There’s a constant stream of diet fads to tap into. The gluten free foods one is a great example, a trend with absolutely no health benefits unless you are genuinely allergic to gluten. If you’re not allergic all you’re doing is depriving your body of something it needs, but the trend has gone international all the same – millions of people are buying gluten free and manufacturers are stepping in with new gluten free products to fan the flames.
As a rule, things that promise the earth but require no effort from you are usually scams. Diet pills, for example, just don’t work. You can’t simply take a pill and lose weight without changing what you eat and getting off your ass to do regular exercise. Wishful thinking? Yes. Veracity? No.
The nootropic brain supplement fad is a big one. So do any of these curious preparations actually improve your brain’s functionality in a measurable, proven way that makes a noticeable difference? Or are nootropics just another brand of junk science, something that people would love to work, but in reality are nothing but a placebo? Do nootropic brain supplements really work?
The short answer is probably not. Even the alleged best nootropics and nootropic supplements don’t affect your brain’s performance. As one website says, “Due to the wide variety of supplements classed as nootropics, there’s no single way of explaining how they work.” If that doesn’t instantly strike you as fishy, it should.
We could talk all day about the research that shows these products don’t work, or at least can’t be proven scientifically to work. But it’s probably more sensible to talk about the two preparations that actually have some scientific evidence to back up the claims made about them, notably ordinary, everyday caffeine and something called L-theanine. They’re both found in green tea and in coffee, in small doses, but when you buy them in nootropic pill form the concentrations you get are way higher.
The idea behind caffeine as a nootropic drug is that it can improve motivation and focus by increasing catecholamine signaling. But like many substances, you soon build up a tolerance. L-theanine is simple stuff, merely a common amino acid. One study suggested it promotes neuronal health by cutting down psychological and physiological stress responses, which is actually the reason it is so often taken alongside caffeine supplements – it takes away those awful jitters you get from too much caffeine. The results of the research suggest caffeine in combination with L-theanine makes you more alert, better at switching tasks effectively, with a longer attention span, especially in the first two hours after taking the supplement. But the scientists also found that most of the effects are down to the caffeine rather than the L-theanine.
It looks like it’s not much use consuming what the experts call an entire nootropic stack. Even the top nootropics cannot be reliably proven to work. In fact many experts say the impact people seem to notice is nothing more than a placebo effect, and an expensive one at that. Read any decent science-based, non-sales focused nootropics review and you’ll find that these so-called cognitive enhancers are not the best brain supplements, if indeed there’s such a thing as an effective brain supplement at all.
There is, on the other hand, such a thing as the placebo effect, and it is a mighty powerful thing. Let’s start with the nocebo effect, though, just to show you how powerful your brain already is, and how remarkably suggestive. Say you curse somebody to death. If they believe your curse will work, they will die. It sounds silly, maybe something only primitive or uneducated people would experience. But that’s just not the case. Have you heard the story of the man diagnosed with terminal cancer, who obediently died a few weeks later? A Post Mortem revealed he didn’t have cancer at all, he’d been given someone else’s test results by mistake. It just goes to show how very suggestible we are, and how very potent those suggestions can be.
Rather than spend a lot of money on quackery, on supplements that can’t be proved to work, you could spend next to nothing and enjoy the same powerful effects. Buy a roll of mint sweets and tell yourself they’ll make your brain work better. Then sit back and see what happens. Bearing in mind that placebos work just as well even if you know for a fact you’re taking a placebo, you’ll probably find that mints are just as likely as nootropics to deliver better brain performance. Alternatively, simply make yourself a good, strong cup of coffee and off you go…