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Nootropics & Adaptogens - What are They and What is All the Commotion About?

There is a good chance you have never even heard of adaptogens or nootropics - or maybe you’ve come across some in the store and wondered what all the commotion was about. All in all, there has been significant attention on the use of both nootropics and adaptogens for potential mental and psychological benefits but how accurate are these claims? 

Let’s find out by understanding what exactly nootropics and adaptogens are.

What is a Nootropic? 

Nootropics are substances that have a potentially beneficial effect on mental skills and help to enhance cognition. Nootropics typically come in the form of supplements or prescription drugs and have claims to help improve memory, focus, mood and other brain functions. 

Nootropics have become increasingly more popular and widely used over the past few years. As more people want to improve their focus and mental endurance, many products have come out to meet this demand . Therefore, many companies have begun to dive into developing a range of nootropics to meet the consumers' needs of looking for a healthier and more natural way to maintain brain health.

What you may not know is that most people already consume nootropics every day without even knowing it. This is because caffeine is considered a type of nootropic. Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world that effectively helps one feel more awake and alert throughout the day, as well as potentially helping with short term memory and learning. As it is naturally found in coffee, cocoa, tea, kola nuts, and guarana, and added to many sodas, energy drinks, and medications - it can be a hard substance to avoid! However, caffeine is not the first thing that comes to mind when looking to take a nootropic supplement, as it is often never referred to as this.

One nootropic supplement that has been the popular topic as of lately is L-Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found in tea and some mushrooms and comes in two forms: L-theanine and D-theanine, with L-theanine being the most common form. It is proposed to improve mental function and is often used as treatment for anxiety, mental impairment, stress, and other conditions. As it is said to help both memory and thinking skills, cognitive function, many people are tempted to try it out, however there is more research needing to be done to support these uses. 

What is an Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are plant-based pharmaceuticals that are used to help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, while also helping to maintain normal psychological functioning. This is done by regulating the release of cortisol, the primary stress hormone of the body. Adaptogens, like nootropics, have been used in herbal medicines throughout history. However, it has been up until recently that many of these adaptogen products have sparked such interest with today’s society. Adaptogens can typically be eaten with meals or taken in supplemental form and can be found at various stores, such as Whole Foods, Central Market, and even HEB.

One of the most common adaptogens is Reishi. This adaptogen is a type of mushroom that claims to calm nerves and relieve stress, while also helping to regulate hormones. Reishi mushrooms have been commonly used in Asian cultures as herbal medicine for years. However, today you can find it in various food supplements. Another popular one is Lion’s Mane, available in powder or capsule form, and even in coffee brands such as Four Sigmatic. This mushroom can supposedly help optimize cognitive performance to better focus for working and studying. However, this mushroom has been used for centuries before in traditional Chinese herbal medicines. The real question is how safe and effective is it? 

So what is the verdict?

Both nootropics and adaptogens have their uses and benefits and have been around for centuries. It is only up until recently that they have gained such momentum in today’s population. Nootropics usually help to enhance brain health and cognition, whereas adaptogens help us adapt to stress and reduce feelings of anxiety. Although these products are advertised as natural methods to reduce stress and enhance cognition, it is important to be aware of the risks at hand.

There is much still unknown about the long-term effect of using adaptogens, and it is important not to assume that just because it may be a natural plant substance that it’s safe for long-term use. Many of these products may interfere with medications for high blood pressure or diabetes. Those who are pregnant or nursing should also not take adaptogen supplements. Neither should anyone already taking antidepressant medication, as negative interactions can occur. Another important aspect to consider is being aware that most supplements are not third-party tested, meaning they may not even contain the compound they claim to have.

Therefore, until more studies are completed, it might be best to save your money and stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet with a variety of colors to provide the nourishment your body and mind crave. Be sure to talk with your doctor before incorporating an adaptogen or nootropic product into your routine. In the meantime, do not rely on dietary supplements alone to fix any problem – instead seek support from your doctor and dietitian to help you along your health journey. 

Erika Richter, MS


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