From LSD to hot chocolate, there’s a wide range of brain enhancing chemicals naturally occurring in nature which can physically change the way our brains process information.
What’s the magic pill to give us razor sharp focus with a memory like an elephant? There’s a lot out there and the blanket term for these is ‘nootropics’. They’re not quite magic pills, but drugs or supplements which enhance our cognitive function, particularly motivation, focus and memory.
How nootropics work depends on the type. Often called smart drugs, and the ethics of taking them has repeatedly been questioned, especially when it comes to taking medication purely for the purpose of performing better in exams. Like an athlete doping for a race, perhaps it’s not fair if healthy students are taking medication developed for ADHD such as methylphenidate (known as Ritalin) to keep their focus.
On the other hand, there are many natural compounds and herbs which may offer a gentler, but still very powerful effect on enhancing your brain power, giving you the edge with lower risk and less side effects.
Here’s some of the more natural and scientifically backed up nootropics on the market to give your brain a boost:
L-theanine & caffeine
A naturally occurring compound found in green tea, which when combined with caffeine (also in green tea) has shown to promote attention and memory while at the same keeping the mind calm. L-theanine and caffeine are two nootropics often combined in supplements, considered to be the perfect mix for exams.
Caffeine may also be taken on its own for alertness and a faster reaction time, naturally found in tea, coffee, cocoa and guarana.
Most commonly taken for energy boosting effects or anti-ageing properties, CoQ10 is also an effective brain enhancer. CoQ10 enhances cellular energy in the brain by supporting mitochondrial production and function, the cell powerhouses. With the energy production taken care of in your brain, it’s no wonder this supplement is taken to push your brain into gear when you may otherwise be feeling drowsy or lethargic.
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Another energy promoting nootropic to fuel your cells when you may otherwise be feeling unmotivated. Creatine is an amino acid naturally found in meat and fish and may become depleted when over stressed. Supplementing has shown to improve reasoning skills, intelligence and short-term memory. The effects of creatine appear to be more pronounced for vegetarians, perhaps due to lower levels in their diets to begin.
A popular herb known to both stimulate and relax the nervous system. With anti-fatigue properties, this is a wise choice if you are looking for an increase in mental performance. When taken in combination with ginkgo, this may also improve short term memory. As an anti-oxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, it’s no surprise that ginseng is such a popular supplement.
In need of something natural to help you deal with stressful situations better? Rhodiola is a well-known nootropic for anxiety and for improving mood in highly stressed individuals. An adaptogenic herb grown in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, often recommended during stressful times such as exams or overwhelming work demands.
It may be hard to know which nootropics to take, so consider trying one at a time to see how they impact your brain function. Some are quite fast acting (such as caffeine) whereas others are more subtle and slower acting (such as Rhodiola), so ensure to give them enough time before switching to something else.