Nootropics are the buzzword of the modern era for excellent reasons, like enhancing brain power even in disorders that were untreatable in the past. Some researchers think that smart drugs improve the state of mind rather than cognition itself. Regardless of exactly how they work, we do know that their powers are becoming more and more popular given the sheer number of smart drugs on the market.
Saying all nootropics have positive effects on the brain is like saying all psychiatric drugs are sedative or all vitamins improve thiamine levels. The novelty of nootropics makes them prime terrain for myths and misconceptions.
Myth: Nootropics Have No Side Effects
Some nootropics are natural, but not all that is naturally occurring is without risk. Even water can kill if you have too much of it, and botanical ingredients can cause side effects as well. Many nootropics are powerful stimulants and some conditions react poorly to them, including:
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety disorder and panic attacks
- Movement disorders
No drugs are dangerous or benign for all patients, and naturally occurring ones are no different. You wouldn’t take an antidepressant before consulting with your doctor, and you shouldn’t take nootropics without professional input either.
Myth: All Nootropics Enhance Brain Power
Corneliu Giurgea, the person responsible for coining the word ‘nootropic’, defines them as nutrients and drugs that enhance the brain and/or protect it. Not all nootropics directly affect neuroplasticity or even the brain as an organ. Some enhance other bodily functions that get in the way of cognition.
The phrase “true nootropics” has emerged to tell the difference between drugs that enhance cognition directly and those that only stimulate the body. Stimulants are not necessarily nootropics, but not all nootropics are stimulants. Choline and pseudoephedrine, for example, have stimulant effects that can enhance your focus and memory, but they’re not strictly nootropics. Nootropics have few side effects by definition, and typical stimulants tend to come with foot long package inserts.
Traditional stimulants are part of a larger category of drugs called “performance and image enhancing drugs.” Nootropics are only a part of that category.
Myth: You Use 10% of Your Brain
Nootropics don’t help you to use more than 10% of the brain because all humans use every part of the brain. Cognition occurs via pathways and the connections between them. The more connections you have, the better your cognition and memory, and you can certainly add neural pathways or improve existing ones.
Learning a new skill will add new connections. So will learning new ways of focusing or using memory. Nootropics can also enhance neuroplasticity in a huge number of ways by improving blood flow to the brain. That said, the brain is a complex organ, and much of its functionality isn’t entirely understood. Sometimes neuroscientists can’t produce reasons for the effects they observe.
Myth: All Brain Nutrients are Nootropics
When strictly defined, nootropics must qualify for five different criteria. They must:
- Enhance cognition
- Protect the brain
- Enhance cortical control mechanisms
- Have few side effects
- Enhance learned behaviors in patients with conditions that disrupt them
Newer definitions also require nootropics to have no effect on EEG activity or blood vessels. They also need to pass the blood-brain barrier. Other changes in thinking have led to a more inclusive definition that calls anything that affects cognition positively a nootropic.
Myth: Nootropics are Adequate Replacements for Nutrition and Hard Work
Nutrients keep your cells healthy. Without them, even the most effective nootropics will have little effect on your cognition. Before you build a house, you create the foundation, otherwise, the entire structure will collapse. The same applies to your health. First, you must lay the foundation with good nutrition that contributes to your cellular health. It’s only then that other medications can be at their most effective. A wholesome and healthy diet is one of the most important elements of your brain’s health. Deficiencies can obliterate your ability to function.
- Iron deficiency can cause fatigue and weakness. 30% of the world has this problem.
- Thiamine deficiency chips away at your energy levels and memory.
- Niacin deficiency causes dementia.
- Folate deficiency reduces brain development and impedes a healthy nervous system.
Professor Gary Lynch believes that memory enhancement drugs that target specific parts of the brain are just around the corner. However, many nootropics are remarkably effective already, adding to the quality of life of millions of patients who had no forms of treatment only a decade ago.