Nootropics: how nature can enhance your cognitive functions

How long does it take you to prepare for an exam, solve a sudoku puzzle or simply remember the name of that distant relative that just isn’t ‘springing to mind’ right now? Each person of course has their own pace of learning, and we have all suffered occasional lapses in memory, but the truth is that scientific advances have demonstrated that we could all improve our cognitive capacities through plants and substances known as nootropics. 

Making the most of our mental abilities: one of the challenges of neuroscience

We could all benefit from enhancing our cognitive abilities.

Why? Because, like any cell or structure in the body, anything that is not used can atrophy, degenerate and stop working properly before its time. Neurons (the nervous system’s main cells) are no exception. Simply put, we cannot allow them to be left idle. We must actively encourage their correct function and communication to avoid losing them too soon, which could lead not only to a lack of concentration and minor absentmindedness, but also to neurodegenerative diseases. 

How? Cognitive enhancers, or nootropics, substances that enable us to increase our levels of attention and memory, and to improve our learning and mental performance, have been the focus of studies for years (1).

What’s the story behind this peculiar word: NOOTROPIC? 

This term was coined in the 1970s by Dr Corneliu E. Giurgea, who selected a series of substances that improved learning and memory and named them ‘nootropics’, derived from the Greek words ‘noos’, (mind) and ‘tropo’ (to bend or turn) (2). 

Unlike ‘smart drugs’ sometimes used to improve intellectual performance or stay awake longer, Dr Corneliu E. Giurgea found that a nootropic should not only enhance cognitive capacity and improve learning, but should also be non-toxic and non-addictive, and have no significant side effects, unlike psychotropic drugs (3).

With these encouraging properties, it’s no surprise that the scientific and medical community has long been interested in the use of nootropics for therapeutic purposes. They have been used for years in cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases (4).  

But as well as treating cognitive impairments, nootropics can be taken by healthy adults who simply want to enhance their cognitive abilities. (5) Cognition refers to the capacity to process information and apply knowledge, and involves other processes such as attention, memory, language and psychomotor functions (6). Although there are hundreds of substances with nootropic potential that have been studied for over 25 years, in this article we focus on natural products.  

Natural nootropics: much more than your morning coffee

It’s your morning routine:  enjoying a strong coffee to wake you up, help you stay alert and feel less tired and less fatigued (7)(8) as you start the day. And why not? 

But wouldn’t you like to go one step further? Nature once again offers you plants and extracts with standardised active principle content (in the form of food supplements) that will take your cognitive abilities to the next level. 

Natural nootropics are just as effective as their synthetic cousins in boosting your cognitive abilities and health, and better results can be achieved by combining some of them. Here are some examples:

  • The Indian plant brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a neurotonic and memory enhancer (9). It contains powerful active principles called bacosides found to have properties that repair neurons damaged by age-related decline, protect healthy neurons from oxidation and promote the growth of new nerves (10). This translates into nootropic activity through the serotonin and dopamine pathways, and improved cognitive function and mental performance. It is therefore ideal for all healthy adults who wish to maximise their mental performance and prevent premature cognitive deterioration. There is also evidence that it mitigates depression and anxiety (11), and slows the degenerative process of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy (12)(13)(14).

  • Choline is a fundamental nutrient for the brain, similar to a vitamin and naturally present in certain foods (egg yolk, soya beans and nuts). The body uses it for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is directly linked to memory, muscle control and mood. The brain and nervous system therefore need a good supply of choline to function properly (15).

  • But there is an intermediate metabolite called citicoline, which, according to scientific studies, offers remarkable and improved effects on cognitive health. CDP-choline or citicoline is an essential intermediary in the pathway of structural phospholipids present in cell membranes. Administered orally, it has high bioavailability and is absorbed into the body through the blood-brain barrier, reaching its main target, the nervous system, by entering the membranes of neurons, increasing the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine (16).  This results in a slowing of premature ageing of the brain, an improvement in learning and memory in healthy adults (17), and its application is effective in the case of senile dementia or Alzheimer’s (18) (19).

  • Ginkgo extract (Ginkgo biloba), nicknamed the maidenhair tree. The standardised extract of this age-old plant has been demonstrated in clinical trials to be effective in cases of cognitive impairment or mild to moderate dementia, generally in more advanced age groups (20)(21)(22). But younger people can also benefit from regular consumption of ginkgo, as it helps to improve blood flow in the capillaries that supply the brain, to improve its cognitive functions, thereby aiding concentration and memory. It can be said to act as an authentic neuroprotector (23)(24)(25). Such is the evidence that in the World Health Organization (WHO) Monograph, extracts standardised to contain 24% flavonol glycosides and 6% terpene lactones are approved for the treatment of mild cerebrovascular insufficiency, lapses in concentration and memory, and even dizziness, tinnitus, and headaches (26).

  • Rhodiola root extract (Rhodiola rosea) is another good example of a nootropic. Traditionally used for treating symptoms of asthenia or feelings of weakness or fatigue (27), today studies confirm that its main active principles, rosavins and salidrosides, improve the availability of serotonin, which results in improved mood by reducing the risk of depression and anxiety (28)(29).  In addition, as an adaptogenic plant, extracts standardised to contain 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides increase resistance to physical and psychological stress (30), and improve overall mental health (31). 

  • But undoubtedly one of the least well-known plants, and yet the one with conclusive studies showing improvements in symptoms of Parkinson’s (32), and in the cognitive function and daily activities of patients with Alzheimer’s (33)(34), is Huperzia (Huperzia serrata). Used as an infusion for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of fever and inflammation (35), Huperzia serrata is a moss that, according to studies, is capable of improving memory, cognitive function and learning capacity (36). This traditional herb is used in this way because Huperzia is an effective inhibitor of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (37). Thanks to this action, it helps to maintain levels of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter (substances capable of transmitting information from one neuron to another) that plays a fundamental role in brain function, helping to prevent loss of attention and loss of memory, both in healthy people and those with cognitive impairment (38)(39).

Nature never ceases to amaze us

You may have heard of some of these plants or even tried them separately, but you'll be pleased to know that at Anastore we have developed synergistic formulas with several active components with an appealing health goal: to aid brain and cognitive health. 

Created from plant extracts, the main active principles have been standardised to guarantee their quality and effectiveness, for example with standardised content of 3% rosavins, 1% salidrosides from rhodiola root extract, 24% flavonol glucoside and 6% terpene lactones from ginkgo extract, as shown in scientific studies (26)(30).

In your everyday life, regular consumption of nootropics created from natural ingredients and standardised plant extracts can help to: 

  • Protect neurons from premature ageing and help them to be ‘less idle’, preventing cognitive impairment
  • Improve your cognitive abilities and intellectual performance
  • Improve learning capacity
  • Improve mood
  • Boost resistance to physical and mental stress, reducing fatigue and mental exhaustion
  • Improve mental clarity, concentration and memory

You could then use your new and improved cognitive abilities to take a course, learn a new language or tackle a new challenge that you did not feel mentally prepared or motivated, until now. Nootropics are what you’ve been waiting for. 

> Discover Pro Memory, the nootropic formula with standardised Ginkgo Biloba, Zinc, Huperzia, Calcium and Citicoline extracts.

> Discover Pro Concentration, the nootropic complex with standardised extracts of Rhodiola Rosea, Bacopa Monnieri, Brewer’s Yeast, Caffeine and Choline. 

If you have a specific medical condition or are taking medication, please consult your doctor before taking these products.

Bibliography

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