Attending class is one battle. The next, and perhaps more important, battle is learning. To actually process, retain, and recall learned information is the name of the game with school. And while we may have our grievances and complaints with regards to modern schooling operations, there's no doubt that the ability to learn -- within or without school -- is incredibly important to our personal growth and development.
- Nootropics for learning may improve the conversion of perceived to learned information, helping us better remember and understand new concepts and ideas.
Without the openness to absorb new information, learning isn't possible. Likewise, without the mental fortitude to retain learned information, remembering also isn't possible. Fortunately, nootropics may improve both.
In our guide below, we cover the cognitive processes involved in learning as well as the nootropics that can help.
The Different Types of Learning and Memory
What does it mean to learn, and what are the best measures of learning? Is it the fill-in-the-blank exam or the long-form essay? Traditionally, schools measure learning by hierarchical grading systems: the more information you accurately regurgitate, the higher your grade.
But what of non-verbal learning, such as acquiring athletic skills or "muscle memory" performance? Do the same learning principles apply to football as they do to math or English?
The answer is complicated. Given the complexity of the cognitive structures underlying learning and memory, it seems fairly obvious that the uniform "one-size-fits-all" method is insufficient in properly teaching all types of students. However, the brain regions associated with memory seem universally pertinent to understanding the cognitive processes of learning, whether academic or athletic.
Generally, the different types of memory involved in learning include<1>:
As a subset of short-term memory, working memory relates to the task-oriented cognitive processes involved in learning. Associated with the pre-frontal cortex, working memory allows us to temporarily store -- or "keep in mind" -- task-related information, such as remembering a new phone number or solving a math problem. As such, working memory is limited in capacity and duration.
Meaning that you can only "keep in mind" so much information for a short amount of time.
Working memory relates to concentration, as it allows us to focus on relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant distractions. Thus, working memory allows us to perceive important information worth learning in the first place before committing it to a more permanent memory storage.
Stored in the brain's limbic and cortical systems, declarative memory (or "explicit" memory) relates to episodic (event-related) memory and semantic (fact-based) memory. While we typically think of learning as processing information via experience, semantic memory instead stores rule-based information, such as the names of colors and capital cities. (E.g., you don't need to visit a state capital to "know" state capitals.)
As we discussed in our post on "Nootropics for Reading," semantic memory plays a key role in reading comprehension; especially semantic memory accessed via working memory. However, in its totality, declarative memory involves an emotional component, which relates to the amygdala. Declarative memories, called "explicit" for our mind's ability to consciously recall them, are more memorable when charged with an amygdala emotional association.
Thus, it's one thing to remember (or "declare") the context ("episodic") of last week's science lesson. It's another to remember the context of last week's lesson when you either absolutely hated or enjoyed it.
Just as the name suggests, procedural memory involves the routine-based information we acquire through repetition. Associated with the cerebellum, a brain structure beneath the cerebral hemispheres, procedural memory improves with practice, determining skills such as riding a bike or mastering a language.
With regards to language, it's interesting to note that linguistic creativity, or creative language, remains intact under conditions of impaired declarative memory. So, while declarative memory plays a major role in vocabulary enhancement, routine-based practice in language usage also seems to play a significant role in how we learn and use language as a skill.
Explicit vs. Implicit Learning
Generally, teaching models split into two approaches to learning: explicit and implicit learning. Similar to how explicit memory involves consciously remembering information while implicit memory relates to unconscious information processing, the differences in these two learning models include<2>:
- Explicit - active presentation of information with a defined structure and outline on what's being taught.
- Implicit - passive acquisition of knowledge learned through exposure to new information.
Interestingly, as we age, our capacity for explicit learning, but not implicit learning, declines.<3> This is why we require more time to acquire explicit knowledge in our later years, even while our implicit cognitive functions remain intact.
Natural Nootropics vs. Synthetic Stimulants
Viewed as a sort of quick-fix solution to inattention-related learning disorders, prescribed stimulants have taken over classrooms and dorm-rooms alike with their reliable, feel-good deliver of mental performance enhancement. Yet, these so-called "smart pills" come with a major catch: long-term synthetic stimulant use carries a high abuse risk, including side effects related to addiction and withdrawal.
While brainpower feels at an all-time high during the "up" phase with prescribed stimulants, the inevitable "down" period often results in cognitive impairment and significant brain damages.
