Nootropic Supplements – Nature’s Smart Pills

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Recently I wrote an article entitled Alzheimer’s: The Scariest Word You May Ever Hear.
Afterward, many of you emailed and shared your personal stories about this, and some were delightful, others heart-breaking.  I truly understand. It brings to the forefront of my mind a woman named Mary, who I met at a Florida nursing home in the 90s. I will tell you her story one day, so if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my newsletter at

From all your emails, two things stood out to me.
1.  Many of your loved ones have in fact been diagnosed by no more than a “guess.”
2.  The question repeatedly asked was “What can we do to slow down memory loss?”  

Number 2 is a valid question, and the topic of thousands of research trials. There are various targets in the brain where medications work such as the hippocampus, the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, the brain cells throughout the nervous system and of course, neurotrophic (growth factors).  Today’s column will help you understand about all of those, but first I need to make one thing clear as an Internet health blogger:

While I can’t talk about Alzheimer’s disease (because I am not a physician, I am a pharmacist), or ways to cure a disease … I can certainly talk about various ways to help you with brain structure and function. But for anything you want to try, please ask your physician if it’s right for you.  Your response to herbs, vitamins and amino acids is highly individualized.  

Now for some intelligent, brain-loving options.

Lion’s Mane
This is a medicinal mushroom, not an furry animal-derived ingredient.  The mushroom looks like a lion’s mane and has powerful effects because it is a nootrope.  Have you ever heard that word before?

Nootropics (pronounced “noah-trope-icks”) are defined as substances that can improve cognitive function. Nootropic substances, whether they be medications or supplements, simply contain supportive nutrients that will help you maintain optimal brain function.*

Lion’s Mane is known botanically as Hericium erinaceus, and it possesses well-known regenerative effects.* A 2014 study concluded that “Hericenone E potentiated NGF-induced neuritogenesis in PC12 cells via the MEK/ERK and PI3K/Akt pathways.”

Oy, that’s a technical mouthful, but it simply means that an active ingredient in Lion’s Mane mushroom promotes the growth of nerve cells in the brain.*  When you grow new nerve cells, it’s helpful!

Nootropes are the way of the world, and even millennials know about them because at universities and in high-tech startups, they are termed “smart pills.” College students like nootropic supplements to help them get through finals and exams.  This isn’t a new word.

Bacopa Monnieri
There is a gorgeous white flower that Mother Earth grows, and scientists have discovered that this botanical provides a brain-loving compound called Bacopa monnieri.  Bacopa is a nootropic herb and it helps you maintain optimal brain function due to its strong, protective effect on one particular memory-compound called acetylcholine.*

Bacopa blocks acetylcholinesterase (which breaks down acetylcholine), and remember now, that acetylcholine is a highly desired neurotransmitter!*  This relationship reminds me of the old saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend — because more bacopa means less acetylcholinesterase, and less acetylcholinesterase means more acetylcholine.*

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola, commonly called pennywort, contains compounds that support neurotrophin secretion.* Neurotrophins are protein-like in structure.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or “BDNF” is the most well-studied of the neurotrophins. All neurotrophins, including BDNF, support neuronal function, help maintain brain integrity, and signal nerve cells to survive, differentiate (divide), and grow properly.*  Essentially they help keep us alive!

BDNF is an important cognitive powerhouse. Just a few of its neurotrophic benefits include helping to increase the growth of neurons (which are your brain cells), promoting brain function, reducing mental fatigue and supporting memory.*

There are other nootropes, of course.  If your physician approves of these gentle, natural herbs and medicinal remedies, you could certainly try them independently, or you can find multi-tasking formulas for memory which contain these and other key nutrients.

All of these types of supplements are sold at health food stores, not at pharmacies.  You can also shop online of course.  But before you do anything, study nootropes carefully because some of them are dangerous and/or not really supposed to be on the market anymore.  The number of unscrupulous sellers for nootropic supplements is rather alarming. Buy from trusted brands and shops, and it’s always okay to ask for a company’s Certificate of Analysis for purity and heavy metal testing.  If they don’t happily provide that document to you, run in the other direction!

Finally, as an honorable mention, I want to throw out a few more brain-saving options for your consideration:  Phosphatidylserine, Vitamin B12 (but in the form of methylcobalamin NOT cyano), Huperzine serrata and Ginkgo biloba.   Give one or more of these nootropes a try and get your brain working to its fullest potential!  (With your doctor’s blessing, of course!)