Adaptogens and nootropics: what differences do you need to know?

Tempo de Leitura: 2 minutos

Adaptogens help the body resist stressors of all types, whether physical, chemical or biological. Because they are rich in phytochemicals, they contribute to the inhibition of metabolic pathways related to oxidative stress. As a part, there is better response of the innate immune system, greater anxiolytic effects, antidepressants and improved cognitive function. Examples of adaptogens: ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), tulsi herb (Holy basil), golden root (Rhodiola rosea), maca root (Lepidium meyenii). Understand now more about adaptogens and nootropics.

Nootropics are substances capable of improving brain performance, generating benefits for cognition, mood, memory, concentration, learning, in addition to decreasing anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, especially in situations where these functions are impaired. Thus, they are widely used as supportive treatment in Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit with hyperactivity, senile dementia and others.

Some examples of nootropics are: omega-3 (DHA), phosphatidylserine, choline (citicoline or alpha-GPC), L-carnitine, creatine, mushrooms (lions mane, reishi, cordyceps, chaga, maitake), herbal medicines (such as ginkgo biloba, mucuna pruriens, ginseng, curcumin) and even minerals such as magnesium and amino acids (such as tryptophan or L-theanine).

That is, every adaptogen is a nootropic, but not all nootropic is an adaptogen.

Criteria for classifying a nootropic:

  • Have no effect on blood pressure;
  • Pass through the blood-brain barrier;
  • Have minimal side effects;
  • Increase brain metabolism;
  • Have scientific proof in improving brain function;
  • Increase learning and memory;
  • Have brain protection against physical or chemical damage;
  • Have low toxicity.

They are easier to obtain in natural form in food supplements or plant extracts. Most nootropics do not have an immediate effect after a single dose, and therefore the long-term use is necessary to achieve the desired results.

Mechanism of action

Nootropics do not act directly through the release of neurotransmitters or as receptor ligands, but improve the supply of glucose and oxygen to the brain, have anti-hypoxic effects, and protect brain tissue from neurotoxicity. They also positively affect the synthesis of neuronal proteins and nucleic acid and stimulate phospholipid metabolism in neuronal membranes. In addition, he noted that some nootropics contribute to the elimination of free radicals, have an antiaggregating effect and help in erythrocitic plasticity. That’s why they improve blood flow to the brain.

In the case of nootropics, the main focus of action is on transmitters linked to concentration, cognition and memory, such as acetylcholine, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Contraindications of adaptogens and nootropics

  • People with cardiovascular diseases should pay close to the consumption of stimulant nootropics, such as guarana, because of the relatively high caffeine content;
  • Rhodiola is not recommended for patients with bipolar disorder;
  • Ginseng and eleuthero are contraindicated in patients with hypertension;
  • Ginkgo causes blood dilution, so people taking certain anticoagulants should not take it, for example, before surgery;
  • In addition, ashwagandha can act as a sedative in large doses, so it should not be consumed by people who use antidepressants and anxiolytics.
  • In any case, to be safe, none of these substances should be used during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

Therefore, you should always consider your health status and mood before you start using a nootropic; however, if the recommended dose is followed, no serious complications should occur.


Study Suggestion:
Understand All About Adaptogens – Science Play

Watch the video on Science Play with Rodrigo Duprat
: Nootropics and Adaptogens: Strategies for Mind Optimization

Article: Malík M, Tlustoš P. Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs. Nutrients

. 2022;14(16):3367. Published 2022 Aug 17. doi:10.3390/nu14163367

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