The year 2020 is all about self-improvement. While many of us are devoting our time to improved mental and physical health, others are turning to nootropics—supplements aimed at boosting mental capacity and performance.
If you’ve seen Limitless, you’re well aware of the fictional super drug promising improved memory and sharpened mental activity. But does such a drug actually exist? Walk down any health aisle in your local drugstore and you’ll find a vast amount of supplements promising to boost your brainpower.
Do any of these brain boosters actually work? Here’s the rundown on the nootropics boom and if they really do boost your brainpower.
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics, the “get smart” drug promising to boost your brain and enhance your memory. How do they work? Supposedly, nootropics protect your brain from becoming damaged by toxins and aging, while stimulating neurons and increasing blood and oxygen flow to your brain. Many researchers believe nootropics improve your attention span and improve cognitive functions.
There are two types of nootropics—natural substances and prescription drugs. Natural substances include Ginkgo biloba and creatine, while common prescription drugs include Adderall and Ritalin.
Do Nootropics Really Work?
While Americans are expected to spend $11.6 billion on nootropic supplements by 2024, there’s limited proof that nootropics actually work. Most nootropics are not FDA-approved and research into the area is scarce. A recent study found that over-the-counter nootropics had no effect on the cognitive function of middle-aged and older adults. Most studies conclude that caffeine and prescription medications like Adderall are the only nootropics that improve cognitive performance.
The bottom line: if you’re purchasing nootropics to improve your brain power, you’re probably wasting your money.
What Are the Risks of Taking Nootropics?
Remember that college exam you crammed for last-minute? If you’re like many college-aged students, you may have turned to Adderall to study. In fact, research indicates two-thirds of college students are offered prescription drugs like Adderall for non-medical purposes.
Without a prescription from a licensed physician, taking Adderall could turn lethal. In high doses, Adderall may cause cardiac arrest, high blood pressure and even psychosis.
And even easy-to-access caffeine supplements have some alarming side effects—anxiety, hallucinations and uncontrollable shaking.
How Can I Naturally Boost My Brainpower?
Exercise, specifically cardio, is key to boosting your brainpower. So, if you want to improve your memory and increase your attention span, add cardiovascular exercise to your weekly routine.
The human body is more intertwined than you may think. For example, if you suffer from high blood pressure, your risk of heart disease is significantly increased. High blood pressure is also known to decrease blood flow to the brain, which disrupts its capacity to function normally.
Instead of purchasing expensive brain-boosting supplements, exercise regularly, check off plenty of cardio and eat heart-healthy foods like fish, nuts, fruit, green leafy vegetables and whole grains. Last but not least, get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Research suggests a lack of sleep can dramatically impair your attention span and cognitive skills.
The bottom line: everything that’s good for your cardiovascular system is also good for your brain.