What are Nootropics and how can they work for you?

Posted by Rachael Gibson

What are Nootropics and how can they work for you?

Often referred to as ‘smart drugs’ Nootropics are gaining in popularity as more and more of us search for solutions that can enhance our brain health and support our wellbeing. Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know…

What are Nootropics?

Put simply, Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances that can be taken to safely improve mental performance and ability, whether that’s mood, memory, cognitive function or focus. The name, derived from Greek, loosely translates as ‘to bend or shape the mind’. As well as encompassing dietary supplements and synthetic compounds, Nootropics is also a term that can be applied to medications that are prescribed by healthcare professionals to treat certain disorders such as ADHD. Outside of the medical sphere, Nootropics are making waves in the wellness world.

Where do they come from?

Despite being a relatively new buzzword, Nootropics have actually been around for thousands of years and what we think of Nootropics today, have their roots in ancient remedies. “Traditional medicines in China and India were using plants and herbs we now call Nootropics,” says Damian Soong, CEO of Form Nutrition. “A great example of this is Bacopa Monnieri which has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine since the 6th century. More recently it’s been studied for its ability to improve memory and reduce anxiety.”

Where can I find Nootropics?

Although they sound like something you’d have to venture to a specialist health store to find, Nootropics is actually a catchall term used to describe several different substances. When it comes to some of the more common and accessible Nootropics that are used to increase alertness and boost brain function, you’re probably taking one every day without even realising it; caffeine, one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances in the world, can be found in abundance in our daily cups of coffee, while L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea that’s thought to promote feelings of calm and also found in the Form Nutrition sleep supplement. Some essential vitamins included in your daily multivitamin, such as B-vitamins 6, 9 and 12, are also considered Nootropics thanks to their ability to optimise brain health. Aside from those found in our kitchen cupboards, other Nootropics famed for increasing energy and mental capacity can be found in supplement form. Rhodiola Rosea, Panax Ginseng and Gingko Bilboa are all purported to have positive effects on memory, mental processing and a reduction in mental fatigue, although the clinical proof for many is still in its infancy. As with most things, it’s always wise to seek medical advice before you start taking any form of supplement, especially if you have any underlying health issues. As Soong points out, however, most over the counter products from reputable brands will have already passed stringent safety checks.

Are Nootropics the same as Adaptogens?

Adaptogens is another term being touted in wellness circles and one that is frequently used interchangeably with the term Nootropics. While both work to improve certain aspects of human health and there’s plenty of crossover in the plants and herbs associated with both, Nootropics are considered more as brain boosters, while Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and anxiety specifically, by balancing and stabilising the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems. Discover more here.

How can they fit into your wellbeing regime?

Like any supplement, they can form a valuable part of a well-balanced healthy diet,” says Soong, but for anyone looking to optimize their cognitive function, it’s always a good idea to start by ensuring you are getting plenty of sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet and managing your stress. Sleep is just one area that Nootropics can help with, and they do this by boosting the particular brain functions that are required for proper, restorative slumber. In order for us to sleep, the body has to produce melatonin. To help the body produce this chemical when it should, serotonin is required, a chemical which comes from an amino acid called tryptophan. 5-HTP, a form of tryptophan, is generally preferred in supplement form because it crosses the blood-brain barrier quickly and converts into serotonin easily and efficiently. “In terms of sleep we see amazing transformations with ZZZZ's, our sleep nootropic,” adds Soong. “Form Nutrition’s ZZZZs is centred around 5-HTP from griffonia seed, calming amino acids and essential dietary minerals. This combination works to aid natural serotonin and melatonin production and address any deficiencies that may be affecting your sleep and also by calming and relaxing to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.”