I’ve previously discussed the crucial difference between nootropic and neurotrophic agents, a distinction that is especially important if you are interested in protecting yourself from cognitive decline and dementia. So let’s briefly review the difference.
NOOTROPICS are fascinating agents that increase intelligence, creativity, focus, and data synthesis—for a few hours. After the effects wear off, your brain is no healthier; you are back to where you were a few hours earlier. Nootropics are fun to play with. My favorites: vinpocetine 30 mg, piracetam 800 mg, huperzine 10 mg. There are others and there may be synergies when you combine neurotransmitter effects, i.e., combine a dopaminergic agent with an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. You can appreciate that there is an entire world to explore in nootropics to enhance mental performance. I find them useful when, for instance, I need an extra boost of creative energy, need to focus for an extended period to meeting a publication deadline, etc.
But nootropics do NOT make your brain healthier: There is no increase in numbers of brain cells (neurons or glial cells), no increase in cellular interconnectivity (“synapses”), no durable change in brain cells’ ability to transmit information or encode memory, no increase in factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF, or other trophic factors that increase brain cells and interconnectivity. Your brain is amped up for a short time but there is no lasting physiologic or anatomic change. Costly prescription drugs for dementia such as Aricept or Exelon are nootropics, fairly lousy ones with barely any measurable effect; just as you’d expect from the predatory and misleading practices of Big Pharma, the distinction between nootropic and neurotrophic are never discussed, as they just hope that ill-informed doctors and patients and families assume that any improvement in cognition must thereby mean improved brain health—simply not true. It also means that silly TV commercials that suggest that an improvement in memory with some product also preserves brain health is pure fiction. Use nootropics to enhance mental performance for a few hours, but don’t persuade yourself that you are protected from cognitive decline or dementia.
NEUROTROPHICS are factors that favorably alter brain anatomy or physiology. It could be exercise that increases neuronal/synaptic density of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that mediates conversion of short-term to long-term memory, seen as hippocampal enlargement by MRI. It could be transcranial direct current stimulation that yields measurable effects that last for months, long after a few sessions were experienced. It could be fish oil that provides DHA that the brain needs for structural repair and growth. It could involve cognitive exercises that provoke speed-of-processing, i.e., having to process multiple sensory inputs at increasing speed, that is among the most powerful of all neurotrophic effects and has been shown to decrease eventual development of dementia.
While not neutrophic per se, there are other efforts that preserve brain health. It might involve efforts to avoid unhealthy cortisol surges that cause low-grade damage to the brain, efforts such as avoiding sleep deprivation or overwhelming emotional stress. It could involve avoiding wheat and grains that cause body-wide and brain inflammation and glycation. Grain elimination also protects you from vitamin B12 deficiency that could otherwise have contributed to cognitive impairment. It could involve not allowing yourself to develop insulin resistance and become overweight and/or type 2 diabetic that leads to “type 3 diabetes,” i.e., dementia.
I stress these distinctions because I fear that many people are sold products that yield nootropic benefits, or no benefit at all, yet are told that they improve brain health. You can indeed improve brain health and prevent cognitive decline, but it will not come from a product with nootropic effects or other overblown claims that do not yield neurotrophic benefits. Nor will it come from the doctor who, when asked how to prevent dementia, says “You’re fine—don’t worry about it. When the time comes, I’ll give you a prescription for Aricept.” You now appreciate how incredibly lame conventional answers can be.
For those of you who desire an even deeper dive into preventing cognitive decline and dementia, I invite you to join our Undoctored Inner Circle where we host more advanced conversations on these topics. Consistent with our Undoctored philosophy, we do so without doctors, without hospitals, without the healthcare system, with results that are superior to those obtained through the doctor’s office.