Table of contents:
- Introduction to Nootropics
- How do nootropics work
- Nootropics types
- Nootropics ingredients
- Will Nootropics work for me?
- Best Nootropic supplements
- Which Nootropic is the best
Nootropics have become popular especially after movies such as Limitless and Lucy have brought these smart drugs in the spotlight. Nootropics, or cognitive enhancers, are created to make people mentally deliver in brain-challenging circumstances such as exams or deadlines at work. When taking nootropics, one can experience improved brain function, focus, productivity and mood, while the substances inside should not have harmful effects. A cognitive enhancer should fuel up brain cells, improve thinking, heighten recall, sharpen focus and be safe, effective and natural.
While some pills claim to offer the real NZT48, like in the movie Limitless, it’s common sense to think there’s no such thing and that there’s no pill that can make you the smartest person in the world. So we can establish that there are some nootropic supplements out there that make bogus claims and try to over do it from a marketing point of view. Having said that, nootropics do work and they can improve your brain power, focus and productivity. Our how-to guide plans to provide important information regarding the best nootropics out there and which are some top-rated nootropic products.
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics are substances, supplements or drugs that improve brain function and mental performance, have almost no side effects and can be used long-term. They work to boost several aspects such as memory, learning ability, attention, focus, recall, motivation, concentration, alertness, verbal fluency, mental clarity, awareness, processing speed, creative thinking, reaction time and problem solving ability. Nootropics are also known as smart drugs, cognitive enhancers and memory (or brain) boosters. However, unlike some smart drugs, the definition of nootropics states that they must be safe, with a very low risk of side effects.
Besides enhancing cognition, nootropics also work to reduce cognitive decline, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, migraines, stress, depression, forgetfulness, panic attacks, insomnia and symptoms of jet lag. These brain-boosting substances can promote relaxation, well being and feel good (dopamine, serotonin) and help manage stress (cortisol, norepinephrine).
Nootropics can protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and also fight mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or psychosis. Among other roles within our bodies, nootropics can increase blood flow to the brain, provide neuroprotective properties (oxidative stress), enhance energy levels and sleep quality and improve mood and confidence.
With all these potential benefits and with little to no side effects, it’s easy to see why nootropics are increasingly popular and how they can make our lives easier. Nowadays, people use nootropics to improve focus, processing speed and learning ability before an exam or to increase concentration and productivity for a work assignment. What’s more, there are also some who use nootropics to reduce social anxiety.
A Brief History of Nootropics
The term “nootropic” (pronounced nō-ə-ˈtrō-pik) was coined by Romanian Doctor Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972 after he discovered a substance called “Piracetam”, which at first was developed to treat motion sickness. The term comes from the Greek words nous, which translates to “mind” and trepein, which means “bend” or “turn”.
Dr. Giurgea had a specific list of five criteria that a substance or compound must meet to be regarded as a nootropic:
- It should enhance memory and learning (boost memory and learning)
- It should enhance the resistance of learned memories/behaviors to certain conditions that tend to disrupt (should improve the brain’s resistance to disease)
- It should protect the brain against physical or chemical injuries (should shield the brain against injury)
- It should improve the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms (should boost attention, focus and concentration)
- It should not have the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs, such as sedation or motor stimulation and have very few side effects, with low toxicity (should be safe)
In recent times, researchers have observed that natural nootropics can be just as effective as drugs, but without the side effects.
How Do Nootropics Work?
We know that nootropics improve brain performance, but there’s no easy answer to how they actually work, because there are plenty of nootropics that have various ways of functioning. This is why it is a pretty difficult question to answer… But let’s go through what nootropics can do and see some of the things they can improve.
Nootropics Increase Blood Flow to the Brain
When a brain performs well, it usually has good brain circulation. Increased blood flow to the brain means more oxygen and nutrients reach the brain to energize and nourish it. And this goes both ways, the blood brings good stuff to the brain and takes away harmful elements such as toxins and cellular waste — that can build up and reduce the brain’s power. When this happens, it causes brain degradation and triggers a decline in thinking ability.
Nootropics boost blood flow to the brain by relaxing and dilating brain blood vessels or by nourishing them and establishing their health and flexibility. By improving blood flow to the brain, you get increased brain performance and health and enhance memory.
Nootropics Affect Neurotransmitters
The brain produces neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that influence mental performance, concentration and mood. These chemical messengers hop from one brain cell to another, thus facilitating communication between cells. Nootropics usually target four main neurotransmitters: Acetylcholine (Ach) for cognition and memory, Dopamine (DA) for mood and motivation, Norepinephrine (NE) for focus and intense concentration and Serotonin (5HT) for relaxation.
These brain chemicals work to enhance cognition and, varying from type to type, neurotransmitters deliver improved memory, learning ability, mood, clearer thinking and others. Brain chemicals not only boost certain functions but also help prevent brain degradation.
Nootropics Boost Brain Energy
It is known that the brain uses more energy than any other organ, with a whopping 20% of the total. To put it in perspective, if you consume 2000 calories, 400 of those will go to fuel your brain. This is due to the fact that every movement and every thought is achieved using a combination of chemicals and electrical activity. This uses a lot of energy, so in order to be able to concentrate on tasks and improve cognition – while preventing mental fatigue – the brain needs other sources to provide that power.
Nootropics maintain and boost brain power by fueling brain cells and allowing them to fire with electrical impulses. They also work to protect the mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells) and improve the effectiveness of cells. More energy to the brain translates to faster processing speed, improved recall ability, better mental clarity and enhanced attention span and focus.
Nootropics Promote Neuroregeneration
Up until two decades ago, scientists believed that when brain cells die, they are forever gone. But one study from 1998 showed that brain cells have the ability to regenerate through a process called neurogenesis. What’s more, brain cells constantly undergo maintenance, repair and regeneration, and science is now looking into brain plasticity, an ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function after bodily or external changes. Basically, the brain reacts to new learnings and experiences and the fact of the matter is that nootropics can improve these aspects.
Nootropics provide the needed material for brain cells’ birth, connectivity and repair, while also sending impulses that generate the formation of new brain cells. They also deliver the fuel required to enrich them and facilitate their rapid multiplication. In cognitive benefits, this translates to healthy brain cells with rapid regeneration, flexible neural connection, improved memory, enhanced learning ability and diminished risk of age-related cognitive decline.
Nootropics Work to Protect the Brain
Free radicals are what’s left off after the brain burns oxygen to get energy. They’re unstable compounds that try to gain stability by reacting quickly with nearby compounds, thus triggering a chain reaction. This can cause brain degeneration, especially dementia and Alzheimer’s. Another risk factor are amyloids, which are protein clusters that form and can choke brain cells until they stop firing and die. Nootropics can protect against these elements.
Some nootropics can be potent antioxidants, which work to neutralize free radicals and preventing further brain damage. Some other nootropics can prevent the formation and reduce the progression of amyloid proteins. The full benefits of this neuroprotective effect can be experienced when one gets older and retains a youthful brain and sharp memory.
Nootropics Reduce Stress
When we are stressed, we tend to make bad decisions because we don’t pay enough attention to the situation in hand and we give in to mental fatigue and mood swings. But there is a class of herbs that allows the brain to reach faster processing speed by improving its resistance to stress, especially in circumstances with high pressure and intensity and extremely demanding events.
Adaptogen nootropics reduce stress by targeting the body’s endocrince system. There, they counteract stress hormones and the body’s response to stress. Through this, adaptaogens help to brain cope with stress causes, be it emotional, toxic, physical, environmental etc. These adaptogens are famous for quite some time now, ever since Russian Olympic cosmonauts and athletes have used them to cope with stress and maintain focus, reasoning and brain clarity under any situation.
So, there you have it — nootropics have several ways of working to enhance cognition, from increasing blood flow to the brain, affecting neurotransmitters, boosting brain energy and improving brain plasticity, to promoting neuroregeneration, protecting the brain and reducing stress.
All in all, nootropics are not a magic pill that will turn you from an ordinary person to a genius overnight, but they can boost brain power and influence memory, learning ability, recall, focus, mood and productivity. This doesn’t mean that you can sit back and expect to somehow know new things — you still need to work hard to improve cognitive function and retain information faster than ever before. Nootropics play an important role in the brain’s overall health, while also improving the responses of neurotransmitters to fight mental decline and prevent cognitive disorders.
To better understand nootropics, one must understand the different types available. Some of these types have a long history, while others have been known in the last few years. Each of these nootropic types has a specific method of action through which it works to enhance cognition. Typically, nootropics can be categorized into seven types.
Natural nootropics are of herbal or organic descent and they can safely boost memory, concentration, processing speed, focus and mood. They work to improve cognition and brain health by triggering the brain’s own healing properties. Some herbs are being used to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia and other cognitive diseases.
