Q: What's a nootropic?
A: 'Nootropics', from the Greek noos, for 'mind', and tropē, for 'to turn', or 'turning', are, broadly-speaking, substances meant to increase or enhance cognition.
The term was coined in 1972 by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea. He wrote in French so we're relying on Wikipedia for a paraphrase but his definition of Nootropic is still the one widely accepted as the strict definition today. According to Giurgea, a nootropic must:
• Enhance learning and memory
• Enhance resistance of learned behaviors to conditions with the tendency to disrupt them
• Protect the brain against physical or chemical injuries
• Increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical / subcortical control mechanisms
• Not be sedating, possess few or no side effects, if any, and be essentially non-toxic
Q: Why do you make such a big deal about your ingredients being standardized?
A: Bacopa, Rhodiola, and Ginseng are all plants, and just about everything about plants can vary widely from plant to plant, from place to place, from season to season, and from year to year.
If you buy herbal products that use the raw plant only, rather than standardized extracts, you might be getting way more or way less of the active ingredients you’re looking for. (And, counterintuitively, more might not be such a good thing. See: Hormesis or inverse U-shaped response curve. Or this great episode of the very great Smart Drug Smarts show.)
With standardized extracts, the amount of active ingredients in the herb is controlled to a very tight tolerance, ensuring that each dose, each bottle, and each batch is consistent, from one to the next.
Q: Why use branded extracts? Aren’t they more expensive?
A: They are quite a bit more expensive, but we use them so that you know what you’re getting.
The very same suppliers we work with offer much cheaper products, similar to the ones we’ve used, but, for legal reasons, they can’t allow us to reveal our sourcing if we use the unbranded versions.
We’ve elected to pay more for our product in order to be able to share with you exactly what it’s made out of, and to allow you to *do your own research* in evaluating the quality and sourcing of our ingredients.
When it comes to quality of ingredients, if you don’t put tested, standardized supplements into your body, you’re better off not taking anything. This isn’t a game - it’s your brain. That’s too clunky for a slogan, but it’s something we really mean. As the great David Duchovny once said, ‘trust no one.’
There’s one more reason, and it’s a biggie — where possible, we tried to use the exact products used in the studies we rely on for our knowledge about the effects of these herbs. This is another sticky wicket - just because something has been studied it doesn’t mean it’s better than something that hasn’t, but it’s all we have to go on. We’re not interested in shooting in the dark.
Verdure, the company that makes Bacognize®, has done extensive studies. The most extensively-studied version of Panax Ginseng, G115 by Pharmaton, was unavailable for use in the US, so we used the closest analog we could find, down to the ratio of Rg1 to Rb1 Ginsenosides. Rhodiola has been predominantly studied as a whole plant rather than a standardized extract, so we picked the best branded, standardized version we could find, and one that has an accountability and transparency program that matches our values well.
To see the evidence in force, click over to the Research page, peruse the summaries, and dive into the citations.
Q: Why don’t all other nootropics use branded extracts?
A: The easy answer is they’re more expensive. Another possibility is that they’re not proud of (or not all that sure of) where they got their ingredients. Another possibility is they don’t want others to copy their formulation and sourcing. Another possibility is they have great stuff but it’s just not branded. The problem with that last one is — how can you, as the consumer, tell if that’s true?
Q: If these herbs really work, why aren't they prescription medicines?
A: Broadly speaking, the exact mechanisms of action of these herbs aren't well-enough understood to allow a synthesized or patented version of these herbs to exist as a drug product. In many cases, the whole plant, or in some, a handful of compounds, are as close as studies have come to pinpointing the actives in a given herb.
Now, that might be a chicken or the egg thing. The pharmaceutical industry have major upfront costs in bringing a drug to market and it's possible these herbs don't meet any number of criteria they have for deciding what avenues to investigate and what compounds to develop into prescription drugs. On top of that, these herbs aren’t to be used to treat a condition, which is what prescription medicine is all about.
To clarify that last point, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 is the law that stipulates that the FDA regulates food separately from drugs. Under this rule, drugs are defined as products used for medical purposes, whereas foods have nutritional purposes, and food is the category supplements fall under. Drugs are for treating, preventing, diagnosing, or curing diseases, and thus, by exclusion, supplements can’t be marketed with claims to do any of those things.
Q: If the mechanisms of action aren't well understood, why is it OK to take them?
A: Believe it or not, we don't fully understand the way a lot of medicine works. Acetaminophen and penicillin are among many common medicines that work, are known to be safe, and yet are not fully understood. Much of modern medicine is based on the same cause and effect evidence-gathering that was informally done over centuries by humans exploring their environment, albeit with the results confirmed with the rigor of actual science. That’s the standard we’re looking for in our ingredients as well.
