Nootropics and Adaptogens: What are they and what's the difference?
Harnessing the power of plants isn’t anything new. Adaptogenic and nootropic botanicals like ginseng have been used for over 5000 years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Yet, the primary function of nootropics and adaptogens is different and distinct. Nootropics work to enhance brain health and cognitive performance, whereas adaptogens are considered to help the body adapt to mental and physical stress. However, the terms adaptogen and nootropic are often used interchangeably. This is because some plants and herbs can act as both an adaptogen and a nootropic and as such, their benefits may intersect.
What are nootropics?
The meaning of the term "nootropic" (pronounced /nō-ə-ˈtrō-pik/) was coined by Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist, in 1972. He combined the Greek words for "mind" and "turn." So if we transliterate the meaning of "nootropic" into English, it would be something like "mind-turner."
Nootropics or “brain boosters”, are natural substances that are thought to improve cognitive performance and work to enhance mental function by boosting our memory, creativity, learning, mood, motivation and attention. They stimulate brain cells to release neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers, each with their own set of specific benefits focusing on a particular concern. Nootropics boost blood circulation and work to oxygenate the brain, reduce inflammation in the brain and protect the brain from toxins.
What are adaptogens?
The term “adaptogen” (pronounced /əˈdaptəjən/) was coined by Dr. Nicolai V. Lazarev, a Russian scientist, medical doctor, and pharmacologist, who was studying the body’s resistance to stress in the 1940s. The term is rooted in the Latin word "adaptare", which means to "fit" or "adjust", and applies to substances that elevate the body’s stress resistance.
To put it simply, an adaptogen is a plant that helps the body adapt to and cope with stress. Adaptogens are ancient plants and herbs that help us adapt to numerous environmental stressors that challenge our internal balance. Adaptogens work to regulate the body’s cortisol levels, keeping not just stress but also fatigue and restlessness at bay. Adaptogens are different to nootropics in the sense that adaptogenic actions are non-specific and benefits are widespread throughout the body.