Are Nootropic Drinks Alternative to Energy Drinks?

Nootropic drinks and supplements are gaining attention because they promise to enhance cognitive functions, including attention, memory, and learning. For some individuals, these drinks offer an appealing alternative to traditional energy boosting beverages, yet it's important to understand how they differ. Read more to learn the effects and risks associated with nootropic drinks and if they would be an alternative to energy drinks.

Nootropic drinks vs. energy drinks

Nootropics, also known as brain boosters, are substances that can influence brain functions such as memory, thinking, and learning. They are thought to affect certain brain functions by various mechanisms, including increasing oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain, as well as protecting from neurotoxicity (brain damage stemming from toxic substances). There are many nootropic compounds that are commonly used in nootropic drinks, including ginseng, ginkgo, rhodiola rosea, alpha-GPC, Huperzine-A, and ashwagandha, among others.

While the function of nootropic drinks is to enhance cognitive performance, energy drinks are consumed not only for mental alertness but also for the immediate energy boost. They're commonly used to increase physical performance. They can contain various ingredients, including but not limited to caffeine, guarana, B vitamins, taurine, ginseng, and carnitine. Excessive consumption of energy drinks has been associated with anxiety, dehydration, heart, sleep, and digestive problems.

The effects of nootropics and energy drinks would differ based on the product's ingredients. Nootropic and energy drinks can have similar ingredients, such as caffeine, creatine, amino acids, and herbal extracts, though the formulations vary a lot. While energy drinks typically contain stimulants, nootropic drinks also include stimulant-free options.

Since the long-term effects and efficacy of both drinks on brain enhancement and physical performance are subject to further research, you should consult your doctor before consuming them, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Common nootropics: potential benefits and risks

Among the array of nootropic substances, several compounds stand out as the most frequently utilized in both drinks and supplements. Let's look at the most common ones.

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen - a compound that may help the body adapt to stress. The potential benefits of Rhodiola rosea range from improved attention to stress relief.

In clinical trials, supplementation with this adaptogenic herb has been linked to enhanced attention, more specifically, improved accuracy and speed when performing attentionally demanding tasks. Moreover, Rhodiola rosea use was associated with reduced fatigue in night shift workers, as well as self-reported mental health improvement in mildly anxious individuals.

Some of the most commonly reported side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, and excessive saliva production.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba extract is derived from leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree. It's used in hopes of improving dementia, anxiety, allergies, and cardiovascular conditions, yet there is a lack of evidence to support its use for any of these concerns.

A systematic review evaluated the cognitive effects of ginkgo biloba extract on healthy people under 60. Among 15 randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials, the majority of the long-term studies did not show beneficial effects.

Although some of the single-dose studies reported significant differences in various cognitive measures, including reaction time, alertness, pattern recognition memory, and image recall, researchers concluded that the evidence is not enough to draw any beneficial effects of ginkgo biloba in cognitive performance both in the short and long term.

Keep in mind that ginkgo biloba can cause side effects such as upset stomach, headache, dizziness, constipation, and allergic reactions. Ginkgo can interact with anticoagulants, which are medications known as blood thinners. If you're taking anticoagulants, don't take products containing ginkgo biloba before consulting your doctor.

Creatine

Creatine is made in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and it can also be obtained from foods and supplements. It is commonly used as a sports supplement to enhance physical performance, especially in activities requiring explosive movements.

A recent meta-analysis concluded that creatine supplementation can improve memory in healthy individuals, especially older adults. It's important to note that creatine supplementation can lead to side effects, including fatigue, cramping, difficulty concentrating, nervousness, thirst, and digestive issues.

L-theanine and caffeine

L-theanine is an amino acid commonly found in tea, and is associated with calming effects. Both L-theanine and caffeine have been associated with mental alertness. A systematic review concluded that the combination of L-theanine and caffeine can improve memory, cognition, attention, and hyperactivity.

Proceed with caution; there is insufficient evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of nootropic supplements in humans. The long-term effects of their use are still under investigation.

Nootropic drinks: uses and cautions

If you have an underlying health condition or are currently taking medication, you should consult your doctor before taking nootropic-containing products. Most nootropics shouldn't be used in breastfeeding and pregnant women.

Also, some nootropics should be avoided in certain health conditions. For example, Guarana (Paullinia cupana), a commonly used nootropic, shouldn't be used in people with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders. Moreover, nootropic drinks may contain caffeine, thus individuals sensitive to caffeine should be mindful about the consumption of these beverages.

Certain nootropic drinks may also contain added sugar, sweeteners, artificial flavors, and preservatives, which may have negative health implications, especially when used long-term.

How to read nootropics labels?

For those considering nootropic drinks, it is highly recommended to carefully review product labels to ensure awareness of ingredients, dosages, and certifications.

Although manufacturers are responsible for the safety of the products, the release of products with harmful and unwanted ingredients still happens. Before taking nootropic-containing products:

Check the ingredients. Not all nootropics can be used in supplements or beverages. Read the ingredient list and search for any unauthorized substances in the product. The companies that use certain nootropics, including DMHA and phenibut, get warned by the FDA because they are not recognized dietary ingredients under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Make sure the product has third-party certification. Look for products that are GMP-certified. GMP certification ensures third-party laboratory testing of the products. It ensures that the products contain the exact ingredients and dosages it claims on the labels. Additionally, it confirms the absence of harmful substances, ensuring the product's safety for consumption.

Ultimately, although cognitive enhancers are becoming popular to achieve better cognitive performance, especially among students and workers, the lack of evidence around the benefits and risks of nootropics should be carefully evaluated.

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