Most natural nootropics are derived from herbal sources and then synthesized by scientists to boost their potency. While lab-synthesized supplements have been around for around 50 years, plants and herbs have been used since the beginning of recorded history to boost brain power. For example, Ginkgo Biloba was used as a brain tonic in ancient Chinese medicine, while Ashwagandha was popular in Ayurvedic medicine in India to relieve stress and boost concentration.
Natural nootropics are usually safe to use since they come directly from nature and do not contain any artificial chemicals, fillers or toxins. Even though some claim natural nootropics aren’t as effective as synthetic ones, you shouldn’t be scared to try them. Natural alternatives are preferable to potentially harmful interactions with chemicals and the benefits can oftentimes be just as great in both natural and synthetic nootropics.
Natural nootropics are great for beginner and intermediate nootropic users and are great if purchased in a natural nootropic stack. This means one can take advantage of a synergistic mix of several natural nootropics so that the benefits complement one another and create an effect that greatly improves cognition and brain health.
They work to increase blood flow to the brain, provide essential nutrients, protect against free radical damage and toxins, reduce inflammation, improve brain plasticity, stimulate new brain-cell formation, reduce effects of brain aging, increase oxygen levels, provide precursors to important brain chemicals,
The best known natural nootropics are Ashwagandha, Bacopa Monnieri, Caffeine, Huperzine A (Huperzia Serrata), Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Lion’s Mane, Rhodiola Rosea and Vinpocetine. Choosing natural nootropics means you don’t have to take chances with risky off-label prescription drugs to improve mental performance since the herbal alternatives can be just as effective as the synthetic types produced in labs. There is more information about each natural nootropic below, in our nootropic ingredients chapter.
Racetams are the most common and popular nootropics available today. They were the first nootropics ever invented and are still the most widely used, sharing a chemical structure and offering similar benefits. Aniracetam, Oxiracetam and Pramiracetam are the most common types of Racetams (around 20) and they share a similar chemical structure, being composed of three basic elements: nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen.
Clinical tests confirm the effectiveness of Racetams, showing they provide remarkable brain benefits, including improved memory, learning ability, motivation, energy, mood, focus and mental clarity.
Racetams work by stimulating receptors in the brain responsible for releasing Acetylcholine, one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain. Acetylcholine helps the brain communicate and has the unique capacity of optimizing signal transfer across synapses in the brain. Based on some reports, after people experience good results initially with Racetams, after some time they tend to develop tolerance to them, reducing their efficacy after continued use.
Some Racetams can work to affect an amino acid called glutamate, which helps with the communication between neurons, thus making Racetams overlap with another nootropic category: Ampakines. They are also known to have neuroprotective properties, reducing cell damage and supporting cell regrowth.
Choline & Acetylcholine Intermediates
Choline can naturally be found in the human body and the foods we consume, yet most people are deficient in this nutrient and thus experience reduced cognitive abilities and poor brain health.
Choline is an essential water-soluble nutrient that can directly affect the brain’s production of acetylcholine neurotransmitters, like many other nootropics. This is how this compound enhances memory and the ability to learn, albeit not as much as other nootropics.
It is also why Choline is usually paired with Racetams in nootropic stacks — to deliver an improved reaction that promotes healthy acetylcholine transmission in the brain. Without Choline, acetylcholine will not be synthesized. With an optimized supply of acetylcholine, direct benefits such as improved memory, concentration and learning occur once the nutrient starts to positively affect cognition.
Another benefit triggered by Choline is an improvement in general mood, mostly due to its ability to elevate levels of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that controls pleasure and reward centers.
There are several choices regarding Choline nootropics, with the most popular being Alpha GPC, Citicoline, Lecithin or Centrophenoxine. Alpha GPC is usually a potent choice that triggers positive brain changes, including improvements in memory, learning or Alzheimer’s patients.
Peptides are biological molecules that occur naturally and represent short chains of amino acids that are linked together by covalent chemical bonds. These bonds are known as peptide bonds – thus giving the name peptides to this type of nootropics.
Peptides are usually not that common, but there is one exception: Noopept. Noopept is a popular nootropic choice and, in Russia and other countries, it is prescribed by doctors to those suffering from psychological conditions such as poor attention span or memory. Like in the case of a few Racetams and Ampakines, Noopept directly affects both acetylcholine and glutamate receptors, but also stimulates the production of Neurotrophins – a family of proteins that induce the function, development and survival of neurons.
Some claim Noopept is 1000 times more powerful than Piracetam, because it has a high bioavailability and can easily cross the blood brain barrier, but also affects both glutamate and acetylcholine receptors, as stated previously. What’s more, Noopepent promotes the release of nerve growth factor, an essential protein in the development and maintenance of neurons and nerve cells.
Noopept has been clinically shown to improve memory, alertness, motivation, perception, logical thinking, reflexes, learning ability and mental energy.
Ampakines are among the newest types of nootropics and are considered as some of the strongest. They work by directly affecting glutamate receptors in the brain, increasing them and optimizing the glutamatergic systems. The name comes from the fact that Ampakines are positive allosteric modulators of AMPA receptors.
Ampakines are especially successful at targeting memory and learning and play an important role in synaptic plasticity, which is the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken in respect to their activity levels. This helps us absorb new information like a sponge and change its pathways to memorize that information.
Many regard Ampakines as a mix between Racetams and caffeine supplements, because they facilitate brain plasticity. Like in the case of Racetams, Ampakines stimulate glutamate receptors, but are widely considered as more potent because they affect glutamate receptors more strongly. What’s more, it’s said they don’t have the same side effects like caffeine does. Ampakines improve attention span, concentration, and comprehension of new information, memory and reasoning skills.
Glutamate is overwhelmingly present in the body, but especially in the nervous system and even more so in the brain, being the body’s prominent neurotransmitter, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter and a precursor for the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA. Glutamate receptors are essential for learning, memory formation and neural communication.
Vitamin B Derived Nootropics
Vitamin B derived nootropics are among the smaller types of brain enhancing supplements, being commonly used to improve memory retention, increase alertness and treat physical and mental fatigue. Vitamin B derivatives are derived from B vitamins to extract the maximum amount of benefits.
B-vitamin based nootropics have quite a history as they were first synthesized in Japan after World War II, when the population was deficient in Thiamine (Vitamin B1). Since the population was eating rice, which was lacking important nutrients, the population felt fatigued and had low energy levels. The Japanese then synthetized Thiamine (Sulbutiamine), which reduced people’s physical and mental fatigue, and also made them more alert.
In present times, Vitamin B Derivatives are more popular and used to improve memory by influencing choline, glutamate and dopamine levels in the brain. This makes this nootropic type very effective in the treatment of degenerative cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Lacking B-vitamins has been linked with playing a role in certain neurodegenerative diseases. B1 (Thiamine) deficiency can cause confusion, memory problems and irritability. B6 (Pyridoxine) is important for cognition and mental well-being, influencing feel good hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. B12 (Cobalamin) is the most complex B-vitamin, and fights brain atrophy, helps prevent Alzheimer’s and has neuroprotective effects.
Nootropics are usually called ‘smart drugs’, but they’re not one and the same. Technically, smart drugs are not considered nootropics, even though they work to stimulate brainpower and aspects related to cognition. This is why this nootropic category contains some supplements that resemble nootropics and provide similar benefits.
For instance, Modafinil is a smart drug used to treat chronic fatigue, increasing hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that boosts motivation and energy. Adrafinil, unlike Modafinil, is unregulated and is regularly used with other nootropics to form a nootropic stack. It is usually used by students to boost alertness, wakefulness, attention and mood. It has also been used to improve concentration in those suffering with ADHD.
Users of smart drugs seek to improve learning ability, memory formation and recall, concentration and other cognitive aspects, but brain health as well. They are compounds that interact with brain chemistry to boost certain cognitive functions by encouraging, limiting or controlling brain chemicals.
Usually, smart drugs tend to have more side effects, so you should verify the product you choose before starting with it. Some of them are not recommended for those who have a heart condition, so you should talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.
There are a lot of natural substances with nootropic properties, but how does one know which ones work? What we plan to do is to provide accurate information regarding every (or almost) possible nootropic ingredient that you may come across in a nootropic formula. We’ve also included some links to certain tests that certify an ingredient’s capability of boosting cognition, influencing mood or other brain-related aspects. What is interesting is that without really knowing it, we are already consuming some of these compounds such as L-Theanine (Green Tea), caffeine and B Vitamins. The ingredients included here are from several nootropic types and they are listed alphabetically. So, without further ado, here are some of the best nootropic ingredients.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor and a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan. As a nootropic, 5-HTP is extracted from the seed pods of a West African medicinal plant called Griffonia simplicifolia, which contains 20% 5-HTP. Serotonin is important for sleep, mood, memory, appetite, learning, sexual behavior, temperature regulation or cardiovascular function.
