Nootropics, or “smart drugs,” are a class of substances that can boost brain performance. They are sometimes called cognition enhancers or memory enhancing substances. They probably act by altering the levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes that are available to the brain, through improvement of brain’s oxygen supply or stimulation of nerve growth. However, the detailed description of their efficacy seems to be incomplete as yet. This is because of the absence of a scale to quantitatively measure cognition and intelligence. Herbs acting as memory herbs enhance the level of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and also increase blood flow directed towards the brain, thereby nurturing it with increased supply of oxygen and nutrients, which further refines brain function and memory.
Nootropics can either be synthetic which are produced in a laboratory like piracetam or can occur naturally as herbal plants like Ginkgo biloba and Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng). Natural nootropics aid in promoting the brain function with a simultaneous improvement in brain health. They also act as vasodilators against the small arteries and veins in the brain. When introduced into the system, they tend to increase the blood circulation towards the brain with an upsurge in the vital nutrients, energy, and oxygen flow in brain. They also mitigate the inflammatory responses in the brain. Natural nootropics modulate neurotransmitter concentration in the brain. They reportedly stimulate the release of various neurotransmitters like dopamine as well as uptake of choline, along with cholinergic transmission, turnover of phosphatidylinositol, function of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionatereceptor, and activity of phosphatase A2. Some of them positively regulate the activity and expression of receptors for acetylcholine or glutamate. These particular characteristics of natural nootropics lead to the long-term potential and enhanced synaptic transmission due to improved levels and activity of neurotransmitters. A number of neurodegenerative or neuropsychiatric diseases can also be treated with certain other potential nootropics. These disorders also include cognitive dysfunctions due to aging.
At Plant Based Academy our unique nootropics are 100 % organic whole food plant based compounds consciously prepared, extracted and synergised in order to stack efficacy for immune support and cognitive enhancement. From scientific and medical research, nutraceuticals have been found to work by affecting your brain waves, hormones, cellular energy, cerebral blood flow, neuroplasticity, and neurotransmitters. Below is a comprehensive list of our favourite nootropics. You can also read this comprehensive pdf on the most well know and used nootropics called Head-First-book
Nootropics & The Brain
Scientific research shows that there are about 86 billion neurons, with each of them connecting to 40,000 synapses. Neurotransmitters convey chemical messages between neurons via a complex chain reaction that sends chemical messengers across a synapse. The messenger binds to receptors at the receiving end of neuron’s dendrites and starts processing all over again. It is hard to comprehend the complexity of the brain irrespective of the number of nootropics you take. Active signaling between neurons ensures a highly optimized brain. When the signaling mechanism is not working as it should, your health is likely to have a hitch too. Nootropics can help improve the functioning of these neurotransmitters:
Dopamine: Dopamine controls movement and aids in the flow of information to the front part of the brain. It is also associated with emotions and thoughts. Insufficient dopamine levels are associated with ADHD, schizophrenia and Parkison’s disease.
Serotonin: Serotonin affects functions such as sleep, mood, and appetite. Lower than the optimal serotonin levels leads to bad mood and depression.
Glutamate: Glutamate is the most common neurotransmitter. When released, glutamate increases energy flow in the brain cells and boost learning. Inadequate production of glutamate is associated with autism, depression, and OCD.
Acetylcholine: Your body produces this neurotransmitter from choline that you receive from supplements and foods. It plays a crucial role in memory and learning. It also creates healthy synapses that maintain brain plasticity.
Norepinephrine: This is a stress hormone in the brain that enhances attention. It is responsible for the fight or flight response.
Nootropics are essential in increasing and modulating all these neurotransmitters. They include:
Your brain is always under maintenance and repair mode. Blood flowing into the mind brings oxygen and nutrients that help fuel its activities. Blood that flows out carried waste materials and carbon dioxide for disposal. Brain damage may be repaired using nootropics depending on the type, severity, and length of damage. Brain aging results from the formation of free radicals in the brain, which damage brain cells. Nootropics that boost choline production can help prevent this damage.
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is one of the proteins that enhance the growth of new neurons and prevents brain cell death. Low levels of the factor are associated with several diseases such as schizophrenia, obesity, Alzheimer’s, depression, obesity, and accelerated aging. BDNF can be enhanced through high-intensity exercise, caloric restriction, intermittent fasting and by eating mushrooms.
