Can Nootropics Help with Mood Management?
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Nootropics are plant-derived, bioactive compounds used to treat cognitive issues, boosting brain performance. Similar to adaptogens, nootropics are thought to help the brain adapt to stress and perform at its best, in a way that supports longevity. To be considered a nootropic, the compound must be able to easily pass through the blood-brain barrier. 


Nootropics are available in both prescription form and non-prescription form, like creatine powder or wellness drinks. Colloquially referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers”, the term “nootropics” wasn’t coined until 1972, when clinical trials revealed piracetam had the ability to boost memory performance.


Since then, hundreds of preclinical and clinical trials over the last 50 years have resulted in the development of dozens of prescription nootropics, most often used to treat conditions like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and other disorders involving cognitive deficits. But what’s beginning to emerge, especially in the world of holistic drinks and supplements, is the indication nootropics may aid in mood management. New studies suggest nootropics can support sleep, depression and anxiety management, and mood.


Understanding the Mechanisms of Mood

Biologically, mood is regulated by an intricate system of neurotransmitters, hormones, amino acids, and associated neurochemicals that act on neurons both inside and out. This implies two things with regard to how disordered affect is approached medically:


  1. One person may have similar symptoms to another, but they may be caused by entirely different imbalances.
  2. A given treatment may help one person but fail and/or hurt another.


This makes treating depression particularly tricky, especially if there is comorbidity with sleep, mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders. The symptoms are varied and interconnected: bad feelings create anxiety and stress, which result in sleep problems, exhaustion and chronic anxiety, which create a volatile feedback loop of stress, lethargy, agitation, and those feelings of hopelessness and dissociation. In fact, nearly 25% of people who are subject to chronic stress develop depression.


Most clinical treatments for depression stop neurons from reabsorbing neurotransmitters important for mood, such as serotonin, GABA, acetylcholine, and dopamine. But there’s also evidence that treatments targeting cognition, neuronal activity levels and hormone imbalances can also help manage mood-related conditions, and this is where nootropics come in.


Nootropics, the Hippocampus & Your Mood

To understand the implications of nootropics’ abilities to support mood, we must understand how they interacts with the brain of someone with disordered affect. Clinical observations indicate that a depressed person’s hippocampus is, on average, around 10% smaller than a healthy person’s, and that’s a big deal.


The hippocampus is a main player in balancing hormones and neuronal activity, in turn regulating your mood and emotion. It’s also an integral part of your brain’s stress response system, known as the HPA axis. On top of that, it’s actually the main producer of those ever-important mood-regulating neurotransmitters, like:


  • Acetylcholine
  • GABA
  • Glutamate
  • Serotonin


Acetylcholine is often referred to as the learning neurotransmitter, but several prescription medications for mood disorders such as bipolar target acetylcholine, as it seems to play a role in motor function and neuron excitation. GABA is an amino acid that acts as the main inhibitory neurotransmitter – it tells your neurons to calm down. Glutamate, as the main excitatory neurotransmitter, does the opposite. 


And then, of course, serotonin, which is the most well-known mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Many depression drugs treat symptoms by encouraging serotonin to stay floating around in the brain longer than your neurons would usually let it. However, imbalances between GABA and glutamate can also contribute to disordered moods, depending on the type of imbalance.


We’ve mentioned GABA’s role in mood and hormone regulation a few times now. GABA reduces the activity level of overexcited neurons, and is a useful neurochemical for treating disorders caused by out-of-whack nervous system communication. A powerful nootropic, GABA may be useful in managing disturbances in affect, as well as low mood.


Other Nootropics Useful for Mood: the Evidence

There are dozens of compounds considered nootropics, and some of the best ones are easy to find in health drinks focused on stress resilience and mood support. MTE includes the nootropics GABA, L-theanine, and a saffron derivative, as well as several adaptogens with nootropic abilities, like caffeine, and superfoods with nootropic abilities, like amaranth. So, first, let’s talk about GABA’s role in depression for, like, one more minute:


GABA: A Calming Nootropic

It’s been shown in clinical studies that GABA deficits and irregularities in GABA expression are extremely common in Major Depressive Disorder. As well, the chronic stress that comes with depression hurts GABA’s ability to support mood even more. Current clinical studies explore what GABA supplementation or other GABA-altering treatments can do for MDD, resulting in several data sets that show significant mood and behavioral improvements with healthy GABA function.


L-Theanine: An Anxiety-Fighting Nootropic

A main actor in green tea, L-theanine is most often used to support stress and anxiety management, which makes this nootropic useful for sleep, mood and cognitive performance. People self-report l-theanine supplementation is able to calm them without making them drowsy. In one clinical study, after 8 weeks of L-theanine supplementation, all participants scored lower on a diagnostic depression scale.


Saffron: A Mysterious Nootropic

Saffron is well-documented as an holistic alternative to pharmaceuticals used for mood, and studies consistently observe increased mental health and treatment safety when using this nootropic for depression. In fact, one study showed that not only was saffron more effective than placebo, but worked as well as therapeutic levels of fluoxetine


A meta-analysis of the current literature on saffron supports the claim it’s an effective treatment for low mood in the short-term, and presents less adverse symptoms than pharmaceuticals. What we’re not so sure about with regards to saffron for mood support is the how or the why of it all. MTE’s formulation includes Affron®, a saffron extract with concentrated abilities.


Caffeine: Part Adaptogen, Part Nootropic

A major factor in chronic low mood is inhibited motivation and low energy. Natural caffeine energy drinks may help fight these symptoms of tiredness, acting as a nootropic that supports energy and focus, preventing the development of depression. A long-term study over 10 years demonstrated that those who regularly consumed caffeine were at a lower risk for s*icide. However, caffeine is not a good nootropic for sleep, so should be used carefully for those with comorbid mood and sleep disturbances.


Amaranth: A Superfood Nootropic

Amaranth is a superfood for a reason, with clinical data indicating it supports and protects almost every vital system in the human body, including our nervous system. An animal study demonstrated that amaranth was not toxic even at ridiculously-high doses, and that it reduced depressed behaviors at equal levels to two common pharmaceutical chemicals.


Limitations on Our Understanding of Nootropics

Interestingly enough, the main shortcoming of clinical evidence on nootropics and mood is that there’s almost no clinical data to indicate that nootropics act on healthy individuals. However, it’s important to keep in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That initial discovery of piracetam’s abilities in the 70’s happened on accident – solely because one scientist decided to look at involuntary eye movement. Had he not done that for no particular reason, we may never have known about that nootropic.


While, so far, nootropics look like safe and possibly-effective ways to change the way we look at the treatment of affect and mood disorders - maybe even schizophrenia – we’re looking at quite a few years before clinical research can create a body of data big enough to confidently support their hypotheses about nootropics for mood.


How a Daily Nootropic Drink Helps to Support Your Mood

Medical research is turning towards natural and holistic treatment methods for physical and mental ailments we previously thought were only treatable via damaging methods like synthetic chemicals and surgical interventions. As a daily addition to diet, a wellness drink chocked full of adaptogens, nootropics and superfoodscan act as a protective way to support your physical and mental health – something like MTE’s daily greens supplement. Other ingredients in MTE clinical research supports for mental health benefits include maca and spirulina. To learn more about the science behind holistic energy supplementation, learn more about the compounds nature has provided us to support health and longevity.

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