By restoring serotonin levels, 5-HTP can help improve general mood, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic headaches, migraines, PMS and weight loss. But Serotonin doesn’t just promote peacefulness and joy, as it also helps to improve memory and learning, while suppressing appetite. In the brain, serotonin is converted to melatonin, which a key hormone in the regulation of sleep/wake cycles, thus making 5-HTP an important ally in normal sleep patterns. Having a good night’s sleep means reduced anxiety and depression.
5-HTP travels through the bloodstream to the brain, being able to cross the barrier as a direct precursor to serotonin and converts to it once it reaches the brain. Low serotonin levels can cause irritability, impatience, aggression, anxiety and worrying, and this is why one needs to include supplements or Tryptophan (an amino acid and precursor to serotonin) rich foods or supplements into their diet.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is an amino acid that can improve brain health, stress tolerance and metabolism. The kidneys and liver produce this nutrient, which is fat soluble and very active in nerves. ALCAR can cross the blood-brain barrier and has the capacity to improve mental clarity, processing speed, memory, alertness, focus and mood. It can also works to prevent brain aging and its effects, but also to help with depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s.
ALCAR boosts brain and physical functions by increasing energy production in the mitochondria — the powerhouse of cells. Furthermore, this amino acid has the capability of boosting neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline (helps the body cope with stressful situations) and serotonin levels (feel good hormone). When noradrenaline levels are increased, it stimulates alpha-receptors on muscle inside the walls of peripheral blood vessels, causing them to contract and redirect blood to essential organs such as the brain and heart.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is packed with antioxidants to protect brain cells against free radical damage, but can also reduce inflammation. The nootropic ingredient can protect brain cells from oxygen deprivation and toxins. The ingredient has shown success in clinical trials on subjects with cognitive impairments.
Alpha GPC (alpha glycerophosphocholine) is a chemical that naturally occurs in the brain and it is derived from soy extracts, but can also be found in milk or egg yolks. Alpha GPC is water-soluble and after ingestion, it rapidly enters the brain and improves signal transmission, supports healthy brain function and learning processes by increasing the secretion and synthesis of acetylcholine depending on your body’s needs. In Europe, the nootropic substance is used to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s. Through its components, this cognitive enhancer has an impact on phosphatidylcholine biosynthesis in the brain and is vital for neural cell communication. Acetylcholine is essential for the cognitive function, stimulating the corresponding areas in the brain, and being responsible for storing and recalling memories.
Alpha GPC has been shown to improve immediate recall and reaction times, enhance mood, protect sensitive brain cells and membranes, promote optimal brain health and function, support greater physical activity through cholinergic transmissions and fight loss of nerve cells and fibers caused by aging. But the nootropic also has a role in other areas such as protecting the brain against toxic waste buildup, helping those recovering from cerebral ischemic attacks, supporting the liver in its lipotropic functions and boosting the release of dopamine to help those suffering with Parkinson’s.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that the body produces and can be found in every cell, helping to convert glucose into energy. Since it’s an antioxidant, this nootropic ingredient fights harmful free radicals that can destroy cells, effectively protecting against infections or damage to organs and tissues. ALA is both fat and water soluble, thus being able to cross the blood-brain barrier and can regenerate other antioxidants as well. For this reason, ALA can protect the brain and nerve tissue and may be useful in the treatment for dementia.
ALA can reduce dementia by improving energy production in a cell’s mitochondria (the power house of a cell). The nootropic ingredient can improve cognition by increasing acetylcholine levels and is thought to have the property of preventing Alzheimer’s and slowing it down, with one study finding “dramatically lower “progression in those taking ALA.
Alpha Lipoic Acid may also help protect against antipsychotic-induced weight gain and shows great potential in protecting brain injury and stroke victims from complications that can occur during healing. Besides its benefits for the brain, ALA improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar. There is also clinical data that confirms Alpha Lipoic Acid works to treat diabetic neuropathy.
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, is a root commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat several conditions and as a general healing toning. Being an adaptogen, Ashwagandha has the property to increase the body’s resistance to stress, anxiety and fatigue by leveling its functions or, in other words, by returning to normal values that are too high or too low. It also a plant with an excellent safety record.
As a nootropic, Ashwagandha works to reduce anxiety and stress, but also the effects of chronic stress such as high blood pressure and Cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Ashwagandha reduces stress through corticosterone signaling and by suppressing neuronal excitation in response to stress. It is a highly neuroprotective nootropic with the property of reducing signs of brain aging. By reducing brain cell degeneration, it can be effective in helping with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and age-related mental decline.
Another benefit is that this root can reduce symptoms of depression by affecting serotonin and GABA, two neurotransmitters that play a role in mood and anxiety.
Among other benefits, Ashwagandha can increase motivation and promote social interaction, which are signs that it can help people overcome social anxiety. It also works to improve cholesterol levels, increase testosterone and muscle mass, reduce blood pressure and elevated pulse, boost immune function and increase fertility and libido.
Bacopa Monnieri, also called Brahmi, is a nootropic plant used in Ayurveda for its role in neurological diseases, including schizophrenia, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Bacopa improves mood and works as a stress reliever, reducing anxiety and depression thanks to its power to enhance the effect of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and serotonin or GABA. But Bacopa is best known for its ability to improve memory in both the young and elderly.
One small, double-blind study was conducted over a period of 12 weeks at the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering in Australia where participants either received a dose of Bacopa or a placebo. Before the study, all volunteers were test by researchers on memory and speed of information processing and visual information processing. The same tests were taken 5 and 12 weeks after the initial one and a significant improvement was noticeable among those taking Bacopa compared to the placebo group. The researchers concluded that Bacopa Monnieri “may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory.”
Bacopa Monnieri is not a one-trick pony and can improve digestive health and respiratory issues, regulate blood pressure, provide antioxidant protection, reduce inflammation in the brain and balance neurotransmitters.
Coffee is packed with antioxidants and beneficial nutrients that can improve your overall health. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant to the central nervous system and can improve mental performance, especially in the fields of attention, concentration and alertness. This is why coffee is regarded as fuel for your brain and it’s the most used psychoactive drug in the world.
Caffeine can help reduce fatigue and increase energy levels. After your drink coffee, the caffeine goes into the bloodstream and makes its way up to the brain where it blocks Adenosine, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When this happens, other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine increase in numbers, which leads to enhanced neuronal firing. Several controlled trials have demonstrated how caffeine can boost reaction times, memory, mood, vigilance and overall cognitive function.
Besides being a great cognitive enhancer, caffeine is also known to boost metabolism, increase the oxidation of fatty acids, improve athletic performance (increases exercise performance by an average of 11-12%) by mobilizing fatty acids from fat tissues, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cirrhosis.
Cannabidiol is an active cannabinoid that can be found in cannabis, but, unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive. This means it does not give you a high and it does not interact with several psychological and psychomotor functions. CBD does not give you paranoia, memory impairment and appears to fight the sleep-inducing effects of THC.
CBD protects the human brain and nervous system from degeneration, acting to achieve this in several ways. First, it stops an enzyme (FAAH) that breaks down a neurotransmitter linked to neural generation of pleasure and motivation. It also affects certain receptors that play an important role in regulating mood, memory, sleep, appetite and inflammation. With its latter quality, CBD reduces inflammation that can lead to damage of the neurons outer layer.
CBD activates a serotonin receptor that’s linked to anxiety, sleep, addiction and vomiting, which is what gives it an anti-depressant effect. Thanks to its neuroprotective and antioxidant properties, CBD can protect against Alzheimer’s by decreasing amyloid beta levels and enhancing mitochondrial function. CBD also improves the efficiency of mitochondria – the powerhouses of cells – to reduce the brain’s aging process and increase its activity.
CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, but can also lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure, protect against cancerous cells and tumors and promote bone growth.
CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10)
CoQ10 is a substance that can be found in ever cell of the body, it resembles a vitamin and produces energy to support cell growth and maintenance. CoQ10 is naturally occurring, but usually the body doesn’t produce enough of it, so maintaining optimal levels is important for overall health.
CoQ10 supplementation slows down brain deterioration in patients suffering from Parkinson’s as one study revealed. Even though there is no cure for the disease, Coenzyme Q10 decreased the damage done to the affected neurons, thus reducing the progression of the disease.
Coenzyme Q10 has an effect on mitochondrial function, which helps protect against Alzheimer’s by reducing amyloid plaques in the brain. CoQ10 also relieves oxidative stress in those with Alzheimer’s, effectively reducing inflammation and the loss of memory, cognition or physical function along with it.
