Nootropics are foods, supplements, or consumables that improve cognitive function such as concentration, intelligence, memory, and creativity. They can help you in different ways which we will be discussing in this blog post. But before diving into the topic, let’s get the fundementals out of the way, and begin with the simplest, most important question: what are nootropics?
History of Nootropics
Nootropics are a type of supplement that improve cognitive function. This includes memory, creativity, focus, and motivation. They are often used by people who have neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, they can also be used by healthy individuals to further improve their cognitive function.
They are also often referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.”
Typically, nootropics work by modulating the brain’s neurotransmitters. Often aiming at increasing levels of neurotransmitter acetylcholine, known as the the learning nerutransmitter. Some aim on increasing levels of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, or nerophredone, all of which are vital neurotransmitters.
Nootropics help the brain’s neurotransmitters to communicate at their best capabalities. This leads to improved cognitive function, because of the increase of commincation efficacy between the neurons.
They are considered to be safe and well-tolerated. Its frequently reported side effects are or may include headasces, nausea, and insomina.
It is essential to speak with a doctor before taking any nootropics, as they may interact with other medications.
In recent years, they have gained massive interest and popularity as people explore alternative ways to maximize their brain’s fully potential.
Also, thanks to Bradley Cooper’s massively succsseful movie and TV series Limitless, which exposed the “magical” Modafinil to millions of people around the world.
The term ‘nootropic’, which is derived from combining the Greek words nous (mind) and trepein (to bend or turn), was coined by a Romanian psychologist and chemist named Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea over 50 years ago, when he synthesized the very first nootropic, Piracetam.
- Piracetam is a highly effective nootropic that improves memory and enhances cognitive performance. It’s the the first racetam to ever exist. Since then, there have been more than 20 variations that are derivitives of it.
Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea
Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea (6 January 1923, Bucharest – 30 December 1995, Brussels) was a Romanian psychologist and chemist. In 1964 he synthesized Piracetam, which he has described as a nootropic, officially coining the term in 1972.
Giurgea had a Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Bucharest, where he also taught for several years. He conducted further study and specialization in Psychology (degree) at St. Peterburg’s First Pavlov State Medical University, under selected associates of Ivan Pavlov such as Pyotr Kupalov.
He was a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Brain Physiology and Pathology of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
From 1957 to 1959, he headed a laboratory for experimental psychology and psychophysiology at the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1960 he became a researcher at the Health Institute in Bucharest, where he remained until 1967.
In 1967 Giurgea left Romania for political reasons and settled in Belgium, where he became a naturalized citizen. He headed the psychopharmacology laboratory of UCB S.A. (now UCB Pharma) until his retirement in 1989.
During his long scientific career, Corneliu E. Giurgea authored and co-authored over 300 scientific papers, reviews, and books on psychology, pharmacology, toxicology, and nootropics.
He was a member of the Romanian Academy of Sciences and several foreign academies.
Dr. Giurgea set a criteria that had to be met for a compound to qualify as a nootropic. A compound must:
- Enhance learning and memory
- Enhance the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions that tend to disrupt them
- Protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries
- Increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms
- Lack of the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs (e.g., sedation, motor stimulation)
- Has minimal or no side effects and very low toxicity
How Nootropics Work
Nootropics change how our brains are wired.
They change how the brain uses energy, how much oxygen gets to the brain, what levels of certain neurotransmitters are available, and by affecting other cellular processes.
The way a particular nootropic works will depend on its specific mechanism of action.
They are not miracle pills that will turn you into a genius overnight. In fact, some might take up to 2 weeks for the effects to start being notable. As long as they are not used as a substitution for a healthy lifestyle, nootropics can help give you an unfair advantage whther in school, personal life, or work.
Eating the right foods, exercising, and getting quality sleep are crucial prerequisites for maintaining a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Nootropics can help you in different ways which we will be discussing in this blog post. But keep in mind first and foremost:
- Healthy foods
Your best approach to those 3 fundamentals:
Exercise has many benefits, including physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits. A study from 2013 found that exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression. [Ref]
Aerobic exercise also seems to improve executive function and memory. Always opt for a jog, preferably outside, as it’s your best bet before considering any other interventions. [Ref]
Sleep is critical for cognitive function. [Ref]
Many people do not sleep enough. If you have trouble falling asleep, try taking 0.3mg of melatonin thirty minutes before bed. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep.
