Still, putting unregulated brain drugs into my system feels significantly scarier than downing a latte or a Red Bull—not least because the scientific research on nootropics’ long-term effects is still so thin. One 2014 study found that Ritalin, modafinil, ampakines, and other similar stimulants could eventually reduce the “plasticity” of some of the brain’s neural networks by providing them with too much dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine, and potentially cause long-term harm in young people whose brains were still developing. (In fact, in young people, the researchers wrote, these stimulants could actually have the opposite effect the makers intended: “Healthy individuals run the risk of pushing themselves beyond optimal levels into hyperdopaminergic and hypernoradrenergic states, thus vitiating the very behaviors they are striving to improve.”) But the researchers found no evidence that normal doses of these drugs were harmful when taken by adults.
The ‘Brain-Gut Axis’ is a term used to describe the two-way communication system between our digestive tract and the brain. A growing body of research into this axis demonstrates how much influence the gut can have over the brain and vice versa (1). When we speak about reactions to foods, we most commonly understand them as immediate and often dangerous allergic responses, such as the constriction of the throat and trouble breathing, or dizziness and fainting. It is usually easy to pinpoint the food that causes these reactions because of the immediate immune system response, caused by a type of immune cell known as IgE antibodies. In contrast to this, food intolerances are mediated by IgG antibodies and these reactions can take up to 48 hours to have an effect. Symptoms related to IgG reactions can often be manifested as chronic issues like joint ache, IBS and depression or anxiety, which are often overlooked and not associated with what we eat.
Another factor to consider is whether the nootropic is natural or synthetic. Natural nootropics generally have effects which are a bit more subtle, while synthetic nootropics can have more pronounced effects. It’s also important to note that there are natural and synthetic nootropics. Some natural nootropics include Ginkgo biloba and ginseng. One benefit to using natural nootropics is they boost brain function and support brain health. They do this by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the arteries and veins in the brain.
Freshly brewed tea. Two to three cups a day of freshly brewed tea -- hot or iced -- contains a modest amount of caffeine which, when used "judiciously," says Kulze -- can boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood. Tea also has potent antioxidants, especially the class known as catechines, which promotes healthy blood flow. Bottled or powdered teas don't do the trick, however, says Kulze. "It has to be freshly brewed." Tea bags do count, however.
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Herbs and plants have been used for cognitive enhancement for at least 5,000 years in Indian and Chinese medicine, long before the first synthetic nootropic was created. The practice of Indian Ayurvedic medicine includes the use of a group of nootropic plants known as Medhya Rasayana, the four primary plants of which are Mandukaparni, Yastimadhu, Duduchi and Shankhapushpi, though other lesser known plants are also used. One of the most common supplements in Ayurvedic medicine is Brahmi, known scientifically as “Bacopa monnieri” or “B. monnieri “ and more commonly as water hyssop, Thyme-leaved Gratiola, herb of grace or Indian pennywort. It is named after Lord Brahma, the creator God and originator of Ayurveda, and has been used for centuries to treat disorders ranging from pain and epilepsy to inflammation and memory dysfunction. The exact mechanism behind its action is not fully understood, but it is believed to promote antioxidant activity as well as protect neurons in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and corpus striatum against cytotoxicity and DNA damage associated with Alzheimer’s. The prefrontal cortex is critical in rational, social and personality behavior, the hippocampus is believed to be the seat of memory and the autonomic nervous system and the striatum play a role in the reward system of action, so the protection Brahmi provides is extremely helpful in preventing the degeneration of many important cognitive faculties. An effective dose ranges from 300 to 450 mg per day. Winter cherry (ashwagandha) is another well-known Ayurvedic supplement that can promote improved cognitive development, memory and intelligence and reduce the effects of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. The optimal dose is 6,000 mg per day divided into three 2,000 mg doses. Aloeweed (shankhpushpi) is also used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve memory and intellect as well as treat hypertension, epilepsy and diabetes. Effective doses for most neuroenhancing benefits range as high as 40 g per day.