#4 Neurogenesis (And Brain Repair)
It wasn’t so long ago when the brain was considered as the organ which can’t repair or grow new cells after puberty.
But starting in the late 1990s, these theories were put to rest.
Studies have since shown that the brain is able to re-wire itself and grow new neurons way past our childhood. In fact, our brains experience neurogenesis throughout life. (5)
This is incredibly important. Because our brains are susceptible to oxidative stress more and more as we age.
Thanks to neurogenesis, your brain is capable of repairing its cells and growing new ones.
So, does the same level of neurogenesis occur in all of us?
Of course, the answer is no.
There are many factors that determine how well your brain will be able to re-wire and repair itself. Including genetics, stress, and other lifestyle factors.
If you want to maximize your brain’s neurogenesis potential, there are a couple of ways to do it.
One way is by doing High-Intensity Interval Training. This form of exercise is shown to boost the BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that promotes new brain cell growth. (6)
Another way you could boost neurogenesis is through the use of nootropics.
While rare, there are nootropics which are shown to increase BDNF. Leading to new brain cell formation.
One of these nootropics is Lion’s Mane Mushroom. Lion’s Mane promotes brain cell growth by (7):
- Boosting natural growth factors in brain cells
- Providing choline, the essential building block of your brain cells
- Keeping your neuron membrane flexible
#5 Blood and Oxygen Supply
As we’ve stated, your brain uses about 15% of your total blood flow.
This blood not only supplies your brain with essential nutrients and oxygen to fuel it.
It also clears out the waste and neurotoxins from neuronal tissue.
So, what would happen if your blood flow to the brain was weaker?
Simply put, the brain wouldn’t be able to work optimally. And worse yet, it wouldn’t be unable to clear toxins from cells, which could lead to neuronal degradation over time.
That’s why age-related cognitive decline is so serious.
It’s known that older people usually have poor blood flow. And the brain is the organ which suffers the most. Hence the age-related cognitive decline.
So, how do nootropics work in regards to brain blood flow?
Nootropics will help support blood flow to your brain in several ways:
- By increasing nitric oxide levels, which dilates your blood vessels
- Reducing blood vessel damage caused by free radicals
- Inhibiting the clumping of blood cells, making them less likely to stick and form blood clots.
Nootropics with these benefits include maritime pine bark extract, ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine, and bacopa monnieri.
#6 Brain Cell Protection
The sixth pathway that nootropics affect are your brain cells.
So far, you’ve learned that your brain goes through a constant process of cell death, birth, and repair.
The byproducts of these processes are called free radicals.
In short, free radicals cause oxidative stress and wreak havoc wherever they go – including the brain.
Oxidative stress increases inflammation. It’s also thought to be one of the leading causes of age-related cognitive decline.
So, what’s the best way to minimize oxidative stress?
The answer lies in antioxidants.
These are compounds which disarm free radicals, preventing them from harming the tissue.
Naturally, your brain has its own antioxidant network which deals with free radicals.
But it can always use extra help.
Nootropics are an effective way of bolstering your brain’s antioxidant defenses.
- Directly increase the levels of antioxidants in the brain, thus keeping free radicals at bay
- Clearing the neuronal tissue of waste and neurotoxins
- Protecting neurons against the damage of oxidative stress
- Fight inflammation and the formation of irregular protein clumps
So there you have it.
These are the technical aspects of “how do nootropics work”.
Now, let’s show you the specific benefits of nootropics, and how you’ll feel after taking them.
Benefits of Nootropics For Your Brain
So far, we’ve learned that nootropics can support the brain in a number of ways.
From improving blood flow to protecting neurons.
But technical aspects of nootropics aside, what do nootropics feel like?
What are the tangible, mental benefits of a nootropic-boosted brain?
Well, here they are:
Faster Learning and Enhanced Memory
If there’s one trademark quality that nootropics posses, it’s their ability to enhance memory and learning.
