The ability to concentrate is essential for the successful completion of any task, but staying focused can sometimes be a challenge due to distractions, mental or physical fatigue, anxiety, and lack of sleep. If you find that you often have trouble concentrating, nootropics might just be the answer you’re looking for.
By affecting the production and balance of chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters, nootropics increase the brain’s capacity to concentrate, learn and focus.
What are nootropics?
Often when drugs are developed to treat certain health conditions, researchers discover that they have other properties that make them well-suited for other purposes too and the drug can be used ‘off label’ for other reasons.
Nootropics are drugs that were originally developed to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy, but their properties mean that they make ideal ‘smart drugs’, which are used to boost focus, concentration, and learning capacity.
When taken as a supplement, nootropics can enhance cognitive ability. They are known to boost memory and concentration, and so they are popular among students when they are studying for exams, and even when they want to boost their energy for partying.
Some other drugs that have similar effects can cause negative side effects if they are used for a long period of time or if they are abused, but generally, nootropics are safe, they can have a protective effect on the brain, and there are little or no side effects associated with use.
Many nootropics work in a similar way to each other. They increase the communication between neurons in the brain, promote healthy brain cells, and balance the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. Neurotransmitters control mood, focus, concentration, and energy so it is important that they are working as well as they should in the brain.
All about nootropics
The first ever nootropic, Piracetam, was invented in 1963 by Belgian pharmacologists. They found that the active compound boosted cognitive ability but was it not toxic and did not produce side effects, unlike other brain stimulants.
Piracetam is one of the best-known nootropics and is part of the Racetam family along with Aniracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, Nefiracetam, Coluracetam and Nebracetam. These are all synthetic compounds made in a lab, but there are also several effective herbal and natural nootropic supplements available.
Nootropics work by increasing the levels and signalling ability of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain, and when they can send their signals more efficiently, overall concentration is better, mood is better, and the user has a better attention span, and more capacity for mental work. Eventually, nootropics cause an improvement to the health and functioning of your brain as well.
Some nootropics are vasodilators, which means they increase the blood flow to your brain. This supplies the brain with more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose, which it needs when you need to focus for long periods.
The brain requires a large amount of energy to function at its best, to sustain consciousness and to remain focused. It uses 20% of your energy expenditure, despite making up only 5% of your total body weight.
When you are performing mental work, and having to stay focused and alert, this uses up a lot of energy. By improving brain circulation, and the flow of oxygen to the brain, you will notice that your memory and focus is better, and that you are able to sustain concentration for longer periods.
Some natural nootropics supply the brain cells with energy, and they are popular, as they act on the brain immediately. These include L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Creatine, and Ginkgo Biloba. These can create feelings of being jittery however, unlike nootropics.
Nootropics can also help to protect the brain against the effects of age-related degeneration. They can stimulate the growth of new neurons, which could prevent disorders like Alzheimer’s disease from developing. This is big news at a time when people are living longer than ever and scientists are trying to halt the rise in neurodegenerative diseases.
What are nootropics prescribed for?
ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a condition which presents with behavioural symptoms such as the inability to pay attention and focus, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood, and symptoms tend to become more noticeable when a child has to interact with others under different circumstances and in different settings, such as when they start school. Most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in children between 6 and 12 years old. Symptoms can become less pronounced as people get older, though adults can continue to experience problems like anxiety and sleep disorders. Adults are not generally diagnosed with ADHD, and if they are, it is likely they have had it since childhood and it has been misdiagnosed as something else. Unfortunately, ADHD is often misdiagnosed.
Symptoms of ADHD
The main symptoms of ADHD are the inability to pay attention or focus on anything, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Some people might not have all of these symptoms however.
Symptoms in children and young people
Many children with the condition are diagnosed before the age of 6. The most noticeable signs are:
Being easily distracted
Being unable to listen to instructions and take direction
Inability to order tasks
Doing things without thinking
Interrupting other’s conversations
Obviously, these symptoms can cause problems for a child at school, and they often lead to issues with discipline and underachieving.
Symptoms in adults
The research into adult ADHD is lacking, but what is known is that because it’s a developmental disorder, the condition always appears in childhood. Adults with ADHD might display different signs, such as depression and anxiety. However, by the age of 25, around 15% of people with ADHD still have all of the symptoms they had as children, and 65% of people are affected in some way, even if they don’t have the full range of symptoms. Adult ADHD tends to show as inattentiveness, rather than hyperactivity. Adults may demonstrate the following symptoms:
Inability to finish tasks
Inability to focus on tasks
Mood swings and irritability
Engaging in risky behaviour
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but it tends to run in families, and research has found that there are differences in the brains of people who have ADHD compared to those who don’t. Some other possible contributing factors to the development of the condition include:
Being born prematurely
Being subjected to smoke, alcohol, or drug abuse while in the womb
Treatment for the condition is focused on relieving symptoms so that it is less disruptive of daily life. The usual treatments are either medication or therapy, or a combination of the two.
There are five types of medication licensed for the treatment of ADHD, though the 2 most common are methylphenidate and dexamfetamine. Medication can’t cure ADHD but it can help those with the condition to be calmer and more focused. Low doses are given initially so that side effects can be monitored. Side effects tend to be more pronounced at higher doses, just as with any medication.
Therapy can be useful in combination with a medication regime, and it can help with any anxiety or behavioural disorders that might develop along with the ADHD.
Therapies that might be offered include
Those with ADHD are encouraged to talk about their condition and how it affects their lives. It can help people to cope and live with their diagnosis.
This teaches children with the condition about what is appropriate behaviour, and it rewards good behaviour, and withdraws privileges for bad behaviour.
Parent training and education programmes
These programmes teach techniques to parents about how to play and work with children to improve their attention and behaviour.