Natural nootropics, on the other hand, avoid the nasty side effects of cognitive enhancement by promoting the natural bio-pathways towards improved cognition. Whereas synthetic stimulants flush the brain with exceptionally high, synthetic levels of ramped-up cognitive activity, natural nootropics simply optimize the present brain structures to operate at their best capacity. The result: better learning capacity over time with prolonged, daily nootropic use.
How Natural Nootropics May Help Enhance Learning Capacity
Because nootropics act upon the physiological structures of the brain, they primarily address the neurochemical aspects of learning. As suggested by the amygdala's involvement in declarative memory, there's an emotional, psychological element to learning. While certain behaviors and lifestyle techniques (e.g., meditation) may help with the psychological aspects of learning, nootropics for learning seem to work by improving:
Memory Consolidation and Recall
Explicit and implicit learning capacity more or less parallels explicit and implicit memory ability. However, the common neurotransmitter denominator in the most productive forms of memory involves acetylcholine (ACh), the brain chemical associated with memory, learning, and high-order cognitive processes.
Nootropics may boost ACh activity by:
- Supplying raw choline - nootropic cholinergics supply choline precursor required for ACh synthesis.
- Inhibiting ACh breakdown - decreasing activity of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for ACh breakdown, sustains ACh activity within neurotransmissions.
- Increasing ACh receptor sensitivity - sharpening ACh receptor activity ensures an adequate ACh response within receiving neurons (involved in neuron synapses).
According to the Catecholamine Hypothesis, inattention, hyperactivity, and other affective disorders associate with an imbalance in catecholamine neurotransmitters. With regards to attention and awareness, the most well known catecholamines include:
- Dopamine - the reward-pleasure "motivation" molecule; associated with reward-seeking behavior and executive attention ability.
- Norepinephrine - increasing during states of heightened stress and activity, norepinephrine plays a key role in alertness and the sleep-wake cycle.
- Epinephrine - better known as adrenaline, epinephrine is the "fight-or-flight" brain chemical associated with an increase in blood flow, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.
Without sufficient concentration, the mind is incapable of focusing on relevant information worth learning, instead swaying from distraction to distraction. Focus, attention, concentration -- simply the ability to perceive important information relies on proper catecholamine balance.
Subjective of physical, stress negatively impacts nearly all aspects of cognition when unaddressed for too long. While temporary, moderate amounts of stress may significantly enhance learned information by charging the amygdala "emotional" elements involved in memory, chronic or acute stress may have the opposite effect<4>:
- As one study suggests, while it may be difficult to fully discern the positives and negatives of stress on learning, "
can impede learning to escape from aversive stimulus, alter perseverative behavior, and thereby impede performance on a spatial learning task."
Fortunately, the negative impacts of stress on learning seem reversible, indicating that the relationship between stress and learning is reasonably malleable and varies from person to person.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Learning
As one of the most popular herbal nootropics, Bacopa Monnieri holds a special place in the bio-hacker community, particularly among academics. Thanks to the botanical's well-known and well-documented memory boosting benefits, this herbal adaptogen has gained major traction as a learning accelerator and exam performance enhancer.
One study in particular showcases the academic potential of this natural brain booster<5>:
- Administered to healthy human subjects, chronic Bacopa extract supplementation demonstrated significant improvement on "higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory."
Several bio-mechanisms may be associated with Bacopa's memory enhancement effects, yet the most promising seem to include Bacopa's cholinergic boosting benefits.<6> Potentially by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase and enhancing acetylcholine activity, Bacopa improves cognitive learning processes; however, only when taken daily for long periods of time.
Effective Bacopa monnieri extracts supply at least a standardized 20% bio-active bacosides concentration. Mind Lab Pro® Bacopa monnieri extract supplies a comprehensive full spectrum of 9 bio-active bacosides at a 24% standardized extract.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Compared to other cholinergic nootropics (choline supplying ingredients), Citicoline (CDP Choline) works particularly well for long-term cognitive enhancement due to the compound's two-part structure that's comprised of:
- Choline - the precursor compound for phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine syntheses, thereby improving memory and learning capacity.
- Cytidine - the precursor compound required to synthesize uridine, a nucleotide associated with improved ATP energy production and synaptic plasticity.
Together, these two compounds (delivered by way of citicoline) seem to improve cognitive function by enhancing cell-to-cell connectivity and neuronal repair.
According to a small, randomized, placebo-controlled study, for memory- and attention-related performance tasks required for learning citicoline seems to benefit the "neurochemical, electrophysiological, and cognitive function for better short-term memory in healthy human brains."<7>
By simultaneously enhancing neurotransmission efficiency and synaptic plasticity, this brain energy booster seems to essentially "charge" the brain's capacity to process and learn new information. Given Bacopa's cholinergic activities, there's promising synergy potential between citicoline and Bacopa.