How do nootropics do this?
Well, as we’ve explained above, there are a number of ways through which nootropics boost brain function, including:
- Supplying the building blocks for neurons
- Clearing waste and neurotoxins from brain cells
- Enhance neuron signaling and communication through neurotransmitters
- They improve neurogenesis and brain-derived neurotrophic factor
All of these effects combined can have a pretty drastic effect on your memory.
For example, bacopa monnieri is a herb that improves the growth of dendrites. Dendrites are short extensions of your neurons.
Thanks to its effects on dendrites, bacopa improves communication between neurons.
When you add things like lion’s mane mushroom to the mix, which boosts the growth of new brain cells, you’ve got yourself a powerful combo for boosting your learning and memory.
Yes, not everyone is super creative.
But whatever level of creativity your brain possesses, you can improve it by enhancing your alpha brainwaves.
You can do it right now by meditating for 10-20 minutes.
Or you could get really focused on a task (also known as flow state).
Or, you could simply take nootropics such as L-Theanine. Which boosts your brain’s alpha waves. (4)
But L-theanine isn’t the only nootropic that raises your alpha brain waves.
In fact, anything that reduces stress is likely to change your brainwaves from beta to alpha.
And some of the best nootropics for stress are adaptogens such as Bacopa monnieri and ashwagandha.
Mood & Motivation
Do you remember the dopamine rat study I briefly mentioned above?
If not, let me remind you:
Rats who were deprived of dopamine didn’t want to eat food which was right in front of them.
As a result, they died of starvation.
While these experiments were done in a laboratory and with mice, they still underline the importance of dopamine for us.
If you ever felt a lack of zest to accomplish things in life. Or you didn’t feel pleasure from things. Then low dopamine could be to blame.
By using nootropics which boost dopamine – such as L-tyrosine – you indirectly improve your mood and motivation to accomplish goals.
Studies show that people with ADD have a disbalance in catecholamine levels. (8)
Catecholamines are a group of neurotransmitters which include dopamine and adrenaline.
People with ADD also seem to have a problem with low acetylcholine levels.
As a result, their memory isn’t great and they can’t focus on tasks.
Are there nootropics that regulate catecholamine and acetylcholine levels?
Here are a few well-known and studied ones:
Since these nootropics boost catecholamine and acetylcholine, they can help with the symptoms of ADD and mood disorders.
Since stress literally damages and kills your brain cells, it can affect both long-term and short-term memory.
Nootropics that combat this include adaptogens, which improve your body’s resilience to stress. Along with other nootropics that boost your body’s antioxidant capacity – thus improving resilience against oxidative damage.
Thought & Information Processing
Certain nootropics have the ability to boost communication between your neurons.
They do this by increasing the growth of brain cell extensions (dendrites). Or by improving neurogenesis, aka, the growth of new neurons.
This leads to faster thought and information processing, clearer thinking, and improved verbal acuity.
As a result, you’re able to express yourself better.
And you’re ultimately able to make better decisions in your everyday life.
Best Natural Nootropics
Here we have a list of the most studied and effective natural nootropics.
The fact is, there are really great nootropics out there, and it would be near to impossible to include them all on this list.
We’ve only included the best of the best here.
So, if you want to know about other nootropics that boost your brain power, do your own research – you’ll be surprised at how many good nootropics are out there!
Bacopa monnieri’s active compounds, bacosides, enhance your brain’s antioxidant defenses.
These include glutathione and superoxide dismutase.
These two powerful antioxidants work in synergy to protect your brain cells from oxidative stress and age-related damage.
Bacopa also improves serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine function. Not only does bacopa improve these neurotransmitters’ levels but also increases their receptor sensitivity.
Here’s the thing about GABA, serotonin, and acetylcholine:
As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA calms down the nervous system.
On the other hand, serotonin regulates mood and appetite. Serotonin is also crucial for the production of melatonin, the sleeping hormone.
