How Do Nootropics Work?

Everyone knows that protein and other dietary supplements can improve our physical strength and well being.  But are there substances that can upgrade our brains? during the past few years more and more people have been discovering the efficacy of nootropics for  enhancing their mental health and cognitive abilities.  If you’re currently using nootropics or thinking about taking them to enhance your mental performance, it’s necessary to know how they work.  



In short, nootropics are essentially brain supplements.  They are compounds that have been shown to augment cognitive skills such as memory, focus, motivation, imagination, and learning.  Nootropics are becoming increasingly popular with entrepreneurs and athletes and have been the supplements of choice for the incredibly innovative men and women of Silicon Valley.  

There are many different types of nootropics available and, as stands to reason, they all work in slightly different ways.  So there really is no one single answer to the question “How do nootropics work?”.  That being said, there are some general ways that nootropics influence and interact with different chemicals and systems of the human brain.  

Nootropics and the Neurotransmitters


To understand how nootropic work we need to acquaint ourselves with some aspects of the human brain.  The brain is often referred to in terms of systems and nootropics tend to affect the serotonin, dopamine, cholinergic, and glutamatergic systems.  Brain systems are made up of neurotransmitters and synaptic receptors.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that transmit nerve signals between neurons and can either be excitatory or inhibitory.  Excitatory neurotransmitters augment an impulse while inhibitory neurotransmitters prevent the signal from being received.  The neurotransmitters and their synaptic receptors are the key components of a brain system.  

Dopamine and Serotonin

Nootropics target and augment the brain systems that influence cognitive function.  Dopamine and serotonin are often referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitters because they are associated with feelings of pleasure and wellbeing.  Nootropics do not specifically target these systems nor do they increase the level of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.  This is actually a very good thing. Substances that affect and augment dopamine tend to be very addictive. Pharmaceuticals like Adderall and Ritalin directly increase levels of dopamine and people often become physically dependent on these drugs.  Nootropics, on the other hand, indirectly affect the serotonin dopamine systems resulting in subtle yet profound mood boosting effects.  


Glutamate is a powerful and plentiful neurotransmitter in the human brain that is also responsible for affecting mood.  Glutamate is converted into GABA which has a positive influence on mood and feelings of wellbeing.  Nootropics exert a level of influence over glutamate receptor sites in that they increase their sensitivity.  This is very important.  Nootropics do not increase levels of glutamate as such an increase is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.  Nootropics increase receptor uptake so you can better make use of the glutamate that is already available.  Improved glutamate uptake is linked to increased memory and focus.  

Acetylcholine and Racetams

Acetylcholine is another important neurotransmitter associated with cognitive abilities like learning, focus, memory, and decision-making.  Choline is the precursor to this important neurotransmitter and is found in high amounts in foods such as eggs, liver, and meat.  However, it is well documented that most people are deficient in choline.  As such, it makes sense to use a high quality supplement to increase your choline level.  But merely increasing the level of available choline is often not enough to experience improvements in cognitive functioning.  For this reason, it is wise to use a class of nootropics called Racetams.  Racetams are acetylcholine agonists meaning they increase synaptic receptor sensitivity.  When combined, Racetams and increased acetylcholine work synergistically and produce increased efficiency in mental functions like learning, focus, and motivation.  With these two substances working together, people report being able to understand new concepts quicker and retain the newly learned information easier.  

Nootropics enhance our cognitive abilities by affecting neurotransmitters, synaptic receptors, and their associated brain systems.  Many nootropics are designed to affect the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine and/or their synaptic receptors in order to augment cognitive skills such as learning, memory, creativity, imagination, motivation, and mood.  Similar to how dietary supplements improve our physical capabilities, nootropics can be thought of as brain supplements designed to upgrade our cognitive skills.  Many pharmaceutical drugs can be addictive and come bundled with a host of damaging side effects while nootropics appear to be safe based on numerous personal accounts from entrepreneurs and athletes.  With the stresses of modern life we can all use a subtle cognitive boost.  And when it comes to our mental abilities, a subtle shift can be life-changing.