Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill and suddenly feel smarter? What if you could take a pill to enhance your memory right before an exam? What if another pill could help your brain process information at a faster speed?
As it turns out, there are supplements that will help you accomplish these mental feats. Some of them are all natural herbs; some of them are chemical blends that have been developed by scientists. All of them belong to the class of drugs known as “nootropics,” or smart drugs.
What Are Smart Drugs?
“Nootropics” is an umbrella term that includes a variety of drugs, dietary supplements, herbs and foods that enhance brain function. The way they enhance brain function, as well as their overall effectiveness, varies from smart drug to smart drug. Some of these smart drugs work by increasing the oxygen supply to the brain. Others promote certain hormones or enzymes that help the brain to function better. Still others encourage nerve growth, making the connections within the brain stronger and faster.
Examples of Smart Drugs
Here is a list of six commonly used nootropics:
1. Vitamin B
There are several different forms of vitamin B, including the two most well-known, B6 and B12. Although B vitamins are important to overall health, experts have mixed opinions about their efficacy as a brain-enhancing supplement, despite the fact that marketers are currently peddling it as such. The reason vitamin B is considered to be a smart drug is that it reduces homocysteine, an amino acid that is thought to interfere with healthy brain function when too much of it is within the body.
2. Vitamin D
If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you already get plenty of vitamin D and there’s no reason to purchase a supplement for it. However, most modern Americans shun the sun in favor of fluorescent lights, offices and shopping malls. If you fall into that category, vitamin D might be a good supplement for you to take.
Although vitamin D doesn’t seem to improve memory, it does improve overall cognitive function for adults when they have enough of it in their bodies. Besides brain health, vitamin D is important for skeletal health and heart health. A good multi-vitamin should contain enough vitamin B and vitamin D that you shouldn’t need any additional supplements.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 is a type of “good fat,” found principally in fish oil. The other type of “good fat” you might have heard about is omega-6; however, in the standard American diet, we get plenty of omega-6, but not enough omega-3. Your two options for getting enough omega-3 is to increase your consumption of salmon and cod significantly or else take an omega-3 supplement. Although you can also get omega-3 from flax seeds and flax seed oil, the body processes fish oil more efficiently.
When it comes to brain health, omega-3 seems to have a long-term beneficial effect on the brain. Enough omega-3 during childhood and adulthood seems to correspond to better cognitive function in old age.
4. Stimulant Drugs
There are many different types of stimulants, such as the drug Adderall, that are designed to improve concentration and cognition. Unlike the “smart drugs” listed above, however, most of these stimulants are synthetic, laboratory creations that have a host of unwanted side-effects. Adderall, for example, which was designed for people with ADD and ADHD, can lead to depression, insomnia and anxiety when taken over the long-term.
Besides Adderall, other stimulant drugs used for concentration include Atomoxetine, Olmifon and various xanthines.
5. Drugs That Affect Dopamine
Dopamine is our natural “feel good” chemical produced by our brain. Increased dopamine can also increase our ability to focus and maintain alertness. The most famous dopaminergic drug is Ritalin, also used to treat ADD and ADHD.
All types of dopamine drugs have been produced for different purposes; some increase the level of dopamine in our brain, some stabilize our dopamine levels, while others prevent dopamine from breaking down. One natural source of L-Dopa is the velvet bean, a bean found in Africa and the Caribbean.
6. GABA Blocking Drugs
The GABA receptor is a part of the central nervous system that blocks neurotransmission. Some nootropic supplements specifically target blocking the GABA receptor in order to increase memory and other brain functions. Metrazol is one of the drugs designed as a GABA blocker. Although high doses of Metrazol can cause seizures, low doses seem to enhance brain function. The mineral zinc and the herb ginkgo biloba are both natural GABA blockers.
Hazards of Nootropic Supplements
It would be wonderful if all of these smart drugs could be taken without any side-effects, but unfortunately, even the natural nootropics can be hazardous when taken in excess. Too much vitamin D, for example, can lead to nausea, vomiting and kidney problems. Ginkgo biloba, meanwhile, is safe when taken as an extract but poisonous when taken as a seed.
Knowing the dangers of these different supplements, be careful when you start experimenting with them to enhance your performance at work or at school. While nootropics can certainly play a beneficial role in our cognitive function and overall brain health, nearly all of them cause dangerous side-effects when too much is consumed or they are taken for too long. Be sure to do your own research before starting any kind of smart drug supplement regimen.