You should also get bright light in the morning; it will reset your body’s natural clock and help you function better during the day. Not getting sunlight or artificial light in the morning can cause depression-like symptoms and make it harder to sleep at night. [Ref 1, Ref 2]
Our bodies have evolved to use blue light (~480nm more or less) as a signal that it is daytime. Blue light is a crucial regulator of our circadian rhythm, which controls when we are awake and asleep. In addition to suppressing melatonin levels, blue light increases our metabolic rate and alertness. [Ref 1, Ref 2]
Research shows that blue light might have some benefits for cognitive function. In randomized controlled trials, bright blue light improves attention, working memory, verbal memory, and mood. [Ref 1, 2, 3 ,4]
In combination with Caffeine, blue light increase alertness and mood far more than Caffeine only. [Ref]
The current theory for blue light’s cognitive effects is that it increases norepinephrine release, a hormone associated with alertness and mood.
Blue light seems to have positive effects at low intensities, but lower intensities are not as fast acting as higher intensities of blue light. Given its low-risk profile and substantial benefits, blue light devices should be considered a cognitive enhancer with one of the best risk-to-reward ratios.
The University of British Columbia published a guide to using blue light or light box therapy that is accessible in this link.
Moving on to the three types of nootropics.
Types of Nootropics
Nootropics may be categorized into three different types:
- natural compounds
Cognitive enhancers can significantly stimulate and enhance mental performance. But it’s essential to keep in mind that cognitive enhancers are not necessarily nootropics. They don’t meet the set criteria, and are a sub-category.
Some do consider them to be nootropics. Others disagree, due to their high profile of side effects.
These include prescribed medication such as Adderal, Ritalin, Concerta, and the like.
Stimulants such as amphetamines are far more potent, and their effect and side effects are pretty powerful, too. They stimulate your body and mind and fill you with energy, sometimes too much energy.
Although some racetams are stimulating as well, they tend to stimulate your cognitive skills only rather than amp up your body, with the exception of Phenylpiracetam.
Stimulants work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are responsible for activating the brain’s reward system, which is why stimulants can have a positive impact on motivation, especially for those with ADHD.
Conversely, racetams work by increasing the brain’s ability to gather and understand many ideas simultaneously. This can lead to greater focus and concentration.
Still, they do not have as profound of an effect on energy levels as the aforementioned stimulants.
Cognitive enhancers motivating effects evary from person to person, and some find them more excitatory and boost motivation and productivity. Others find they make them feel paranoid, increase their hearbeat. and leave them anxious.
Many find that stimulants work well for them, and others may find that racetams are more beneficial.
No two bodies are the same, so everyone experiences things uniquely. And only by experiencing it yourself will you be able to tell which is more effective for you. But its important to note that, regardless what works best, racetams can actually be beneficial to you and your brain’s health. While cognitive enhancers do their job until they wear off, and that’s it. They don’t provide any long-term benefits the way nootropics usually do.
Synthetic compounds that act on the neurotransmitters glutamate and acetylcholine are the second broad category of nootropics. These include Noopept and racetams, which boost memory in people with brain injuries or age-related cognitive decline.
Racetams are a popular class of synthetic nootropics.
They include the first nootropic invented, Piracetam, Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, and Pramiracetam. Two somewhat recent racetams were added to the family: Fasoracetam and Coluracetam. Promising nootropics with the potential to treat symptoms of major depressive disorder and ADHD.
- Piracetam is a synthetic version of the neurotransmitter GABA. It helps with cognitive decline and brain injuries by ensuring that communication within the brain works better. This also means that there is more oxygen in the blood supply going to the brain, which can be helpful for people who are getting older and their cells are not as flexible anymore.
- Aniracetam is a potent nootropic that significantly improves cognitive abilities. It increases verbal fluency, learning capacity, and mood and promotes a sense of overall clarity and well-being. It also significantly reduces anxiety and alleviates symptoms of depression. If you’re looking for an effective nootropic with long-lasting benefits, Aniracetam is a perfect choice.
