Among the best nootropics, green tea has been widely used as an anticarcinogenic agent, and ginkgo biloba can reduce insulin resistance
Your brain shrinks as you grow older, and even a healthy person can lose up to 20% of brain volume over a lifetime, according to Elysium Health. Nootropics first referred to specific chemicals that met criteria for brain health, but now the term refers to the myriad of products, natural and synthetic, that have an impact on mental skills and mental health. Finding the best nootropics for patients can be a matter of trial and error.
We spoke with Brett R. Martin DC, MPH, MSAc, associate professor for the National University of Health Sciences, who teaches botanical medicine courses and nutrition courses at NUHS.
What do nootropics encompass?
Nootropics are substances such as medications, vitamins, minerals, herbs, or any other chemical that has the capacity to improve the function of the brain. Some nootropics are ginkgo biloba, L-theanine, ashwagandha, rhodiola, Asian ginseng, and magnesium.
How do the best nootropics help the brain?
Nootropics may have a variety of different effects depending on the substance that is being used. Unfortunately, for some chemical substances, we don’t know the function on the body. However, certain herbs may interact and increase the blood flow to the brain. This increases oxygen and glucose utilization, which could help with attention and memory. Magnesium, bilberry or grape seed extract may work in that manner.
Other herbs can control neurotransmitter – or chemical messengers — activity in the brain. For instance, ginkgo biloba can act as a serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Asian ginseng helps to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, which may help with its effects on memory and cognition.
How do nootropics impact healthy aging?
I believe that this is dependent on the type of nootropic agent. Some people consider general stimulants such as caffeine, Adderall, and nicotine to be nootropics because they increase alertness. However, chronic intake of these substances could potentially produce undesired complications later on in life such as blood pressure issues, anxiety, sleep disturbances, or an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Long-term use of most natural substances is believed to be safe. Unfortunately, there is still not a lot known about the long-term use of certain herbs. Consequently, it would be better to use herbs, vitamins, and minerals like grape seed extract, magnesium, and B vitamins that are considered generally safe to use for long periods of time.
The benefit of using grape seed extract is that it not only can improve blood flow and cognitive function, but it has many phytochemicals (plant substances) that are capable of producing a wide array of different effects. For example, grape seed extract is a potent antioxidant reducing free radical production. Free radicals can damage tissues and over time are thought to be a major factor contributing to aging. Grape seed extract has phytochemicals that can reduce inflammation, cholesterol, and the potential for atheromatous plaque formation.
Could nootropics be used for weight management or sports performance?
Certain nootropics could potentially help with weight management. Caffeine, which again it is debatable if it is actually a nootropic, is found in a lot of different nootropic supplements. Caffeine can accelerate the metabolism promoting weight loss, but studies have shown that not all the weight that is lost is from fat. There is also a potential to lose a small amount of muscle tissue. Amphetamines were used for years to help with weight loss, but had a large quantity of side effects and complications.
Green tea is an excellent nootropic. It has L-theanine in it, which has been shown to improve mood and increase cognitive function. Green tea is also great for weight loss. It contains epigallocatechin gallate, which can down regulate the effects of the caffeine, so that muscle loss doesn’t occur. This herb promotes weight loss by increasing uncoupling proteins in the inner mitochondrial membrane. This causes heat to be created, increasing metabolism, which boosts fat burning effects in a process known as thermogenesis. Several studies show that it helps with weight loss without muscle loss.
There are a few reasons that herbs like rhodiola or Siberian ginseng could be beneficial for sports performance. These herbs can potentially help promote blood flow to the tissues enhancing sports performance. The most likely mechanism is by increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to the tissue to keep a person in aerobic metabolism, which is 19 times more efficient than anaerobic metabolism.
These herbs may also affect cortisol levels. The higher the amount of cortisol, the sooner a person will become fatigued. Siberian ginseng has been shown to be really beneficial for sports, while more research still needs to be done on rhodiola.
What else can nootropics do?
It really depends on the nootropic. Siberian ginseng and ashwagandha can boost the immune system. Siberian ginseng can also reduce histamine release, mild to moderately and has been used has been used for energy support during chemo and radiation therapy.
Among the best nootropics Ashwagandha can increase the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin and could be beneficial for anemia. It can also promote the release of thyroid hormone. Green tea has been widely used as an anticarcinogenic agent. Ginkgo biloba can reduce insulin resistance and improve pancreatic beta cell function in Type II diabetics. Bilberry [European blueberries] extract is used to improve eye function and can treat any type of retinopathy including diabetic and hypertensive.
Are there instances in which DCs should not recommend nootropics?
There are always contraindications to certain herbal and pharmaceutical products. With individuals who have had a previous heart attack, stroke, hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, or other chronic disease, certain herbs may exacerbate their existing symptoms or disorder. Before attempting to find your best nootropics it is important to know the contraindications and side effects prior to use.