Nootropics are popular among students as learning aids. (Photo by xb3)
Recently, I've been writing quite a bit about various supplements marketed as nootropics, a term which encompasses pretty much any substance with claimed cognitive enhancing effects. The ones we've covered so far are carnitine, ginkgo biloba and taurine.
Probably the most promising supplement out of the three is carnitine (as L-carnitine or acetyl-L-carnitine). In aged rodents, carnitine improves learning ability and memory while protecting the brain from aging. Even though the human data is not as conclusive, several studies nonetheless show that carnitine can treat mental decline and depression. In addition to its cognitive effects, carnitine may improve physical fitness in old people and protect from exercise-related oxidative stress.
Less clear is the case for ginkgo biloba. Some people swear by its effect on memory and mood, others think it's a complete waste of money. Perhaps surprisingly, several studies have been done on ginkgo biloba and cognition. While some of them do suggest that ginkgo biloba may be an effective natural treatment for dementia and stress-related cognitive decline, it's difficult to say how it works in healthy people.
Probably the one that has the least science behind it in terms of cognition is taurine, which is often added to energy drinks for its claimed stimulant properties. Even though taurine seems to be effective in protecting from acute neurological damage, the evidence for taurine as a brain booster in healthy people is lacking. A few studies suggest it may protect the brain from some of the effects of aging and improve mood, but it's difficult to draw any significant conclusions as of yet.
To see for myself whether any of these three have an effect on learning, memory, energy levels and mood, I have decided to start an experiment using carnitine (as acetyl-L-carnitine capsules), ginkgo biloba (also as capsules) and taurine (in powder form). I will first try each supplement separately, starting with low doses and increasing the dose if there is no effect, and then in combination with the others.
Success and failure will be measured by my subjective evaluation of how I'm feeling (i.e. do I feel energetic, happy, smart, able to concentrate, etc.) and also by seeing how well I do in the memory game I'm playing for my intelligence experiment after taking each supplement. This won't tell us much about the possible long-term effects, of course, but at least I will know whether any of them are worth the money as nootropics.
Ladies and gentlemen, the three-way cognition battle between carnitine, ginkgo biloba and taurine has begun!
For more information on brains and intelligence, see these posts:
Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in the Elderly
Moderate and Severe Caloric Restriction Alter Behavior Differently in Rats
Intermittent Fasting Reduces Mitochondrial Damage and Lymphoma Incidence in Aged Mice
Anti-Aging in the Media: Rolling Stone on Ray Kurzweil