What is nootropic?
The term nootropics were coined in 1972. Nootropics or cognitive enhancer are substances in the form of drugs, supplements and functional or superfoods that are used to improve the brain’s capacity of learning memory and other mental functions like cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.
Cognitive enhancing or simply Cognition means the capacity for information processing, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. It involves memory, attention, executive functions, perception, language, and psychomotor functions (1).
How nootropic supplements or food enhance memory?
There are various mechanisms through the nootropic enhances the memory these are
- Increases the circulation of the brain
- Provides chemicals or precursors to the neurotransmitters
- Improve the neuron function
- Provide energy for the general function of the brain
- Prevents oxidative damage and free radicals particularly to the brain cells (2).
Important Note: Not all nootropic supplements or drugs are good for health or safety to the body although they provide mental benefits. The best way to enhance the brain’s ability is to take nootropic supplements via food or natural substances. This article is mainly based on the natural herbs which are safe to consume and along with nootropic benefits they also provide other benefits to the body.
Cognitive or memory-enhancing compounds in the diet
1. Vitamin B
Vitamin B complex is one of the main vitamins with nootropic effect or memory-enhancing capacity. Type of vitamins and their function in memory improvement are as follows
- Thiamine: Also known as Vitamin B1. It helps in the production of acetylcholine, GABA and glucose. Glucose is produced from carbohydrate and is important for normal brain function.
The main source for Vitamin B1 is whole grain, organ meat, bran, and rice.
- Vitamin B12: Also known as cyano and methyl cobalamine. Mainly helps in the production of neurotransmitter. Main sources are fish, soy products.
- Choline: Produces acetylcholine and helps in enhancing memory and cognitive ability. The egg is one of the best sources for choline vitamin.
- Folic acid: Important for normal brain function and cognitive abilities.
2. Omega-3-fatty acids
The main source for omega-3-fatty acids is fish, sardines, nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and avocado, etc. Two main components of omega-3 fatty acids a-linoleic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for increasing cognitive ability and a healthy brain. These compounds help in decreasing the depression and strengthen the central nervous system having omega-3-fatty acid-rich compounds during pregnancy also helps in giving birth to more intelligent babies.
3. Amino acids and proteins
Having a balanced protein with low-calorie diet helps in increasing alertness and attentiveness (3). Some main examples of amino acids, functions, and source are as follows
|Amino acids||Nootropic function||Other functions||Source|
|L-carnitine||Improves acetylcholine production, treats depression and age-related memory loss||muscles and heart functions, Lowers cholesterol.||Meat, fish, egg, and milk|
|L-cysteine||Synthesis of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) mainly for long term memory||Anti-toxin protects cell and DNA damage||Meat, egg, red pepper, garlic, onions, oats, wheat germ, and sprout lentils.|
|L-glutamine||Brain food as an energy provider, mental alertness and memory enhancement||Immune booster, intestinal health||Chicken, lentils, cabbage, spinach, tofu, beans|
|L-phenylalanine||Produce dopamine, mood elevator and enhance learning and memory||Reduce mild pain and joint pain||Egg and milk products|
|L-tryptophan||Mood enhancer, memory enhancer, the precursor of acetylcholine and serotonin.||Boost sleep quality||Milk, meat, yolk, banana, dates|
|L-tyrosine||Produce catecholamine, dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, alertness.||Blood circulation||Fish, egg, beans, nuts and dairy products|
A regular glucose supply is necessary for the normal functioning of the brain. Instead of simple regular glucose, complex carbohydrates like fiber-rich food, starchy grain, proteins, and legumes are advisable to meet the glucose supply of the brain (4).
Iron is one of the main factors for increasing cognitive efficiency. As we all know, iron is the main part of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps in supplying oxygen to different parts of the body. And this oxygen plays a crucial role in glucose metabolism and other vital functions. Therefore it is proven that more iron more hemoglobin and therefore more oxygen supply to the brain and hence sharper memory.
