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What Are Nootropics? Benefits, Chart, Side Effects

Nootropics or smart drugs are nutritional supplements that enhance brain performance and mental functions.

Nootropics or smart drugs are nutritional supplements that enhance brain performance and mental functions, including:

  • Memory
  • Motivation
  • Concentration
  • Attention

There are two types of nootropics available in the market—prescription and over-the-counter (OTC). Prescription nootropics are recommended in the treatment of certain medical conditions, which include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Narcolepsy
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Dementia

Some of the prescription nootropic drugs and their uses are listed below:

Drugs
Use
Side effects

Modafinil
Treats sudden drowsiness associated with narcolepsy
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Adderall
Treats ADHD
Increased heart rate

Methylphenidate
Manages symptoms of narcolepsy and ADHD
Changes in vision or blurred vision

Memantine
Treats symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
High blood pressure, depression

Some studies have reported that prescription nootropics when taken regularly, increase chances of behavioral problems such as risky sexual practices.

OTC nootropics are natural or synthetic supplements available in the market without a prescription. Some of the commonly available natural and synthetic nootropic drugs, their prescribed doses, and uses are described below:

Table. Commonly available natural and synthetic nootropic drugs

Drugs
Recommended dose
Uses
Cautions

Caffeine
400 mg or up to four to five cups of coffee
Acts as stimulants

  • Should be limited or avoided during pregnancy
  • Overdosing can lead to death

L-theanine
100 to 400 mg/day
Increases alpha waves in the brain, contributing to a relaxed yet alert mental state
Same as caffeine

Omega-3 fatty acids
NA

  • Repair and renew brain cells
  • Protect against brain aging

May interact with medications affecting blood clotting

Gingko biloba
200 mg/day for at least five months
Improves brain function
Not safe with prescription nootropic drugs

Panax ginseng
100 to 600 mg one or two times a day

Prevents certain brain diseases including

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Interacts with many medicines. Hence, one should consult the doctor before taking this supplement

Rhodiola rosea
One capsule one or two times daily

  • May protect the neurons and treat neurodegenerative diseases
  • Regulate neurotransmitters, thus having a positive effect on mood

Creatine
30 g/day
Helps with short-term memory and reasoning
Limited research is available on whether the supplement is safe for adolescent athletes

Ashwagandha
400 to 500 mg/day

  • Reduces anxiety and stress and helps the formation of new dendrites
  • Modulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) pathways in the brain and helps in neuronal longevity
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Drowsiness
  • Not recommended in children and pregnant women

What are the benefits of nootropics?

Benefits of various nootropics, their effect on the brain, and side effects are described below:

Nootropic
Mechanism of action
Desired effect on the brain
Adverse side effects

Armodafinil
Increases the action of neurotransmitters (exciting chemical messengers) such as glutamate and suppresses depressant neurotransmitters such as GABA
Increases wakefulness

  • Headache
  • Inflammation of the nasal cavities
  • Diarrhea

Citicoline
Protects the integrity of nerve membranes and modulates the level of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, dopamine, and glutamate

  • Memory booster
  • Reduces damage to the brain after a brain injury
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors

Piracetam

  • Improves the function of glutamate neurotransmitters
  • Protects the neurons
  • Promotes the growth of neurons
  • Increases thinking and reasoning capacity
  • Boosts memory
  • Increased agitation
  • General discomfort feeling or uneasiness
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss
  • Diarrhea

Ampakines
Stimulates the action of glutamate by binding to its receptors

Long-term improvement is seen in the following areas:

  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Alertness
  • Cognition
  • Impairment of spatial memory (memory responsible for storage and retrieval of information related to planning a route to the desired location)
  • Possible motor function impairment

Cerebrolysin

  • Acts by improving signal transmission from one neuron to the next
  • Promotes the regeneration of nerve fibers that transmit impulses to other nerve cells or muscle fibers or gland cells by acetylcholine
  • Improved cognition
  • Increased sensory enhancement
  • Increased vertigo
  • Increased agitation
  • Increased feeling of hot/flushing

L-theanine
Increases alpha waves in the brain

  • Improves alertness
  • Boosts cognitive performance
  • Insomnia
  • Jitters
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • A feeling of unhappiness

Bacopa monnieri

  • Accelerates the protein kinase activity and production of protein in the brain
  • Prevents inflammation and damage of the cells
  • Enhances memory and intellect
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue

Thus, the benefits of nootropics can be summarized as follows:

  • Enhance cognition and memory
  • Increase alertness and wakefulness
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Boost attention span and concentration
  • Boost brain energy by stimulating blood flow to the brain cells
  • Improve various aspects of mood and mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, and others

QUESTION

The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as:
See Answer

Are nootropics effective in pain management?

Some nootropic drugs, such as piracetam, may have additional analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Pain and inflammation are due to the migration of the immune cells and oxidative stress at a particular site.
  • Piracetam could suppress the immune cells and remove the free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
  • Studies have reported that the analgesic action of piracetam could be due to the stimulation of certain receptors at the spinal levels.

Are nootropics effective and safe?

The effectiveness of nootropic drugs is demonstrated in many small-scale studies. However, large-scale studies haven’t been conducted to prove their efficacy.

There aren’t many studies about the safety and effectiveness of nootropics, so it is difficult to predict if these drugs could be effective for all.

  • Because natural supplements do not come under regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the safety of drugs is uncertain, and the possibility of adulteration is high.
  • Some products are reported to have contaminants that are not mentioned on the label. Hence, always consult a physician before taking these supplements or buy the supplements from a reputable company that undergoes independent testing.
  • These are not recommended for pregnant women and children unless prescribed by a physician.

Many nootropics have the potential for undesirable drug-drug interactions. If you are already on any other prescription drugs (for heart disease, diabetes, or oral contraception), nootropics may alter their effect on the body.

However, omega-3 fatty acids and caffeine have shown positive outcomes associated with the brain in many studies. Hence, these supplements are safe to take in the recommended dosage and limits.

Medically Reviewed on 12/17/2021

References

Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/features/nootropics-smart-drugs-overview

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756795/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305713000646

Ashwagandha

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