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Nootropics are quickly becoming one of the most popular classes of supplements in the modern world. With so many different types available on the market, a lot of questions have surfaced about what nootropics are really made from.

In short, nootropics aren’t classified as such based on their chemical makeup, rather, they’re classified as such according to their effects on the body. In order to be a nootropic, a compound needs to exert a beneficial boost in cognitive function. With that aside, what are they really made of?

In order to tackle this question, we need to identify the different types of nootropics available and identify what makes them unique.

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Nutritional Nootropics

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A large class of nootropic substances can be classified as nutritional nootropics. These chemicals include substances that are used as a precursor or cofactor in the manufacture of neurotransmitters, energy production, or cell membrane replication.

This class includes:

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Amino acids

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Amino acids are the building blocks of life. They link together to form proteins in our bodies which make up for the vast majority of functional molecules, like many hormones and chemical messengers, cell structures and enzymes.

The most common amino acid nootropics include:

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B Vitamins

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B Vitamins are a specific class of vitamins that aren’t necessarily related structurally, but  have common physical attributes. All B vitamins are water soluble, and act as chemical co-factors in the body. These vitamins are necessary for a lot of different processes including energy metabolism, neurotransmitter production, and cell replication. It’s the result of these important roles that B vitamins are so useful towards cognition.

Nootropic B Vitamins Include:

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Choline Sources

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Choline is a molecule used in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is a crucial element of the process of memory and learning. Most choline-based nootropics involve a pairing of a choline molecule with something else like a glycerol molecule. Upon passing through the blood brain barrier, these molecules separate, freeing up the choline portion so the brain can use it to make acetylcholine.

Nootropic Choline Sources Include:

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Minerals

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Minerals are often used in nootropic formulas for their role in neurotransmitter production, cell replication, and nerve transmission, all of which are critical elements of cognition. Minerals are naturally occurring chemical compounds made from inorganic elements. This is in comparison to organic compounds that revolve around the use of carbon to form its chemical structure.

Mineral Nootropics Include:

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Choline Sources

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Choline is a molecule used in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is a crucial element of the process of memory and learning. Most choline-based nootropics involve a pairing of a choline molecule with something else like a glycerol molecule. Upon passing through the blood brain barrier, these molecules separate, freeing up the choline portion so the brain can use it to make acetylcholine.

Nootropic Choline Sources Include:

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Minerals

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Minerals are often used in nootropic formulas for their role in neurotransmitter production, cell replication, and nerve transmission, all of which are critical elements of cognition. Minerals are naturally occurring chemical compounds made from inorganic elements. This is in comparison to organic compounds that revolve around the use of carbon to form its chemical structure.

Mineral Nootropics Include:

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Racetams

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The racetams are a unique class of nootropic compounds. In order to classify as a racetam, the chemical structure needs to have a 2-pyrrolidone nucleus made up of oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. From this base structure, racetams can have any number of formations stemming from this central molecule.

Racetam Nootropics Include:

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Ampakines

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Ampakines (AMPA-kines) are compounds that interact with the AMPA receptors in the brain, which in turn increases the activity of the neurotransmitter glutamate, and upregulates the release of dopamine elsewhere in the brain. All of these compounds have a structure related to benzamide and some even resemble aniracetam structurally.

Ampakine Nootropics Include:

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Alkaloids

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Alkaloids are a group of chemicals with nitrogen structures in their chemical makeup. Across the board, alkaloids often have a wide range of effects in mammals. For this reason, there are a lot of alkaloids that have cognitive enhancing (as well as cognitive depreciating) abilities.

Nootropic Alkaloids Include:

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Phytochemicals

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Phytochemicals are compounds that come from plant sources. This class of nootropics is very broad as the chemicals produced by plants can come in nearly any format. Lipids, proteins, alkaloids, minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates are all common forms of phytochemicals used for nootropic purposes. Many of these chemicals overlap into other classifications described above. The only requirement necessary to classify as a phytochemical is that it needs to be produced naturally in plants.

Some of the most common phytochemicals used for nootropics include:

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Conclusion

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Nootropics come in all shapes and forms, including lipids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates, alkaloids, and synthetic and phytochemicals. When asking the question “what are nootropics really made of?” it’s important to understand the variety of chemicals that classify as nootropics. There isn’t a single rule in chemical structure that makes a compound classify as a nootropic. It’s the effects these chemical deliver to the body that make it a nootropic.

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