The list of diseases connected directly with triggers in the brain includes narcolepsy, seizures, ADHD, and dementia. That’s a brief list, but many other conditions are associated with brain function such as memory in a test situation or memory, in general; moods, Autism, and focus.
A successful athlete is able to concentrate on his workout. Someone with stable hormones is not as susceptible to depression as an individual with her hormones out of balance. The medical and pharmaceutical professions have been treating seizures, narcolepsy and mood disorders with drugs for years, but these drugs are not regarded as nootropics. That word possesses a different connotation altogether.
You might call this a health food trend or a phase in the development of fashionable drugs. It’s not a phase that’s likely to fade away soon, though, because nootropics have stirred up a lot of interest.
Nootropics are natural substances said to enhance or repair neurological performance in some way. They are related to improved memory, faster thinking, emotional stability, and athletic success.
Some substances are illegal or controlled such as marijuana which is only legal as a pain reliever in certain states, although some athletes have famously used it to create a sense of intense focus before a match or race. Cocaine stimulates the brain but is also an illegal drug and potential killer.
BCAAs and amino acids generally are classed as athletic and muscle enhancement agents as far as bodybuilders and MMA fighters are concerned. While naturally available from foods such as meat, fish, and plants, a huge industry has sprung up to provide more easily absorbed versions. Whey powder is popular as the most protein-packed substance and easiest to digest for most people. BCAAs catalyze these proteins to stimulate muscle growth, maintenance, and repair, but also cellular growth and health throughout the body, brain included. When these substances get to the brain, they are thought to increase a person’s concentration during long workouts.
Caffeine is the ultimate legal stimulant. Runners, boxers, and bodybuilders love it. So do students studying for exams and people who work late-night shifts when the body is naturally programmed to be asleep. Caffeine is not a regulated substance and availability is easy. Coffee is the easiest source to find, but energy drinks, tea, and cola make tasty drinks for millions of people worldwide. Caffeine is also extracted from various sources to become a stimulant in products like energy “blocks” chewed during a long-distance run or found in tablets and powders.
Consumers are probably already trying to obtain enough nutrition from food and regular multi-vitamins. These little capsules usually contain Vitamin K and B Vitamins associated with cognitive function. Magnesium, a mineral and electrolyte, is related to brain function too. Most vitamins contain some at least. Foods rich in all the stuff a person needs to obtain naturally, such as leafy greens, are not favorites but are effective for brain health.
Gingko Biloba and Resveratrol are more controversial. Can they really do what the makers of these extract say they can? Resveratrol is associated with anti-aging as well as brain health, supporting natural cell repair and replenishment which tends to stop during middle life.
Nootropics have caused excitement because of their potential. What if a person could consume something effective to halt the progress of a neurological disease? Perhaps these could be cures for Alzheimer’s or dementia; ADHD or autism. Maybe one day there could even be a cure linked to healthy substances found in real foods. Forget bodybuilding and exam performance; this has more to do with quality of life among an aging population that would otherwise spend their final years in old-age homes being fed from a spoon and forgetting the people they love. Not only is this a drain on resources but it’s a drain on the people who love and care for dementia sufferers. The scientific community feels as though they are getting closer to the answer, but there is still a long way to go.
Firms like Nootrobox and Onnit believe they have already figured out how to deliver substances which improve cognitive performance. Their sales and ratings from customers would appear to support these claims. Scientists, on the other hand, argue that most benefits of taking such substances are derived from caffeine, not from any other so-called active ingredients. In fact, as far as their research has shown, there is no proof that Gingko Biloba, Cat’s Claw, or L-theanine, etc. is doing a bit of good. Maybe it won’t hurt you, but customers are paying a lot of money taking a chance on a “maybe.” Besides, isn’t it true that when you invest in something and really want it to work, you will believe what you want to believe?
So What’s the Harm?
If taking a pill even makes you think you can do more and reach higher, that’s okay, right? Such a harmless placebo is convincing thousands of people they are better athletes, smarter students, and that they can retain their short-term memory into the Golden Years. There is, in fact, some risk to taking these drugs. For one thing, they are not regulated. Scientists don’t know enough about certain ingredients, especially herbal and plant-based ones, to say they are safe for long-term use. Stimulants are an obvious concern. While people drink coffee and tea all the time without having heart attacks, these forms of stimulants pose different risks. Do they interact with other ingredients? Are consumers taking caffeine in supplements then also drinking coffee as usual? The nervous system can only handle so much.
As research continues, perhaps the best route for consumers to take right now is to maintain their curiosity, play devil’s advocate and study both sides, and continue using traditional methods of mental stimulation and support. Don’t drink too much. Sleep well. Deal with stress by praying or meditating, even going to a counselor if necessary. Laugh, have fun, and challenge your mind and body. Take up a new sport or hobby every so often to keep your mind guessing; Zumba, martial arts, or math games, for example. Spend time with people, eat a healthy diet, and take your multi-vitamin every day.
Finding Effective Brain Supplements – Or Not
There is no guarantee that a supplement which supposedly supports brain function is going to work. Determining the efficacy of Nootropics is not an exact science.
A lot of consumers and researchers argue that if a research sponsor wants there to be results, he will go ahead and imagine them in order to prove the worth of a product. There are also arguments that certain brain supplements would work well if only there was the correct correspondence between these active ingredients and supporting supplements.
Brain Health by Design
Numerous products are touted for their influence on neurological health but in very specific areas. For example, a number of products have been released to address the problems faced by individuals with ADD/ADHD and Autism which affect similar areas of the brain.
Several items are listed for their role in fighting degenerative brain conditions associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Numerous pills are associated with anxiety and depression. Further products address an athlete’s need for better focus.
They will usually be given names which relate to the active ingredient or to their purpose. Items such as Bell Super IQ and Brain Memory were clearly designed to fulfill a purpose. There is a surprising number of different functions the brain is responsible for, so each item is supposed to address that area alone.
In truth, if a supplement is good for anything at all, it will often provide support in more than one capacity; that is, if it is any good. There are lots of people who would say supplements are more gimmick than science.
Why Don’t Supplements Work?
Consumers who aren’t living a healthy lifestyle can’t fix the problem by taking a pill. Many areas of their lives must be addressed such as healthy eating, sleep, and exercising regularly.
Medical issues can interfere with brain health such as clinical mood disorders and neurological conditions which have nothing to do with nutrition. Sometimes, nothing a person does will be enough to deal with an encroaching tumor or a disorder rooted in the brain.
A common problem is nutrition and how this affects vitamin/mineral/protein uptake. When consumers fail to look after their GI health, nutrients don’t go where they should. They are excreted after laying around in the GI Tract for a long time or excreted quickly due to diarrhea.
Most North Americans fail to consume enough fermented foods which contain probiotic or healthy bacteria. One must figure this issue out before investing in costly Nootropics.
Not taking pills as recommended is also a big issue, or certain products could be interfering with each other. Talk to a holistic practitioner about interactions but also speak to your doctor about symptoms rather than taking the cowboy route and overlooking what could be a serious problem. All too often, there is too little of an active ingredient in the tablet you are swallowing.
It could be argued that a healthy diet contains food supportive of healthy brain function. This will be a diet full of non-GMO, organic plant-based foods, fish, and chicken.
Some oils, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain Omega fatty acids attributed to the growth and replacement of brain tissue. These specifically contain Omega-3 fatty acids; fats you really need.
Fish is a good example, especially cold-water or wild sea fish which carry a layer of fat on them due to their excessively cold living conditions. Pumpkin seeds are high in calories and good lipids too.
Eat yogurt, fermented vegetables, drink Kombucha, or try miso soup. These foods naturally replenish probiotics in your gut so your entire body can take in what it needs from a diet containing very little refined stuff like flour and white cane sugar.
Spices and herbs which are colorful, aromatic, and bold, like curcumin and turmeric, are among anti-inflammatory plants. Along with fruits such as pineapple and grapefruit they supply immune-supportive antioxidants while also reducing inflammation which could be affecting the brain directly or indirectly.
Leafy greens contain almost everything a nutritionist is eager for you to consume. That goes for some protein, fiber, certain phyto-nutrients, calcium, and B-Vitamins. These are associated with good moods. Electrolytes found in minerals such as calcium and magnesium are also important. Add potassium and you receive a trio of nutrients great for circulation. Bananas and tomatoes contain lots of those.
When in doubt, it’s worth trying some Nootropics; it can’t hurt.
Ingredients containing BCAAs improve cellular recovery in the brain and throughout the muscular system.
Herbs such as Ginko Biloba are famously being researched for connections to the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
L-Theanine is considered essential in the fight against stress and its damaging effects.
Omega 3s are employed in the making of products designed to reduce symptoms of ADD and Autism.
Together, these nutritional additives could control symptoms of a mental illness or prevent disease as long as one’s diet is healthy overall, not loaded in chemicals from pesticide-treated foods or hampered by the effects of smoking and heavy drinking.