootropic, but that can prove problematic for a variety of reasons. By far the most ubiquitous nootropic is caffeine, with 90% of North Americans consuming it daily.
As most have already experienced, caffeine boosts alertness and focus, and may have a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease. However, it does have some unpleasant side effects like anxiety and increased blood pressure. Fortunately, L-theanine, which is found in tea, happens to be particularly helpful when paired with caffeine. The mild anxiety-reducing effect of L-theanine mitigates many of the negative effects that caffeine can induce and further boosts caffeine’s attention-enhancing effects, producing a state of relaxed focus.
Bacopa Monnieri is a herb with solid research supporting its significant memory-enhancing effects and its tendency to reduce anxiety. This nootropic’s main drawback is that it takes 8 to 12 weeks of use before its effects become noticeable. Creatine on the other hand, takes effect much more quickly; it improves performance in cognitively demanding tasks, and seems to mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation on executive function. Regrettably, creatine also carries the possible side effects of stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Of course, one cannot discuss nootropics without also addressing Adderall, which is now somewhat infamous for its frequent misuse and addictive potential. Interestingly, Adderall may actually impair cognitive function in those who started with good function, and mainly benefits those who already perform poorly on certain cognitive tasks. Unfortunately, studies show that people tend to be unable to tell whether Adderall is helping or hindering their performance; this fact, combined with its addictive potential and litany of serious side effects (loss of appetite, changes in mood, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, mania, paranoia, irritability, palpitations, and increased blood pressure) make it one of the worst possible options for cognitive enhancement.
Omega-3 fatty acids on the other hand, can truthfully be called brain health supplements, with studies suggesting a variety of possible health benefits at appropriate dosages. Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids, meaning that the human body needs them to function but cannot synthesize them on its own. Given that a significant proportion of the brain’s total mass is composed of omega-3 fatty acids, adequate consumption is particularly important for brain development and health.
Obviously, there are many more nootropics than those mentioned here; and while caffeine, L-theanine, creatine, Bacopa Monnieri, and omega-3s have scientific research to back their efficacy, there are many other drugs and supplements out there with varying levels of evidence behind them. So, for anyone intending to use nootropics and/or brain health supplements, keep the following in mind. Talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements, as many nootropics can interact with body chemistry, with each other, and with existing medications in unexpected ways. Always buy supplements from a reputable source, and get a certificate of analysis from a reliable laboratory that is not affiliated with the manufacturer, especially if buying online. Also, be sure to check that what you are buying is legal in your country; many compounds that are considered nootropics are also controlled substances in some parts of the world. Finally, as with anything health-related, stay informed. Websites like Examine.com and reddit.com/r/nootropics are great resources for learning about certificates of analysis, reputable suppliers, and the vast array of possible avenues to a smarter, healthier brain