The idea of taking a pill and instantaneously becoming smarter is something that most people will admit to fantasizing about. Who wouldn’t want to improve their memory, intellectual powers, learning capacity and concentration?
If you were given the opportunity to pop a supplement or drug that boosted your IQ, would you really be able to say no? While no pill can turn you into a genius overnight, there are nutritional supplements that can enhance some of the fundamental functions in your brain that give us our abilities to remember, understand, reason, communicate and learn. These supplements are known as cognitive enhancers and they are increasingly being used by people who want an extra edge at work or school or by elderly individuals who want to ward off memory loss and senile cognitive decline. What is cognitive enhancement and how does it really work?
What Is Cognitive Enhancement?
Ever since the early 1960’s, researchers have known about the possibility of cognitive enhancement through supplements. It was during this time that neuroscientists started to make some striking discoveries in the field of substances that can actually increase the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. The very first of these compounds was called Piracetam and studies found it to be effective at increasing memory formation and retention as well as supporting various other mental processes. In addition to this, Piracetam was observed to be extremely non-toxic and safe for human consumption with no serious side effects ever reported. The invention of this first Racetam drug spurred a new field of research into supplements known as ‘Nootropics’ which when translated from Greek means “towards the mind”.
In the 50 years since this initial discovery, interest in cognitive enhancement has continued to grow at a rapid pace with many people using brain supplements and training programs to improve brainpower. Everyone knows that herbal supplements like Ginkgo Biloba and Bacopa Monnieri are associated with memory improvements and we all have heard that fish makes for good brain food. But these options make up only a small selection of the many supplements out there that work as cognitive enhancers. What are some of the stronger nootropics that you can get for significant improvements in intelligence? Also, how do these compounds work broadly and are there any side effects or other considerations to keep in mind when engaging in cognitive enhancement?
Types of Cognitive Enhancers
Cognitive enhancers can help to augment your memory, learning capacity, speed of memory recall, lengthen attention spans, improve focus and concentration, increase mental energy, and more. Depending on your personal goals and needs, you may find that some supplements work exceptionally well for you while others are not as effective. Due to our highly individualized brain chemistries, most people will find that some experimentation is necessary to get the right mix of compounds. However, there are some common starting points that most beginners will go to first when exploring the class of Nootropics.
Piracetam is credited as being the first Nootropic substance developed. It was happened across in the early 1960’s by accident and was considered truly revolutionary by researchers working on this project. Even today, it is still the most popular nootropic used as a way to help improve memory and learning, increase attention span, focus, and concentration. While there are many cognitive enhancement pills that are more powerful, Piracetam is still very effective and give you a wide range of benefits. Indeed, a newcomer to this world would be well advised to start here with this supplement.
Once you have become experienced with Piracetam, you may want to investigate other members of the Racetam family of Nootropics. These supplements are all derivatives of Piracetam with some slightly modified mechanisms of action that give them more targeted effects. These include:
Aniracetam: Has strong mood enhancement and anti-anxiety properties.
Oxiracetam: Considered to be the best ‘logic enhancer’ among the family.
Pramiracetam: The most potent Racetam with intense amounts of focus & concentration.
A number of common dietary supplements can be effective cognitive enhancers to some degree. The most well-known of these are members of the B vitamin family. Supplements such as Inositol, Sulbutiamine, Choline, and even Lecithin have been shown to positively affect cognition. In many cases, they can help to potentiate the effects of Nootropics. Choline in particular is necessary to produce the central neurotransmitter in memory and synaptic plasticity. You may want to try stacking CDP Choline, Citicoline or Alpha GPC choline with Piracetam as a great beginner’s cognitive enhancement stack.
Dopaminergics are types of supplements that have effects on the neurotransmitter Dopamine within the brain. This powerful brain chemical helps to control things like mood and movement. Many people refer to Dopamine as the pleasure neurotransmitter, but it also plays a pivotal role in so-called executive functions like paying attention. It leads to increased attention, alertness, and even anti-oxidant activity in the brain and body. Several powerful Dopaminergics include 5-HTP, Mucuna Pruriens with L-Dopa, and Sulbutiamine.
How Nootropics Work:
Nootropics all work in slightly different ways, but the mechanisms of action generally involve the supplement crossing the blood-brain barrier and entering into the central nervous system. Once this happens, they may actually bind to neurotransmitter receptor sites or seek out other targets in the brain. Some inhibit the breakdown of neurotransmitters and other important chemicals in the brain (which helps to increase their circulating levels).
Nootropics also have positive effects on the maintenance and health of your neurons. This includes being able to increase the blood flow to the brain and generally improve nutrient delivery. Additionally, this is usually accompanied by increased oxygen uptake and enhanced glucose metabolism within the brain. Some nootropics are known to increase the fluidity of your brain cell membranes which ensures that necessary nutrients can get into the cells while waste products are efficiently removed. All of these tiny changes serve to make your neurons more responsive and increases the amount and speed of neural communication while preventing cell damage.
Possible Side Effects:
There are a lot of different smart drugs and supplements out there that can temporarily increase your mental performance, but end up posing serious risk of negative side effects. Adderall – a drug which combines together several different amphetamine salts – is a perfect example. This pharmaceutical can give you substantial purpose-driven concentration which is why it is prescribed for ADD and ADHD patients. However, many people who use Adderall say that it leaves them feeling burned out the next day and it can cause some serious problems like addition or cardiovascular issues. These smart drugs are dangerous to use on an on-going basis and should only be taken under doctor’s supervision.
Nootropics and other pure cognitive enhancing supplements, on the other hand, are typically noted for being very safe when used according to proper dosages. In order for a compound to be considered a nootropic under the official definition, it actually has to be neuroprotective and almost completely devoid of toxicity. This means these supplements when used properly will not cause any lasting problems or long-term side effects.
There are, however, some mild short-term side effects that you might experience. These will vary depending on which class of nootropics you are using, but typically consist of headaches or gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion or stomach pain. Generally, these supplements are well tolerated and unlikely to cause any negative reactions if taken on their own. Unless you take some of the more stimulant like options (Armodafinil, Modafinil, Adrafinil, etc…), you will not have a problem with tolerance. Just make sure to always follow the recommendations and start with the lowest possible effective dose. Only increase your dosage as you become familiar with the effects.