Can you increase mental performance with a pill? A growing number of self-proclaimed biohackers and Silicon Valley types swear that so-called nootropics explain their ability to integrate stuff into a 24-hour day for 30 hours. But the science behind it is a mixed bag.
Nootropics are essentially cognitive enhancers; Users claim they support memory, improve concentration or improve brain function without the side effects of dangerous or addictive drugs. Sounds great, but if you talk about nootropics, it gets complicated.
First, the term is extremely broad. The attention deficit drug Ritalin is a nootropic ̵
In addition, there are a variety of amino acids, vitamins and herbs that promise to harness the power of natural compounds in an easily taken capsule, powder or beverage. A recent global survey found that around 30 percent of US respondents tried one of these natural supplements to strengthen their brains. What raises two questions: Do they work? And are they dangerous?
Even Booster points out that various nootropics – whether herbal or pharmaceutical – harbor their own risks. In the meantime, the researchers are scouring numerous specific compounds and trying to determine the efficacy and potential side effects. For example, we know that the level of NAD +, a cell-derived compound that protects against neurological damage and fights cell aging, decreases with age. And nicotinamide riboside – a type of B vitamin – can help restore levels, so Nature Communications .
. Another popular nootropic is L-theanine, a green amino acid and black tea leaves. Interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain can lead to a state of quiet alertness to increase levels of dopamine, GABA, and serotonin levels for well-being, says Crystal Haskell-Ramsay, a researcher at Northumbria University in the UK. L-theanine supplements are sometimes sold mixed caffeine, from which manufacturers say that nets have a feeling of concentration and calm.
And human studies show promise for the herb Bacopa monnieri – aka Wasseryssop – to boost a specific protein key for memory, says Loranna Grigoryan, a pharmacist based in Glendale, California.
However, some experts are doubtful. Nicholas Barringer, nutritionist and nootropics researcher at the US Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts, says he has not seen enough convincing evidence that a dietary supplement really improves cognitive functioning in a well-rested, unencumbered condition.
In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition Barringer found no difference in the marksmanship skills between soldiers who took a nootropic and those who took a placebo for 30 days ,
Given the preliminary research and meaning of our brains, Barringer warns against taking over-the-counter supplements – almost all of which are unregulated – to hack your mind. "When we do something to shift the body's body physiology to an extreme, it always has an impact on the back end," he says.
Until we have a complete picture, the safest way to gain a mental advantage is to use a method of erosion: good sleep, healthy eating, exercise, a little less alcohol and a little more water. "If we were spending just as much energy on the basics of health instead of looking for a magic pill," says Barringer, "we'd be much more effective."