Adaptogens? Ingestible collagen? So 2017. Mark our words: It’s all about nootropics this year. Their mind-enhancing benefits first made them a big thing among the techies of Silicon Valley; now, these supplements are all over the place, garnering more and more wellness buzz each day. So, what are they exactly? Ahead, the lowdown on the hottest new ‘smart drug.’
Let’s start with the basics. “Nootropics are supplements that are taken primarily for their effects on the brain,” explains registered dietician Amy Sunderman, Director of Science and Innovation at Swanson Health. “They may help improve cognitive potential, wellbeing, or learning.” In other words, they can make you more focused, clear-headed, motivated, and creative, as well as reduce stress and anxiety. It’s no surprise that they’re often referred to as ‘smart drugs,’ despite the fact that they’re not the same as prescription meds. “Nootropics not only offer a cognitive boost, but they also tend to work in a more natural way than prescription medications,” points out Lionel Bissoon, DO, a preventative aging specialist in New York City.
This is a BIG category, which includes both ingredients you’ve heard of, many of which you probably haven’t, and one that you likely had this morning. “Caffeine is the most widely used nootropic in the world, taken to improve brain activity, and stimulate cognition, learning, and memory,” says Sunderman. (Or, as we like to put it, help us wake the hell up every day.) Other popular nootropics include: Bacopa Monnieri, an herb that may help support focus and concentration; CDP-choline, which supports cognitive and brain tissue health; and Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, which some research shows has benefits on certain forms of memory and learning, says Sunderman. Many of the nootropic supplements combine multiple nootropic ingredients, though you can also find many of these as stand-alone supplements.
While there are, of course, various pills galore, nootropics are also popping up in snack bars, powders, drinks, and more. As with any supplement, however, Bissoon cautions that it’s important to read the labels, since not all are created equal. “Some companies promote pre-made nootropics that contain fructose, food coloring, even pieces of metal. It’s imperative to read all labels,” he says.
Are they worth trying? In short, probably. If you need additional focus and energy, or are looking for a more natural cognitive boost, then nootropics might be a good fit, says Bissoon. “As many of these ingredients have clinical research to back their benefits for cognitive support, it’s worth giving them a try to see how they fit into your daily supplement routine. Research the ingredients and find which one supports the specific benefits you’re looking to achieve,” adds Sunderman. Still, both experts caution that, as with any kind of new supplement, it’s super important to check with your doctor before taking one.