Putting Cognitive Ingredients Under the Microscope
This is to be a mini-series of articles covering some of the ingredients used within the nootropic and cognitive supplement market. You may find these articles useful if you are looking for such a product, and want to know if some of, or the majority of, the compounds in it are proven to be effective.
I like to review scientific studies of nootropic ingredients, or those which have claims of some cognitive function enhancing properties. If nothing else, it is the most sophisticated test for the validity of such claims, and indeed the potency of the substance in question.
The studies highlighted in this series have involved human subjects. It may seem obvious, but something that works on a rat might not work on us. You would be amazed how much money some supplements make using animal studies as back-up and ignoring the human trials that yielded insignificant results.
A Word on Unproven Ingredients
If you find an ingredient that is not supported by scientific studies thus far, or one which has not even been studied extensively enough, you don’t have to rule it out.
Sometimes, more appropriate dosages, or test subjects or study parameters are all that is standing in the way of statistical significance.
However, compounds that have not been tested can have unknowns with respect to safety, so be careful.
For the purposes of these articles, it is the scientific evidence we are looking at.
One Last Thing on Nootropics
Scientists tend to label things and put them in boxes, figuratively speaking. They live for classification. As indeed they should – otherwise the field would be chaotic at worst, and at best, disrespected.
However, to them, a nootropic substance is a very specific thing. And another one which improves cognition in a different way, is just that; a cognitive booster.
Making the clear distinction is not critical – and perhaps a little difficult – so I have merely mentioned it so that you know I have included cognitive function enhancing ingredients, including ‘true’ nootropics.
I’m going to start with one of my favourites; Rhodiola Rosea (aka Golden Root). Each article in the series hereafter will include more than one; I had to make room for the long-winded introduction in this one.
A Scandinavian herb which has been used in traditional Chinese Medicine, it has an active component – SHR-5 – and can be effective from dosages as little as 50mg.
It has been used to boost mental and physical vitality.
It has been proven to reduce stress-induced fatigue and is also neuro-protective and anti-depressive.
Early evidence suggests it may even promote a longer lifespan.
There have been several studies which support its abilities to improve subjective well-being (feelings of contentment and vitality while stressed) and reduce fatigue.
For cognition specifically, it has been studied:
One placebo controlled study involved students who were stressed during an exam period. Their fatigue levels were measured on a low dose of Rhodiola (100mg) for 20 days.
They showed improved cognitive abilities, improved subjective well-being, and less fatigue relative to placebo.
Spasov AA(1), Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, Mironova IA, Neumoin VV. – A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogeniceffect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen – Phytomedicine. 2000 Apr;7(2):85-9
Another study with military cadets showed a reduction of fatigue (they were on night duty) and improvement of well-being. Mental work capacity was also increased.
Shevtsov VA(1), Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, Vol'skij VB, Korovin YP, Khristich MP, Roslyakova NA, Wikman G. – A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work – Phytomedicine. 2003 Mar;10(2-3):95-105
Yet another study, involving doctors no less, showed a remarkable 20% improvement of work-related tasks along with a reduction of fatigue.
Darbinyan V(1), Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H – Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue–a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty – Phytomedicine. 2000 Oct;7(5):365-71