What are nootropics?
Nootropics—also called “smart drugs”—are supplements that some experts claim can improve your memory, boost attention span, and help you process information more efficiently. The science is mixed: Some of these substances seem to help people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but there's not much evidence that they can lift performance in a healthy brain. If you do decide to try one of these supplements, run it by your doctor first.
Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil
Most people drink coffee in the morning for one reason only: the caffeinated boost of energy and to kickstart their brain. But for Relief Jones, III, MD, founder and director of Neurosportz Applied Neuroscience, that caffeine also makes him jittery. Now, he starts his day with a cup of decaf coffee to which he adds a teaspoon of Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil. This nootropic is clear coconut oil extract that metabolizes into ketones (fats that your body burns for energy), says Dr. Jones, and gives him an instant jolt. “I still get a lot of energy that pretty much lasts the whole day from that coffee,” he says. “Since I started taking this, I don’t only have more energy, but I have more mental clarity.”
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As a doctor of physical therapy and founder of Rehab 2 Perform, Dr. Josh Funk, needs the brain power to tackle appointments with patients and the tedious tasks that come with running a business. His solution: taking Alpha BRAIN, a product from the Onnit Academy. This brain supplement contains L-theanine, an amino acid that may help with reaction time and memory; Alpha-GPC, a compound that seems to ease symptoms of Alzheimer's; and AC-11, a plant extract with antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. Dr. Funk has taken it every morning, usually after a workout, for 18 months. He says it’s boosted his focus to help power through paperwork and emails. “It’s almost like your body goes into tunnel vision,” he says.
Some brain supplements are actually plants, like ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, which Dr. Jones takes every morning. “When I started taking this supplement, I can definitively tell you it made a huge difference in my mental clarity, my ability to think quickly,” he says. Some research suggests that ashwagandha can act on neurotransmitters to boost brain function. It may also lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
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Charlie Seltzer, MD, is usually skeptical of what brain supplements claim to do, but he takes 500 mg of rhodiola rosea (the Vitamin Shoppe brand) twice a day. Studies suggest that this herb can be reduce fatigue and stress. While there’s not enough evidence to support a direct effect on the brain, Dr. Seltzer says he has experienced “significant increases” in his mental clarity, and he's benefitted from the herb’s calming effects. However, the effects of this supplement differ for everyone. After recommending rhodiola rosea to hundreds of patients, he has found that “if you don’t feel something significant within the first few weeks or so, it is unlikely to help.”
This fairly new supplement is a form of vitamin B3. While it hasn’t been studied extensively yet, says Dr. Jones, early evidence suggests it can protect neurons. The vitamin boosts levels of an enzyme called NAD+, which is key to extending cell life. By keeping neurons healthy, nicotinamide ribosome may not only improve cognitive function, but it has the potential to help athletes with concussions and brain injuries and even treat degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, says Dr. Jones. Also an ophthalmologist, he recommends nicotinamide riboside to patients with glaucoma and personally takes the supplement every morning.
Both Dr. Funk and Dr. Jones take fish oil supplements daily and recommend them for overall health—in addition to keeping your mind sharp. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have neuro-protective properties that can improve memory and learning abilities, they claim. “I take fish oil even though I eat fish itself multiple times a week,” says Dr. Jones, who is a pescetarian. “I think it’s probably just one of the best all-around supplements.” In addition to its brain health benefits, fish oil can also improve cardiovascular health, reduce joint pain, and ease skin conditions. However, Dr. Jones suggests avoiding the cheapest fish oil options to ensure there are minimal contaminants, like mercury, present. Here are more vitamin mistakes you don't realize you're making.