Q: But doesn't medicine offer stronger treatments?
A: Absolutely it does. With that said, almost everything that fits the bill is accompanied by a significant risk of side effects.
If you were our mother, we'd recommend you take Plato (actually we already did that), but we'd try to talk you out of taking Modafnil or Aderall unless you were treating a disease - and that's the rub with prescription drugs. They have to be prescribed to treat a condition.
Plato is not meant to treat any conditions - it's just meant to help you be a more effective, productive, calm person.
Q: Why do I care that these herbs have been in use for so long? Just because it's old knowledge doesn't make it more right.
A: How right you are!
Q: Why doesn’t Plato include racetams?
A: The short answer is that racetams lack the kind of evidence necessary to prove their effectiveness and safety for cognitive enhancement in healthy adults. There is strong evidence for their ability to reduce the rate of cognitive decline, especially in older adults and those with early-onset Alzheimer's, but not enough studies have been done to prove them safe and effective for the young, healthy people Plato is made for.
Q: Yes but why doesn’t Plato include stimulants like caffeine?
A: Caffeine is a cheap way to make a nootropic feel like it’s doing something — you take the supplement and - pow! - you feel a surge of energy. But, really, odds are you know how to get caffeine when you want it, you know how much works for you and when, and you probably like the way you get it. Coffee is delicious, right?
We don’t want you to have to choose between taking Plato and drinking your delicious coffee. We also don’t want to force caffeine teetotalers to abstain from Plato.
Q: Why doesn’t Plato use a branded form of L-Theanine?
A: As of this writing, there’s only one major form of branded L-Theanine - it’s called Suntheanine. The claim by Suntheanine’s manufacturers is that their L-Theanine has been separated from any D-Theanine, L-Theanine’s opposite enantiomer. The thinking is that D-Theanine can block the uptake of L-Theanine and may itself have a weaker, or no, effect.
The jury on this is very much out, and little to no human research has been done on the topic, so we’ve decided not to jump to conclusions. The fact is, D-Theanine is present alongside L-Theanine in green tea, a natural source of L-Theanine (as green tea extract), and in many of the L-Theanine studies that prove that it works.
Q: Most of the research done on Bacopa Monnieri uses a standardized extract of 45% bacopa glycosides at 300mg quantity. Why does Plato use a 12% extract?
A: Good eye! So here’s the deal — Bacognize® is the extract used in many of the important studies on Bacopa, and its formulation hasn’t changed since those studies were done. Previously, the bacopa glycoside concentration in Bacognize® was listed at 45%, which was verified via UV-VIS but was difficult to replicate. The same product is now listed by the manufacturer at 12%, verified by HPLC, which is more consistent, more accurate, and thus a better standard.
TL;DR: the same amount of the active ingredients in Bacopa is found in the 300mg dose included in Plato as the amount administered in the studies cited as evidence that Bacognize® is an effective nootropic. Same great product, new, more accurate, label.
Q: If some nootropic ingredients are potentially dangerous or lack evidence, why do other brands include them in their supplements?
A: There are a number of reasons a manufacturer might choose to include an ingredient in their supplement.
First, it’s not illegal or very closely regulated - according David Kessler, commissioner of the FDA when the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) was approved, "The 1994 Dietary Supplement Act does not require that dietary supplements (defined broadly to include many substances, such as herbs and amino acids, that have no nutritive value) be shown to be safe or effective before they are marketed. The FDA does not scrutinize a dietary supplement before it enters the marketplace. The agency is permitted to restrict a substance if it poses a 'significant and unreasonable risk' under the conditions of use on the label or as commonly consumed...Congress has shown little interest in protecting consumers from the hazards of dietary supplements, let alone from the fraudulent claims that are made, since its members apparently believe that few of these products place people in real danger. Nor does the public understand how potentially dangerous these products can be."
Other common reasons for including risky or unproven ingredients:
• They’re hot - like anything, supplements have fads of their own, and by including the latest ‘hot’ ingredient, supplement makers can ride the buzz (pun intended).
• It’s cheap - some ingredients may have little to no proven effect but are cheap to source and include in a supplement. To some consumers, more ingredients is better. Often, they’ll just include a tiny amount of the ingredient — just enough to claim it’s in there as part of a ‘proprietary blend’. If you don’t see a quantity or potency on the label, you should be suspicious.
• They work for a short time - some ingredients do have an immediate and noticeable effect, but then you’ll quickly develop a tolerance, requiring the whole supplement to be cycled.
• They sound good on a label - things like Oat Straw. That sounds good, right? Oat Straw.
• Lastly, to quote Upton Sinclair, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ It may be good intentions mixed with a little bit of willful ignorance, as it is with a lot of the world.
