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Post: ACSH Explains: Nootropics

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ACSH Explains: Nootropics
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It’s final exam time, which means all manner of study hacks are making their semi-annual resurgence amongst students across the country. Among those hacks, nootropics – substances ostensibly increasing cognitive function. What’s behind these brain-boosting products? Image by Welcome to All ! ツ from Pixabay What Are Nootropics

Nootropics are substances that improve brain function. This includes memory, concentration, thinking, learning, etc. Nootropics can come in many forms, including prescription medications, foods, and supplements. More specifically, “Nootropics describe a broad classification of compounds with cognitive enhancing properties, with minimal side-effects, that are appropriate for long-term use. These compounds can include synthetic analogs of naturally occurring chemicals, neurologically active compounds already produced in the human body (such as neurotransmitters), and chemicals found in nature, some of which we already consume in foods such as B vitamins, caffeine, and L-theanine.” – Lila Abassi , MD Most people are broadly aware of nootropics, even if not by that name. Examples of common nootropics from each of the aforementioned categories include stimulants prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD, caffeine, and ginseng.

While the effects of some of these substances, e.g., caffeine, are well studied and known, others are questionable and lack a convincing evidence base. Let’s dig into these categories a bit.

Prescription Medications

Multiple drugs are approved to treat cognitive disorders and diseases. Two of the most prominent areas that nootropics treat are ADHD and diseases with memory degradation, like Alzheimer’s disease. We understand enough about how the brain works and how these drugs work to know that targeting neurotransmitters is essential for communication within the body. Specifically, “Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transfer information between neurons and help neurons communicate with one another… Dopamine helps regulate the feelings of pleasure (euphoria and satisfaction) and also plays an important role in controlling movement, cognition, motivation, and reward. Stimulant use also causes the brain to release norepinephrine, which helps regulate mood, attention, learning, memory, and arousal…The prescription stimulants methylphenidate and d -amphetamine increase dopamine signaling—methylphenidate by blocking dopamine transporters and d -amphetamine by enhancing dopamine release from nerve terminals.” – […]

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