Whether they're targeted at weight loss or body building in pill or powder form, we've all seen supplements. But what if one was marketed to make you smarter? A growing wave of products is aimed at doing just that.
Every morning, San Francisco tech worker Danny Hernandez starts his day with a supplement called Nootroo.
"It gives me kind of the clarity of mind I need to make better decisions," he said.
Alex Nobosod downs a different pill from another Bay Area company called Nootrobox -- which sponsors his online gaming team.
"If you think about vitamins that you would take normally for your body, for your overall body health, these are very similar, but they're targeted for brain functions," he said.
The supplements are called Nootropics - based on the Greek word for mind. Formulas vary, with some with familiar ingredients like vitamin b and caffeine. Most list a mix of ingredients that some believe boost brain power. Stanford grad Geoffrey Woo founded Nootrobox.
"Wow well you can focus, how well you can sustain attention," Woo said. "Your working memory, and how you deal with stress. So, Nootropics helps enhance various aspects of that."
When you hear Nootropics being coined a "cognitive enhancer" you may think of a scene from "Limitless." The thriller starring Bradley Cooper who plays a struggling writer introduced to a pill to enhance his brain power.
Nootropics don't pack that big of a punch but users say it gives them a competitive edge.
"Things are coming to you, you're having good ideas," Hernandez said. You feel energy."
"What we are looking for is, you know, 10 to 15 percent improvement in like ability to memorize or ability to react faster," Nobosod said.
"I think everyone wants to function better," said Dr. Mark Stecker, who is the director of neurology at UCSF Fresno. "Everyone wants to be better sharper and quicker. But, really, the body isn't meant to be better sharper all the time."
Experimentation led to pills and powders, increasingly popular with Type-A achievers nationwide. The so-called cognitive enhancers can be found online or in health food stores with no prescription needed.
And like natural supplements in general, Nootropics don't go through the rigorous FDA approval process.
"Most of them don't have studies behind them," Stecker said. "They're considered natural, so if they're considered natural agents, something that's derived from a fruit or flower, then the FDA hasn't regulated that so far."
Though he didn't list any specific side effects, Stecker says there's potential risk associated with taking non-FDA approved supplements.
"For a short period of time, these things may provide some performance enhancement," he said. "In the long term, there's often a side effect and that's the problem with over the counter."
Stecker says when it comes to being mentally sharp, general health plays a big role. Adding normal diet and exercise can increase focus.
Despite questions some may have about possible long-term risks, the Nootropics market is growing. Driven in part by users who believe they are seeing gains in their mental performance.
"So what I would say is that certainly if you're going to do this, talk with your doctor," he said. "That's the most important thing because then they can monitor you." null