- Oxiracetam is a cognitive function boosting nootropic. It heightens focus and concentration as well as enhances memory and learning. It stimulates the brain, producing mental stamina and increasing energy.
- Pramiracetam boosts cognition and improves memory, increases concentration and learning capacity, and supports engaging in – and maintaining – prolonged focus. The most expensive of all racetams, and for a good reason!
- Fasoracetam is a new addition to the racetam family. It helps in relieving anxiety, enhancing memory, and improving overall cognition. It enhances memory and cognition while relieving depression symptoms. It is undergoing clinical trial and has gotten approval in a few places as a treatment for ADHD.
- Coluracetam is a nootropic that has shown promise in enhancing memory and learning, as well as improving vision. It works by increasing levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is critical for memory and learning. Research suggests that it is beneficial in the treatment of anxiety and major depressive depression.
Studies confirm and support their effectiveness, but they are yet (if ever) to be approved by the FDA.
Noopept is known for how quickly it starts working after ingestion, kicking in in as little as 20 minutes, and its peak effect within half an hour of taking. A somewhat similar onset time to Phenylpiracetam.
- Noopept is a compound that improves cognition & memory. It’s structurally similar to Piracetam but far more potent. The research found it increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which play a role in neuronal plasticity & learning. Noopept improves learning and memory and reduces anxiety and depression-like behaviors in animal and human studies.
- Phenylpiracetam is a powerful and effective nootropic that improves cognitive abilities, decreases depression/anxiety symptoms, and physically boosts strength. An unfair advantage due to its potent effect of increasing focus, among other things
You feel their effects kicking in in as little as 20 minutes. When it comes to nootropics, it’s crucial to research and find the right option for your wants and needs. They may cause mild side effects, such as nausea, headaches, and anxiety. But those are rare.
Anecdotal reports reference a side effect of a headache associated with racetam use. This, however, is due to the mechanism of actions and the way racetams work on us.
They use acetylcholine levels in our bodies, and most would recommend taking any racetam with Alpha-GPC or a similar choline source. Doing so prevents the depletion of acetylcholine and hence, prevents the “racetam headache” from occurring.
Racetams are beneficial in different ways and depending on the variant. Although in general, they improve memory capacity, mental clarity, concentration, calmness, recall of ideas, and pattern recognition.
They allow both analytical and creative work to be done at the same time, as is the case with more extended essays that require facts and careful positioning of those facts to convey a message correctly.
Last but certainly not least, herbs and plant-derived compounds. Their uses in traditional medicine date back centuries, and people are now using them to improve their cognitive function and protect their brain health.
Numerous studies have shown that certain natural compounds such as L-Theanine, Caffeine, Ashwagandha, Ginseng, and more – may improve memory, learning, and executive function. They may also help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Additionally, natural nootropics protect the brain from age-related damage and enhance neuroplasticity, making them a promising approach for preserving cognitive function and preventing age-related neurological disease.
Caffeine provides a welcome boost for mood, energy, and productivity, and it does so by mimicking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which accumulates to promote sleep and suppress arousal.
Caffeine binds to those receptors, called A1 receptors, which block adenosine and prevent people from feeling fatigued and tired.
L-Theanine is another popular natural nootropic and one of the main psychoactive compounds found in tea. It has been shown to improve attention.
L-theanine and Caffeine are a good combination for improving focus. A recent systematic review of the effects of l-theanine and Caffeine found that the combination improves aspects of attention. Reports of taking L-theanine and Caffeine together can help you focus more than Caffeine alone.
Researchers have found that L-theanine increases the activity of specific brain waves that are associated with relaxed attention. They suggest L-theanine might increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in the brain. [Ref]
There was a study that showed that people who took l-theanine had an increase in BDNF and NGF in the hippocampus.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is an organic mushroom extract that stimulates the production of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), where protein synthesis results in new brain cell growth, a process also known as neurogenesis. This also strengthens and prevents or delays neurodegeneration related to aging and certain conditions such as amnesia and dementia.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom is one of the most potent nootropic supplements for your brain. A natural remedy that can permanently enhance cognitive function as well protect it and promote NGF (nerve growth factor) production- all while promoting neurogenesis.
