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Coffee, green tea and creatine can help you feel better not only physically but also mentally. They are among the nootropics – substances to support the cognitive functions of the brain. Get to know nootropics, their way of working, but also substances that make us “think better”.
What are nootropics?
The term nootropics or smart drugs is used for natural or synthetic substances with the ability to improve brain function. Behind the mysterious name lies a combination of two Greek words “noos” – translated as “mind” and “tropein” – “towards”. So they are literally supplements aimed at the proper functioning of our mind.   
Nootropics are a popular category of supplements today, but their history is older than you think. Behind the introduction of this term is the Romanian chemist and psychologist Corneliu Giurgea. Dr. Giurgea put it into practice while researching piracetam, a brain stimulant. We are talking about the period of the mid-60s and the beginning of the 70s. Today, nootropics include any substance that improves brain activity. It may be just a legend, but Corneliu Giurgea was originally trying to invent sleeping pills. Sometimes in science, the discoverer eventually ends up somewhere else entirely. In this case with the invention of piracetam. 
Nootropics include not only synthetic drugs, but also plant extracts that can improve the “ability to learn” or resistance to brain injuries. Among the nootropics we can also include coca leaves or ginkgo biloba, which our ancestors have been using for many years. They may not have known that these were natural nootropics. For calling substances nootropics, Dr. Guirgea set several conditions. According to him, these substances should have the ability  :
- improve memory,
- protect the brain from physical or chemical injuries,
- improve behavior in negative conditions,
- improve tonic cortical / subcortical control mechanisms,
- demonstrate a low toxicity profile and side effects.
Today, nootropics are an important type of supplements that is very popular for its effect. Attitudes of Dr. Giurgea to nootropics, as a means of improving brain function, is perfectly summed up in his quote :
“Humanity will not wait millions of years for Mother Nature to give them a better brain. Mankind will participate directly, openly and consciously in evolution.”
How do nootropics work?
Nootropics include synthetic prescription drugs, as well as various plants. These are different substances, so their effect on the brain is also different. In general, it is assumed that nootropics have a protective function of neurons against damage due to aging or toxins. In addition, they are believed to improve brain function by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. The most effective nootropics include the amphetamines Ritalin and Adderall. If the word “amphetamine” evoked a drug in you, then in this case we are talking about two official drugs. Their ability is to increase dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter with the function of regulating energy, attention and alertness. Both medicines are used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  
Although the brain is a small organ, it is very complex in its activity. The human brain differs from other mammals in its advanced cortex. It represents 80% of the brain and contains up to 100 billion neurons. For some nootropics, their mechanisms of action on the brain are clear, but at the same time their final cognitive effects are not clear. Science does not yet have the answers to everything. Although research has in some cases confirmed improvements in cognitive function, scientists do not know “how nootropics do it” and only assume how it works. 
We therefore present possible mechanisms of nootropic function :
- Brain energy – muscles and other tissues need energy to function and the brain is no exception. Its deficiency can cause mental fatigue and so-called “brain fog”. Nootropics support the brain by increasing the intake of oxygen and nutrients, or by promoting the transfer of fatty acids into cells.
- Chemicals in the brain – information from neuron to neuron is transmitted by neutrotransmitters, chemicals that transmit information until a cognitive “result” occurs. These include dopamine, acetylcholine, adrenaline or, for example, GABA. Nootropics may promote receptor sensitivity, neurotransmitter synthesis, or the supply of chemical precursors.
- Cerebral blood flow – in addition to supplying nutrients for the proper functioning of the brain, the extraction of neurotoxins that damage the brain is also an important component. Nootropics can promote flow by activating nitric oxide and relaxing blood vessels, or by reducing oxidative and homocysteine damage to blood vessels.
- Brain waves – The brain generates electrical activity and brain waves have different frequencies, which is reflected in the mental state. Some nootropics may increase certain brain waves, such as L-theanine.
- Protection of neurons – free radicals also impair brain activity. Nootropics can protect the brain, for example by increasing the antioxidant capacity of the brain or depriving brain tissue of neurotoxins.
- Brain regeneration – brain activity decreases with age, but the brain is able to regenerate. Certain nootropics can promote neuroregeneration, for example, by delivering neuronal components or maintaining the flexibility of the brain cell membrane.
The most famous nootropics
In addition to general information about nootropics, we have selected a few examples for you that you may know or should get to know. You may not even know it, and you also consume some of them, which support your cognitive abilities.
