Nootropics. This buzzword—pronounced “no-uh-tr picks”—is all over the place lately, with little explanation of what it actually means.
“Simply stated, they’re supplements for the brain,” says Todd Runestad, supplements and ingredients editor at natural-lifestyle media company New Hope Network.
When the term was first coined, in 1972 by a Romanian scientist, a nootropic substance had to meet five high-bar criteria, including protecting the brain from things that might disrupt its function and having no side effects. Today, nootropics—also called smart drugs—have come to include anything that enhances brain function, especially memory, cognition and learning.
Popular nootropics include Ayurvedic herbs, such as ashwagandha and bacopa; amino acids like L-theanine; and familiar supplements like omega-3s, caffeine and choline. Most often, multiple nootropic ingredients are combined into a brain-happy cocktail of sorts. And although they can be effective, few of the combos have been well-researched, so it’s wise to investigate a product before consumption (especially check for the purity of a product, its side effects and what happens with long-term use). Even if a product checks out, take it only in moderation.