Lastly, acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that governs your memory and thinking.
By boosting these neurotransmitters, Bacopa monnieri benefits your cognition across all boards.
Research shows that bacopa slows the rate of forgetting newly gained information. (9)
It also boosts mental processing, promotes feelings of peace, and protects the brain from harms of stress. (10)
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
If there’s one ingredient that represents the topic of how do nootropics work, it would be Lion’s Mane mushroom.
Lion’s Mane contains compounds called erinacines and hericenones.
These compounds are shown to boost nerve growth factor. Leading to the formation of new brain cells.
Not only that, but Lion’s Mane regenerates the myelin sheath around your nerves. (11)
What is the myelin sheath?
Well, think of it as an electric cable.
If an electric cable is damaged or broken, it can’t transmit the electrical energy.
The same happens with your myelin sheath.
Since it is responsible for allowing the impulses to travel between neurons, it’s extremely important for good brain health.
And taking Lion’s Mane mushroom is one of the best ways to nourish it.
A case in point:
A study with middle and older aged adults showed that Lion’s Mane mushroom improved their cognitive function. (12)
Other clinical trials showed that Lion’s Mane can also improve mood and well-being.
These benefits make it one of the most powerful nootropics you’ll find.
L-theanine is an old-school nootropic.
For many years, it has remained a top choice among neurohackers for improving their cognition. And for a good reason.
L-theanine boosts alpha wave states in the brain. (12)
As I mentioned, alpha brainwaves are linked to wakeful relaxation and creativity.
L-theanine works to inhibit the release of excitatory neurotransmitters which can make you agitated. On the other hand, it enhances GABA and serotonin, which are essential for a relaxed and positive mood. (12)
Not only that, but l-theanine also works to protect your neurons from damage.
This makes it the perfect supplement for combating the aging-related mental decline.
PS is a phospholipid which encases every single neuron in your brain. (13)
Phospholipids such as PS are an essential part of every cell membrane in your brain.
They allow for the transport of glucose, oxygen, proteins, and other nutrients in and out of the cell.
Since it improves glucose metabolism, PS also enhances the cell’s energy.
Phosphatidylserine keeps the cell membranes fluid and flexible. It also optimizes cell receptors making them more efficient. (13)
PS also helps improve the production of dopamine and acetylcholine, two neurotransmitters that are absolutely essential for your memory, mood, and motivation.
Not only that, but PS plays a key role in the formation and sending of impulses within neurons and synapses.
This allows for brain signals to transmit faster and smoother.
Among it all, PS also helps repair and grow your brain cells. It does this by increasing the levels of nerve growth factor, along with helping clear the waste and toxins from your old brain cells, saving the neighboring neurons from damage.
Citicoline, aka, CDP-choline helps with the production of brain cell energy.
It also optimizes electrical impulses between neurons, leading to faster and clearer thinking.
Citicoline plays a role in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that encases your neuron membranes, just like PS.
As a building block for acetylcholine, citicoline is important for memory, thought processes, and even mood.
Citicoline also has anti-oxidative properties.
In other words, it helps protect your brain from free radical damage. Which is important for keeping the brain sharp as you age. (14)
You need between 400-500mg of choline every day for optimal brain function.
Do you know which is the best natural source of CDP-choline?
The answer: eggs.
In fact, just one egg contains about 115mg of choline. So it isn’t hard to get your daily choline amount by consuming this food.
Rhodiola belongs to adaptogens, a class of nootropics which protect the brain against stress.
Antioxidant properties of rhodiola enable it to fight free radicals.
As a result, it helps prevent age-related cognitive deficits.
Not only that, there’s mounting evidence suggesting rhodiola optimizes your neurotransmitters by enabling them to move undisturbedly through the blood-brain barrier.
By reducing cortisol, the notorious stress hormone that wreaks havoc in your brain, rhodiola effectively protects against brain cell death, along with improving overall cognition.
