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Do nootropics really work? I tried the hot new 'brain boosters' that promise to improve focus, mood and energy

Remember the film Limitless, which saw Bradley Cooper become an absolute superhuman after discovering a magical pill that allowed him to learn countless languages, beat the stock market and be an all-round badass?

If, like me, you left the cinema wishing there was a real-life, legal version of Bradley's much-loved NZT-48 Limitless pill, you could be in luck.

One of the major wellness trends of 2023 is Nootropics - brain-boosting supplements known to enhance cognitive performance and improve brain health. They work to produce a wide range of benefits across memory, focus, motivation and verbal fluency, and have adaptogenic properties, which help your mind and body adapt to physical, mental and emotional stressors and find balance.

We've long been talking about gut health so now it's time to turn our focus to our brain health. The gut is our second brain, so why are we not taking the same care with our actual brain? The brain is arguably the most complex organ in the human body and recognised as the body’s command centre, influencing every aspect of life and that's exactly why people will be supplementing with nootropics.

Ever since watching Limitless, I've made it my life's mission to dive deep into the world of nootropics and trial every supplement under the sun. If you're curious, read on for an expert guide to these clever little pills, plus a tried-and-tested review of the best nootropics out there.

What are nootropics?

According to Kinga Jasiak, Product Developer at Mind Lab Pro: “In a nutshell, nootropics are a class of supplements aimed at optimising brain performance. The benefits of nootropics can vary depending on the substance, but some of the commonly reported effects include improved memory, enhanced focus, increased motivation, and better mood. Some nootropics might also support long-term brain health potentially slowing down brain ageing and cognitive decline."

Why are nootropics rising in popularity?

The rise in popularity of nootropics can be attributed to people searching for ways to boost their cognitive abilities and support their mental wellbeing in an increasingly competitive and fast-paced world, believes Kinga. "Natural nootropics are especially in demand; derived from plants or foods, natural nootropics are often a much safer and cleaner option than synthetic cognitive enhancers.”

How exactly do nootropics work?

The gut is lined with a network of millions of neurones that are connected directly to our brain through our nerves. This network, which is known as the enteric nervous system, is so extensive that many scientists refer to our gut as our “second brain”; it actually produces more serotonin (our happy hormone) than our actual brain.

“The chemical messages that pass between the gut and the brain are hugely affected by our gut microbiome - the bacteria, viruses and fungus that lives there - and the things that we consume can therefore positively, or adversely affect this, with implications on the way that we think, act and feel,” explains Dr Simoné Laubscher, leading nutritionist and formulator for WelleCo.

"Over the last two decades, the world has become more toxic and we’ve seen stress levels rise; simultaneously, we’ve seen a huge increase in those suffering from gut-related problems such as IBS, bloating, constipation, gas, diarrhoea, heartburn, leaky gut and amplified food sensitivities. In more recent years, we’ve also seen a spike in patients experiencing mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which are often related to their gut.

“While gut health has been talked about for some time, we’re only now starting to talk about the link between the gut and the brain, and the influence that the gut can indeed have over our psychological state and, with that, has come an increase in the interest in nootropics. Nootropics - or “cognitive enhancers” - are typically used to describe any substance that may have a positive impact on our mental skills, and work by influencing areas such as brain waves, cerebral blood flow, cellular energy, hormones and neurotransmitters through the ingredients they contain.”

So do they work?

They say the first time always hits best and I can attest this to be true with nootropics. I popped mine at 8am with breakfast and waited patiently, expecting to get an immediate high and start rambling in Mandarin during morning news conference. Alas, despite not automatically being able to speak 6 languages and outdo the City's top traders, I felt quietly alert, my mind felt clear and I was much more efficient.

As my colleagues know only too well, I can talk for England and these pills left me talking for the whole world. I couldn't shut up. I am hyper at the best of times and these took me to the next level. I felt excited about even the most mundane tasks and got through my to-do list in record time.

By 10pm, my usual bedtime, I couldn't sleep. I was full of creative ideas for work and honestly felt like whipping out my laptop.

I continued taking the pills for a good month and have to admit, the effect wore off with time and while I didn't quite feel equipped to run for state like Bradley Cooper, and haven't mastered Arabic just yet, nootropics completely changed my mood, energy levels and creativity and I predict we'll all be popping them by the end of the year.

I've also become a huge fan ‘euphoric drinks’ - a US trend coming our way courtesy of the likes of Katy Perry and Bella Hadid. I have become borderline addicted to the Three Spirit range - a trio of botanical elixirs aimed to help you feel your best self with added function and flavour. Founded in the UK in 2018, Three Spirit’s ‘Social Spirit’ elixirs are plant based drinks which harness the powerhouse parts of plants and the functional effects from their nootropic and adaptogenic properties. They promise to enhance mood and maximise the pleasurable effects of drinking without the alcohol or after effect and I can truly attest they work. Cheers to that.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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