Nootropics categorize into racetams, cognitive enhancers/stimulants, and nutraceuticals.
Each nootropic group has unique functions and mechanisms of action, respectively.
What are Nutraceuticals?
The term “nutraceutical” is a combination of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical.”
It is used to describe foods or products whose content combines, but only to a certain extent, some of the effects of pharmaceuticals, stimulants, and nootropics. They are often safe to consume frequently, and they are proven to be effective in preserving and improving brain activity.
They may also be used as an additional treatment for severe mental health conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Nutraceuticals are not a substitute for any specific treatment. But they can be a great addition to an existing treatment plan.
What are the benefits of using Nutraceuticals?
There are several benefits to using Nutraceuticals. Some of the key ones are:
- Improving brain function
- Improving memory
- Improving cognitive function
- Improving overall mental health
- Safe to consume frequently
- It can be used in conjunction with other treatments
How do Nutraceuticals work?
The exact mechanism by which Nutraceuticals work is still being studied. However, it is believed that they work by increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and normalizing their levels. In doing so, they help improve overall brain function.
Are there any side effects to Nutraceuticals?
There are few side effects associated with using Nutraceuticals. The most common side effect is mild nausea, which usually goes away after a little while once the body adjusts. Other side effects may include headache, dizziness, and irritability.
Can Nutraceuticals be used to treat severe mental conditions?
Yes, Nutraceuticals can effectively treat specific conditions and reduce symptoms of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, Nutraceuticals should not substitute them for regular medication. If you are taking medication, consult your doctor on how and when to implement a specific nootropic or nutraceutical to your regime.
What Are Nootropics Stacks?
Stacking nootropics is a common practice in the nootropics community. It is the practice of combining two or more different nootropics that synergize and work well together, increasing the effectiveness of both or the entire stack.
Since the choline from your source of choline will help keep your acetylcholine levels balanced, it will result in a better, synergistic effect.
Nootropics can be stacked creatively, based on your desired outcome from your goal from choosing to supplement with nootropics in the first place. And you can use them in various ways.
Some people take them as supplements, while others use them as their primary medication(s).
They can help you focus, learn more effectively, and remember things more easily. They can also help keep your mind healthy and active as you age, protecting it from oxidative stress and external stressors.
If you’re thinking about creating your nootropic stack, you should keep the following in mind:
- It’s essential to speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement.
- Not all nootropics are created equal. Some are more effective than others.
- It takes time to see the full effects of nootropics.
You may not notice a difference immediately. But with patience and persistence, you should start to see an improvement in your cognitive and executive functions day after day.
What Are the Best Nootropics?
It’s challenging to name one “best nootropic” in general, and it would be easier if we break them down to their core functions and benefits and ask what the best nootropic for that one purpose is.
From stimulants, Caffeine is the world’s most popular nootropic, at least as far as I know. It is a well-known cognitive enhancer and has already improved the mental alertness and focusability of the person trying them.
What Are Nootropics Benefits?
Nootropics improve executive function—memory, creativity, and motivation.
The use of cognitive-enhancing nootropic supplements by healthy individuals without a medical prescription is one of the most debated topics among neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and general physicians.
They are easily found over the counter in the U.S. and Europe. Athletes and students use nootropics as cognitive enhancers to improve performance in school and sports.
Nootropics may also assist in the treatment of ADHD, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, autism, depression, and schizophrenia.
The benefits of nootropics are more than we are aware of, depending on the person and the purpose of supplementing with a certain one. They improve mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and protect the brain from aging.
Different nootropics have different uses. Some people take them to improve their mental clarity and focus, and others take them to improve their memory or to help them stay motivated.
Nootropics are often used to enhance cognitive function in people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They are also used to improve cognitive function in people who have suffered a stroke.
Nootropics for Energy
There are many different types of nootropics. Let’s now focus on the best nootropics for energy.
When it comes to energy, stimulants, in general, are the most appraised.
They can increase alertness, energy, and motivation.
The most known stimulant is Caffeine, a naturally occurring compound in coffee and tea.
It is a central nervous system stimulant that blocks the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleep.
Caffeine is a safe and effective stimulant that is widely used to improve mental performance. It is a popular nootropic because it increases alertness, energy, and motivation.
