No, nootropics aren’t warm, palmy areas around the equator. They are, infact, groups of rare supplements or drugs that are taken specifically to enhance memory and other cognitive abilities. Because they are said to enhance intelligence, nootropics are often called “smart drugs.”
The nootropic that most people are familiar with is caffeine, but there are other nootropics that stimulate mental functioning. Some of these drugs and supplements are used by college students to help them study and retain what they read more efficiently. Others seem to show promise for brain diseases as devastating as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s chorea.
Kinds of Nootropics
There are different kinds of nootropics. They include stimulants like amphetamines, methylphenidates and eugeroics. Amphetamines help stimulate a person’s mental awareness, help them perform tasks and aid in the retention of different kinds of memory, including episodic and working memory. Researchers claim that amphetamines are especially useful for people with ADHD. They also help with inhibitory control. This is the ability of a person to overcome their usual responses to a situation in order to complete a task or reach a goal.
Xanthines support a person’s alertness and ability to complete tasks. Some xanthines have also been shown to help memory. Caffeine is a type of xanthine.
Methylphenidates are also memory aids and helps the user stay focused on certain tasks, especially if those tasks are boring and repetitive. Eugeroics help people to stay awake and so are used by people who work swing shifts and suffer from narcolepsy, a disorder where people fall asleep unexpectedly and uncontrollably.
In some studies, a nootropic called phosphatidylserine also improved cognitive functioning when it was used in conjunction with omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA.
Not every scientist places these substances in the class of nootropics, though at least two of them, Piracetam and Aniracetam cause chemical reactions in the body that are believed to enhance cognition.
Nutraceuticals is a portmanteau word that combines nutrition and pharmaceuticals. These substances are naturally occurring nutrients that are also used medicinally. Among the most popular types of nutraceuticals that are used as nootropics are ginseng and ginkgo biloba. Both of these nootropics have been long used to boost memory. Ginseng, which is a plant found in North America as well as east Asia, has also been used to treat fatigue and depression. Ginkgo is derived from an ancient tree that originated in China. It also helps the user focus his or her attention on a task. Bacopa monnieri is a prostrate herb also said to improve memory. It is also used as an antioxidant and to support the health of the nervous system.
Other nutraceuticals include isoflavones, which are substances found in plants like soybeans. It supports verbal skills, visual/spatial memory and dexterity. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is also used as a nootropic. Though it is considered a depressant, it doesn’t actually cause depression in normal doses but passes through the blood-brain barrier to cause a feeling of relaxation.
According to studies, some nootropics look promising when it comes to overcoming certain cognitive deficits.