Low CoQ10 levels are usually associated with migraines and this is why supplementing with the coenzyme can decrease their frequency. Mitochondrial dysfunction and high brain oxidative stress levels are linked to mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression, but CoQ10 can enhance the effectiveness of prescribed antidepressant medication. What’s more, those deficient in CoQ10 are also more susceptible to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
Creatine is usually known to help fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders to improve athletic performance and maintain muscle mass, but it recent times it has also been found to have brain benefits as well. In the brain, creatine works by enhancing the levels of phosphate stored in a cell, which in turn provides increased energy stores for the brain.
In one study from the University of Sydney, researchers observed the impact of creatine on mental function, with 45 vegetarian (chosen because they have lower creatine levels) young adults receiving either a placebo or creatine for six weeks, followed by another six weeks where the roles reversed. Throughout the study, the participants took intelligence and memory tests and the final results showed “significant, measurable boost to brain power” in the creatine group on “both working memory and intelligence, both tests that require speed of processing”.
Creatine can help with some neurodegenerative disorders by slowing down or even reversing conditions such as GMAT deficiency, which can trigger mental retardation, speech disabilities and developmental delay.
Creatine is thought to be especially useful for short-term memory, with trials using fMRI confirming these effects on the brain. It can also reduce brain fatigue by increasing ATP levels and improving oxygenation; boost cognitive performance in the elderly; and enhance mood by reducing depression symptoms.
Turmeric is a perennial plant that’s native to southern Asia and it is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. Turmeric contains compounds with medicinal properties, one of which is curcumin — the main active ingredient in this plant. It has anti-inflammatory properties and makes for a potent antioxidant that fights free radicals and stimulates the body’s own antioxidant enzymes.
Curcumin can increase levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a growth hormone that works in the brain. By doing this, Curcumin can reduce one’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s and depression or even reverse some brain diseases and mental function decline that is age-related.
Curcumin shows promise in treating depression, with one trial confirming it is effective as an antidepressant. In the test, 60 patients were randomized into three groups, with one being given Prozac, the second Curcumin and the third both prozac and Curcumin. After 6 weeks, the Curcumin group showed improvements that resembled those of Prozac, with the group that took them both faring best. Some evidence also suggests this compound can increase the levels of neurotransmitters Serotonin and Dopamine.
Curcumin can lower the risk of heart disease, may help prevent cancer and benefits those who suffer from arthritis. Also, Curcumin’s absorption in the bloodstream can be enhanced by piperine.
DMAE (or dimethylaminoethenol) is a nootropic substance that naturally occurs and has potent anti-inflammatory properties. The brain naturally produces DMAE in small amounts, but it can be found in sardines and anchovies. So, if you regularly consume fish that are high in DMAE, you will experience improved memory and problem solving ability. This is because DMAE is a building block for acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that allows a nerve to communicate with another one, or with a muscle. Users of this compound report improvements in focus capabilities, memory recall, mood and reasoning.
DMAE has been found to facilitate lucid dreaming and make it easier for most people to get to sleep. Unlike with coffee, amphetamines or other drugs, those taking DMAE report a continuous stimulation after 3-4 weeks after taking it, without any side effects. Even more so, it doesn’t trigger depression or letdown after you stop taking it.
DMAE serves as an antioxidant and protects against harmful free radicals by stabilizing cell membranes. Besides boosting brain function, it also enhances mood, helps with ADD and ADHD and improves depressive symptoms.
Feverfew, also known as wild chamomile or medieval aspirin, is a perennial herb that’s present around the world and has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Usually, Feverfew is used to prevent migraines, but also to reduce their severity and frequency. To obtain the best results against migraines, one has to take Feverfew for 12 weeks. Some evidence also indicates this herb can reduce the length of a migraine and reduce the amplified sensory sensitivity that happens when having migraines. Feverfew can prevent platelet build-up in capillaries and blood vessels, which is what usually causes tension in the cardiovascular system and triggers migraines and headaches.
Feverfew is also thought to reduce anxiety and stress in some users, being important for those who suffer from chronic stress, thus avoiding the stress hormones from being present in the body for prolonged periods – which can be very dangerous.
For thousands of years, Feverfew has been used to prevent pain throughout the body, nut just the one caused by migraines and headaches. This herb can benefit users after an injury or surgery to get fast and lasting relief.
Regarding other properties, there is evidence that it can reduce inflammation throughout the body, being effective for those who suffer from chronic joint pain, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate and Folic Acid are both forms of water-soluble B vitamin, the difference being that the former occurs naturally in food while the latter is the synthetic form of the vitamin. A Dutch study shows that folic acid might help slow the cognitive decline of aging and can really improve memory. In the study, people aged 50 to 75 took either folic acid or a placebo for three years. The Wageningen University concluded that Folic Acid users had scores comparable to people 5.5 years younger, while their cognitive speed resembled that of people 1.9 years younger.
It’s also worth noting that cognitive decline and some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, are linked to low Folate levels. Reduced Folic Acid levels are also related to depression, dementia, mood, social function and can contribute to the ageing of the brain in elderly people.
Good sources of Folate include cereals, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, lettuce), baked goods, okra, fruits (lemons, bananas, melons), asparagus, yeas, orange juice, mushrooms, tomato juice and meat such as beef liver and kidney. Supplementing with Folic Acid reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes, and can reduce birth defects as well.
GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid) is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It’s produced in the brain from another amino acid and neurotransmitter, called Glutamate, but also from vitamin B6. GABA is touted as one of the best amino acids because it helps regulate your system to prevent neurons from becoming over-excited from external stimuli. It prevents feelings of irritability or restlessness, and even insomnia, by balancing out other chemicals and hormones such as adrenalin, dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin. People who have low levels of this neurotransmitter are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, panic attacks, irregular sleep patterns and stress. Taking GABA is a highly effective natural relaxant, leading to a more focused and calm mind.
Another nootropic property of GABA is that it can increase alpha waves levels in the brain, which are essential for being active and productive, leading to an enhanced state of focus and mental flow, making you feel like you’re in the zone.
If you want to increase your muscle strength and gains when working out, GABA can be a trusted ally as it can regulate muscle tone and supports muscle cells formation and the building of lean muscle mass by boosting metabolism.
Ginkgo Biloba, also called Maidenhair, has a history of over 300 million years and it is the oldest tree species on Earth. This ancient nootropic herb has many benefits for the elderly and can boost oxygen utilization, thus being able to improve concentration, memory and mental faculties. Research has shown that Ginkgo can reverse cognitive decline, promote concentration and even heal fatigue. It’s of great use in the treatment of cerebral insufficiency, which is a condition where one has chronically low concentration, reduced physical performance, fatigue, confusion, headaches and mood swings. Ginkgo improves antioxidant activity and circulation and possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which are crucial factors for cognitive health.
Even if the science is somewhat limited, it has been shown that Ginkgo Biloba can benefit those experiencing mental decline, even in the cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Some studies show this nootropic can improve memory and cognitive performance in both older and younger adults, but can also help people recover from traumatic brain injuries or strokes.
Other nootropic and nootropic-related benefits of Ginkgo Biloba can be seen in the treatment of schizophrenia, mental disorders, nervousness, depression, mood swings, stress and panic attacks. The ingredient is also beneficial for eye health, maintaining vision, atherosclerosis, PMS and multiple sclerosis.
Ginseng is one of the most popular and well-documented herbs on the planet, being widely regarded as a natural cure-all. Even its official name, Panax ginseng, means “all-heal”.
Ginseng improves concentration and cognitive function by stimulating brain cells. It has the capacity to improve mental performance in those with Alzheimer’s, with one study confirming this capability and proving it can even maintain the upscale trend for three more months after treatment. One different study found Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba work as a natural remedy for ADHD.
Ginseng has been proven to improve mental function and mood, promote calmness and enhance mental arithmetic. Another study showed that Panax Ginseng contains potent anti-stress properties and can be used in diseases that are stress-related, including chronic stress, adrenal fatigue and as an ulcer natural remedy.
The nootropic herb has been used for centuries to boost stamina, strength and alertness without any jittery feelings like the case of coffee. Ginseng improves mental performance and the ability to concentrate, prevents memory loss and protects against age-related mental decline.
Besides its nootropic benefits, Ginseng works as a natural appetite suppressant, fights obesity and can boost metabolism and help you burn fat at a faster rate. Other health benefits include improvements in cancer prevention, immune system function, blood sugar levels, lung function and sexual dysfunction.
Green Tea is regarded by many as one of the healthiest beverages on the planet. Science has demonstrated chemicals in Green Tea can stimulate the formation of new brain cells in memory areas, but also boost working memory. Besides this, it has been shown to block certain proteins in Alzheimer’s that cause memory loss, but also slow down the progression of dementia. Green Tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee, thus it can increase energy levels, but without jitteriness that usually appear after drinking coffee.
