Nootropics: FASTER, STRONGER…SMARTER?
Nootropics boost key elements of cognitive function and improve overall brain health. Extensive research continues to reveal the many benefits nootropics can provide.But what is a nootropic? How can nootropics potentially boost your intelligence? Which ones can you take safely?Dr. Corneliu Giurgea coined the term “nootropic” (from the Greek “nous,” or “mind” and “trepein,” or “to bend”) in the early 1970’s. He worked on one of the first nootropic drugs, piracetam. It showed some real promise in improving memory and protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Giurgea believed that “Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.” He wanted to synthesize drugs that made a difference right where you are sitting now, not in the distant future.The substances he was looking for were not the usual types of drugs used to alleviate pain or hold a disease in check, or even drugs for improving physical strength. Instead, he searched for substances that made us smarter and better equipped to handle our fast-paced world.
The Search for Nootropics that WorkOf course the search for these types of substances goes much farther back than the 1970’s. The ancient Indian health system of Ayurveda includes many herbs that improve mood and memory. The Chinese—and later Japanese—discovered the mind-clarifying action of green tea over a thousand years ago, and many native cultures have used (and still do) a plethora of plants to improve cognition and memory.But the West was slow to see the benefits of these substances. It took another 20 years after Dr. Giurgea’s discoveries for nootropics to catch the popular imagination. Dr. Dean Ward and John Morgenthaler’s groundbreaking book, “Smart Drugs & Nutrients,” was published in 1991, and soon students, novelty seekers, and the anti-aging community began self-experimenting with various substances to improve their brain health.Nootropics in the New MillenniumThe commercial aspect of nootropics didn’t really take off until the beginning of the new millennium. Popular culture was ready to embrace the idea of enhancing our normal capacities to achieve a faster, stronger and smarter human being. Superheroes were suddenly in many TV shows and movies, athletes were using supplements (and other not-so-great substances) to enhance performance, and the “Google Brain” became an extension of our normal brains. However, at the same time our dependence on smartphones and other technological wonders made ADD/ADHD a common condition even in otherwise healthy people. So we became thirsty for supplements that could improve our hectic lives.The supplement industry subsequently ballooned to billions of dollars of profit per year, with smart drugs, or nootropics, at the vanguard.Not All Nootropics Are Created EqualHowever, this wide exposure of nootropics came with a price: it became harder to tell which supplements really worked and which ones were mostly hype. Unscrupulous manufacturers promoted ineffective substances as “powerful nootropics,“ or didn’t include enough of the good nootropics in each serving so that you ended up wasting your money.Moreover, illegal or “gray zone” substances that were not approved for healthy adults (think Adderall, Modafinil, Centrophenoxine, etc.) became widely available for purchase online, often from shady sources that offered “proof” of the purity of their products. In fact, many of these “proofs”—called CoA’s, or Certificates of Analysis—came from fake labs. These unscrupulous practices are unfortunately still all too common today.There’s a reason why we have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in the E.U. Their mission is to protect us from fraud and potentially dangerous substances. And while Adderall and similar substances do indeed work for those who truly need them for serious medical reasons, for most of us they come with many potentially harmful side effects. They were not designed to be used by healthy adults at all.Real Nootropics that Work Real nootropics—such as DMAE, choline, and vinpocetine—are extremely safe to use and have decades of clinical studies that show they are not dangerous over the long run. The real test is whether supplements come directly from dietary sources such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or if they are actually “research chemicals.”Moreover, you can go online right now and order nootropics like piracetam, oxiracetam, phenibut, and other strange-sounding substances. But the FDA does not regulate these at all, so you simply cannot know for sure that you are getting the real deal. Instead, these are likely to be fakes that may cause serious harm to your health. And even if they’re not fakes, there are many good reasons why the FDA labels these chemicals “for research purposes only” and “not for human consumption.“Many are also made in China, where manufacturers often use rice powder instead of what’s actually written on the label. So unless you know the manufacturer personally and can vouch for their integrity and clinical knowledge, you are placing yourself in a very dangerous situation. Make sure that the product is manufactured in the United States, not abroad.