Nootropics and brain health
What do caffeine, lion’s mane mushroom, Rhodiola and green tea have in common?
They’re all sources of natural nootropics, or cognitive enhancers used for brain health.
Nootropics are substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, focus and motivation.
While new to many of us, nootropics have been used in both Chinese medicine and ayurvedic healing for thousands of years. From the dawn of civilization (not just the advent of Silicon Valley!), humanity has used herbal supplements to significantly enhance concentration and memory. In addition, our ancestors used mind-altering natural substances for spiritual, social and cultural purposes, with many of these also being cognitive enhancement supplements resulting in increased mental focus and alertness.
There are many plants and substances that offer improved brain fitness, however a true nootropic will offer:
• Improved learning and short-term memory retention • Increased resilience to stress hormones and trauma • Brain cell protection and communication
They increase your brain’s health and fitness by
• increasing circulation of oxygen nutrients and blood to the brain (vasodilators) • providing precursors to important neurotransmitters (dopamine, acetylcholine amongst others) • neutralizing free radical damage to brain cells and protecting the brain from toxins (antioxidants) • reducing brain inflammation • stimulating the formation of healthy new brain cells • increasing neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change • increasing resilience to stress
Amongst the vast variety of natural nootropics here are some which have proven to be the most effective (in no particular order and all available at West End Happy Herb Shop).
1. Ginkgo biloba Ginkgo biloba is one of the most famous Chinese traditional medicines. As a natural nootropic, one of the key benefits of Ginkgo is its ability to promote increased blood flow through the brain. It does this by inhibiting the Platelet Activating Factor (PAF). This helps to make our blood less sticky and blood vessels dilate. As a result, this helps to boost memory, elevates mood, relieve anxiety, and enhance learning ability. Another benefit of Ginkgo is it works as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant so additionally helps protect the brain from injury and aging
2. Green Tea and L-Theanine Green tea is a natural source of L-theanine, a common and powerful nootropic. Multiple studies have shown L-theanine increases attention performance, improve sleep, boost reaction time, and promote relaxation. It could also be therapeutic for patients who suffer from high anxiety. These benefits are linked to L-theanine’s neuroprotective effects, meaning it can restore and regenerate nerve cells in multiple ways. Taking even just 50 mg — the amount found in roughly two cups of brewed tea — has been found to increase alpha-waves in the brain, which are linked to creativity. L-theanine is even more effective when taken with caffeine with documented synergistic psychoactive effects that promoted alertness, attention, and task switching.
3. Vinpocetine (periwinkle) Vinpocetine is a natural nootropic extract from the Periwinkle plant. It’s used in Eastern Europe and often as a treatment for cerebral vascular disease and age-related memory loss. Vinpocetine is a potent vasodilator, antioxidant, and neurotransmitter booster — which acts specifically on the vessels in the brain. Its effects increase cerebral blood flow to the brain by dilating vessels. This leads to greater absorption of glucose and oxygen by brain cells. As a result, this creates better memory formation, focus, and concentration, as well as faster learning and mental clarity. Vinpocetine is also effective at further enhancing the production of neurotransmitters. It’s able to do this by interacting with the sodium, calcium and potassium channels in the brain. This not only boosts cognition and memory but also elevates mood and reduces anxiety. Finally, this natural nootropic has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that protect brain cells from injury, damage by free radicals, and the effects of aging.
4. Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) One of the most ancient Ayurvedic supplements, Brahmi is reported as one of the most effective natural nootropics because of its ability to stimulate nerve cells and make synapses more responsive to impulses. It has the ability to stimulate our brain’s hippocampus, which is central to all cognitive functions in the brain while also promoting the growth of cell dendrites, which are nerve cell extensions that facilitate the transmission of impulses. These effects improve neuronal communication, which boosts cognitive ability, memory, and learning as well as focus and attention
5. Huperzine A Also known as Selagine, Huperzine A is a purified extract from the Chinese moss club Huperzia serrata. Huperzine A works by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine (ACH) through the inhibition of cholinesterase. This is an enzyme which degrades ACH in brain synapses. Huperzine A is useful as a memory enhancer by increasing the ability to retain and recall information. It also improves general cognitive functions and protects the brain from age-related memory declines.
6. Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world and is naturally found in coffee, cocoa, tea, kola nuts and guarana. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain, with a low to moderate caffeine intake of 40–300 mg increasing your alertness and attention and decreasing your reaction time.
7. Lion’s Mane This is an old medicinal mushroom used in Chinese medicine as a tonic and treatment for common ailments as well as cognitive enhancement and neuroprotective effects. As a natural nootropic supplement, Lion’s Mane has proven to increase the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein that is essential for the proper growth of nerve cells. Increasing the levels of NGF prevents inflammation and encourages the growth of neurons while boosting overall brain health.
8. Rhodiola rosea (Golden Root) This herb grows in high altitudes in the arctic regions of Northern Europe and Asia. Its properties, as a mind and body tonic, made it famous in Asia, Russia, and Scandinavia. Rhodiola is effective at treating fatigue and mental exhaustion while promoting cognitive functioning. This natural nootropic herb works by inhibiting the enzymatic breakdown of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. As a result, this increases the concentration of the neurotransmitters, which leads to mood stabilization, increased motivation, and improved cognitive abilities.
9. Ashwagandha Also known as Withania somnifera, this herb is native to Northern Africa and India. People have often used Ashwagandha to treat various ailments and conditions and has nootropic properties which derive from its ability to promote the growth of neurons, as well as its antioxidant properties that protect neurons from injury and aging. Amongst its range of benefits, Ashwagandha users have reported improved cognitive abilities by lowering stress and anxiety. It manages to do this by inhibiting the action of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, making it valuable in treating chronic stress and depression.
10. Nicotine Studies show that nicotine can have nootropic effects, such as improved alertness and attention, especially in people with naturally poor attention spans. It has also been found to improve motor function. However, this substance can be addictive and is lethal in high doses, so caution is warranted. In addition, it is not recommend smoking cigarettes or using tobacco to get your nicotine.
While Nootropics can have many benefits for brain health, they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for healthy habits and an equilibrated mind.
Getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, managing stress and equilibrating lopsided perceptions are fundamental for achieving optimal cognitive performance. Also, get rid of the things in your diet and life that reduce cognitive performance (sugar, refined foods, alcohol).
Incorporate these changes into your life, then nootropics can serve as an additional bonus for improving mental sharpness and reducing mental fatigue.
All the top natural nootropic supplements listed above are powerful and effective when taken on their own. However, nootropics tend to act as potentiators for each other when taken together as a “stack.” By stacking nootropics, this enables you to take a combination of natural supplements for greater efficacy. Nootropics have different mechanisms of action.
So, by combining them, the best cognitive enhancing properties can be achieved.
Our favourite stack, Ginkgo, Lion’s Mane and Brahmi, with a side of MCT oil and B vitamins.
In addition we have our favourite Superfeast Mushroom Blend, Neural Nectar, designed to cultivate mental energy, acuity and memory and containing a wonder stack of nootropic herbs to support the brain and enhance mental performance; Semi-wild mucuna, semi-wild ginkgo biloba, semi-wild lion’s mane, semi-wild white peony and wild rhodiola.
Who knows where our limits really are?