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What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics can be drugs, supplements, herbs or any substance that improves mental performance in some way. The word itself is a compound word and has ancient Greek roots, the compound words are nus (mind) and trepo (turn), because this class of substances can make your mind “go into overdrive”.


In 1964, the Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr Corneliu Giurgea succeeded in synthesizing Piracetam. Studies in rodents and humans showed that Piracetam can improve cognitive functioning in people with the right brain chemistry and with negligible side effects compared to placebo. So he coined the category of “Nootropics” to be able to classify substances of this type.

The Doctor’s Criteria For Whether A Substance Can Be Classified As A Nootropic Are:

  • Improvement of the person’s memory or ability to remember
  • Enhancement of the person’s mental performance in adverse situations (e.g. stress, sleep deprivation, illness, electroconvulsive shock)
  • Neuroprotective effects (may reduce the toxic effect of other substances or brain damage from injury and disease)
  • Increase the efficiency of neuronal firing in the brain sheath as well as in subcortical areas
  • The improvement in cognitive abilities must not be due to a stimulant or sedative effect
  • The substance itself must have negligible toxicity and minimal side effects.
  • Following the work of Dr Corneliu Giurgea, Dr Vladimir Skondia a researcher at the Belgian pharmaceutical company, UCB-attempted to categorize nootropics again. His criteria for classifying nootropics were more based on the metabolic characteristics of the substance.

The List Is As Follows:

  • The substance must not affect blood vessels by vasodilation or vasoconstriction
  • The substance should not alter the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm of the brain
  • The substance must not cross the blood-brain barrier
  • The substance must not facilitate changes in the metabolic activity of the brain
  • The substance must have little or no side effects
  • The substance must have been studied in clinical trials sufficiently to know what changes in brain metabolism it promotes.

With such different and opposing criteria, it is not coincidental that the meaning of the term ‘nootropic’ is controversial. Many nootropics have elements from both lists, but few meet all the requirements of an entire list.

The Buzz: Nootropics – Vassar College

For Example, Gingko Biloba Is Considered By Many A Natural Nootropic.

Ginkgo is an herb with benefits for those with neurological disorders as well as healthy individuals. Eating Gingko helps brain function/health, and preventing plaque from beta-amyloid protein in the brain is one of the many benefits of this herb.

Other consider Acetyl-L-Carnitine as a nootropic. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is another substance that has nootropic benefits through the alteration of acetylcholine in our nervous system. Specifically, it acts to enhance the parasympathetic nervous system, facilitating and enhancing acetylcholine levels in the nervous system. This mechanism is thought to be ancillary to ALCAR’s benefits in various brain pathologies, from cognitive impairment to memory loss disease, and even depression.

There are even supplements combining many substances all together such as Neuroactiv6. Popular health blog FoodNurish has written an extensive review if you want to learn more about this particular product.


Nootropics are a fascinating class of supplements and drugs that are effective and safe for both the sick and healthy population. In addition, you can choose from several types of nootropics-herbal, amino acid or pharmaceutical-when making your personal choice for brain food. It’s certainly an appealing option for those of us who need a little cognitive optimization.