If you want to know more about the history of the issues surrounding the lack of regulation, safety standards, and oversights in the supplement and vitamin industry, we recommend the book Do You Believe In Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A Offit, MD.
Q: Granted all of the above, why don’t you include X ingredient, which is safe, proven effective for most young, healthy people, doesn’t need to be cycled, has no side effects for the majority of the population, etc?
A: Let’s talk about it! Get in touch and let us know what you’re thinking. We’ll always be looking for new ways to increase the effectiveness and value of Plato. Reach out via the contact form and tell us what you’re thinking.
Q: X competitor has like 25 ingredients in theirs! Why don't you have more stuff?
A: It’s tough to be specific when you redact the name of the product like that, but on top of all of the answers above, which are the real story, we'd encourage you to look at the quantities and concentrations of each ingredient on that product and ask yourself why each one is in there, and why at the quantity listed.
Q: What kind of testing do you do on Plato? You don’t test on animals, do you?
A: No testing on animals! The testing we do is all lab testing, on the ingredients and the finished product themselves. The raw ingredients are tested for identity, purity, and potency. The finished product is then again tested for heavy metals, microbes, and other contaminants.
Q: What’s the big deal about testing?
A: So many reasons! Ready?
When you concentrate material, you tend to concentrate everything about it. As an analogy, you might drink tap water all the time and have no problem with the levels of contaminants in your water. BUT, if you boil a pot of that water, refill it, boil it again, refill it, boil it again, etc etc, you might end up with a broth of contaminants that is not something you would want to drink.
Similarly, when you make a product that comes in pill form, you’re concentrating a lot of stuff into a small package (that’s the idea, right?)
As it happens, plants can be very good at pulling things out of their surrounding environment. It’s how they make more plant out of dirt and air. That means that some plants can also concentrate contaminants from their environment as well. One of the things we’re looking for in our first testing step (raw materials testing), is contaminants present in the material itself. In our case, these are standardized extracts that have already gone through many rounds of testing at the facilities of our suppliers and come with their CoA (certificates of analysis). They’re then tested by our manufacturer’s testing facility and their 3rd party testing lab as well, because, as the old saying goes, ’trust but verify’.
The types of things we’re looking for in raw materials testing are: misidentification of the plant (you’d be amazed how many *finished* products would fail this test), misidentification of the component of the plant (root vs aerial, etc), and potency (how much of the active ingredients are present), as well as microbial contamination in the raw ingredient.
The second testing step is on the incorporated product - the stuff that comes out of the bottle. Here we’re looking for fungal or yeast contamination, accumulation of heavy metals, or bacteriological contamination. You may wonder why we test *again* if we test everything at the start and all the production goes on in a clean facility. The answer is that you can never be too sure. Stuff happens in the space program - it can happen anywhere.
We’re not here to save money and make a quick buck. We’re here to make a product for ourselves, our friends, our families, etc. This is the level of testing you need to be certain of what you’re getting in the bottle.
Q: I already take a few of these ingredients and each one takes up a whole pill. How does the whole Plato formula fit into two?
A: Depending on the concentration, in many cases you’re likely taking only a few hundred milligrams or less of a single ingredient. If that single dose comes in a 00 capsule there’s often a lot of free space in there, which will be taken up by some kind of inert filler. These herbs work at small doses and the extracts are even stronger!
- Q: Where is Plato made?
- Q: What kind of capsule does Plato come in?
Q: If there are no ingredients containing gluten, why isn’t Plato certified Gluten-free?
A: Plato is produced in a facility that, while capable of making gluten-free products, isn’t usually in a gluten-free state. Producing a product that will be certified gluten free requires a very thorough clean-down of the whole production area to ensure that no environmental gluten makes its way into the product. The testing to certify a product as gluten-free is quite expensive and so is the cleandown, and we’re not at the scale where we can make it work just yet. With that said, if you’re living the gluten-free life and you’re staying away from Plato for that reason, we’d love to hear your vote. It’s high on our wishlist.
Q: Why isn’t Plato certified Kosher or Halal?
A: Same reason as the above answer about gluten! Please let us know if we’re losing your biz!
Q: What if I don’t love Plato?
A: If you aren’t completely satisfied with one of our products, we’ll give you a no-questions-asked refund with return of the bottle within 30 days of delivery. Once we receive your return, we’ll send an email to notify you and then apply the refund to your original method of payment within 30 days of notification. Shipping costs for the return are non-refundable. You are responsible for paying your own shipping costs.
Q: Why do you give a portion of your proceeds to GreenWave? What does GreenWave have to do with Plato?
A: It’d be cool if there were some conceptual tie-in between our mission and theirs, but really, we’re just fans of their whole MO. We’re deeply concerned by climate change and we think GreenWave’s win-win-win model is the most exciting thing we’ve seen in the green space. We’d love to see them thrive.
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