Nootropics, also known as nootropic substances, are basically chemical compounds that improve upon cognitive function. In other words, nootropics make our brains work better in terms of memory, motivation, concentration and just about any other cognitive process. Although the research in this field took off sometime in the early 1960s, nootropics have been around since ancient times. Historical evidence shows that they were used back in the day, in Chinese and Ayuverdic medicine.
But how do these substances work? This is a tricky question to answer, because there are various substances of this kind (lecithin, Gingko biloba and piracetam, to name just a few) and all of them act in slightly different ways, depending on their chemical structure. Essentially, nootropics work at the level of the neurotransmitters. In order to understand how “smart drugs” work, you first have to understand how neurotransmitters work.
Neurotransmitters are of various types and hold various functions. They are a chemical that sends signals to brain cells by binding to a receptor through a synapse, and thus allowing the receptor to fulfill its function. Neurotransmitters are organized in systems, and nootropics target systems related to cognitive function and improve their efficacy. There are three main neurotransmitters and adjacent synaptic systems in which nootropics work effectively.
Acetylcholine and the Cholinergic System
Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter on which the Cholinergic system relies. This neurotransmitter influences memory, learning, focus and decision-making. There are plenty of foods that can improve the well-functioning of this system, such as eggs, fish and animal organs such as kidneys, liver and brain. Choline can also be obtained from nootropic supplements from the racetam class, such as the previously mentioned piracetam.
Glutamate and the Glutamatergic System
Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, which is vital in regards to brain health, memory and learning. This is why it is crucial to keep a proper balance of glutamate levels in the brain, in order to maintain the general well-being of our nervous system and neural functions. This system is also stimulated by nootropics from the racetam class, such as aniracetam, which reduces sensitivity to glutamate, thus increasing brain activity.
Dopamine and Serotonin and the Dopaminergic and Serotonergic System
Dopamine and serotonin, as many of us might know already, influence our moods. These two neurotransmitters are very important in regards to nootropics and their use. Besides influencing our mood, they also have an impact on our motivation level, memory and ability to focus. These neurotransmitters can be stimulated by nootropics such as sulbutiamine. Nootropics that work on the level of this system enhance mood when they come in contact with serotonin, and heighten brain energy when dealing with dopamine.
There are still many discoveries that need to be made in the field of nootropics, given that this has become an object of scientific study only recently. But the future looks promising. With little to no unpleasant side effects when administered correctly, and beneficial action on brain function, nootropics are sure to become a very important ally in our day-to-day life.