What You Should Know Before Taking Nootropics

Nootropics encompass a wide range of medications, both prescription and natural, that are taken to impact cognitive ability. They are thought to improve focus, and in some cases impact memory and thought processes (via WebMD).

But some prescription nootropics come with a raft of side effects that you should be aware of. Drugs like Modafinil, prescribed to treat narcolepsy, Adderall, and Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are known to boost cognitive processes. But they also carry common side effects that include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, insomnia, vision problems, and addiction, according to Medical News Today.

For people who want to avoid the potential for these side effects, there are some natural options. Caffeine is the most popular, as it's found commonly in coffee, tea, and soda. The Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day for an adult, which is the amount in about four or five cups of coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant and improves focus.

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Gingko biloba, creatine, L-theanine, and omega-3 fatty acids are other examples of naturally occurring nootropics. All have anecdotal evidence of improved brain function when taken regularly (via Medical News Today). But the scientific research backing up those stories is still lacking. Not enough research has done to definitively state the benefits of natural nootropics.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to have a preventative effect on age-related cognitive decline, according to Healthline. As opposed to a supplement, however, experts recommend getting omega-3s into your diet through eating oily fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna (via Medical News Today) twice a week.

Another issue is that many people simply begin incorporating them into their diet too late in life. The effects are cumulative, says Dr. David Hogan, professor of medicine at University of Calgary and author of a 2015 review of dietary supplements. He told Time that by middle-age we may be past the period in life when these nootropics can offer cognitive benefits.

For a proven brain boost, lace up those gym shoes and exercise. A study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that moderate to vigorous activity led to less cognitive decline among a group of 6,400 older adults over a period of three years.