Reading is a skill that, like any other practice, improves with repetition. The more you read, the better your reading comprehension, the more you can read. So on and so forth. However, many who find reading difficult or inaccessible from the get-go may avoid the practice altogether, setting themselves behind those who breeze through books.
The newly initiated reader is similar to the newly initiated gym-goer: it's intimidating entering into a territory inhabited by well-versed, well-practiced professionals. Yet, just as it's never too late to pick up the weights, it's never too late to open a book.
For both the veteran and novice reader, nootropics for reading may help open the mind to better absorb the contents of an opened book. Working memory, attention, motivation -- nootropics may improve these key cognitive pathways and more, naturally enhancing the brain functions underlying the reader's ability to, well, read.
A Closer Look at Reading Comprehension
On surface level, the difference between readers and non-readers seems to split evenly at the personality point between, say, nerds and non-nerds, as if reading amounts entirely to personal choice -- i.e., some simply read, whereas others simply do not. And this psychological view may be sufficient in distinguishing readers vs. non-readers were it not for the observable brain factors involved in reading comprehension.
As one fMRI study observed<1>:
- Reading comprehension associates with "more left-lateralized activation and with left inferior occipital cortex (including fusiform gyrus) activation." Whereas listening comprehension associates with more overall activation of the entire cortex.
Without over-analyzing the particular functions of these brain patterns, this is important insomuch that identifying deficiencies in these brain regions may help us identify structural correlates to poor reading comprehension.
What we may have discovered so far is that reading comprehension enhancement parallels improvements upon the following cognitive measures:
As a subset of short-term memory, working memory (or task-related memory) involves the temporary cognitive "remembering" processes required to accomplish short-term tasks, such as remembering a phone number long enough to jot it down.
Keeping any set of digits, words, letters, or mathematical units in mind depends upon working memory. And the better your working memory, the better you can keep more information "in mind" for a longer period of time.
With regards to reading, semantic working memory seems a strong indicator of comprehension. Semantic memory refers to ideas and concepts not necessarily drawn from personal experience but rather are viewed as common knowledge, such as the names of colors and sounds of letters. One study on children's reading comprehension found that "semantic storage tapped by working memory, in addition to processing capacities, explains individual variation in reading comprehension" -- suggesting that keeping semantic information in mind via working memory while reading plays a key role in comprehension.<2>
Good Sentences Relax the Demand on Working Memory
Here are two sentences saying essentially the same thing:
- You may supplement a smart nootropic stack to improve your reading comprehension and writing skills.
- To improve your reading comprehension and writing skills, you may supplement a smart nootropic stack.
Notice how the second sentence requires a little more mental strain to read, despite using the same words as the first? Not only does the initial sentence read better but puts less demand on the reader's working memory. Short, simple, straightforward sentences that address the subject early are easier to comprehend and are thus more memorable.
In a large, populated-based study on reading ability and its relationship to inattention, impulsivity, and general cognitive ability, researchers found a significant link between reading and inattention.<3> Perhaps related to working memory's importance to reading comprehension, the inability to pay attention to written work for a significant amount of time naturally decreases the reader's comprehension of said work.
While the factors involved in the link between reading ability and attention seem to stem from both genetic and environmental origins, one theory in particular posits a potential cause of inattention: The Catecholamine Hypothesis.
According to the Catecholamine Hypothesis, attention disorders may be linked to an imbalance in neurotransmitters classified as catecholamines. The most well known catecholamines include:
- Dopamine - the pleasure-pathway "motivation" molecule; regulates reward-seeking behavior, supports the anterior brain's executive attention ability.
- Norepinephrine - associated with sleep-wake cycle regulation, increasing during heightened states of stress and activity.
- Epinephrine - the "fight or flight" chemical, also known as adrenaline; increases blood flow, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.
A healthy catecholamine balance may promote novel learning behaviors, whereas an imbalance contributes to inattention and poor reading ability.
Self-belief, or belief in one's own reading comprehension, may greatly influence one's motivation to read in the first place. Additionally, for students in particular, other extrinsic motivation factors, such as grades and social relations, may determine reading motivation.
Generally, as students age, interest in reading declines. This may be due to any number of factors, including intrapersonal change and environmental change. Many individuals who enjoy reading as adults commonly claim to have disliked reading during grade-school.
For the adult who continues to dislike reading and possesses no motivation towards picking up a book, it's dubious to claim that supplementing nootropics may suddenly inspire reading. However, adults who would like to read but struggle finding the motivation may adopt certain techniques to increase their reading comprehension.