Green Tea contains a compound called EGCG, which is a catechin, and it is a potent antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers in China have shown that EGCG facilitates the formation of brain cells in the hippocampus, the primary structure responsible for handling information from short-term and long-term memory. This translates to improvements in learning and memory. Green Tea as a nootropic also increases connectivity between existing brain cells, increases firing of neurons, improves vigilance and reaction times and reduce the risk of infections, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
L-Theanine, another compound in Green Tea, can improve your mood by making you feel calm and relaxed, but also energized, by increasing brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine (feel good hormones), and GABA. L-Theanine also has neuroprotective benefits, especially against Alzheimer’s and stroke, but also anti-tumor and anti-obesity capabilities.
Guarana is a climbing plant that’s native to the Amazon region, especially Brazil. In those parts of the world, tribes have been using Guarana since the 1600s as a brain stimulant, largely due to the fact that it contains more caffeine than any other plant. Since it’s more difficult to digest, the body absorbs it more slowly and thus it improves memory, focus and attention for a longer period of time, with more noticeable results.
In one study, participants who used Guarana showed improved scores in working memory tests even after 6 hours from taking the supplement. The extract also enabled the participants to focus harder and recall short-term information at a quicker pace.
Another similar study, using the same dosage, showed that taking Guarana Extract makes you more alert, consistent and improves your mood — with MRI scans confirming the increased traffic of neurotransmitters in brain areas responsible for attention processing and memory.
Finally, Guarana Extract is a nootropic that, in combination with vitamins and minerals, can reduce mental fatigue for up to one hour after ingestion, while also increasing cognitive performance. One such test confirmed this theory, with the subjects reporting a boost in mental speed and reduces mental exhaustion after the test.
Huperzine A (Huperzia Serrata)
Huperzia Serrata, also known as Chinese Club Moss, is a plant that contains the potent nootropic ingredient called Huperzine A. In China, this extract has been used for centuries to treat several conditions, including fever, blood disorders and inflammation, but in recent times scientists have discovered Huperzia Serrata also has great nootropic properties.
Huperzia Serrata works by inhibiting an enzyme that’s responsible for the degradation of acetylcholine — an important neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a crucial role in our ability to maintain attention in the central nervous system. By preventing this, Huperzine A boosts memory and prevents the degradation of memory that comes with age. Other nootropic benefits of this ingredient include better memory recall (especially short-term), improved learning ability, Alzheimer’s prevention and improved focus, attention span and concentration.
Supplementing with Huperzia Serrata can also reduce oxidative stress in cholinergic neurons and improve memory retention and cognitive performance in adolescents. Those with memory deficits can also benefit from Huperzia Serrata, as it can deliver considerable memory improvements, including people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Huperzine A has the ability of increasing levels of nerve growth factor, an essential element in the repair and development of all types of nerve cells, facilitating improved brain plasticity and new neuron development.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid, and despite being categorized as a “non-essential” amino acid, it is a very important compound for brain health and functioning, making up 30-35 per cent of the total amino acids and nitrogen in the blood. Even though the way in which L-Glutamine works is still being investigated, it is known that it fuels your brain cells. It manages this by gathering ammonia molecules in the brain and body and converting them into L-Glutamine, thus preventing brain damage due to an overabundance of ammonia.
L-Glutamine is used in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as Glutamate and GABA, facilitating excitatory transmission in the brain and helping with memory recall, memory formation and brain plasticity. This amino acid also helps his verbal fluidity, reasoning, creativity and prevents neurons from being over-stimulated, thus playing a role in relieving anxiety and stress and promoting focus, relaxation and better sleep quality.
L-Glutamine can increase nitrogen levels within cells, helping with protein synthesis and speeding up the building of new muscle tissues. Among other benefits, L-Glutamine works as an antioxidant, boosts immune function, enhances energy levels and can help control blood sugar levels. As far as dietary benefits go, L-Glutamine can reduce food, sugar and alcohol cravings.
Tyrosine is one of the 22 amino acids that are used by cells to synthesize proteins. L-Tyrosine is used to produce several neurotransmitters and hormones such as Dopamine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine and Thyroxine (the body’s main thyroid hormone).
L-Tyrosine can cross the blood-brain barrier and get into your nervous system, where it can enhance several key areas. This amino acid can reduce stress levels by increasing the rate of noradrenaline synthesis, which stimulates your central nervous system and increases energy and mental power. By doing so, it ensures you are less likely to suffer from stress and don’t go through energy crashes — like after the effects of certain drugs (such as Adderall) wear off. Some studies show L-Tyrosine can improve memory and cognitive performance when facing psychological stress, but it can also helm with extended wakefulness and cold stress.
L-Tyrosine makes it easier for people to stay focused for longer periods of time and it may boost acuity and intelligence if you’re in a distracting environment. It’s an ideal nootropic for studying and some say it can naturally overcome ADHD. The amino acid can be found in eggs, fish, soy products, dairy, almonds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, oats, bananas and wheat germs.
Lion’s Mane is an ancient Chinese medicinal mushroom that’s become a popular natural nootropic since it can enhance overall cognitive function, has neuroprotective qualities and is linked to nerve growth factor (NGF) production. It’s worth noting that out of all the edible mushrooms available, Lion’s Mane is the only one to have a positive impact on nerve repair.
NGF is important for brain health because it regulates biological activities related to memory and brain plasticity, induces differentiation of fresh stem cells into specialized brain cells and promotes brain cell health, growth and survival. Lion’s Mane has shown potential in the treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, muscular dystrophy and peripheral nerve regeneration.
If you’re experiencing brain fog more frequently with age, Lion’s Mane can help you, but it can also protect against cognitive decline. One study showed this nootropic can improve depression and anxiety in women over the age of 40.
This mushroom has been scientifically proven to boost cognition, improve memory and recall, but it may also help users maintain focus and attention. Since it is high in antioxidants, Lion’s Mane can enhance the immune system, but can also lower high cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar. Detoxification is an aspect that can be improved by this mushroom, which effectively removes harmful compounds from inside the body.
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the body that can also be found in many foods and supplements. But magnesium is also a nootropic, ever since MIT recently revealed there’s a direct correlation between magnesium levels in the brain and cognitive function. Increasing magnesium can boost working memory, long-term memory formation, facilitate synaptic plasticity and improve learning. It also prevents neurons from being over-stimulated, so this abundant element can help you if you’re feeling anxious, agitated and restless. One paper supports the idea low magnesium levels can be related to depression.
Magnesium is used to treat ADHD, anxiety, migraines and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many of the mechanisms of action are still unclear in the case of Magnesium, but a 2010 study revealed that administering it can enhance synaptic plasticity and improve brain communication efficiency while better encoding both short-term and long-term memory. Through this effect, it improves connection of neurons in the brain to reduce brain fog. It also helps flush out harmful toxins from the body.
Magnesium can also alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort and disease, promote quality REM sleep, trigger healthy production of bile in the liver, promote healthy blood sugar levels and support healthy bones. Magnesium deficiency can also result in inflammation.
Melatonin is a hormone that anticipates the onset of darkness, establishing circadian rhythms of physiological functions such as sleep timing and blood pressure regulation.
But Melatonin isn’t just a simple sleep aid, as it can protect the brain against irreversible brain damage such as brain injury from stroke or trauma. It has great therapeutic benefits since it is a potent antioxidant and has great anti-inflammatory properties, but can also offer protection against neurodegenerative diseases and enhance cognition.
One experiment conducted on mice showed that a 30-day melatonin usage that started 24 hours after a test-provoked stroke had improved the mice’s brain cells and sped up the recovery in injured cells. Melatonin decreases long-term progress of coordination and motor deficiencies that usually occur after a stroke, but it can also restrain learning disabilities.
Melatonin inhibits cognitive deficits that are age-related especially thanks to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. It has been found to optimize brain function in normal aging, but also that it can improve memory, albeit this being in aging animals. Early testing suggests Melatonin is beneficial in preventing ALS, a serious degenerative disorder that takes its toll on motor functions. Some evidence suggests melatonin can restore brain function in Alzheimer’s patients and that it can promote sleep in autistic children with ADHD.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that can be found in all cells, but especially in the membranes of brain cells, forming around 70% of its nerve tissue mass. This nootropic has a role in the maintenance and restoration of nerve cell membranes, stimulates the release of dopamine (regulates mood), increases acetylcholine production (to improve memory and learning), reduces cortisol levels (to eliminate stress) and enhances the activity of nerve growth factor (helping with cholinergic neuron health). Studies tend to indicate that supplementing with the nootropic phosphatidylserine can slow down and even reverse the decline of concentration, learning, memory, mood, word recall related to dementia, age-related decline in mental function. It is also used for Alzheimer’s (alleviating symptoms of senile dementia), ADD, ADHD, depression and athletic performance.
