In the popular movie (and not-as-popular TV show) Limitless, a struggling writer takes a pill that makes him a genius. He’s able to finish a novel in a matter of hours, solve complex math problems, and make huge winnings on the stock market. While the movie was a box office hit, you may not be aware that similar pills do exist. They don’t promise to make you a genius, but they are indeed proven to boost brain functions like memory, creativity, and motivation without any hangover-like after effects. It’s the latest silicon valley trend to go mainstream.
Although their rising popularity is certainly a 21st century phenomenon, nootropics in pill form have in fact existed for decades. The name was coined in 1972 by Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a combination of the Greek words for mind (nous) and bend (trepein) to describe the results of taking these mind-sharpening pills. While performing experiments with a drug called piracetam, he found it had boosting effects on patients’ memory and cognition and lacked harmful side effects, setting the standard for a new generation of brain enhancers.
It all might sound a little too high-tech for some, but in reality there are a number of nootropics that have been used for centuries, coming straight from plants and herbs. In fact, the idea of brain enhancement through medication is not as new as it may seem. The precursors to nootropics include herbs like ginseng and gingko biloba, which have long been acknowledged in certain cultures to have brain boosting capabilities. Ancient people over history have experimented with ways to alter and enhance brain functions, and nootropics are simply the latest iteration of this basic human desire.
You won’t have to chew on gingko roots to get a natural nootropic boost. There are plenty of nature-derived brain supplements available. While their effects can be more subtle than their lab-developed counterparts, organic nootropics offer brain function benefits in a natural package. Included here are some naturally-occurring compounds that have been isolated through laboratory processes, which I’m choosing to consider natural, since they’re not lab-derived. As always, what you elect to put in your body is your own choice.
- Choline is a natural precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Typically produced in small amounts in the liver, larger amounts have been shown to boost short-term memory, focus and learning ability, as well as promoting healthier skin and hair. Typically found in meat and dairy products, vegans often have trouble producing choline on their own, so it provides a nice supplement for those who have already gone all-natural.
- The name might sound like synthetic plastic or a gasoline additive, but in fact phenylethylamine is as organic as any ginseng root. Found naturally in chocolate, it’s often described as a “love drug” for it’s effects in fighting depression and anxiety. It accomplished this by boosting the hormone dopamine, found in humans in states of excitement and arousal. Not only that, but it’s been shown to boost norepinephrine, providing an appetite reduction benefit as well.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid, or ALA, is normally found in mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell which creates energy and regulates metabolism. In supplement form, ALA helps brain function by reducing fatigue, keeping those who use it from suffering energy loss. It also reduces iron levels in the brain, which can cause neural degeneration and disease in high concentration.
- Derived from a swamp plant grown in Asia, bacopa monnieri has been shown to help alleviate anxiety and improve focus and memory. Used in south Asia as a homeopathic remedy for centuries, users have claimed the extract can help fight asthma, epilepsy, and inflammation. Animal tests have proven bacopa can improve blood flow to the brain and has protective effects against mental deterioration.
These few are just a starting point. Combining or “stacking” nootropics is highly popular but you’re going to want to research any and all effects of what you’re thinking about taking. If you’re interested in organic nootropics, talk to a doctor before starting any regimen.