Language learning advice always tends to focus on the administratively practical aspect: the materials, the time management, the habit forming. Less often do the polyglot pundits explore the physiological aspect of learning, or body-brain support. Nootropic or ‘smart’ supplements aim to fill that gap, and have become an increasingly present fixture in the learning/hacking circuit in the last couple of years.
At their simplest, nootropics are supplements that contain vitamins, minerals and other compounds believed to enhance brain function. Some of these substances are implicated in wider bodily health, such as Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) and Iodine. Others are more specific, often herbal substances, like Lion’s Mane Extract and Ginkgo Biloba. It seems that every five minutes there’s a new buzz around a potential cognitive enhancer, although a few core specifics, like the latter two, are hardy regulars in ingredients lists.
Choosing a Nootropic Supplement
Trials on the efficacy of each of these compounds vary wildly in their findings, so it’s important to do your own research before you convince yourself that a particular supplement is worth plumping for. Quite a sober and systematic treatment of them is available here, for example. For obvious reasons, it’s always better to seek out neutral information sources like this, rather than accept corporate marketing claims uncritically.
That said, with a little trial and error, you’ll soon find your favourites. I’m sold, for instance, on the usefulness of Gingko Biloba, which has a long heritage and a raft of research suggesting its value in cognitive support. As such, it’s always one ingredient I’ll check for first in a good nootropic.
Brand visibility is also an important checkbox for me, giving me the peace of mind of an established company’s commitment to supplement safety. PhD Nutrition’s offering fits the bill in that respect; it’s one I’ve been trying myself of late, and it’s pretty solid. As with many capsules containing herbal extracts, the dose is hefty, spanning a whopping three capsules daily. If you prefer something easier to swallow, I’ve also found these orange-flavoured cognition gummies a very decent alternative.
Nutritional Support, Not Replacement
Of course, it’s also important not to forget that good body-brain support starts with basic nutrition. Many nootropic supplements contain a number of essential nutrients you should be getting first and foremost from a healthy diet. Nootropics aren’t there to fix fundamental dietary issues, so make sure the basics are in place before giving them a go.
And it goes without saying: always check with a qualified health professional if you’re unsure a supplement is completely right for you.
As for their effect on my personal learning? Well, as with all these things, there’s no control version of me, so it’s hard to say for sure. But if it’s safe, and if the research is generally positive, then the old adage is always true:
It can’t hurt to try.