That important meeting is looming, you need to fit in training for your triathlon, and you seriously need to get your mum’s birthday gift for her party tomorrow night. Meanwhile your heart’s racing and you can’t concentrate. Before you reach for your stash of chocolate or move onto your fifth latte of the day, consider having a nootropic or adaptogen. These are remedies that combine centuries of traditional practices, such as Ayurvedic medicine, and the latest developments in human physiology and technology. Read on to find out what they are and how they may benefit you.
Supplements capable of enhancing brain health and performance (without altering brain anatomy), nootropics were originally categorised in the 1960s. Since then, they have been found to improve knowledge retention and information recall, focus and concentration, mood and creativity as well as relax and calm the mind (Gabryel & Trzeciak 1994, Arushanian & Beĭer 2008, Rodenberg & Holden 2017). These wide-ranging benefits mean they have the potential to benefit a range of people, including students, artists and gamers. Examples of natural nootropics include Bacopa Monnieri, Panax Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba.
Compared to nootropics, all adaptogens are naturally derived and are specifically intended to help maintain homeostasis in the body by stabilising the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems. Consequently, they are fantastic for minimising stress and improving resilience to future stressors (Winston 2019). Anyone taking an exam or preparing for a big presentation; take note! Adaptogens also foster a sense of wellbeing by contributing to diminish the negative effect of mental and environmental stressors such as extreme temperature (Winston 2019). They can therefore enable athletes to perform at their optimum, as well as help manual workers deal with the harsh conditions they face daily. Well known adaptogens include Turmeric, Goji Berries and American Ginseng.
Similarities and differences
Most, if not all, adaptogens could be categorised as nootropics, and several nootropics also fit the criteria for an adaptogen. As a result, the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, the biological mechanisms driving the activity of nootropics span a broad range of processes for improving brain health; including increasing neurotransmitter numbers, augmenting blood flow in the brain, regenerating and protecting brain cells and adjusting brain waves (Gabryel & Trzeciak 1994). In comparison, adaptogens specifically support health by reducing oxidative stress throughout the body and not just in the head (Chen, Liou & Chang 2008).
Certain substances afford specific health benefits. For example, nootropics enhance brain health and performance, and adaptogens reduce mental and physical stress. Therefore, next time you have a stressful meeting, sports competition, or are gearing up for a busy weekend, why not try reaching for a nootropic or adaptogen? However, as with any supplement, adaptogens and nootropics can have side effects, interactions, and contraindications. Therefore, before taking any supplement, consult your GP or a registered nutritionist.