Rhodiola is shown to start working just 30 minutes after ingestion. And its benefits can last up to 6 hours.
No matter which nootropics you take, if you’re deficient in the very basic building blocks of your enzymes and brain cells, your brain won’t work optimally.
B vitamins, in this case, are an essential component of a healthy and optimized brain.
And while all B vitamins are important, many studies suggest that vitamins B6, B9, and B12 could play a key role due to their effects on homocysteine.
Homocysteine is an amino acid, but not the good kind.
High levels of homocysteine can lead to brain degradation over time.
Coupled with a lack of vitamins B6, B9, and B12, this could lead to severe cognitive degeneration.
Supplementing these vitamins is shown to keep homocysteine levels at bay. Along with providing the brain with its essential building blocks.
Ultimately, vitamins from the B group should be the basis of any nootropic stack, as they benefit your cognition across all boards – from memory to mood to motivation.
Other Effective Nootropics
- Omega-3 Fish Oil (DHA)
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Nootropics For Beginners
Even though we only focused on the most basic nootropics above, you still might be overwhelmed with all this information if you’re new to the world of brain optimization.
Worry not, though.
The good news is, you don’t need to take all of these nootropics to have a sharper brain.
In fact, if you’re just starting out, one or two basic nootropics are more than enough.
Based on scientific research that we covered here, here’s my advice to you:
Combine a colorful and balanced diet with high-quality fish oil (preferably high in DHA), and a CDP-choline supplement.
If you want, you can add Phosphatidylserine and bacopa monnieri on top of that for additional benefits.
But as you’re just starting out, it’s always advisable to experiment with one nootropic at the time.
This way, you’ll get the feel of how each works for you before moving on to the next one.
Individual Nootropics vs. Nootropic Stacks
As I said, you don’t need to stack nootropics if you’re just starting out.
However, if you want to experience a full range of benefits shown above, one nootropic will not be enough.
Here’s the thing:
You should take individual nootropics if you just want a specific cognitive benefit. E.g. a sharper memory and word recall.
However, these effects are narrow.
By combining, aka, stacking your nootropics, you can really potentiate the benefits you gain from them.
In fact, many nootropics work better in duet than when taken individually.
That’s why some people might not experience many benefits from taking two nootropics individually. But when you combine them together, it’s a whole other story.
By stacking your nootropics the smart way, you can really give your brain the edge.
That said, you shouldn’t stack nootropics without any knowledge about them. Because that could lead to poor results. Or worse yet, side effects.
If you’re just starting out, and want to experience the full power of nootropics. I suggest taking pre-made nootropic stacks, all in one supplement.
The best pre-made nootropic stacks are clinically researched and tested by experts.
Each ingredient is tested individually, and also when combined with other ingredients.
This ultimately saves you from the guesswork and having to research it yourself.
Are Nootropics Safe? (Nootropics Side Effects)
Generally speaking, yes – nootropics are safe.
But needless to say, not every nootropic is made the same way.
This brings us back to the question of how do nootropics work.
While universally, nootropics enhance your cognition by affecting a number of brain pathways, it’s clear that not every nootropic has the same effects.
Add the fact the nootropics are classed as dietary supplements, which means they aren’t controlled by FDA, you should be smart about choosing nootropics.
A couple of tips for choosing the right nootropic:
- Look for nootropics with clinically proven, research-backed ingredients and safety certifications.
- Take expert-formulated, patented nootropic stacks. Which use clinically proven ingredients that are shown to have combined benefits for the brain.
- Take nootropics as shown on the supplement label.
- It’s always smart to print out the label of your nootropic and show it to your doctor. This way, your doctor can see the entire list of ingredients to make a good judgment of the supplement.
With that being said…
You shouldn’t take nootropics if you’re:
- Under 18 of age
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Taking medications which affect the brain and can interact with certain nootropics
- About to undergo a surgery
- Dealing with a serious medical condition
Can You Take too Many Nootropics?
