(Last Updated on March 4, 2022)
If you have thought about boosting brain performance, you have probably researched extensively on how nootropics work.
This is the most frequent asked question when it comes to nootropics 1.
Nootropics target different brain pathways and regions.
Therefore, there isn’t any ultimate answer to this question.
Each nootropic targets its own pathway and has its unique function.
This article analyses the different ways in which nootropics work and the brain pathways they target.
Let’s dive in.
Read next: Best Nootropics You Can Buy This Year
How nootropics work
Brain waves are electrical signals in the brain-signalling between neurons.
They come in different categories:
- Beta waves – this is the normal waking state of consciousness; all the attention is focused on cognitive tasks (Higher speed brain waves).
- Alpha waves – this is the wave when the mind is in the present; during the relaxed state of mind; thoughts are quietly flowing.
- Theta waves – these waves are present during sleep and deep meditation, dreams, nightmares, vivid imagery and intuition beyond our average consciousness.
- Delta waves – these waves are present in dreamless state and most profound meditation; you access the unconscious mind where regeneration and healing occur (slowest brain waves).
Nootropics work by stimulating some brain waves.
Alpha waves are often targeted because they encourage an alert and relaxed mind suitable for learning and creativity.
Studies show that increasing alpha brain waves may lower stress and creativity levels.
For instance, L-Theanine stimulates alpha brain waves in the brain.
The brain consumes the highest amount of energy in the body; 20 per cent of total body energy.
If the brain is low on energy, individuals experience mental fatigue or brain fog.
Nootropics work by increasing energy in various ways:
- Increase nutrient and oxygen delivery to facilitate energy production.
- Boosting metabolism in the mitochondria.
- Increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of cell energy.
For instance, vitamin B1 and ginseng boost ATP levels.
Head injuries and ageing may damage brain cells.
However, the brain has the ability to repair and regenerate new brain cells.
Some nootropics support neuroregeneration and reduce age-related mental decline.
- They provide brain building blocks such as choline.
- Triggering the release of neurotrophic nerve growth factor to facilitate the formation of new brain cells.
- Preventing free radical damage.
For instance, Lion’s mane mushroom promotes the production of NGF and ginkgo Biloba reduces free radical damage.
Brain blood circulation
Blood circulation in the brain is essential not only for nutrient and oxygen delivery but also for toxin removal.
This is very important for healthy brain function.
Some nootropics work by increasing blood flow in the brain through various ways including.
- Protecting brain blood vessels from homocysteine, an amino acid that prevents cerebral circulation.
- Stimulating the release of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that boosts blood flow.
- Protecting brain cells by reducing oxidative stress.
For example, Bacopa Monnieri, vitamin B6, Gingko Biloba, vitamin B9, Vinpocetine and vitamin B12 promote blood circulation in the brain.
Brain signalling involves transmitting messages between neurons.
This is facilitated by brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.
Brain communication is significant to support healthy brain function.
These neurotransmitters include:
- Dopamine – this neurotransmitter is involved in the pleasure-reward pathway. It enhances mood and promotes motivation 2.
- Acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that facilities learning, thinking and memory.
- Serotonin – this brain chemical encourages sleep and relaxation 3.
- Glutamate – this neurotransmitter is involved in memory, brain energy and learning.
- GABA – controls mood and enhances calmness.
- Norepinephrine and epinephrine – involved in lowering stress levels, improving focus and increasing attention.
Nootropics work by increasing the synthesis of neurotransmitters, providing neurotransmitters precursors and preventing their breakdown.
For instance-theanine, ginkgo Biloba, L-Tyrosine, Huperzine A and turmeric play a significant role in enhancing brain chemicals.
Often, free radicals damage brain cells slowing brain function, causing inflammation and increasing age-related cognitive decline.
Nootropics work by protecting these brain cells from oxidative stress, lowering cortisol hormone and promoting toxin removal from brain tissues.
Nootropics enhance brain function in multiple ways as discussed above.
It is essential to understand how they work to be able to know the benefits to expect.
Here are some expected benefits:
Nootropics increase your creativity by influencing alpha brain waves and lowering stress levels.
Nootropics promote working memory, short term and longterm memory and memory recall.
Thi results in better information processing, productivity and the ability to learn and store new information.
Increased information processing speed
Nootropics promote high speeds in learning, storing, recalling and processing information.
Nootropics enhance mood by stimulating the synthesis of neurotransmitters and lower cortisol levels.
Improved mental stamina
Nootropics increased brain energy keeping you motivated and focused throughout the day.
Sleep quality is closely associated with healthier brain performance.
Nootropics enhance sleep and relax the mind.
Research shows a well-rested brain has higher performance and productivity compared to a sleep deprived one.
Reduced stress levels
Stress leads to a decline in mental performance, cause burnout and mental fatigue.
Nootropics reduce stress levels in various ways.
They lower cortisol-the stress hormone, increase stress resistance, stimulate brain chemicals and promote a calming effect.
- Prevent age-related cognitive decline.
- Improve concentration.
- Increase the ability to multitask.
- Lower anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Prevent oxidative stress.
- Increase verbal acuity.
- Prevent brain shrinkage.
- Reduce brain fog.
Nootropics target different pathways in the brain, including brain waves, brain energy, neuroregeneration, brain blood circulation, neurotransmitters and brain protection.
Each nootropic works in a different mechanism and targets a particular pathway; you need to choose one that fits your needs.
Some can be stacked together to target different pathways and meet specific mental needs.
However, individuals should be careful when stacking to avoid side effects.
Others offer multiple benefits as stand-alone nootropics.
Get informed on how each nootropic works and consult a physician before using.
Always use nootropics that are backed up by clinical evidence.