Beauty and skincare products used to be all about the surface — that is, using ingredients solely to help skin or hair look its best. While looking good will always be at the forefront of an industry that’s built on the foundation of beauty, recently beauty and wellness have started to collide. This has resulted in new products popping up that are more about feeling good and performing optimally from the inside out rather than just the outside in.
Enter nootropics, also known as brain boosters or “smart drugs,” which are plant-based or synthetic ingredients that can improve cognitive function, memory, attention, creativity, and even boost mood and reduce feelings of anxiety. When your brain and body feel calm, those benefits translate to your skin, just as the reverse is true (we’re look at you, stress acne).
The word nootropic roughly translates from the Greek phrase “to bend or shape the mind.” After the last few years, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone’s mind could use a little beneficial shaping.
What Are Nootropics?
The name may be new to you, but you’ve already had experience with nootropics if you’ve ever had a cup of coffee to boost your brain power before a meeting; caffeine is one of the most widely consumed nootropics. Other common ingredients that fall into this category include L-theanine, which is found in green tea, ginseng, fish oil, and even resveratrol (one of the reasons red wine is often said to be good for you). Some adaptogens, like lion’s mane mushroom, ashwagandha, and Rhodiola rosea are also nootropics, meaning they help the body adapt to stress while also improving cognitive function and mood. Ginkgo biloba and creatine are two other popular herbal supplements that fall into this category.
Why Am I Hearing About Nootropics Now?
In a culture obsessed with disrupting everything from the hotel industry to maps, it makes sense that the disruption would eventually turn to optimizing our own brains. After all, who wouldn’t do what they can to feel just a little better, a bit more productive, and calmer and more energetic? Turns out, nootropics can help with that.
While many nootropics are ancient remedies, their recent resurgence can be partially traced to biohackers, a broad term referring to people who are trying to “hack” their own biology whether that be by intermittent fasting, adding MCT oil to their coffee, cold plunging, or taking nootropics. While biohacking may immediately bring to mind images of a Silicon Valley-meets-Gwyneth Paltrow type, there is legitimacy to the science (still, it’s best to skip the Yoni eggs).
Depending on the type of plant, nootropics work in the brain in different ways to enhance cognitive performance and regulate mood. Today, everyone from college students to busy parents are turning to nootropics to feel calmer and more focused.
What Are the Benefits of Nootropics?
Like most vitamins or medications, the benefits of nootropics will depend on which one you’re taking and why. A few specific ways studies have shown nootropics can promote brain function are:
Caffeine has the magical ability to make you more alert
L-theanine helps with a sustained, calm focus
Resveratrol carries blood to the brain
Ginkgo biloba promotes memory by protecting the brain from damage and boosting blood circulation
Ashwagandha contributes to improved cognitive function and stress reduction
Lion’s mane mushrooms promote brain cell growth
Rhodiola rosea improves your mood and memory
Kanna (also known as Zembrin®)can improve cognitive functioning and flexibility, or the ability to switch between tasks and ideas with ease.
Do Nootropics Balance Hormones?
Yes, nootropics can also help to balance and regulate hormone levels when taken regularly. Several hormones, including cortisol, luteinizing hormone, and oxytocin, are created in the pituitary gland in the brain and so it makes sense that nootropics, which work on the brain, could have a positive effect.
But even hormones that are created in other areas of the body, like the ovaries, still receive signals from the brain. Simply put, if you give the brain a boost, the rest of the body reaps the benefits. (On the flipside, if your hormones are out of balance, it’s common to experience brain fog and other mood and cognitive issues.)
Before you start downing nootropics however, it’s important to know what you’re consuming and where they are coming from. “I do not recommend people buy on Amazon. You've got to know your dealer, right?” says Dr. Gabrielle Francis, naturopathic doctor and Veracity advisor. She adds that many vitamins and products available online could be counterfeit. If you’re taking a supplement (as opposed to say drinking coffee or red wine) make sure it’s from a trusted brand. It also never hurts to consult your doctor before adding a bunch of new supplements to your health regimen.
Not only does life today seem more stressful than before, but there are also ever-increasing demands on our brains. While there is no easy fix to our modern lives, in this one instance, the solution may be just as simple as adding a supplement to your diet and getting a little brain boost to help you handle it all.