Are Nootropics Necessary?

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

Ever feel desperate for that magic pill that would help you plough through email faster than a speeding bullet, sit through meetings with eyes wide open, and leap over a busy day at the office in a single bound? You may be in the market for nootropics, a type of supplements known as smart drugs. Nootropics—steroids for the brain—are an emerging class of drugs that are designed to enhance cognitive function. Think of it as a brain hack, with your mind as the software.

How to Best Brain Fog with Nootropics

Nootropics—from the Greek “noos” for “mind”—is based on the idea that certain chemical supplements can improve cognitive function, increase alertness and strengthen memory and recall. Brain gain is the new brain drain.

Here’s how it works. The supplements target some metabolic or nutritional aspect of brain function, usually one involved with memory or attention, and then tries to provide either a nutritional precursor to that metabolic pathway or a drug that enhances the activity of a neurotransmitter. While prolonged optimal brain function sounds promising, nootropics can often boil down to one substance: caffeine.

Many nootropics include a stimulant such as caffeine, which creates the subjective experience of being more alert and productive. But caffeine doesn’t always increase performance, and it’s all too easy to develop tolerance.

The nootropics movement is grappling with how to move beyond the caffeine effect and into the realm of expanding memory and intellectual capacity. How to do it safely, effectively, and without dependency is the question. Plus, in the rush to fix the attention deficit, the root causes, such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and even depression can get bypassed.

Until more research gets collected, the outlook for nootropics is tempered by uncertainty. At the same time, the field offers promise. Modafinil, for example, a common ingredients in nootropic stacks (formulations), was licensed in the US for shift work because it keeps people awake and can help prevent accidents. But more studies and data are needed on this emerging field before we can trust the hype.

Do you still need a solution to bouts of brain fog?  Here are a few tried and true techniques for cognitive enhancement that don’t involve pills.

Get enough sleep

Several recent studies show that getting adequate sleep can improve your memory and possibly even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.              

Get regular exercise

Physical activity nourishes the mind as well as the body. A few of the brain benefits range from improving learning and mental performance to preventing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and brain aging.

Eat a diet rich in brain foods

Nuts, greens, healthy fats, berries, and even chocolate are choc-a-block full of brain boosting nutrients.

Stay clear

Avoid alcohol or other recreational drugs, which can make the mind foggy.

Breathe deep

Studies show that anxiety, often expressed in shallower breathing, prevents the brain from taking in—and later remembering—new information.