By: Kristen N. Smith, Ph.D., RDN, LD, Environmental Nutrition
If you aren’t familiar with the term nootropic, you can expect to hear it more in the coming years.
Nootropics are substances that exert a beneficial effect on a person’s brain function, specifically in healthy people (versus those with specific medical conditions). Referred to as “cognitive enhancers,” “smart drugs,” “memory enhancers,” or “brain boosters” — they are intended to support mental performance.
The term “nootropic” stems from a chemical that meets specific conditions — enhancing memory, helping support brain function, and protecting the brain with relative safety. Today, the term is used more broadly and may include naturally-occurring or synthetic “cognitive enhancers.”
Generally, nootropics are within two major categories: dietary supplements and drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter options). The search for boosted brain power through natural and synthetic nootropics has expanded dramatically. Global sales for nootropics are expected to reach $6.29 billion by 2028, according to Verified Market Research.
Ingredients in nootropics include food components, herbs, botanicals, dietary ingredients, and pharmaceuticals. Certain dietary supplements and ingredients contain nootropic properties and EN will review some of the most commonly consumed ingredients that may contribute a cognitive benefit.
Sourced naturally from green tea, L-theanine is an amino acid with a wide array of associated neurological and cognitive benefits. Many studies investigating the effects of L-theanine have reported associated improvements in relaxation, increased attention performance, improved reaction time, and improved sleep.
Ginkgo biloba is an herb that has potential benefits in improving blood flow and eye health, but much of the attention around this nootropic is that it may exert a positive effect on cognitive function, anxiety, and may be useful in stress management.
Ginseng is one of the oldest adaptogenic and nootropic herbs with history dating back to traditional Chinese medicine. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) are the two most popular varieties of ginseng and both may be associated with immune benefits. Ginseng may also help with heart disease, blood pressure, and more.
As always, EN recommends discussing any and all supplements with your health care professional prior to making changes to your medicinal or supplemental regimen.
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