Phosphatidylserine improves attention, language skills and memory in aging people facing diminishing thinking skills. Supplementing with this nootropic can help brain cells work better and match the functioning levels of a younger brain, improving short-term memory, coordination, learning and concentration. Students frequently use it before taking tests as it promotes the retention of information and helps to build up a tolerance to stress. Phosphatidylserine restores youthful synaptic plasticity, keeps cell membranes flexible and augments brain glucose metabolism.
Piperine is a compound found in black pepper and it has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Piperine increases the bioavailability of several substances in the body, including those that metabolize nutritional substances, stimulate amino acid transporters, inhibit removal of substances from cells and reduce intestinal activity. As far as the brain benefits go, the nootropic Piperine can increase beta-endorphins (are responsible for pain management) in the brain, boost brain function, increase production of serotonin (a happy hormone) and serve as an anti-depressant.
A study by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology tried to determine the effects of various doses of this nootropic substance on the brain and mood of subjects.
Piperine as a nootropic increases the levels and activity of the neurotransmitter Dopamine within the brain, further helping people overcome depression and promoting an overall feeling of well-being and even enhancing cognitive function. The compound can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin up to 20 times, fighting inflammation and infections in the body.
Piperine also works to boost thermogenesis in the body, which apparently not only helps with weight loss, but assists the body so that it uses the foods you consume each day, carrying beneficial nutrients through the blood and reducing pain and inflammation in the process.
Rhodiola Rosea is an herb that has a history of use dating back thousands of years in various cultures where it was used treat stress and fatigue, promote happiness or increase sexual potency.
Rhodiola Rosea can help promote a balanced, elevated mood as the herb has the capacity to reduce anxiety, with one study confirming this theory and showing it can also improve sleep quality. Another study showed that this nootropic helped those who had complained of stress-related symptoms by improving the condition within days and maintaining this progress throughout the period of usage. Also in clinical trials, Rhodiola Rosea has been proven to stimulate the central nervous system and help it fight the fatigue that reduces mental clarity. What’s more, researchers also discovered that this ingredient can promote the growth and development of brain cells.
Studies show this nootropic is linked to happiness and relaxation, being effective in warding off depression and anxiety. Memory and focus are two departments that can benefit by including this herb to your diet, with one study showing those who took it made 88% fewer mistakes in a proofreading test, while a control group that didn’t take Rhodiola made 84%more. R. Rosea is high in antioxidants and can boost immune function, while also showing promise in the management of Parkinson’s.
Rosemary is an intensely flavored herb with long evergreen leaves that’s part of the mint family, just like basil, sage and Coleus forskohlii (Forskolin). It has a calming effect on the nervous system, relieves stress, improves mood, works to boost memory and may help prevent Alzheimer’s.
One compound in rosemary, rosmarinic acid, improves blood circulation to the brain, increasing the amount of oxygen-rich blood, which translates to improved concentration, alertness and overall relaxation. Another compound in rosemary prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine – a key neurotransmitter in the brain – and thus works to treat dementia. The same compound allows the neuronal cells involved in memory consolidation and cognitive processing to better communicate with one another.
One study from the Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, followed the possibility that rosemary may enhance the ability to remember events such as birthdays and complete tasks at specific times in the future (prospective memory). The study revealed that those who were exposed to the scent of rosemary oil fared better on speed and accuracy tests than those who weren’t. The rosemary group was also 60-75% more likely to remember to perform the tasks than those who were not exposed. A whiff of rosemary can stimulate the olfactory nerve in your nose, after which its volatile molecules are absorbed into the bloodstream, where memory-enhancing components travel to the brain, impacting memory.
Sage is a common perennial woody herb that’s usually used in cooking, but don’t be fooled by its familiar name as it can do much more than give flavor to a dish. Native to the northern Mediterranean coast, sage can boost brain function, increase memory recall and retention, improve concentration and focus and thus help both students who are studying for exams or people with intellectually demanding jobs.
One study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior followed 45 individuals who received either a placebo or a dose of sage essential oil. The study concluded that sage oil considerably improved immediate word recall and it is capable of “acute modulation of cognition in healthy young adults”.
Sage stimulates brain function, but also works to fight cognitive disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Packed with beneficial extracts and essential oils, sage stimulates neural pathways to keep the mind young and fresh as you age. One study indicates that certain compounds within Chinese sage can serve as an alternative to pharmaceutical Alzheimer’s treatments.
Sage has anti-inflammatory qualities, serves as an antioxidant to fight degenerative diseases, helps prevent bacterial and viral infections and works to treat skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is a plant with yellow flowers that is usually used to treat depression by increasing the levels of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. For centuries, this nootropic herb has been used to treat mental disorders and nerve pain, its sedative effects being highly sought-after throughout history. Further studies are needed, but this nootropic is thought to work by inhibiting the uptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine from the synaptic cleft. Another mechanism of action is the ability to bind to GABA-A and GABA-B receptors and to block the binding of GABA, which results in reduced depression within the central nervous system.
St. John’s Wort is used to treat depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, with one study showing it may be useful for those suffering mild to moderate depression and producing fewer side effects than some antidepressants. Another study demonstrated this herb is effective for major depression. All in all, when brain chemicals are unbalanced, you can suffer from mood swings, and destructive emotional states such as depression and anxiety, but St. John’s Wort can help put one’s mood back on the right track. With an estimated 17 million Americans suffering from depression, natural nootropics can prove to be a smart choice to make.
Oat Straw is derived from the green, unripe leaves of the oat plant and it’s been naturally used since the Middle Ages to relieve tension and anxiety, balance mood and establish healthy sleep patterns. In more recent times, Oat Straw is still used as a mood-boosting nootropic herb, but also to improve recall and memory span, diminish the risk of heart disease, increase mental energy and improve sexual performance.
Oat Straw serves as a vasodilator by increasing nitric oxide production, thus facilitating the access of oxygen and nutrients through the body. It also increases blood flow to the brain thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects that suppress cytokines in artery walls, making you feel more alert. This nootropic is believed to work by increasing alpha-2 brainwaves, which promote a mind state that makes people more calm, focused and attentive.
Oat Straw calms, soothes and nourishes the central nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and preventing brain degeneration. It works to improve attention, concentration and focus for both younger and older adults. One study found that Oat Straw has a positive impact on brain performance in healthy people that might be experiencing a mental decline. Choosing Oat Straw can also be beneficial to decrease depression, as it is high in calcium and magnesium.
Omega-3s are considered to be essential fatty acids and can be found in fish such as tuna, salmon, halibut, other seafoods such as algae or nut oils. Omega-3 fatty acids have an essential role in brain function, normal health development and heart health, making up approximately 8% of the brain’s weight. Omega 3s reduce inflammation and the risk of developing cancer, heart disease or arthritis, while being important in brain health by being vital for memory and cognitive performance.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve blood flow to the brain and enhance the flow of electric impulses to the brain by maintaining cell membranes more elastic since they’re made almost completely from fats — including fatty acids. What’s more, Omega-3s help regulate the flow of neurotransmitters and proteins to the brain, directly influencing mood.
Some studies show Omega-3s work to relieve depression and reduce schizophrenia, ADHD and bipolar disorder symptoms. Low levels of this acid can lead to cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimer’s. The acids are important for fetal brain development, but also work to reduce age-related damage to the brain. These acids support healthy brain cell structure, boost the production of vital neurotransmitters, reduce oxidative and inflammatory damage and, among others, reduce cholesterol levels and diminish high blood pressure.
Taurine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and it can help with several conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and diabetes, but can also improve athletic performance. In fact, referring to the latter claim, Taurine is regularly included in energy drinks because it can improve energy levels. It also helps control anxiety and manages stress by lowering Cortisol (the stress hormone), helping people sleep better.
Neurotransmitter function worsens with age and it can lead to problems with memory, mood and learning. When you have low Taurine levels, the nervous system becomes over-responsive to stress, with increased Cortisol and a possible increase in body fat. One of the causes for this is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA. By stimulating GABA amounts in the brain, one can become relaxed and less anxious, but also experience improved memory retention. This nootropic stimulates new growth and connections of brain cells, helping to restore youthful brain function in older adults and improving cognition and memory.
Taurine can protect the brain from sudden damage such as in the case of brain ischemia, but can also improve mitochondrial function, reduce damage from excessive calcium overloads and help those with Parkinson’s. As an antioxidant, Taurine fights free radicals and helps keep cells alive.