There is this pretty old myth that suggested that brain cells die off as we age. The misconception was debunked in 1998 when scientists in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University Hospital in Sweden proved that human adult brains could generate new neurons throughout life. The new neurons produced boost memory capacity and reduced overlap between various memories. When the mind goes into maintenance mode, neurogenesis starts and ensures that neurons multiply. Some nootropics aid in neurogenesis, such as
Citicoline [stabilized CDP Choline (cytidine 5’diphosphocholine)] is a naturally occurring intermediate involved in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine, a major constituent of the grey matter of brain tissue (30%). Citicoline consumption promotes brain metabolism by enhancing the synthesis of acetylcholine and restoring phospholipid content in the brain, both of which positively affect memory and other brain activity.
When you are feeling burnt out after a long work or study session, your brain may feel like it is in a ‘foggy mode’ and you aren’t thinking as clearly as you should. This is known as mental fatigue, and it can occur in many ways. Brain fatigue shows up as depression, lack of concentration, poor focus, and depression. The causes of brain fatigue are countless, but common reasons include lack of oxygen in the brain, stress, and reduced blood glucose control. If you are always in a fight-or-flight stressed state, or you do not get sufficient rest, you are liable to experience a mental breakdown. Note that your brain is not an isolated organ because it interfaces with your gut and endocrine system. Over the past five years or so, experts have been emphasizing on the need to eat a nutrient dense diet that includes organic vegetables and healthy fats. They suggest that such foods will ‘heal your gut and your brain.’ Nootropics such as Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwagandha and Bacopa Monnieri support the healthy functioning of your endocrine system and your brain.
Cerebral blood flow is more like your brain’s plumbing system. It utilizes 15 percent of the blood that flows from your heart. Blood flowing into your mind brings in oxygen, glucose and other nutrients that are required for the proper functioning of the brain’s activities. The outflow of the blood removes lactic acid, carbon dioxide and other waste materials from the mind. Any discrepancies in this system might result in vascular dementia. Nootropics that are commonly used in increasing blood flow to the brain include Gingko Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri and Vinpocetine.(periwinkle plant)
Some of our Favourite Nootropics
Bacopa Monnieri is the key ingredient in OmniMind®; a nootropic herb that improves processing speed, memory retention and enhances learning ability. Bacopa Monnieri has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and has been shown to stimulate the protein synthesis in the hippocampus; the part of the brain which has an important role in long-term memory retention. The active compound in Bacopa Monnieri, bacosides, is evaluated for its effect on brain health. Research has shown the positive influence on brain cells and regeneration of brain tissue.
(1) Efficacy of Standardized Extract of Bacopa Monnieri on Cognitive Functions of Medical Students: A Six-Week, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. [PMID: 27803728]
(2) Elucidation of Molecular Mechanism(s) of Cognition Enhancing Activity of Bacomind: A Standardized Extract of Bacopa Monnieri. [PMID: 27761079]
(3) Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa Monnieri extract. [PMID: 24252493]
Rhodiola Rosea Extract
Rhodiola is widely used for increasing stamina and mental capacity. As an adaptogen Rhodiola Rosea extract helps the body to adapt and resist both physical and environmental stress. Native to the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska, it has a history of use as a medicinal plant. Other common effects experienced by the intake of Rhodiola are an improved mood, motivation and overall sense of well-being.
Tyrosine is one of the twenty natural alpha amino acids who contribute to the protein synthesis. Next to the natural presence, Tyrosine is used to reduces stress levels and optimize our cognitive functioning. In 1989, Banderet performed a research study which showed that soldiers who took the supplementation of Tyrosine experienced less stress, less tiredness and better mental capabilities.
This amino-acid is primarily extracted from green tea leaves such as matcha or the edible mushroom, bay bolete, commonly found in North America and Europe during the autumn season. L-Theanine is known to reach the brain following oral ingestion and is proven to reduce stress, improve attention. Matcha Also offers high doses of another compound called EGCG which is a class of polyphenol called catechins and induces neurogenic effects on the brain.
Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves, fruits or seeds from more than 60 plant species. For example, in yerba mate leaves, guarana seeds, and cacao beans. Caffeine belongs to the group of ingredients that stimulates the central nervous system. Research has shown that low to moderate caffeine doses improve alertness, vigilance, reaction time and attention. Caffeine is represented in combination with theanine. Studies have shown the combination of both as long lasting and more effective and with less of a jittery felling or dip when the caffeine is no longer present in the body. Research from Haskell confirms: faster simple reaction time, faster numeric working memory reaction time and improved sentence verification accuracy.
Niacin or Vitamin B3 is a vitamin that can be generated in the body through the amino acid tryptophane. EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority has confirmed several health benefits for the dietary intake of vitamin B3. The most common health benefits of Vitamin B3 are contributing to normal energy-yielding metabolism, the normal function of the nervous system, normal psychological functions and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Niacin plays a key role in your well-being because your body converts it to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, a chemical essential for energy production
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) is one of 8 B-vitamins. B12 is water-soluble and found in every single cell in your body. Vitamin B12 is essential for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and neurotransmitters, the maintenance of myelin sheaths protecting neurons, and red blood cell formation. Vitamin B12 is known to enhance alertness, cognition, energy, vision, elevate mood, lower anxiety and pain, and relieve insomnia. Vitamin B12 is a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Affecting alertness, cognition, memory and mood. Vitamin B12 helps increase brain serotonin and dopamine levels. Decreasing anxiety, depression, fatigue and pain. Vitamin B12 is needed to regulate homocysteine. High homocysteine levels are linked to inflammation that can lead to blood vessel damage. And possible plaque buildupleading to heart attack or stroke.
NADH occurs naturally in the body and is used for improving mental clarity, alertness, concentration and memory. NADH stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) + hydrogen (H) and is a derivative of Vitamin B3. Because of its role in energy production, NADH is also used for improving endurance and fighting fatigue. As a potent antioxidant, Co Enzyme NADH protects the body from free radicals and supports cellular health.
Black Pepper – Piper Nigrum
The extract piperine, derived from the fruit of the black pepper plant, has numerous documented reports on bio-enhancing features.
Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid is the amide between pantoic acid and β-alanine. Studies have proven the relation between Vitamin B5 and the contribution to our mental performance.
*The above B-vitamins are also referred to as the neuro-vitamins. Besides different plant sources, avocado’s are one of the more potent Vitamin B sources.*
Ginkgo biloba extract has been therapeutically used for several decades to increase peripheral and cerebral blood flow as well as for the treatment of dementia. The extract contains multiple compounds such as flavonoids and terpenoids that are thought to contribute to its neuroprotective and vasotropic effects.
Sulforaphane (SFN for short) is a potent cancer-fighting and antibacterial compound found in cruciferous vegetables and sprouts. The long-ish answer: Sulforaphane is created when the enzyme myrosinase transforms the glucosinolate glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. Several epidemiological studies have shown that consumption of large quantities of vegetables especially cruciferous vegetables (Broccoli and Brussels sprouts) can protect against chronic diseases. Sulforaphane, an isothiocynate found in cruciferous vegetables has been demonstrated to have neuroprotective effects in several experimental paradigms. Sulforaphane is the most powerful compound found to turn on the NRF2 detoxification pathway. This is the master detoxification pathway in the Body.
Epa & Dha
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the two most important nutrients for adequate cognitive function. DHA has an anti-inflammatory effect by acting as a precursor for NPD1. This anti-inflammatory has strong neuroprotective effects over time. Although both DHA and EPA are useful for aspects of cognition, DHA specifically can do a world of good. Ironically, even though many people claim superiority of fish oil products, the fish only have DHA because they consume the algae as a raw material. Beyond neuroprotection, DHA can increase cerebral oxygenation and blood flow, which can both influence cognitive performance and memory.