We all are very much familiar with the role of antioxidants in our body. These compounds help in the protection of oxidative damage. Green leafy vegetables are most abundant is antioxidants, therefore, are a must for normal and healthy brain activities. Examples of some important antioxidants and their source food with nootropic functions are as follows
|Alpha-lipoic-acid (ALA)||Strong antioxidant enhance vitamin C and B activity. Also, increase the glucose absorption thus increase memory||Spinach, yam, potato, tomato, carrot, yeast|
|Anthocyanins||Free radical scavenging, stressbuster, improve neural communication(5)||Blueberries|
|Isoflavones||Cognitive enhancer (6)||Soy products|
7. Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)
This compound is mainly present in seafood and is responsible for acetylcholine production. Thus DMAE helps in increasing memory and improves the cognitive efficiency of the brain. Although avoid taking excess DMAE as it causes headaches.
Nootropic herbs and their health effects
In Ayurveda, numerous plants have been used for enhancing memory. Herbs are the most efficient and also have no or little side effects. Therefore if anyone wants to improve the cognitive efficiency of the brain then herbs are the best option. Below are the details of nootropic herbs categorized under Ayurveda for memory enhancement
1. Centella Asiatica
Common names are Gotu kola and mandukaparni. This nootropic herb has the antioxidant capacity and helps in improving memory, dementia and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases due to compounds brahmoside and brahminoside (7).
Asiatic acid present in the leaves of Centella asiatica helps in the regeneration and enhancement of nervous tissue as per studies were done on human neuroblastoma cells (8). Therefore, enhances the learning memory.
Also prevents Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases reducing the oxidative stress, prevents beta-amyloid plaque formation, dopamine neurotoxicity and enzyme inhibition (9).
Dose: Leaf extracts of Gotu kola. 1 to 2 teaspoon (5-10 g) of dried leaf with hot water and honey and a steeping time of 10-15 min is suggested.
2. Bacopa monnieri or Brahmi
Bacosides A and B present in Brahmi helps in enhancing the cognitive effects. These compounds help in repairing and restoration of damaged neurons and improve nerve impulse transmission. A number of human clinical studies have also been done which showed remarkable efficiency in memory enhancing capacity and neuroprotective activity of this wonderful plant (10). Studies done on 36 children aged between 8-10 years proves that 50 mg bacopa twice a day helps in significant improvement in logical memory and learning capacity (11). Bacopa monneri also helps in the reduction of anxiety and depression. Also helps in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
3. Ginkgo biloba or maidenhair tree
This herb shows cognitive efficiency enhancement by increasing the oxygen supply to the brain and also have high antioxidant capacity, therefore, eliminate free radicals thus improves memory. This herb is rich in flavonoids and terpenes like ginkgolides and bilobalide. Ginkgo biloba helps in improving the cognitive impairment of elderly persons (12).
4. Glycyrrhiza glabra
This plant is mainly used as a brain tonic. It helps in increasing the circulation and maintain the glucose balance of the brain. The roots and rhizomes of this plant are used as a tonic in dementia. Also improves the learning capacity of the brain.
Scientifically known as Zingiber officinale. It has the capacity of increasing memory by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase activity. Main compounds are gingerine, gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. The antioxidant activity of ginger helps in improving cognitive efficiency and protects against focal cerebral ischemia (13).
6. Emblica officinalis
The common name is Indian gooseberry or amla. It is a good source of antioxidants which can act as a natural memory enhancer for the treatment of various cognitive disorders, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases (14). High levels of quercetin, rutin and other phenolic compounds are helpful in neutralizing free radicals and protecting organs from damage (15).
7. Rosa alba
Rosa Alba of the Rosaceae family posses memory learning enhancing the property. It also restores memory thus helps in the treatment of cognitive disorders. It actively inhibits cholinesterase and improves memory power (16).
8. Acorus calamus or sweet flag
This is commonly known as sweet flag. Main components of Acorus calamus are alpha and beta asarone. Rhizomes of these plants are mainly used for enhancing memory because of its high antioxidant capacity.
9. Tinospora cordifolia
The common name of this plant is Amrita or Guduchi. It is rich in alkaloids, diterpenoids, glycoside, sterols, and phenols. Studies show water extract helps increase learning capacity and retention in memory (17).