The Health Benefits of Piracetam

A Nootropic That May Enhance Memory and Boost Cognitive Function

Piracetam is a nootropic, a class of drugs that may enhance memory and boost cognitive function. Derived from the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), piracetam was first developed in the 1960s and is touted for the prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive decline, seizures, and learning disabilities.

Often referred to as a "smart drug,” piracetam is sold in health-food stores, but it is banned by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In Europe, piracetam is approved as a treatment for seizure disorders and sold as Nootropil.

Piracetam (chemical name 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide) is in a class of drugs called racetams, which include aniracetam, fasoracetam, and phenylpiracetam. These drugs work on receptors in the brain known as αlpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptors, a key element in brain circuitry. Stimulating AMPA receptors is believed to improve signal transmissions between neurons improving cognition and nerve system functioning.

Packet of Pirament pills
MT2013 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Health Benefits

Piracetam has been investigated for the past six decades as a potential treatment for several conditions including stroke, seizures, dementia, and alcoholism. It is derived from the neurotransmitter GABA, which is involved in mood regulation and movement disorders.

To date, however, most of the research is limited to animal studies and few human clinical trials have been published. Here's a closer look at the most promising potential health benefits of piracetam.

Central Nervous System Disorders

Several studies suggest piracetam offers promise in the treatment of central nervous system disorders including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and tardive dyskinesia. In Europe and the United Kingdom, piracetam is approved for the treatment of seizure disorders. 

A 2012 study found piracetam may improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as difficulty walking and impaired motor functioning. However, this research is limited to studies in rats and there are no published human trials of piracetam for Parkinson’s.

Cognitive Impairment

Piracetam has been studied for its potential in improving cognitive function in patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular cognitive impairment. A 2002 report published in Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders found that piracetam was superior to placebo in the treatment of older adults with cognitive impairment.

Just how piracetam impacts memory is unclear. Some research points to its impact on beta-amyloid, a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies suggest piracetam works to reduce the inflammation that may lead to cognitive decline.

However, the literature is limited to animal studies and human trials are needed before piracetam can be recommended for the treatment of cognitive decline. 

Possible Side Effects

Piracetam may trigger a number of side effects, such as sleep disruption, dry mouth, dizziness, headache, diarrhea, weight gain, and anxiety.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements are largely unregulated and haven't been tested for safety. In addition, piracetam is not FDA approved as a dietary supplement and or an over-the-counter medication and should not be labeled as such.

Do not mix piracetam with alcohol, as it may increase the rate of intoxication.

Dosage and Preparation

Piracetam is sold in the United States as capsules and powder, but there is no standard recognized dose. In Europe, where it is available as a prescription, it is sold in 800mg and 1,200mg tablets, with a recommended dose between 2.4 grams and 4.8 grams daily.

What to Look For 

Although piracetam cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement in the United States, piracetam products are widely available for purchase online. Look for brands that have been certified by a trusted independent third party like U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Alternatives

While the potential brain-boosting benefits of piracetam have been touted for years, there is limited clinical evidence to support its use. However, there are a number of natural remedies that have been shown to be effective.

For instance, fish oil, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, has been found to enhance cognitive function, preserve memory, and protect against depression and Alzheimer's disease. Found naturally oily fish (including salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and herring), fish oil is also sold in supplement form.

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