Nootropics are a group of supplements that are taken primarily for their effects on our brains. Generally the term refers to any natural or synthetic substance that can have a positive impact on mental skills. Nootropics change the functioning of the brain in ways that are often taken advantage of for competitive sport. This could be through affecting neurotransmission (signaling between neurons), bioenergetics (the use of energy by the brain), or protecting neurons from damage and dysfunction. Examples include Huperzine A, L-Dopa, or Caffeine. Nootropics can influence cognitive functions like memory, alertness, attention, and various other factors that determine intelligence and ability to perform.
Nootropics can affect cognitive function directly or indirectly. Direct effects include things like altering or taking part in neurotransmission and participating in or influencing energy metabolism in the brain. Indirect effects include things like altering the levels of hormones that affect the brain, protecting the brain from damage and dysfunction, and easing disorders that can affect cognitive functioning, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
In general, nootropics fall into three general categories: dietary supplements, synthetic compounds, and prescription drugs. We’ll be covering the dietary supplements section of these that are WADA compliant and regularly used by athletes - there are several cognitive enhancers not allowed by WADA such as modafinil and DMAE.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF NOOTROPICS?
HUPERZINE - A
Huperzine-A is a cognitive enhancer that inhibits the enzyme that degrades the learning neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Due to the reduced breakdown, a relative increase occurs. Huperzine-A belongs to the cholinergics class of molecules, and studies have suggested that it may be useful in fighting cognitive decline in the elderly.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and it can be used to improve physical strength and endurance. It’s classified as a nootropic because it sensitises neurons and provides mental stimulation. Caffeine’s main mechanism involves engaging with adenosine receptors, thus reducing the availability of adenosine receptors.. Adenosine causes sedation and relaxation when it acts upon its receptors, located in the brain. Caffeine prevents this action and causes alertness and wakefulness. This inhibition of adenosine can influence the dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and adrenaline systems.
L-DOPA is a direct precursor to dopamine. Its supplementation can increase dopamine levels in the body. It is used as one component of most Parkinson's treatments, and found in high amounts in Mucuna Pruriens
Alpha-glycerophosphocholine (Alpha-GPC or α-GPC) is a cholinergic compound that is used for its cognitive-promoting properties, and to enhance power output in athletes. Although Alpha-GPC is found in a variety of food products that are also rich in choline, it appears to be pharmacologically active at higher doses, hence supplementation.
Lion's Mane, known as Yamabushitake, is a dietary mushroom that can be a supplement. It appears to be a promising cognitive enhancer and has been shown to protect against cognitive decline in rats as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in humans after 2g/day over the course of 4 weeks.