You know how they say, “the dose makes the poison”.
Even if you drink water in too large amounts, it could kill you.
So the answer to the question “can you take too many nootropics” is a definite yes. To prevent this from happening, always read the supplement label instructions or consult with your doctor.
Your Questions Answered (FAQ)
Can nootropics increase IQ? Yes, you could say that nootropics increase IQ. There’s a reason why they are called “smart drugs”. Nootropics such as bacopa monnieri directly increase the growth rate of your dendrites, the fibers that play a role in neuron communication. In turn, this leads to clearer thinking, improved focus, a sharper memory, and enhanced cognition. (15)
Can nootropics help with dementia? Yes – nootropics work to prevent and help with age-related cognitive decline, including dementia. They achieve this by improving blood flow in the cerebral cortex, along with enhancing nerve growth factors and protecting neurons from oxidative stress.
Do nootropics make you smarter? Nootropics will make you smarter, in terms of improving your memory, focus, and general cognitive abilities.
How long do nootropics take to work? Fat-soluble nootropics generally take longer to work (40+ minutes). But this depends entirely on the type of nootropic, and the individual who takes it.
Will nootropics break my fast? As long as they don’t contain calories, nootropics will not break your fast.
Is it safe to take nootropics every day? This depends on which nootropics you take. Read your supplement label carefully, and consult with your doctor, to determine whether it’s safe to take nootropics every day.
Is caffeine a nootropic? Yes, caffeine is regarded as a nootropic. However, many people like to combine caffeine with l-theanine to avoid anxiety and the caffeine crash.
How do nootropics work scientifically? This is how nootropics work, according to a scientific NCBI study review: “Nootropics or smart drugs are well-known compounds or supplements that enhance cognitive performance. They work by increasing the mental function such as memory, creativity, motivation, and attention.”
Conclusion on “How do Nootropics Work?”
So there you have it, an in-depth look at how do nootropics work.
To quickly summarize it, here’s what we’ve learned in this guide:
- While nootropics are generally touted as brain-enhancing supplements, not all nootropics work the same way.
- Certain nootropics improve blood flow to the cerebral cortex, improving nutrient and oxygen delivery in neurons. This, in turn, improves focus and memory, and keeps your brain sharp as you age.
- Some nootropics, like Lion’s Mane mushroom, can increase the growth of new brain cells. Thus improving overall cognition.
- Then there are nootropics like bacopa monnieri and l-theanine which promote serotonin, GABA, and alpha brain waves which are linked to improved creativity, focus, enhanced mood, and relaxation.
- Last but not least, certain nootropics bolster your brain’s antioxidant capacity – protecting it against oxidative stress.
- It’s important to choose nootropics which have clinically researched ingredients. And if you aren’t sure about the dosage, always consult with your doctor.
With a little bit of research, and by carefully choosing your nootropics (or perhaps a nootropic stack), you too can optimize your brain and make it work better than ever.
You Might Also Like: How Ashwagandha Affects Your Mood & Neurotransmitters
References for the article: “How do Nootropics Work?”
Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. (source)
Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power? (source)
Feeding behavior in dopamine-deficient mice. (source)
The effects of L-theanine on alpha-band oscillatory brain activity during a visuo-spatial attention task. (source)
Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. (source)
Exercise training increases the size of hippocampus and improves memory. (source)
Neurotrophic properties of Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. (source)
Catecholamines in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Current Perspectives. (source)
An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. (source)
Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 days double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. (source)
Neuroregenerative potential of lion's mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (higher Basidiomycetes), in the treatment of peripheral nerve injury (review). (source)
Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. (source)
Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. (source)
Chronic citicoline increases phosphodiesters in the brains of healthy older subjects: an in vivo phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. (source)
Enhancement of basolateral amygdaloid neuronal dendritic arborization following Bacopa monniera extract treatment in adult rats. (source)