There are other lifestyle factors that may improve symptoms of ADHD, however more research is needed as to whether they are actually effective.
Some studies have shown suggested that there is a link between certain types of food and worsening symptoms. Some food additives and colourings, and caffeine can make hyperactivity worse. Keeping a food diary may help to identify anything that may makes symptoms worse.
Research has suggested that supplementation with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids might help those with ADHD, but further study is needed in this area before any definitive conclusions are drawn.
Narcolepsy is a rare brain disorder that can cause a person to fall asleep at inappropriate times. The brain can’t regulate its sleeping and waking patterns, and this make sufferers feel sleepy throughout the day, and they can also fall asleep without any warning.
Narcolepsy doesn’t usually lead to serious physical health problems, but it can have a huge impact on everyday life and it can be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Symptoms of narcolepsy
excessive daytime sleepiness: feeling groggy through the day, and having difficulty concentrating and staying awake
sleep attacks: falling asleep suddenly, no matter where they are
cataplexy: temporary loss of muscle control which results in weakness, usually in response to experiencing emotions such as anger or excitement
sleep paralysis: a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep
excessive dreaming and night waking
What causes narcolepsy?
Many cases of narcolepsy are caused by a lack of the brain chemical hypocretin which is responsible for regulating wakefulness. A deficiency of the chemical is believed to occur because the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that make it in the body. The exact cause of narcolepsy is unclear, though possible triggers that are being investigated include hormonal changes, stress, and infection.
Who’s affected by Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a rare condition. It’s difficult to know exactly how many people have narcolepsy because many cases are thought to go unreported or undiagnosed. Men and women appear to be affected equally by narcolepsy, although some studies have suggested the condition may be slightly more common in men. The symptoms often begin in the teenage years, although the condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
How is narcolepsy diagnosed?
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you suspect that you have narcolepsy. They will ask about your sleep and your symptoms. They might check for other conditions like sleep apnoea, restless legs, or an underactive thyroid gland, which could produce similar symptoms to narcolepsy, such as daytime fatigue. You might be referred to a specialist sleep disorders clinic for assessment.
There’s no cure for narcolepsy, but making lifestyle changes to improve your sleeping habits and taking medication can help to reduce the impact the condition has on your daily life.
Taking frequent naps throughout the day is a good way to manage excessive daytime drowsiness. This might not be practical when you’re at work or school, but your doctor or sleep specialist may be able to come up with a realistic sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking naps.
Keeping to a strict bedtime routine can also help, so you should go to bed at the same time each night whenever possible, and wake up at the same time each day.
If your symptoms are particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed medication that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve your sleep at night. These medications are usually taken as daily tablets, capsules, or solutions that you drink.
How do nootropics help with ADHD and narcolepsy?
In cases of ADHD, nootropics can have a calming effect, and they can increase focus and concentration.
When they are taken for narcolepsy, they can reduce daytime sleepiness and improve the quality of sleep at night.
Nootropics are known for their ability to boost cognitive function. One of the most well-known benefits of taking nootropics is improved focus and concentration. When you have an important deadline to meet, or an exam to work for, there are some nootropics that can help to mentally stimulate you and make you more productive.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid which can improve mood and memory, enhance cognitive abilities, increase focus, and reduce stress when taken as a supplement. It promotes the healthy balance of brain chemicals and it promotes peak mental performance and focus, even under stressful conditions.
Modafinil promotes wakefulness and is often used off label to boost mental performance. Its effectiveness has been documented in many research studies.
CDP Choline is a naturally-occurring chemical that many nootropic users take as part of a stack. It is potent, but safe, and it is known to boost memory and protect the brain. It’s particularly effective when stacked with one of the racetams.
Adrafinil promotes wakefulness and if it is used safely and correctly, it can be useful for helping you to perform mentally demanding tasks.
L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid which is found in green tea leaves. It is relaxing while stimulating you sufficiently to enable you to focus for long periods of time.
Noopept is one of the most potent nootropics on the market today. It provides a boost to overall cognition and energy by stimulating the action of glutamate receptors. Glutamate is needed for normal concentration and memory.
Noopept is usually included in a stack with one of the racetams or choline sources to give your attention and focus an extra boost. You can enhance this even further by adding caffeine or sulbutiamine. Noopept has little or no side effects.
Pramiracetam is a potent brain booster that can improve memory, concentration, and focus. It also has a neuroprotective effect. It is one of the strongest nootropics available, and though its properties are potent enough on its own, it makes an excellent addition to a nootropic stack. Because of its potency, use this nootropic if you are used to taking them.
This nootropic is potent, safe, and very effective, so it is one of the most popular of the racetams. It’s a brain booster that enhances cognition, but it’s also a stimulant that can boost and restore physical and mental energy levels.
Alpha GPC is a natural choline compound that works in 2 ways; as a standalone nootropic, it boost memory, and in combination with other nootropics, it can boost cognition even further.
For any nootropic user wanting to boost choline levels, this is the choline source of choice, and for many it’s an essential part of any comprehensive nootropic stack.
It works particularly well with phenylpiracetam, which is a modified version of Piracetam, and it is thought to be even more potent. Some studies have found that it can be up to 60 times stronger, and that the supplement can boost physical performance as well as mental performance considerably.
Users have reported benefits including better memory and learning capacity, improved focus and concentration, and a boost in mental energy overall.
As well as this, it is also thought to boost stamina, improve mood, reduce anxiety and stress, tackle insomnia and improve problem-solving ability.
There is a chance that you might build a tolerance with this supplement, so use it in cycles, only as needed. Combining it with other complementary nootropics in a stack will help to alleviate reported side effects too, which are usually headaches and stomach upsets.