How to Improve Reading Comprehension
To increase reading comprehension, the simplest answer is: Read. Just as athletic prowess can only be gained through exercise and training, a high level of reading requires one to read. This doesn't mean you need to start with James Joyce's Ulysses right off the bat. Really, any start is better than none. However, the best start seems for you to:
Follow Your Interests
Nothing neutralizes an interest in reading as reading written works that are completely uninteresting and irrelevant to the reader. One theory behind the decrease in reading motivation among grade-schoolers suggests that: A) the uniformly assigned reads don't pique all students' interests, and B) academia devalues and substitutes the intrinsic rewards of reading (e.g., self-improvement) with the extrinsic motivations of competitive grading.
Fortunately, as an adult, you may freely choose to read what interests you based on whichever intrinsic motivations align with your personal goals and ambitions.
One way to improve reading comprehension in the face of inattention is to take notes. Writing in the margins of a book, or in a separate notebook, may help direct your attention to what you're reading, forcing you to contemplate what you're reading as you're reading it.
For difficult books, this may include writing definitions of difficult words, which adds a repetition element that may help you memorize what you're reading.
Summarize What You Read
Perhaps even better than taking notes is summarizing, in your own words, what you read after reading it. While taking notes may help improve your attention towards what you're reading, summarizing based on memory alone -- then comparing your summary to the work itself -- may help you better gauge how much you're actually absorbing.
This works similar to how dream journals may help improve dream recall by training the mind to increase self-awareness while dreaming.
Once you have developed a taste for reading by following your interests, diversify your reading ability by stepping further and further outside your comfort zone. Nothing neutralizes an interest in reading than reading uninteresting work; however, nothing stagnates an interest in reading than becoming over-familiar with your reading list.
Try mixing up genres. Move from fiction to non-fiction, essays to technical reviews. Applying your improved reading comprehension to unfamiliar reading territory may help revive reading motivation and, ultimately, further improve comprehension.
Can Nootropics Improve Reading Comprehension?
In the complete absence of reading motivation, you won't necessarily need nootropics for reading. While they may improve other various measures of cognitive performance, without the willingness to read in the first place, it's unreasonable to expect nootropics to significantly improve reading comprehension altogether.
However, nootropics may help you overcome the barriers to not only reading but finishing books, which is perhaps the best means of improving reading comprehension. And nootropics for reading may do this by:
- Improving catecholamine balance
- Sharpening focus and attention
- Enhancing memory consolidation and recall
- Boosting mental stamina and energy
And more. While nootropics may not magically instill an interest in reading, they may make reading easier to those who are interested.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Reading
This herbal adaptogen enhances cell-to-cell communication for an improved learning capacity and working memory.
As a multi-purpose herbal nootropic, Bacopa monnieri is one of the most popular natural nootropics available. Thanks to the herb's regulatory benefits on dopamine and serotonin activity in the brain, many students in particular favor this cognitive enhancer for its significant improvements on mood and general well-being.
When taken daily for a long period of time, Bacopa seems to work by increasing neuronal dendrite growth, particularly within the brain regions associated with short-term memory processes.
- One placebo-controlled study performed on 62 healthy adults found that Bacopa extract supplementation improved performance on working memory factors and "Rapid visual information processing" tasks.<4>
Long-term Bacopa supplementation seems to work best, as this herb's effects must build up over time to reach peak benefit. However, the nootropic's boost on high-order cognitive processes and working memory capacity may help readers who struggle to "follow" what their reading.
By directly participating within the catecholaminergic pathway, L-tyrosine plays a key role in working memory performance.
Remember that catecholamine imbalance has been linked to inattention and other affective disorders via the Catecholamine Hypothesis. When catecholamine levels are off, the brain struggles to pay attention. Stress and overactivity are common contributors to catecholamine depletion, as the brain burns through natural L-tyrosine reserves to maintain cognitive activity. Under such conditions, supplementing N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine may help.
For many students, stress and sleep-deprivation diminish academic performance and reading ability. This is often due to the overwhelming workload coupled with generally poor sleeping habits. Stress, fatigue, over-activity -- this is a fantastic recipe for working memory decay.
A couple studies demonstrate L-tyrosine's relationship to working memory capacity<5-6>:
- Study - under "multi-tasking environments" (i.e., amid competing distractions), L-tyrosine administration sustained working memory performance.
- Study - interestingly, genetic differences in dopamine function may determine L-tyrosine's role as a cognitive enhancer, particularly on working memory.
The second study in particular suggests certain intrinsic dopaminergic needs may heighten L-tyrosine's improvements upon working memory. This highlights L-tyrosine's potential as a therapeutic option for improving impaired reading comprehension.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Somewhat of a nootropic newcomer, Maritime Pine Bark Extract may significantly improve cognitive performance impaired by inattention and hyperactivity.
Supplying a rich complex of antioxidant flavonoids called proanthocyanidins, Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster) Bark Extract possesses a diverse array of nootropic brain benefits. Generally, maritime pine bark extract improves cognitive health by reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals. In fact, maritime pine's proanthocyanidins possess an antioxidant potential that's 20x greater than vitamin E and 50x greater than vitamin C.<7>
However, for cognitive performance, maritime pine bark extract's reputation as an attention sharpener bears significant promise. One study in particular, performed on young men with attention deficit disorders, suggested that maritime pine bark extract may improve cognition by<8>:
- Reducing symptoms of hyperactivity and ADHD.