Viewed as one of the most powerful stress reducing adaptogens, Rhodiola rosea is a reliable protector against cognitive impairing fatigue and stress. While the effects feel like an energy charge, Rhodiola is perhaps better described as a fatigue reducer than an energy booster. This is likely due to the herb's well-documented regulatory effects on the stress hormone cortisol pathway<8>:
- One placebo-controlled study administered Rhodiola extract to subjects with stress-related fatigue to observe the herb's effects on mood, cognition, and cortisol activity. The researchers that the natural nootropic "exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome."
In rat models, Rhodiola administration was found to exert a "beneficial effect on learning and memory processes" under conditions of memory impairment.<9>
The combination of cognitive rejuvenation and potential memory improvements positions Rhodiola as a game-changing nootropic for the burnt out students and athletes.
Similar to Rhodiola, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine works best under conditions of stress and fatigue, thanks the amino's direct role within the catecholaminergic pathway. When stress and fatigue (e.g., sleep deprivation) challenge cognitive stamina, the brain burns natural L-tyrosine reserves to maintain heightened mental performance.
One L-tyrosine runs out, brain performance spirals into burnout territory. Fortunately, supplementing N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine may help.
The effects of sleep deprivation on memory and learning are well-documented, with one report identifying negative impacts on "attention and working memory...
- Significant improvements on cognitive performance tasks and mood levels. The researchers conclusion: "tyrosine may prove useful in counteracting performance decrements during episodes of sustained work coupled with sleep loss."
For high-demanding learning schedules, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine may help maintain concentration and composure long enough for the mind to sufficiently absorb and process new information.
Stack NALT with B vitamins. For enhanced results, try stacking L-tyrosine with B vitamins, which are co-factors in the catecholamine conversion processes. Mind Lab Pro® B vitamins come in premium, easy-to-absorb BioGenesis™ form for enhanced potency and quality.
Memory enhancer or attention sharpener? Or both? There are plenty of reasons to supplement phosphatidylserine, first and foremost because it's a great phospholipid for brain health. As one of the most important fatty compounds for cognitive function, phosphatidylserine seems to work by:
- Promoting cellular membrane fluidity and integrity.
- Supplying raw material for cellular growth and repair.
Within the cognitive enhancement realm, phosphatidylserine may help improve learning capacity by reducing the symptoms associated with inattention and hyperactivity. One study finds<12>:
- As compared to placebo, phosphatidylserine administration to school-aged children may improve various attention- and memory-related functions of cognitive performance. In conclusion, the researchers found phosphatidylserine "significantly improved ADHD symptoms and short-term auditory memory in children."
This highlights phosphatidylserine's prospects at improving learning capacity otherwise impaired by affective disorders, such as inattention and hyperactivity.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies a smart stack of nootropics for learning, memory, and attention, targeting 100% Brainpower™ for the academics and athletes alike.
While often discussed in academic terms, learning plays an important function in athletic and physical skills as well. Yet, by boosting the natural, underlying bio-pathways involved in learning, Mind Lab Pro®'s Universal Nootropic™ formula design helps a broad range of competitors.
From maintaining the concentration and composure required for perceiving relevant info to facilitating information storage and recall on exam day (or game day), Mind Lab Pro® work beginning to end -- and beyond. Learn, remember, teach, repeat: this is the secret to eternal youth.
- Brem A et al. Learning and memory. Handb Clin Neurol. 2013; 116: 693-737.
- Reber AS et al. Implicit and explicit learning: individual differences and IQ. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1991 Sep; 17(5): 888-96.
- Verneau M et al. Age and time effects on implicit and explicit learning. Exp Aging Res. 2014; 40(4): 477-511.
- Shors TJ. Learning During Stressful Times. Learn Mem. 2004 Mar-Apr; 11(2): 137-144.
- Stough C et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Aug; 156(4): 481-4.
- Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313-326.
- Grieb P. Citicoline: A Food That May Improve Memory. Med Sci Rev 2015; 2: 67-72.
- Olsson EM et al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb; 75(2): 105-12.
- Vasileva LV et al. Beneficial effect of commercial Rhodiola extract in rats with scopolamine-induced memory impairment on active avoidance. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 4; 193: 586-591.
- Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007 Oct; 3(5): 553-567.
- Neri DF et al. The effects of tyrosine on cognitive performance during extended wakefulness. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1995 Apr; 66(4): 313-9.
- 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.