What are nootropics?

Nootropics include a huge range of supplements and medications that claim to improve your brain and cognitive function. They could look to boost anything from memory and concentration to focus. To be honest, who wouldn’t snap up such a simple solution to boost brainpower? While it’s completely enticing, is it too good to be true? As many people know, adjusting your brain is often much harder than taking a pill.  

So, what exactly are nootropics?

Nootropics go by a few different names like brain enhancers, smart boosters, or cognitive enhancers. Essentially, a nootropic is any substance believed to enhance cognition. You tend to have two types of nootropics: synthetic and natural. Medications like Adderall and Ritalin are considered synthetic nootropics. Natural plants that may enhance brain cognition include caffeine and Ginkgo biloba. You may notice that some of the above medications are used to treat disorders like ADHD. But people without these conditions also use these drugs to improve cognitive performance.

When looking at nootropic supplements, you tend to find ones either with caffeine or an ingredient that mimics the high of caffeine. Most supplements contain individual ingredients or a concoction of things like mushrooms, ginseng, and bacopa monnieri. 

While pharmaceuticals are regulated, it's a little different if a nootropic is a dietary supplement. In most cases, the manufacturer doesn’t have to prove any claims before marketing, according to the FDA. 

There are plenty of supplements out there that have a clean history of safe use. There is research that supports the benefits of certain supplements like folic acid, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. But that doesn’t mean that every supplement on the market does what it says on the label. 

What does the research say about nootropics and brain supplements?

It’s estimated that the brain supplement market will be worth $13 billion by 2028. While some studies show promising benefits of some common nootropic ingredients like Ginkgo biloba, the evidence is not solid. There are issues around the supporting evidence of the benefits that manufacturers claim. But that’s not to say that they don’t work, simply that there’s not enough research yet. 

A popular ingredient in nootropics is caffeine. Anyone who has chugged down a cup of coffee before tackling a big project will know how it can make you feel alert and super focused on the task at hand. The downside is that the effect lasts as long as the caffeine buzz. Also, you have the potential side effects and growing dependence on caffeine. 

When someone tells you that you can essentially buy your way to a better brain, it’s no wonder that it’s a billion-dollar industry. Generally, there is no magical solution for anything. Whether it’s weight loss, fitness, or concentration, it takes time to form healthy habits that impact your well-being. 

One study found that initial results showed that Ginkgo biloba L. leaf extract (EGb) may improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers later overturned this conclusion as the study ended prematurely. While the relationship between EGb and Alzheimer’s remains a mystery, it could be a promising direction. 

Overall, brain supplements lack long-term, large-scale studies to demonstrate the potential positive effects. These studies are necessary for proving that supplements work consistently and are safe. There’s a lot of research and studies out there, and they’re not all good. Few people have the training or time to delve into every study they read. Good research is reproducible, replicable, and transparent. The gold standard of research is a randomized controlled trial which is a way to study drugs or treatment, removing as much bias as possible.

5 tips for improving focus, concentration, and productivity   

While some people benefit from natural brain supplements, there are some performance-enhancing habits that everyone can do that stand up to science. Good old-fashioned exercise and getting a good night’s sleep can do more for your brain than you may think. Often, when people are looking for brain enhancement solutions, they are really trying to find productivity hacks. The good news is that productivity and creating good work habits can be self-taught easily. 

Start with your sleep

If you don’t get enough sleep, it can diminish cognitive function. Losing even a few hours of sleep can negatively affect concentration, reasoning, learning, and decision-making. When talking about cognitive enhancement, you may not think about getting a good night’s sleep, but it’s something you can do every day that has a big impact. To create the ultimate sleep experience, start by looking at your sleep routine and environment. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time and make your bedroom a den of relaxation. This hand-poured Shai candle includes lavender, citrus, musk, and amber notes to create a calming bedroom scent. 

Don’t forget about exercise 

Research shows that exercise can positively affect the brain and cognitive function. One study found that Tai Chi showed potential to enhance cognitive function in older adults. It may be because Tai Chi requires slow movements, learning new skills, and memorizing patterns that stretch the brain and the body. 

Try meditation and mindfulness

Several studies show that meditation, in particular mindfulness, can actually promote changes in the brain structure and improvements in cognitive processing. There’s also a potential that meditation could help with age-related cognitive decline. Meditation and mindfulness are something that anyone can squeeze into their day. Start by setting aside ten minutes using an app like Calm or Headspace. These are easy to use and offer short meditations you could even do during your lunch hour. 


Practice self-care 

Stress can have a massive impact on your cognitive function. The decision-making process is hugely affected by stress, and things like attention and memory can also suffer. By practicing self-care and finding ways to unwind, you can reduce and manage stress. Whether writing in a five-minute journal or a morning yoga session, learning to manage stress supports positive cognitive function.  

Take a break 

If you’re struggling to focus at work, one productivity hack is to work in increments. The Pomodoro Method is a traditional time management tool where you work in twenty-five-minute increments, followed by five-minute breaks. Sometimes something that sounds so simple feels like it’s not going to work, but it can help you spend your time more effectively. 

The research into nootropics is intriguing but not conclusive. It’s an exciting area that has the potential to optimize cognitive function. Just because the evidence isn’t conclusive doesn’t mean you have to rule out the possibility for brain supplements to improve memory or cognitive function. In the meantime, regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep is likely the safest way to support your brain function, at least right now. 

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