Taking care of your mental health and improving your cognitive function should maybe be one of your top priorities, especially as you grow older.
Ever since ancient times, people experimented with plants that helped with headaches, or that allowed them to think more clearly and reduce brain fog.
While science didn’t exist at that time to validate the plants’ uses as herbal nootropics, our ancestors may have been on to something.
Five All-Natural Nootropics Derived From Plants
Huperzine A is a well-known cognitive enhancer. This substance enhances your cognitive functions by inhibiting an enzyme that degrades acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is also known as the learning neurotransmitter, but it plays a role in muscle contraction as well.
Having a slight surplus of acetylcholine in your body can enhance both your cognitive and muscular performance. Due to its versatility as an herbal supplement, huperzine A is rather popular among scholars and athletes alike.
Huperzine A (HupA) is extracted from herbs belonging to the Huperziceae family (fir clubmosses or firmosses). These plants are widespread around the world. They have lanceolate evergreen leaves and vegetative stems.
Most of the huperzine A used in supplements is derived from Huperzia serrata, which is a firmoss native to India and southeast Asia.
Huperzine A is a potent selective and reversible inhibitor of the acetylcholinesterase (AchE). It’s capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier in high doses, having a better oral bioavailability and a longer inhibitory action over acetylcholinesterase.
In simpler terms, this means that huperzine A is capable of reaching your brain in higher doses and it will inhibit AchE for a longer period. This positive effect helps maintain a higher level of acetylcholine in your brain.
Studies have shown that acetylcholine (AcH) receptors are involved in encoding new memories and protection against age-related cognitive decline. Huperzine A blocks AchE, an enzyme that naturally degrades AcH. Therefore, when acetylcholine builds up in your brain, memory and cognition are enhanced.
Bacopa monnieri is a perennial herb and all-natural nootropic that grows throughout the wetlands of the world.
It’s typically found in Nepal, India, China, Pakistan, and Taiwan, but it can also grow in Europe, Australia, Africa, and America. In recent years people started growing bacopa indoors as an aquarium plant, thanks to its ability to grow in water.
Commonly known as the water hyssop or brahmi, this is a medicinal herb that has been used for centuries, if not millennia, for cognitive enhancement.
Bacopa’s main mechanism of action is promoting neuron communication, enhancing efficiency within the brain. This substance increases the nerve endings’ growth rate, increasing the communication rate within the nervous system. The herb also increases cerebral blood flow and has an antioxidant effect.
Taking Bacopa monnieri can reduce your stress and anxiety and improve your mood and sense of well-being.
Bacopa supplementation is perhaps best known for helping develop sharper and more vivid memories while improving information recall. In other words, it’s one of the best all-natural nootropics for memory enhancement on the market.
Ginkgo biloba is also quite popular in the world of cognitive enhancement and is perhaps the most used herbal nootropic. Native to China, the Ginkgo tree has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
Besides its cognitive enhancing abilities, people take Ginkgo biloba supplements for treating high blood pressure, macular degeneration, tinnitus, peripheral arterial disease, and more.
A Ginkgo biloba extract with a 50:1 concentration should be taken with meals for cognitive enhancement and to alleviate symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.
Studies have shown that elders experiencing cognitive decline can choose a Ginkgo biloba extract as a therapeutic option to maintain their mental acuity.
Other studies have shown that the short-term memory of several test subjects taking Ginkgo biloba supplements increased reliably. These effects were witnessed in both healthy candidates and those who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and dementia.
L-theanine (or theanine), is a non-essential amino acid found in the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), the plant that’s used for producing green, black, and white teas.
This amino acid has a relaxing and anxiolytic effect without provoking sedation. It also seems that this amino acid is effective at reducing stress and slightly improving mood and attention span. Even though theanine does not induce sleep, it may help with sleep problems, but it shouldn’t be the first option for treating insomnia.
Studies have shown that combining theanine with caffeine could have a synergistic effect in promoting both attention and cognition. The relaxing effect of the theanine and the stimulating effect of the caffeine will help “take the edge off,” allowing you to concentrate on matters of importance.
In other words, it’s all the positive effects of caffeine’s mental stimulation without the jitters or anxiety. Caffeine and L-Theanine are an excellent combination for smooth and reliable energy.
Vinpocetine is a synthetic ethyl ester of vincamine. Vincamine is extracted from the Vinca minor plant, commonly known as the lesser periwinkle.
This plant species grows in southern and central Europe, but it can also be found in southwestern Asia and North America. In the USA, the periwinkle plant is commonly known as creeping myrtle, or simply myrtle.
Vinpocetine is one of the herbal nootropics used as an anti-aging agent and a brain protectant. It may also enhance cerebral blood flow and increase memory, but the latter claim lacks scientific backing.
When you take a vinpocetine supplement, the substance enters your blood and reaches your brain. When the substance reaches the brain, it reduces neural inflammation and protects it against toxins and excess stimulation.
While studies prove that vinpocetine appears to have a role in preventing amnesia, it has not yet demonstrated its ability to help with memory formation despite its frequent use as a memory enhancer.
Vinpocetine is also effective at protecting against cognitive decline, but further research is needed to confirm this claim as well.
However, recent studies show that Vinpocetine can help reduce headaches by lowering pressure accumulation in the brain. Reducing headaches is also how the periwinkle plant was used in traditional medicine.
Bottom Line on Herbal Nootropics
In the case you might be tempted to try at least one of these herbal nootropics or brain supplements, it is important to be aware that the dose you take can make the difference between experiencing wonderful benefits or adverse side effects.
Always consult your doctor before taking cognitive enhancing supplements.