- Increasing attention performance.
- Enhancing visual-motoric coordination and concentration.
These results may be due to maritime pine bark extract's potential to save catecholamine neurotransmitters from urinary excretion.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Mixing choline with cytidine, Citicoline is a powerful brain booster that may improve attention in healthy adults.
Few natural nootropics accomplish such a range of short- and long-term brain enhancement benefits as Citicoline, a two-part compound formed by:
- Choline - the precursor to acetylcholine, the brain chemical associated with memory, learning, and high-order cognition.
- Cytidine - the precursor to uridine, a nootropic nucleotide that seems to improve brain energy metabolism and repair.
Whereas other cholinergic nootropics simply supply choline for improved acetylcholine activity, citicoline takes it to the next level with cytidine, a neuroprotective brain booster with significant metabolic benefits.
Yet, for attention improvements, two studies on citicoline stand out<9-10>:
- Study - compared to placebo, 28 days of citicoline administration demonstrated significant improvements on attention performance in healthy, middle-aged subjects.
- Study - citicoline paired with caffeine demonstrated significant improves on sustained attention, cognitive effect, and reaction times in healthy adults.
For the readers and students who rely on caffeine for their brain boosts, pairing your cup of coffee with a side of citicoline seems smart for genuinely improving cognitive performance related to reading comprehension.
As a key phospholipid in brain cell membranes, Phosphatidylserine (PS) plays a significant part in overall cognitive performance.
Similar to Bacopa monnieri, Phosphatidylserine (PS) may not work as an acute cognitive enhancer the way that, say, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine does. Yet, supplemented daily, phosphatidylserine may significantly improve cognition affected by inattention.
Generally, PS works by:
- Maintaining cell membrane fluidity and integrity.
- Supplying raw material for neurogenesis.
For those affected by inattention and hyperactivity, one placebo-controlled clinical trial carries good news<11>:
- In this study, children aged 4 to 14 received either 200 mg PS or placebo daily for two months while performing tests to measure attention performance, short-term auditory memory and working memory, and visual mental performance. The researchers found PS effective at improving attention and auditory memory, qualifying PS as a safe, effective nootropic strategy for combating inattention.
Scatterbrain readers who simply cannot focus on the words in front of them may find value in nootropic PS. Given the phospholipid's fundamental role in brain cell generation, optimizing PS levels seems a smart move altogether for general healthy thinking.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies some of the best nootropics for reading in a smart, simple, yet comprehensive, brain booster stack.
Mind Lab Pro® tackles the key cognitive pathways towards 100% Brainpower™ with its Universal Nootropic™ formula design. By stacking natural nootropics that target natural brain pathways, this stack truly optimizes peak brain performance without compromising long-term health or longevity.
- Mind Lab Pro®'s total brain approach to cognitive enhancement may help enhance the brain factors associated with reading comprehension and then some, improving mental performance across the board.
With the rise of digital, visual entertainment, not everyone is drawn to reading. Yet, for those who enjoy reading or wish to improve their reading ability, Mind Lab Pro® nootropics can help open your mind to opening books and, better yet, reading them from start to finish.
- Buchweitz A et al. Brain activation for reading and listening comprehension: An fMRI study of modality effects and individual differences in language comprehension. Psychol Neurosci. 2009; 2(2): 111-123.
- Nouwens S et al. How working memory relates to children’s reading comprehension: the importance of domain-specificity in storage and processing. Read Writ. 2017; 30(1): 105-120.
- Zumberge A et al. Focus on Words: A Twin Study of Reading and Inattention. Behav Genet. 2007 Mar; 37(2): 284-293.
- Stough C et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res. 2008 Dec; 22(12): 1629-34.
- Thomas JR et al. Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Nov; 64(3): 495-500.
- Colzato LS et al. Effects of l-Tyrosine on working memory and inhibitory control are determined by DRD2 genotypes: A randomized controlled trial. Cortex. 2016 Sep; 82: 217-224.
- Shi J et al. Polyphenolics in grape seeds-biochemistry and functionality. J Med Food. 2003 Winter; 6(4): 291-9.
- Trebatická J et al. Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006 Sep; 15(6): 329-35.
- McGlade E et al. Improved Attentional Performance Following Citicoline Administration in Healthy Adult Women. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2012; 3: 769-773.
- Bruce SE et al. Improvements in concentration, working memory and sustained attention following consumption of a natural citicoline-caffeine beverage. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Dec; 65(8): 1003-7.
- Hirayama S et al. The effect of phosphatidylserine administration on memory and symptoms of attention deficient hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Apr; 27 Suppl 2: 284-91.