People use nootropics for a variety of reasons. Some are looking for a little extra focus to help them get ahead at work. Some are trying to reduce anxiety and stress. Others might be searching for something to improve their mood or increase motivation. And for all these things, there are nootropics that can make a big difference.
There’s no question that nootropics work. Certain nootropics may work better for some people than others. But in general, they work. The question is, why do they work? Are they giving you the boost that you think they are? Or are they masking the symptoms of an underlying problem?
If nootropics interest you because you want to simply improve performance, that’s one thing. But if you’re interested in them because you have trouble staying focused, find that you’re often in a bad mood, have a lot of anxiety, poor memory, or are dealing with other issues, there might be an underlying cause.
These things can be the result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone imbalances, and other problems within the body. Figuring out what’s causing your brain fog, anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, or memory issues can often be as simple as going to your local lab and getting some blood drawn. Fortunately, getting blood work has never been easier or more affordable.
That’s what this post is all about. We’re going to look at what blood work can tell us about our brain health, what test(s) to order, what the results mean, and more. But first, let’s take a look at how the whole process works.
Getting blood work done privately
If you’re like most people, the only blood work you regularly get done is a lipid panel (to check cholesterol) as part of your yearly physical. Your doctor orders the test, you get your blood drawn, she lets you know if anything is wrong within a few days, and your insurance company handles the bill.
Unless you ask your doctor to order other tests, this is usually the only blood work most people get done. Even when you do ask, many doctors give their patients a hard time about ordering additional tests. And when they do agree, getting additional tests done through your doctor can be very expensive
What test(s) to order
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself why you’re using nootropics or at least thinking about using them. Are you trying to increase focus and improve memory because you often have severe brain fog? Are you trying to improve your mood because you’re often sad? Are you trying to reduce anxiety because you’re a nervous wreck and can’t get anything done?
Once you have your answer, you can move on to the next question: What are the potential underlying causes? Let’s say, for example, that you’ve been using ashwagandha and l-theanine to reduce anxiety. What could help to explain why you’re so anxious to begin with? Anxiety is a potential symptom of several micronutrient deficiencies including magnesium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and some B vitamins. It can also be caused by hormone imbalances and other conditions.
Now, take a look at your diet. Are you getting plenty of the nutrients mentioned above? If you think you might not be getting enough of one or more of them, order a test to see if you’ve developed a deficiency. If you eat a well-balanced diet, you know it’s unlikely that a deficiency is the problem. But you can order a hormone panel to find out if that is the cause.
The example I used wasn’t random. It’s a true story – my true story. For years, I had bad anxiety and tried a number of things for it including ashwagandha and l-theanine. My diet was good and I had been taking a daily multivitamin, so I knew that a nutritional deficiency was unlikely.
To figure out what might be causing the problems you’re trying to solve with nootropics, you’ll need to do some research. If you’re using nootropics to improve your mood because you always feel a bit down, for example, you might want to do a Google search for “deficiencies that can cause depression,” “blood tests and depression,” and other similar phrases.
Below are some common reasons why people use nootropics and blood tests that might shed some light onto their causes. This is not an all-inclusive list but it should help you get started.
Blood work for brain health
Here are some common reasons why people use nootropics, the goal they’re trying to accomplish by using them, and blood tests that can help to determine the underlying cause.
Reason #1: Sadness, depression, bad mood, low energy
Goal: Improve mood, increase energy levels
Tests: Vitamin D, folate (folic acid), vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, zinc, iodine, selenium, testosterone (men), estrogen (women), thyroid
Reason #2: Anxiety, worry, excessive stress
Goal: Relax, reduce anxiety and stress
Tests: Magnesium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, some B vitamins, hormones
Reason #3: Trouble focusing, brain fog
Goal: Increased focus
Tests: Vitamin D, folate, several B vitamins, iron, zinc, hormones, thyroid
Reason #4: Memory problems, difficulty remembering things
Goal: Improved memory
Tests: Vitamins B1, B3, B6, B9, & B12 (especially B1 and B12), vitamin D
You probably noticed that some tests are recommended for multiple reasons. That’s because certain deficiencies or chemical imbalances can result in a variety of problems. Take vitamin D, for example. Your body needs it for proper immune function, to build bone, hormone synthesis, and for brain health. If you are deficient, it can cause problems with your immune system, your bones, your hormones, and your brain. And those brain problems can result in depression, anxiety, low energy, difficulty remembering things, and an inability to focus.
What to do with your results
So, you ordered a few blood tests, went to the lab, got your blood drawn, and just got the results. Now what? Now it’s time to put those results to good use!
If your blood work shows that you are deficient in one or more vitamins and/or minerals, you may want to start supplementing with those substances. Maybe you decided to check your vitamin D levels because you’re often anxious, in a bad mood, and don’t get a lot of sun. You get the results and find out that your vitamin D levels are low.
A good course of action would be to buy some vitamin D and start supplementing with it. Then, after you’ve been taking it for a while, see if your mood and anxiety improves. If they do improve, you can reasonably assume that low vitamin D was the cause. If they don’t, you may want to order another test to see if supplementing brought your levels up. If it did, you can assume that the cause of your anxiety and depression is something other than vitamin D deficiency.
Blood tests have been an important part of medicine for a long time. They help doctors to diagnose and treat illnesses. Now, anyone cause order blood work to get a better idea of what’s wrong with them. It’s never been easier or more affordable.
Genetic testing is also becoming popular. Companies like 23andMe let you test your genetics to learn about your ancestry and about how your genetics affect your health. We’ll be publishing a detailed post about using genetic tests to improve how nootropics work in the future.