There are a wide range of foods, supplements and chemicals, both natural and synthetic that can be covered under the term nootropics. A nootropic is technically any substance that aims to enhance cognitive performance and can include anything from the ADHD drug ritalin, through to lion’s mane mushrooms and even blueberries. To be a nootropic the substance must have some sort of direct action on the brain.
The main nootropic mushrooms that are consumed today are; lion’s mane, cordyceps and chaga. The reasons for each of these mushrooms’ nootropic behaviours differs, with lion’s mane working on nerve growth and protection, cordyceps increasing focus through their energy boosting abilities and chaga helping with attention and memory.
Lion’s mane is probably the medicinal mushroom with the most hype currently surrounding it. Research suggests that the mushrooms’ nootropic properties come from its high levels of two chemicals (hericenones and erinacines), which have been linked to the growth and stimulation of new neurons. These may be able to replace those that have been damaged or even killed. Some studies have even shown that the use of lion’s mane as a preventative medicine can even protect the brain from the initial plaque damage caused by Alzheimer’s Disease.
Cordyceps are also currently receiving much Western interest due to their natural energy boosting abilities. Touted as an alternative to caffeine based drinks, cordyceps can be used to increase stamina and provide a natural boost that can be felt for several hours. The action for this energy boost has been studied and is reported to come from the fungi’s ability to increase maximum aerobic uptake within the body. Cordyceps work by increasing the maximal oxygen uptake in our body causing an increase in ATP availability. This will offer a boost in energy and stamina, which will increase focus throughout the day.
Chaga has a wealth of health benefits and has around a thousand years of recorded use. Its nootropic effects are thought to come from its extremely high antioxidant levels. Some studies have suggested that Chaga extracts can protect the brain against Parkinson’s Disease through neuroprotective, antioxidant actions. Further studies have shown that Chaga extract can boost learning and memory by restoring levels of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The extract has been found to be as effective in this as some of the most commonly used Alzheimers pharmaceutical drugs. Whilst Chaga also works on other areas of the body, its nootropic potential is astounding.