Glutathione (y-L-Glutamyl-L-cysteinyglycine) is a free radical scavenging antioxidant that is an endogenous in the body . It is primarily synthesized in the liver and consists of the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. Glutathione can be either reduced (GSH) or oxidized (GSSG). The synthesis of glutathione requires two enzymes: one to bind L-cysteine and glutamic acid together and one to add the glycine molecule to the compound to complete the glutathione molecule. It is synthesized within the cell and can be hydrolyzed into the constituent amino acids where it can be resynthesized into glutathione. Together, the enzymes needed for glutathione synthesis and the enzymes which use glutathione are the “glutathione system”. Glutathione is an integral part of DNA synthesis and repair, amino acid transport, protein and prostaglandin synthesis, immune system function, prevention of oxidative cell damage, metabolism of toxins and carcinogens, and enzyme activation. Glutathione protects cells against harmful oxidants such as ROS (reactive oxygen species) and can increase the excretion of toxins from cells.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is necessary both for your brain and for the health of your liver. This nutrient is needed to synthesize the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, which is used in brain functions related to memory, consciousness, reasoning, and creativity. Choline can be found in small amounts in a few different plant food sources. Tofu, soy milk, quinoa, and broccoli are particularly high in this nutrient.
Quercetin is as a neuroprotective agent and anti-inflammatory support. One study showed that quercetin could protect neurons from oxidative stress . Another showed anti-inflammatory benefits that could help protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Another great benefit of quercetin is as a stress-reducing agent after heavy exercise. Anyone who competes in physical sports or simply engages in intense activity knows that difficult workouts can be taxing on the body. Studies show a notable decline in stress after these types of workouts. Quercetin has high concentrations is many fruits such as apples and also red onions. It also is enhanced and enhances the effects of ingredients such as resveratrol, Yerba mate and matcha.
The seeds of Mucuna Pruriens are particularly rich in L-DOPA, your body’s precursor to the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter. Put simply, it regulates your motivation and incentive to perform a task.
Enhances absorption of Mucuna Pruriens Extract. Vitamin C helps with the synthesis of dopamine and helps to protect the brain from oxidative stress. As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps flush the brain of toxins that can cause long-term disorders marked by memory problems and nerve damage. As a cognitive enhancer, it can improve: mood.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Southern Ginseng) is an herb attributed with having ginseng status. Until fairly recently Gynostemma pentaphyllum was used primarily in mountainous regions of southern China and northern Vietnam. It’s been described as the “immortality herb,” because people within Guizhou Province, where herbal teas made from the plant are consumed regularly, are said to have a history of unusual longevity. Gynostemma is well known for its reputation for activating AMPK, a molecule that acts as a “metabolic master switch” of cellular energy (i.e., ATP). AMPK was important to us because it senses and responds to low ATP levels. When AMPK is activated, it turns up processes in cells and mitochondria that enhance conversion of food into ATP. This helps restore ATP levels. Restoring ATP is important. Being able to make more if it’s needed in the future might be even more important. The science of complex adaptive systems informs us that living systems are experts at learning and adapting: they anticipate and prepare for the future. AMPK is part of the adaptive response to circumstances that deplete ATP, like intense exercise. In addition to restoring ATP, AMPK adjusts gene expression in ways that result in increased capacity to make more cellular energy in the future. It’s this adaptive response that is why it’s so important for supporting healthy aging and cellular (and mitochondrial) function. This herb is also known for promoting antioxidant defenses, upregulating the sirtuin cell adaptational response, stimulating mitochondrial energy production (Krebs cycle, OXPHOS), enhancing insulin signaling, and acting as neuroprotective support.
With roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Medicinal mushrooms are powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunostimulant. Your brain naturally slows down over time. The symptoms you associate with aging — like memory loss and lack of focus — are caused by factors like shrinking neurons and damaged brain cells. Studies show that lion’s mane mushroom can actually support your brain health by stimulating the creation of two important compounds: nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). NGF and BDNF are proteins that stimulate the production of new cells and strengthen existing ones. NGF also plays an important role in forming myelin, the sheath around nerve cells that helps brain cells do their job. BDNF increases brain plasticity, which helps your brain cells stay resilient in the face of stress or aging.
Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (called LBPs), the active phytochemical in goji berries that’s believed to produce their unique benefits. Polysaccharides are molecular compounds consisting of carbohydrates bonded with glucose. Among the berries’ many qualities, a study published in the December 2014 issue of the journal Drug Design, Development and Therapy singled out the ability of LBPs to protect neurons from damage caused by beta-amyloid plaques and glutamate excitotoxicity. Researchers conducted animal studies that found LBPs can reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and regenerate neurons in the hippocampus, thereby improving learning and memory. What works for mice doesn’t always work for humans, but this finding looks very promising. Another study, this one published in the journal Brain Research, found that pretreating neurons with an alkaline extract of LBPs significantly reduced neuron death caused by beta-amyloid plaques. The antioxidant properties of LBPs can also help prevent damage and cell death caused by inflammation.
Goji berries are also a rich source of:
All these vitamins and minerals are important to overall brain health. They reduce inflammation and destroy free radicals, to name just two major benefits.
Blueberry is one of the top 3 nootropics due to it having demonstrated cognitive enhancing abilities. These are due to the pigments in these berries known as anthocyanins and, while studies are done on blueberries, the following likely applies to all dark blue/black berries. Blueberries seem to work, at least in a general sense, similar to bacopa monnieri. By including them in the diet they are able to produce and release a brain growth factor known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN), which causes neurons to grow. This has been measured directly in the hippocampus of rats, the hippocampus being one of the major brain organs involved in memory formation, and has even been noted in otherwise healthy young rats. Both of the above studies noted improvements in memory and those improvements correlated directly with BDNF levels and activity. Now, extending that to human studies, we find that juices that have a decent anthocyanin content (500 mg or more) improve spatial recall and verbal memory in the elderly compared to juices without anthocyanins. Furthermore, benefits with anthocyanin-rich juice have been seen in non-elderly adults as well suggesting an inherent effect rather than a specific age-related one. Ultimately, anthocyanins from dark berries have cognitive protecting properties; increasing memory and cognitive function in what appears to be all ages without any known side effects.
The neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases are related to phytochemicals such as anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol and tannin. Many epidemiological studies have shown that regular flavonoid rich fruit intake is associated with delayed Parkinson’s disease (PD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), ischemic diseases and aging effects (Ono et al., 2003; Savaskan et al., 2003; Marambaud et al., 2005; Alzheimer’s Association, 2008; Pandey and Rizvi, 2009). Since oxidative stress and inflammation appear to be involved in brain aging and in neurodegenerative diseases (Casadesus et al., 2002), it is theorized that increased consumption of antioxidants may be effective in preventing or ameliorating these changes. The neuroprotective effects of strawberry, bilberry, black currant, blackberry, blueberry and mulberry, were demonstrated by many scholars (Basu et al., 2010; Rendeiro et al., 2012). Neuroinflammatory processes in the brain are believed to play a crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, especially due to increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) (Zheng et al., 2003; Shaffer et al., 2006). Because of low activity of antioxidant defense systems, the brain is susceptible to oxidative stress more than other organs (Rahman, 2007; Uttara et al., 2009). Moreover, many neurotransmitters are autoxidized to generate ROS (Lau et al., 2003). In agreement with these observations, there is evidence that increased oxidative stress plays an important role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases such as AD, PD, ischemic diseases and aging (Esposito et al., 2012). The neuroprotective effects of many polyphenols rely on their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly scavenge pathological concentrations of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species and chelate transition metal ions (Aquilano et al., 2008). The most abundant neuroprotective antioxidants in strawberries are caffeic acid, ellagic acid, and certain flavonoids including anthocyanins, tannins, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, gallic acid derivatives, vitamins C, E and carotenoids.
Phosphatidylserine (PS )
Phosphatidylserine (PS ) is an aminophospholipid and amino acid derivative which is produced naturally within the body. In fact, it’s a phospholipid which makes up a sizable portion of the human brain. It should be noted, however, that while the body can produce PS on its own, most of it comes from our food. PS also acts as a signaling agent for apoptosis, which is a standard process of cell death that is necessary for an organism to grow and develop. PS has been found to provide some excellent benefits for your brain, such as improving memory, helping with stress, and enhancing one’s learning ability. Sunflower lecithin is loaded with phospholipids. Namely, phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidylcholine. Each are major ingredients the body uses to create, repair, and strengthen brain and nerve cells. People who suffer from degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s have shown significant improvements to their conditions when a daily dose of 35mg or more of sunflower lecithin is administered.
Other Incredible Nootropics are :