Depression is a severe mental illness that can profoundly affect all areas of a person’s life. Characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, low self-worth, and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, depression has affected an estimated 21.0 million American adults at least once in their lifetime.
While many different treatment options are available for depression, nootropics are becoming increasingly popular. Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers or smart drugs, are substances that can improve cognitive function.
But can nootropics help with depression? In short, yes, they can. Nootropics are effective in enhancing cognitive processes like memory, learning, and focus. They can also improve mood and reduce stress levels.
Let’s take a closer look at how nootropics can help with depression.
Nootropics: At a Glance
Nootropics are psychoactive substances that have been shown to improve cognitive function. This includes memory, focus, and attention. They can also reduce stress levels and enhance mood.
Nootropics are commonly used to treat conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and dementia. Healthy individuals also use them to boost productivity and memory.
Most nootropics work by modulating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This includes substances like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. By doing so, nootropics can improve communication between neurons and help to keep the brain healthy.
Some of the most popular nootropics include:
- Bacopa monnieri
- Rhodiola Rosea
How Is Cognition Affected in Depression?
Depression is associated with impaired cognitive function. This includes problems with memory, focus, and attention. Depression can also lead to a general slowing down of cognitive processes.
One of the most common symptoms of depression is anhedonia. This is the inability to experience pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable. Anhedonia is thought to be caused by a reduction in dopamine neurotransmission.
Other cognitive symptoms of depression include:
- Problems with memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slow thinking
- Poor decision-making
In addition to these cognitive symptoms, depression is also associated with changes in brain structure. Studies have shown that the brains of people with depression tend to be smaller than the brains of healthy individuals.
The cognitive symptoms of depression can be debilitating. Working, studying, and interacting with others can make it difficult. Fortunately, nootropics can help to improve cognitive function in people with depression.
How Nootropics Affect Different Aspects of Depression
Downgrades in cognitive output are often linked with depression. So, by targeting different areas of cognitive function, nootropics can help to improve the symptoms of depression.
Flickr Image by The Focal Project
Some of how nootropics can help with depression include:
- Improving Memory
Depression and memory impairment go hand-in-hand. Memory problems are one of the most common cognitive symptoms of depression.
Nootropics can help to improve memory function in people with depression. One study showed that Bacopa monnieri, a type of nootropic, was effective in improving precision and working memory in 62 healthy adults.
Another double-blind study showed that tyrosine, another type of nootropic, reversed cold-induced working memory deficits in 8 male volunteers.
- Enhancing Focus and Attention
Depression can make it difficult to focus and pay attention. This is because depression is associated with neurotransmitter levels, including dopamine and norepinephrine changes. These neurotransmitters are responsible for focus and attention.
Fortunately, nootropics can help to improve focus and attention in people with depression. Certain ingredients in nootropics can initiate alpha wave activity and balance inhibitory brain chemicals’ release. This can lead to improved focus and attention.
One double-blind study showed that maritime pine bark extract administered over 4 weeks improved attention performance and visual-motoric coordination in participants. This suggests maritime pine bark extract could benefit people with attention deficit disorders.
- Reducing Stress Levels
Intense stress is one of the leading causes of depression. Studies have shown that too much stress on genetic predispositions can result in depression.
Fortunately, nootropics can help to reduce stress levels and improve the symptoms of depression. Animal research showed that Bacopa Monnieri effectively eased tension while improving rats’ cognition.
Another study showed that PS, an ingredient in omega-3 supplements, was effective in burning cortisol in athletes. Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s associated with depression.
PS is thought to work by inhibiting the activity of 11β-HSD1, an enzyme responsible for cortisol production.
- Improving Sleep Quality
Depression can cause several sleep problems, including insomnia and hypersomnia. Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, while hypersomnia is excessive sleeping. Both of these can lead to fatigue, which can make the symptoms of depression worse.
Nootropics can help to improve sleep quality in people with depression. For example, ashwagandha, a small evergreen shrub, has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety in people.
- Regulating Mood
Mood changes characterize depression. These changes can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.
Nootropics can help to regulate mood and improve the symptoms of depression. This is because nootropics can target the brain’s areas responsible for regulating mood. These include the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.
One study showed that citicoline, a type of nootropic, effectively increased brain response activity in the insula, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and amygdala. These brain areas control mood, decision-making, and social behavior.
The Best Nootropics for Depression
Now that we’ve looked at how nootropics can help with depression let’s take a look at the 3 best nootropics for depression.
- Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Maritime pine bark extract is a nootropic derived from the maritime pine tree. This tree is native to southwestern Europe, and the bark has been used in traditional medicine for centuries.
Maritime pine bark extract is thought to be effective for depression because it can help to improve cognitive function. This is because maritime pine bark extract contains high levels of proanthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants.
L-theanine is an amino acid that’s found in tea leaves. This amino acid is effective for depression because it can help improve mood and reduce stress levels.
L-theanine works by increasing levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for regulating mood. Studies have shown that L-theanine effectively reduces stress and improves people’s moods.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most well-known nootropics. These fatty acids are thought to be effective for depression because they can help to improve cognitive function and reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids work by reducing levels of cytokines, which are inflammatory chemicals linked to depression. One study showed that omega-3 fatty acids were as effective as fluoxetine, an antidepressant medication, in reducing cytokine levels.
Nootropics can be an effective treatment for depression. They can help to improve cognitive function, reduce stress levels, and regulate mood. Nootropics may be worth considering if you’re looking for a natural treatment for depression.