In general, we can divide nootropics into synthetic and natural. Synthetics include, for example, piracetam, modafinil, methylphenydate or amphetamines. They are beneficial for improving mental processes, but they can also be accompanied by side effects. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamines (Adderall) are used to treat ADHD, but they are also associated with addiction, insomnia or hallucinations and dizziness.Modafinil (Provigil) is a stimulant to improve attention and is used, for example, in treatment of narcolepsy. It changes the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and it is not clear what the consequences of long-term use may be. Another synthetic nootropic is piracetam, some research has shown its effect, but studies supporting its importance are unfortunately lacking. It should also be added that Ritalin, Adderall and Provigil are prescription drugs. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview, but you will definitely be more interested in freely available nootropics.   
That’s right, caffeine is one of the nootropics because it increases attention and at the same time reduces the reaction time. The caffeinecontained in coffee or tea is a stimulant, which is a very decisive factor in addition to taste and other benefits. Its effects have been defined by several studies, including increased attention, alertness, cognitive performance, and mood improvement. You may not have known, but caffeine affects the activity of several neurotransmitters – GABA, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, but also acetylcholine. Thanks to this ability, coffee allows the brain to function and also improve mood. The recommended daily dose of caffeine is 400 mg, which is about 4-5 cups of coffee. However, in addition to conventional caffeinated beverages, it is also available on the market in the form of tablets.    
The effect of caffeine on health has been and is the subject of several studies. It has been found that caffeine can significantly reduce the reaction time in visual or audio selection tasks. An improvement was seen with the use of 32 mg to 600 mg of caffeine. In terms of mood effects, a dose of 200-250 mg can improve mood for up to 3 hours. However, the key ability of coffee is to improve attention and reduce drowsiness. As little as 100 mg of caffeine can delay the onset of sleep, and 300 mg improves the attention of a rested person, but also of one with a partial lack of sleep. Whether you prefer coffee, tea or other sources of caffeine, coffee can get you on your feet in the morning and make day-to-day responsibilities easier.
Want to know more about coffee or caffeine and its effects? Read our article – Caffeine and how to make your training more efficient.
You may not have known, but ginkgo is a tree, and even one of the oldest in the world. It originates in Japan, China and Korea and is a source of flavonoids and terpenoids, which are classified as antioxidants capable of protecting cells from oxidative stress. Leaf extracts are also considered beneficial for brain function. According to research, ginkgo biloba supplementation has an effect on improving mental processes and memory in the elderly. In addition, it can be beneficial for “younger ones”, for example before stressful situations. Ginkgo reduces cortisol levels and high blood pressure caused by stress. Today, ginkgo is also used as a component of several nutritional supplements, and its research has been the subject of several studies.   
The importance of ginkgo biloba in this area has been demonstrated by several studies. It belongs within substances used in the treatment of several degenerative diseases, for example Alzheimer’s disease or cerebrovascular diseases. The goal is not to target the effect of ginkgo only to the elderly, but leaf extract is popular in Europe and the United States in reducing age-related cognitive impairment. Therefore, if you are looking for a natural way to support brain activity, try ginkgo. At the same time, we may have given you a tip for a Christmas present for your grandparents.  
Green tea is an exceptional source of caffeine, but also another interesting ingredient – L-theanine. In the previous chapter on possible mechanisms of nootropic function, we also addressed brain waves. This property is followed by the results of a 2016 study, which points to the potential ability of L-theanine to increase the level of alpha waves in the brain. If this type does not ring a bell, it is a wave that contributes to a wakeful and at the same time peaceful mental state.  
L-theanine is essentially a non-essential amino acid with relaxing effects, but also the ability to reduce the perception of stress and improve attention. Interestingly, it does not have a sedative effect and in combination with caffeine has the ability to improve attention and cognitive function. Therefore green tea is not only a delicious drink, but also a natural nootropic. 
If this information about green tea is not enough for you and you want to learn more about its benefits, read our article – 8 positive effects of green tea on the health of athletes.
Creatine is a popular supplement and a natural part of the human body. In addition to the ability to support muscle growth, this amino acid also has an effect on the brain. According to research, creatine can improve short-term memory and the ability to think. Taking 5 g of Creatine a day is safe, even with long-term consumption. If creatine is part of your supplements, you have just found another positive effect that is not associated with muscle growth. 
Don’t know the creatine and its effects yet? You will learn everything you need in the article – Everything you need to know about creatine and its forms.
Ginkgo biloba, caffeine and creatine are known to you, but you haven’t heard of choline yet? This is possible because it is a relatively newly discovered nutrient that was officially recognized as a necessary nutrient only in 1998. It is one of the B vitamins, as it is similar to them, but choline is not a vitamin. You can find it in several foods, such as vegetables, nuts and eggs. Choline is beneficial for the liver because it reduces hepatic steatosisand, of course, for its effect on cognitive function. Research suggests the importance of choline in improving brain function – including memory and information processing. In addition, choline use has led to progression in the short and long term memory in the elderly. Although relatively new, choline is important for brain, liver, muscle and metabolism. Although its deficiency is rare, this does not mean that it is not necessary to pay attention to its adequate intake in the diet or in the form of a nutritional supplement.    