Vinpocetine is extracted from the seeds of the periwinkle plant, a common vine-like evergreen ground cover. Vinpocetine works to enhance cognitive function, improve long and short term memory and helps prevent and protect against many different types of ailments, brain-related or not. Its neuroprotective effects along with an enhancement in cerebral blood-flow make it a commonly used drug in Eastern Europe in the treatment of age-related memory impairment and cerebrovascular disorders.
As a memory enhancer, Vinpocetine works by easing cerebral metabolism and boosting blood flow to the brain, which results in enhanced oxygenation and glucose utilization. It has also been found to increase brain-cell energy through its effect on ATP production. As far as cognition and brain health go, Vinpocetine boosts responsiveness and awareness, serves as a neuroprotector and prevents brain damage. Besides this, Vinpocetine reduces senile cerebral dysfunction, prevents neurotoxic effects implicated in Alzheimer’s, helps those suffering with dementia to become more vivid and diminishes recovery time after ischemic stroke damage. Among other benefits, Vinpocetine has been shown to protect heart, hearing and visual functions.
Vinpocetine makes the blood thinner, decreasing blood-clot formation, and makes red blood cells more flexible so they can squeeze through small capillaries. But Vinpocetine doesn’t just boost mental acuity, as it can improve alertness and preparedness skills in cognitively impaired adults.
Valerian is native to Europe and parts of Asia and it has a long history of use that dates back to more than 2000 years ago. It is mostly used to treat sleep disorders, especially insomnia, being commonly included next to lemon balm or hops to serve this purpose. It can also be added to bath water to eliminate restlessness. Usually, Valerian is used to improve sleep quality and it manages to achieve this without side effects, unlike hypnotic drugs.
As a nootropic, Valerian Root can regulate stress levels and reduce anxiety by activating GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an important inhibitory neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety and prevents the onset of stress while calming us down. One study revealed Valerian in combination with lemon balm had an anxiolytic effect. However, more research is needed in this area to fully understand this effect.
A 2001 study aimed to evaluate Valerian’s effects on OCD and after 8 weeks it found that it had some effect in treating compulsion and obsession, but further studies are needed.
Valerian also serves as an alternative for sedatives, being able to calm the brain and nervous system. Other uses include migraine and hyperactivity treatment, digestive problems, muscle and joint pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and menstrual cramps.
Vitamin B6, B12
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) helps the body in the production of several neurotransmitters and it’s essential in normal brain function and development. It helps the body produce serotonin and norepinephrine, which are two hormones that influence mood, but also assists with melatonin, which regulates the body’s inner clock. Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include muscle weakness, nervousness, irritability, depression, short-term memory loss and trouble in concentrating. B6 is also involved in fat and protein metabolism and immune system function in the elderly, and it’s used to improve memory loss, ADHD or asthma attacks. This vitamin can be found in beans, dark leafy greens, oranges, fish, poultry or fortified cereals.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) can be found in meat, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and seafood. A B12 deficiency can facilitate the onset of brain fog and can trigger memory loss or fatigue, which can lead to brain damage, brain atrophy or dementia. This vitamin is essential in the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen in the body; it is crucial for a healthy nervous system; but it’s also important in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and protein. A study from Oxford University found that taking Vitamins B6 and B12 reduced brain atrophy and shrinkage and improved brain function in the area of the brain that is most affected in Alzheimer’s disease. Normal B12 levels means normal memory, focus and concentration in the body.
Yerba Mate is a nootropic plant that comes from the subtropical areas of South America such as Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. The drink is used by many European cultures as well, being high in selenium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins, fatty acids and antioxidants that can boost the immune system. This plant stimulates the central nervous system while its compounds can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. It can also serve as a vasodilator, improving blood flow by opening up blood vessels and causing muscles to relax.
Yerba Mate resembles coffee in that it boosts alertness, increases vigilance and also reduces stress. But, unlike coffee or green tea, it provides a sustained energy boost and creates a state of wakefulness without side effects such as jitters. Yerba Mate impacts motivation and productivity by stimulating dopamine production to deliver a boost in mental performance. Some research suggests this supplement works by affecting structures associated with cellular function and energy metabolism, thus increasing levels of extracellular ATP, AMP and ADP.
Zinc is an essential mineral that’s present in an amount that varies between 2-4 g at any time in the body, with most of it being in the brain, liver and kidneys. Classic sources of zinc include meat, poultry, organic liver, beef, lamb, lobsters, oysters, alfalfa seeds, sesame, sunflower, beans, nuts, whole grains, blackcurrant and fortified foods. Zinc deficiency can be indicated by chronic fatigue, low energy levels, poor immunity, depression, inability to focus, bad memory, ADD symptoms, slow wound healing or nerve dysfunction.
Zinc regulates communications between neurons and the hippocampus to boost memory and improve learning capabilities.
As we age, supplementing with Zinc prevents cognitive decline, which makes it an important ally for healthy brain function. Increasing zinc levels can considerably restore enhanced communication between neurons to improve memory and learning. Zinc promotes improved sleep, regulates dopamine, works as an antioxidant to fight free radicals, improves insulin sensitivity, prevents diabetes, enhances mood and boosts cognition and energy levels.
One study showed that Zinc can prevent memory loss in those suffering from Alzheimer’s by helping neurons to not get tangled with certain proteins. In another study, this time from Poland, adult nursing home patients who had more zinc, scored higher on tests that are associated with cognitive ability, proving it can help those with memory impairment.
Will Nootropics Work for Me?
Usually, nootropics do work, but since not all brain boosters were created equal, they won’t work as well for every one of us. And even if the nootropic supplement is made consistently up to standards, it may not deliver the same results because we don’t all have similar body chemistries. So, there are two reasons why nootropics may not give you results:
First, we all have different bodies and unique brain chemistries, so what works for one person may not deliver the same results for the next one. And that is perfectly normal as it can happen with a lot of things. Think of it this way: you like a shoe, but it doesn’t fit you because it’s simply a different size. So what do you do? Naturally, you try on a different size. The same thing goes with nootropics — if some type of nootropic supplement or stack is not effective in your case, you can simply try a different one and see what results you get with the new one. There are so many nootropics that they can fit any needs and expectations; you just need to experiment a little bit until you find the right one that fulfills your cognitive goals. So, if at first you come across a nootropic that didn’t work for you, don’t panic. You shouldn’t stop using nootropic altogether, you just need to find the right type and stack for you.
The other things is that certain nootropic supplements do not work because some of them were created using lesser quality ingredients by unverified manufacturers who are looking to reduce costs and make a quick buck. Yes, it is the sad truth, but like anything in this world, nootropics to have manufacturers that try to mimic the original formula that was created by bigger, more respectable sellers, using only cheap ingredients and a more aggressive marketing campaign. In our article we will feature only products that come from verified manufacturers. All in all, nootropics have been shown to improve memory, focus and other aspects of cognition. We cannot guarantee they will 100% work for you, but they probably will.
To get the best results with nootropics, you should make sure you get enough sleep, take care of your body (do at least some form of exercise), keep a balanced diet and keep your brain busy (do things such as crossword puzzles).
Regarding the actual results, some individuals will experience improvements faster than others, depending on their individual chemistry. There’s no way to determine for sure how fast it will work for everyone, but some experience results almost immediately, while for others it may take up to a few days for the ingredients to kick in. The benefits will obviously fade if you stop taking nootropics, but only to where they were before starting to use them.
If you are skeptical about using nootropics, there’s nothing we can tell you other than give them a try and experience the effects for yourself. We can’t promise they will work for you specifically, but in general they do improve brainpower.
What to Expect from Using Nootropics?
So, if you have decided to give nootropics a go, you have probably either heard about them from a friend or come across ads on TV or social media. The thing with some of these ads is that they promise to deliver incredible results — just like in the movie Limitless. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is about an experimental smart drug that can boost one’s focus and confidence and turn that person into the smartest one in the world. So, with NZT, the pill from Limitless, you would be able to access 100% of your brain, learn a new language in just a few hours, write a book in a couple of days, observe stock market fluctuations and take advantage… basically you would become the perfect version of yourself. But that’s just a movie. And this is the problem with false advertising: it sets false expectations and creates skepticism about a whole class of products.
So, to summarize this whole idea: something that costs up to $70-80 per bottle will not make you the smartest person in the world. But nootropics do work, just differently: they enhance the mental power your already have, just like an energy or muscle supplement that you take before your workouts. Are you the strongest person in the world after taking a supplement? Probably not… Nootropics do work and they enhance your memory, focus and concentration, they help you get in the zone and make you more productive, maximizing your performance whether you need to study or finish up a project. Some nootropics work faster than others, it is true, and this is why you should experiment with more to find the right one that suits you.
Are Nootropics Safe?
