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Do Nootropics Actually Work? (Explained by a Dietician)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 26, 2023
Methodology
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In today’s highly competitive society, nootropics have gained a lot of popularity and are often used, even by healthy people, to improve cognitive functions.

On the other hand, a lot of people think the effects of these smart drugs are overhyped or just a result of the placebo effect.

Curious about this myself, I spent hours looking through various clinical trials, studies, and reviews and discussed my notes with our dietician to fully answer whether nootropics actually work.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • Nootropics, commonly called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are natural or synthetic substances that can boost brain function and mental performance.
  • Like any other supplement, nootropics need to be consumed along with a healthy diet to work properly.
  • Federal law deems most nootropics as dietary supplements, meaning that the FDA does not regulate their supposed benefits as stated by manufacturers.

Are Nootropics Effective?

A person picking up pieces of smart drugs that work

Yes, nootropics are effective, but to what degree highly depends on the type, dosage, and some additional factors.

Many nootropic drugs take time to build up in your body before you begin to feel their full effects.

To better understand how these smart drugs work, let’s first define what nootropics are.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics (also called smart drugs, brain boosters, or cognitive enhancers) are substances that improve brain function, promote mental health, and enhance cognition.

Nootropics are generally safe for everyone and can be natural and synthetic.

Natural or organic nootropics are types of plants, plant extracts, and foods, while synthetic or prescription nootropics are lab-made substances (usually made of synthetic compounds) that mimic the structure of natural smart drugs and therefore cause similar effects.

The term itself was coined by the Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea in 1972.

During that time, he created the first synthetic smart drug to increase human intelligence - piracetam [1].

What Makes Nootropics Effective?

A man pointing on his head

The ability to improve memory and cognitive function, as well as manage overall brain health is what makes nootropics effective.

They’re used by both healthy individuals and those with cognitive problems.

In many cases, nootropics are also used to treat and manage (but not cure) brain-related ailments such as bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease (cognitive decline), depression, anxiety, and many others [2].

“Nootropics work on improving cognition, memory, alertness, concentration, creativity and attention. They became known as cognitive enhancers, compounds that amplify how the different cognitive functions in the brain work and how we process information.”

- Dr. Amira Guirguis, Senior Pharmacy Lecturer

Some Commonly Used Ones

Spilled smart drugs or nootropics on floor

Here is a list of some of the most commonly used nootropics as smart drugs and how effective they are.

Common Natural Smart Drugs

Here is a list of commonly used natural nootropics:

  • L-theanine: This naturally-occurring amino acid found in tea is known for restoring damaged nerve cells [3].
  • Bacopa monnieri: This smart drug is known to improve memory, speed up reaction time, and enhance information processing [4].
  • Panax ginseng: This nootropic has a strong anti-inflammatory effect that protects your brain cells from oxidative stress [5].
  • Rhodiola rosea: A popular nootropic that helps your body manage stress and fight mental fatigue [6].
  • Lion’s mane mushroom: This plant may stimulate, grow, heal, and protect nerve cells [7].
  • Ginkgo biloba: One of the oldest living species of trees, its leaves are known to increase blood flow to the brain and improve its functioning [8]. It’s also known to sharpen the attention span of Alzheimer’s disease patients [9]
  • Choline: This nootropic may help you retain memories and achieve deep restorative sleep [10].

Related Articles:

Common Prescription Smart Drugs

Here’s a list of commonly used prescription nootropics:

  • Ritalin: This amphetamine derivative is used to treat ADHD [11].
  • Modafinil: This drug is commonly used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders [12].
  • Adderall: A popular brain booster, it changes your brain chemistry to help you stay focused and control behavioral problems [13].
  • Racetam: It’s used to treat cognitive deficits from brain injuries [14].

5 Benefits of Nootropics

Holding a holographic image of a brain

Here’s a list of the most common benefits of smart drugs:

  • Increases blood flow to the brain: Many nootropics increase blood circulation to the brain and increase its overall activity [15].
  • Improved memory: One of the most common benefits of nootropics is improved memory [16]
  • Manages anxiety: Studies show that certain nootropics can help relieve anxiety [17].
  • Improves brain health: Nootropics can help maintain proper brain health and functioning [18].
  • Fights age-related brain diseases: Many nootropics may help you fight age-related mental decline [19].

FAQs

What Are Nootropics Used For?

Nootropics are used for improving memory, increasing mental alertness and concentration, and boosting energy levels and wakefulness. These smart drugs can be taken as dietary supplements or prescription drugs, depending on what your physician recommends.

Do Nootropics Clean Brain Fog?

Yes, nootropics can clear brain fog, depending on the cause (exhaustion, chronic illness, or learning disabilities). However, you shouldn’t depend solely on nootropics. To clear brain fog, you should also eat a healthy diet, exercise daily, and take the right supplements.

Be Cautious When Taking Nootropics

While smart drugs may work wonders for your brain health and cognitive abilities, making sure you choose the right supplement is important to stay safe from nootropic side effects.

We highly recommend taking safe, natural, and clinically-backed nootropic supplements.

We tested a lot of popular supplements on the market, and we found these to be highly effective in increasing overall mental clarity for our clients.

Check out our list and find one that best suits your needs.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260335/
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326379
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30553451/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153866/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26236231
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541197/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987239/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12905098
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279357/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6531048/
  11. https://www.rxlist.com/ritalin-drug.htm
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/modafinil-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20064870?p=1
  13. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63163/adderall-oral/details
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20166767/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10978039
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2896427/
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/nootropic
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27656235/
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