The name Panax ginseng may not tell you much, but ginseng is not one of the unknown plant names. Its root is part of traditional Chinese medicine,but also the subject of modern research. In addition to its effects on the brain, it is a potential antioxidant, improves the functioning of immunity, increases energy levels and also has an effect on erectile dysfunction. There are 2 types of ginseng – American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian(Panax ginseng). The effect of “Asian” ginseng in the field of mental functions has been the subject of several researches and is important for improving mental performance, peace of mind or mood. Intake of 200 – 400 mg reduces brain fatigue and improves performance in mathematical procedures in the mind. The disadvantage of ginseng is its interaction with other drugs, so it is not a bad idea to consult its use with a doctor. In addition, the body is able to build tolerance to ginseng, so its long-term use could reduce these effects.    
Nootropics include more than 6 examples that we have presented in the chapter. Finally, we have prepared for you a list with a short description of other no less interesting nootropics           :
- Guarana – this is one of the natural sources of caffeine and compared to coffee, you will find 2x more caffeine in guarana seeds than in coffee beans. The caffeine contained in guarana is called guaranine and, according to research, guarana improves working memory, decision-making ability, but also the performance of tasks.
- 5-HTP – is an amino acid and a by-product of another amino acid – tryptophan. The body converts it to serotonin, which improves mood, sleep and appetite. You can also find it in the form of a nutritional supplement, because it is made from the seeds of the Griffonia Simplicifolia.
- Curcumin – is a component of turmeric, which is a popular spice especially in India. However, curcumin is also a brain tonic and antioxidant with the ability to promote concentration and memory. In addition, it increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin, and has the effect of improving mood, energy or the ability to solve problems.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine – is one of the forms of carnitine, this amino acid is important for the formation of acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter needed for memory and learning. It also supports brain processes, attention, creativity, short-term and long-term memory, but also verbal fluency. Among other things, acetyl L-Carnitine is also an antioxidant that protects the brain.
- Ashwagandha – Probably due to the reduction of cortisol levels, ashwagandha manages to alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress. It is part of Ayurvedic medicine and has the ability to protect against inflammation in the brain.
- Rhodiola rosea – this is a plant with adaptogenic properties and a potential effect on creativity, anxiety, mood or short-term memory. Rhodiola Rosea was once known mainly in the Scandinavian countries and Russia. The results of the research suggest the importance of rhodiola in the improvement of brain functions and also the reduction of fatigue.
- Resveratrol – is considered effective in preventing the deterioration of the hippocampus, which is associated with memory in the brain. You can find this antioxidant in the peel of red and purple fruits, such as grapes and raspberries. Further research is needed to fully validate the effects of resveratrol, but findings to date suggest improved brain function and memory.
- GABA – the full name gamma-amino butyric acid is found naturally in the body and is produced in the brain. It is a neurotransmitter with the ability to reduce the activity of neurons in the brain and CNS, resulting in less stress, peace and a more balanced mood. GABA is marketed as a separate supplement, but you can find it in green or black tea. In addition, you can influence its activity by taking American ginseng or L-arginine.
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Nootropics and athletes
Endurance sports are not just about physical training, and a “strong” mind is an imaginary tool for pushing personal limits. It requires concentration, mental energy and motivation. Nootropics are a suitable choice to support results and cognitive functions. Beneficial nootropics include, for example, Rhodiola rosea, L-theanine, N-acetyl L-tyrosine and phosphatidylserine. If you do sports and need to support your performance, try some of the nootropics to improve your concentration, mood and your results at the same time. 
Nootropics and gamers
Computer games (including console games) require concentration, attention, strategy, and many other cognitive functions. Gamers often spend hours with the joysticks and improve their skills. Nootropics can be a useful aid to improve players’ performance, as some of them support the mentioned cognitive functions. Are you a gamer and would you like to take your “skills” to the next level? L-theanine, Rhodiola rosea, Bacopa Monnieri or L-acetyl L-tyrosine can help you with this. Whether you are a professional gamer or just play in your free time, nootropics are useful nutritional supplements for even better performance. 
Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances with a positive effect on cognitive functions. Whether consciously or unconsciously, by consuming them, you support your thinking or memory. These include coffee, green tea or ginkgo biloba. We hope we’ve got your attention with an article on attention. Do you want your friends to know about nootropics as well? Feel free to support the article by sharing.
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