Nootropics generally offer brain boosting benefits with minimal to no side effects, are not dangerous and they’re not habit forming, unlike Adderall. Up until nootropic became popular in recent times, most people were scared when it came to the so-called smart drugs, because they knew cases of abuse of Ritalin and Adderall by college students or people in demanding jobs.
Nootropics are natural and non-toxic with very few or no negative side effects. Having said that, knowing that each of us has a unique system, some unfavorable effects can occur, however rare they may be. Some of the most common side effects of nootropics include headaches, nausea and allergic reactions (extremely rare). As you can see, the negative side effects of nootropics are very few, but they need to be accounted for.
In order to identify the specific ingredient that might have triggered a harmful effect, you need to limit the number of supplements you are using — or take a supplement with no more than 4-5 ingredients. This way, it will be exponentially easier for you to trace down what caused the side effect you’re experiencing. Again, these things rarely do happen, but it’s best to know what to do when they occur. Also, if things persist, you should consult with your doctor to see exactly where you are and what’s going on.
What Are Some of the Best Nootropic Supplements?
Even though we have provided a list of some of the most popular nootropic supplements out there, they are definitely not the only existing nootropics. There are a lot of products out there, so take into consideration what cognition aspects you are looking to improve. With this list, we are only trying to give you some options and provide a direction along the lines of which you can choose a product that fits your personal criteria. Remember, you can experiment with more nootropics to find what product benefits you the most.
Nootropics come in many formats and are usually combined into stacks. Stacks are when you combine, for example, Gingko Biloba with Vinpocetine and Huperzine A to get the best cognitive properties out of each ingredient. Nootropics can be powders and liquids, but usually come in the form of pills – tablets, capsules, softgels or chewables.
Here are some of the most popular natural nootropic supplements today. They are listed alphabetically.
- Contains Folate, Ginkgo Biloba, Huperzia Serrata, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Zinc
- 60 capsules
- 90-day money back guarantee
- Made in the USA
- 5 FREE bonuses (PDFs containing info on how to take better care of your brain and how to improve yourself)
Alpha Levo IQ claims it offers advanced cognitive support so that you can experience laser beam focus, improved mental clarity, enhanced memory, increased energy levels and a boost in creative thinking. Alpha Levo IQ states it protects your brain from age and stress-related decay, helps improve cognition and thinking, elevates attention span and focus, increases verbal fluency and the brain’s retention ability, enhances mood and gives you the ability to absorb new info like a sponge.
Alpha Levo IQ says it is a cognitive enhancer that contains the perfect ingredients to enhance memory and learning performance, improve learning performance, short-term and working memory, help you think faster and make quicker and better decisions, but also to reduce stress and fatigue.
- Contains Alpha GPC, Bacopa Monnieri, L-Tyrosine, Huperzine A and Vinpocetine
- 30 capsules
- 14-day money back guarantee
- Made in the USA
- Organic 100%
Apex Mastermind claims it can unlock your brain’s true potential by increasing brain performance, improving energy levels, enhancing concentration and facilitating lucid dreaming. It reduces mental fatigue and promotes improved mental vision to ensure you rise to the challenges and are you’re at your mental best all the time.
With quicker reflexes and faster intellectual processing, Apex Mastermind states it manages to promote concentration, mental clarity throughout the day while your brain works at optimal capacity. The formula of Apex Mastermind was supposedly created to reduce brain fog, decrease brain fatigue and deliver a boost in energy with no 3 o’clock crashes so you can focus on the task at hand until you complete it.
- Contains Bacopa Monnieri, Huperzine A, L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, Rhodiola Rosea and Vinpocetine
- 60 capsules
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Made in the USA
Cogniflex is a supplement that takes a cautious approach when it comes to claims, stating its formula may improve memory recall and work productivity, boost energy, improve creativity and offer enhanced concentration. It says it is part of a class of supplements that improve the function of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, through cholinergic receptors, but also stimulates NMDA glutamate receptors that are essential for memory and learning processes. Cogniflex allegedly also improves vascular and neuronal function to improve cognitive function, but also offers the needed energy to keep you motivated and alert.
Cogniflex says it delivers a burst of energy that lasts from 30 minutes to 6 hours, without crashes, while giving you the ability to focus and concentrate with maximum mental performance and vigilance.
- Contains Alpha GPC, GABA, Bacopa Monnieri, Huperzine A, L-Tyrosine and Vinpocetine
- 30 capsules
- 30-day money back guarantee
- 100% safe and natural
Geniux claims its advanced brain formula will improve your brain power by enhancing focus, memory and energy levels. More specifically, Geniux says it can increase short term and long term memory, provide clearer mental vision, the ability to focus with laser precision, sustained brain performance, improved concentration and an increase in energy levels.
If you suffer with or have experienced memory loss, lack of focus, no motivation, low energy levels, poor concentration and constantly find yourself forgetting where you placed you keys or wallet, then Geniux claims it can help you. Geniux states its ingredients can improve memory recall in men and women of all ages and keep you alert and focused throughout the day, with no crashes.
- Contains Acetyl-L- Carnitine, Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo Biloba, Vinpocetine
- 60 capsules
- 30-day money back guarantee
- 100% natural ingredients
InteliGEN claims its carefully crafted formula delivers essential nutrients to the brain so that it can care for strong brain cells, generate electrical impulses and maintain regular revels of acetylcholine. Made from amino acids, nutrients and vitamin B, InteliGEN states it works to strengthen neurotransmitter in the brain, improve memory, enhance focus and increase brain function.
InteliGEN says taking its capsules on a regular basis will give you better short term and long term memory, with faster recall times; the feeling of always being mentally sharp and alert; enhanced concentration so you can zone-in on specific tasks, with improved productivity. It contains pure, specially selected and safe ingredients and was produced in state-of-the-art facility by a top USA manufacturer.
- Contains Bacopa Monnieri, Caffeine, L-Carnitine, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea and Vitamin B6
- 60 capsules
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Made in the USA
IQ+ claims it is a proprietary formula that’s packed with antioxidants to boost cognitive performance, enhance memory recall, reach sky-rocket concentration, improve creativity and productivity and increase energy levels.
IQ+ states it was designed to make you more efficient and not to only increase alertness and energy, but to care for other brain functions as well. Made to “wake up your brain”, it enables you do think clearly, process data faster and retain more information. Besides this, it supposedly provides the focus and concentration so you can work smarter and for longer until you get the intellectual job done, whether it is a test or an important meeting that goes through the night.
- Contains Alpha GPC, Bacopa Monnieri, Cat’s Claw, Huperzine A, L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine and Oat Straw
- 60 capsules
- 60-day money back guarantee
- Free shipping
- No caffeine, no gluten, no GMO
- Tested and clinically backed ingredients
NooCube claims it is a synergistic blend of nootropics created to boost focus, mental speed and memory. NooCube says it boosts brain function, increases mental energy, enables better communication, improves multitasking ability and enhances concentration.
NooCube states its cognitive enhancing formula was designed by top neuroscientists using clinically backed, pure, safe and powerful ingredients to improve mental processes. The blend contains a perfect balance of amino acids, vitamins and other essential building blocks to maintain well-functioning neurotransmitters. Taking two NooCube capsules can help you reach a state of enhanced focus and mental clarity where you have faster reactions and heightened awareness. Plus, you will become more productive and efficient thanks to a sharper mind.
Which Nootropic Is the Best?
It’s extremely hard to choose just one nootropic, because they all work to enhance cognition and boost brainpower. Some nootropic supplements have a formula that is specialized on memory, others on focus, some have a better manufacturer (from what we can tell), while others have a more impressive and larger list of ingredients. Having said that, if we had to choose a few out of this bunch of products containing natural nootropics, we would go with NooCube, Cogniflex or Alpha Levo IQ.
Nootropics are used by students, soccer moms and CEOs in Silicon Valley alike, so they are a category that should and can work for everyone. It’s time to get your neurotransmitters firing, take better care of your brain, protect it and start using it more wisely. We all react differently to various things, so you can’t possibly know if nootropics are right for you, but we say you should definitely give them a try as they are safe, affordable, easy to take and the pros heavily outweigh the few cons that may – but probably won’t – occur.
Nootropics can help people focus – even those struggling with ADHD (depending on the nootropic) – improve learning capabilities, help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline, reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood.
Now you should know more about what nootropics are, what are the benefits of using them, what little side effects you may experience, what aspects of cognition individual ingredients work to improve, what to expect from a nootropic and what are some of the most popular nootropic supplements out there.
We hope our guide was thorough, comprehensive and informative and you enjoyed reading it. As you probably know by now, nootropics are reliable when it comes to boosting brainpower and they come backed by clinical evidence. We hope now you’ll make an informed decision when buying nootropics to reach your peak mental performance.
If you want to order one of the nootropics listed above, simply click on the product’s name: