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August 23, 2021


Erica Digap, BS, CN
How “Smart Drugs” Can Clear Brain Fog And Boost Productivity

Fact Checked By Erica Digap, BS, CN
 August 23, 2021

Smart Drugs

It’s no secret that we, as a society, are highly stressed out.

In a world in which we’re constantly on the run, putting in hours of effort at work, worrying about money, and juggling our work-life balance, it’s no wonder that so many of us feel tired and overwhelmed.

For some people, this can manifest itself as “brain fog”: a frustrating phenomenon where we just can’t seem to focus and stay productive no matter what we do.

So it’s also no wonder that we’ve seen the increasing popularity in the sale of nootropics in recent years.

Nootropics, otherwise known as “smart drugs,” are dietary supplements that claim to address some of our most annoying symptoms of brain fog like a lack of concentration and lapses in memory.

So what exactly are nootropics? And do they really work? (Hint: they do!)


Nootropics: A Definition

Nootropics earn their nickname as “smart drugs” because they can enhance some of our most important cognitive abilities like reasoning, concentration, memory, and focus.

The term “nootropic” can cover a wide range of brain-boosting compounds, nutrients, and ingredients.

Some of these compounds are natural nutrients that are essential to your overall health, while others are more supplemental that can give your brain that extra boost.

For example, some of our most essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, can be considered nootropics, especially since a deficiency of certain micronutrients can lead to impaired cognitive function (1).

On the other hand, stimulants like caffeine are considered nootropics because of their ability to help you feel more awake and alert.

Then there are adaptogens, which are herbs that are thought to enhance your cognitive functioning by helping you manage your brain’s response to chronic stress.

The nickname “smart drug” might actually be a little misleading.

Taking a nootropic isn’t going to miraculously make your brain grow to genius-level cognition.

Rather, a good nootropic can simply enhance the way your brain functions, so that you can operate at your full potential rather than being stuck in a foggy, unmotivated state as is the case with brain fog.

How Do Nootropics Work?

So all these different nootropics have one thing in common: they are thought to enhance your brain function so that your day can be less foggy and more productive.

But how do nootropics actually work?

The answer really depends on the kind of nootropic compound that you are taking.

Remember, nootropics can span a wide range of different ingredients, so their effects on the brain can vary.

For example, let’s look at the effect of vitamins and minerals on the brain. We already mentioned that deficiencies of certain micronutrients can lead to an impaired cognitive function.

This is because your brain, just like every other organ in your body, requires “fuel” in the form of nutrients from a balanced and varied diet.

So in addition to improving your diet, you might also want to use a nootropic to bridge the gap.

If you take a nootropic supplement that carries some of the vitamins and minerals that are most important for your brain, like Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12, this can make up the difference and provide those important nutrients.

On the other hand, some nootropic compounds are more preventative in nature.

These compounds work by protecting your brain from the neurodegenerative effects of aging, which can lead to cognitive decline.

As you grow older, the cells in your brain can become damaged via a natural process called oxidative damage.

But you can protect your brain from this unfortunate side-effect of aging by taking a nootropic with antioxidants, which helps to fight off that oxidative damage (2).

Other mechanisms that could contribute to the efficacy of nootropic compounds include (3):

  • Increasing the flow of blood (and therefore nutrients) to your brain cells
  • Lowering high levels of cortisol, otherwise known as your “stress hormone,” which can cause you to think less clearly
  • Reducing inflammation to your brain cells to minimize damage

So there are obviously a ton of different nootropics, but the end goal is all the same: to enhance your memory, concentration, and other important cognitive functions.

Examples Of Popular Nootropic Compounds

Here are some examples of common brain-boosting compounds you might find in a nootropic supplement:

  • GABA: An acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA is an amino acid with a huge role.

    GABA is your brain’s primary neurotransmitter, making it incredibly important for allowing your brain cells to communicate with each other (4)!
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is arguably the most popular and commonly taken nootropic substance - in fact, you might be using it right now! This stimulant works by blocking adenosine, a compound that can make you feel drowsy, from binding in your brain (5).

Be warned, though: caffeine on its own and in excess can cause unpleasant side effects like jitteriness and “crashing” after a couple of hours.

It’s a good idea to use it in moderation and/or pair with other notropic compounds.

  • L-theanine: In addition to caffeine, the amino acid theanine is one of the secret ingredients in tea that makes it such an effective nootropic drink.
  • L-theanine is thought to help improve your cognitive function by boosting your memory, critical thinking abilities, and concentration (6).
  • L-tyrosine: L-tyrosine is yet another amino acid that comes with a brain-boosting nootropic effect.

    Tyrosine is especially interesting because it may help you stay focused and improve your memory under stressful circumstances, which could be good news for anyone who works a high-pressure job (7)!

Final Thoughts On Nootropics

Our brains are incredibly important, and it’s safe to say that most of us want our brains to operate at their highest level. After all, our jobs and our personal lives very often depend on it!

Taking a nootropic supplement is a good idea for anyone who wants to get a natural boost in productivity, focus, and concentration.

While they may not make you an instant genius, they can help you “clear the cobwebs” by fighting off brain fog and letting you operate at your best.