It is also an excellent pre-workout supplement because it increases power output and endurance. It is also a thermogenic agent, meaning it helps you burn more calories.
Caffeine is available in many forms, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, pills, and powder. The amount of Caffeine in different forms varies, but a typical cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of Caffeine.
- CoQ10 is a vitamin-like molecule that is found in every cell of the body. It is responsible for producing energy in the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses. CoQ10 is a popular nootropic because it increases energy production, supports cognitive health, and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is a popular nootropic because it increases energy production, helps mental health, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for energy production and health. It is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. And Rhodiola rosea is a herb used for centuries to improve mental performance.
- Magnesium is an essential mineral naturally found in the body. It supports cognitive health by promoting nerve and muscle function. Studies have shown that it improves memory and learning and may protect against age-related cognitive decline. Magnesium is known to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
- Rhodiola Rosea is a herb used for centuries to improve mental performance. It is a popular nootropic because it increases energy, supports cognitive health, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine, and vinpocetine are all excellent sources of clean and sustained energy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are prevalent because they improve brain function, support cognitive health, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that is found in the brain and nerve cells. It is a popular nootropic because it can help improve cognitive function and memory.
- Vinpocetine is a compound that is derived from the periwinkle plant. It is a popular nootropic because it enhances brain function and supports mental health.
The next category of nootropics for energy is the nootropic supplements that improve blood flow. These supplements include Ginkgo biloba, and Huperzine A.
- Ginkgo biloba is a tree that is native to China. It is a popular nootropic because it improves blood flow, supports cognitive health, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Huperzine A is a compound that is derived from the Chinese club moss plant. It is a popular nootropic because it improves blood flow, supports cognitive health, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Nootropics for Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world, affecting millions of people, and the numbers are not stopping soon. While anxiety can be a normal and healthy response in certain situations, it can also become a debilitating disorder if it manifests severely or becomes chronic.
Treatments for anxiety include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. However, many people also look for alternative therapies, one of which is nootropics.
Anixyolic nootropics are pretty effective and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress, worry, and panic attacks.
A few of the best nootropics for anxiety include Bacopa monnieri, L-theanine, and 5-HTTP.
- Bacopa monnieri is a natural herb used for centuries to improve mental health and cognitive function. It is effective in reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. Bacopa monnieri works by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. It also helps to improve communication between brain cells and significantly improves memory.
- L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea. It is effective for anxiety, stress, and worry. It works by increasing levels of GABA in the brain, the neurotransmitter that helps reduce anxiety. It also increases levels of alpha waves in the brain, helping prolong focus and concentration.
- 5-HTP is a natural nootropic derived from the amino acid tryptophan. It’s effective for anxiety, stress, and depression. It works by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and anxiety.
- Magnesium is an essential mineral naturally found in the body. It supports cognitive health by promoting nerve and muscle function. Studies have shown that it improves memory and learning and may protect against age-related cognitive decline. Magnesium is known to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
Nootropics for Focus
The use of nootropics sparked great interest in the general public and academic research communities in the early 1970s when the word “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist, Corneliu Giurgea. His original plan was to create a compound that would enhance learning.
Despite the lack of comprehensive research on natural nootropics, there is enough documented evidence proving their effectiveness. In particular, plant extracts seem to be the most potent.
Caffeine, L-theanine, and omega-3 fatty acids improve focus. Additionally, Caffeine and l-theanine make one of the simplest and best nootropic stacks for the synergistic effect produced when taken together.
Magnesium is an essential mineral naturally found in the body. It supports cognitive health by promoting nerve and muscle function. Studies have shown that it improves memory and learning and may protect against age-related cognitive decline. Magnesium is known to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
Tyrosine is an amino acid and precursor to dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. There is evidence suggesting it can affect performance on working memory tasks under certain conditions, especially stress. Tyrosine may enhance convergent creative thinking. In one study, tyrosine seemed to alleviate some of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance. However, if tyrosine increases working memory performance by enhancing catecholamine levels, the outcome could easily be short-lived.
Bacopa monnieri is a herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It is known to prevent illness, enhance longevity, and improve memory. Studies have shown that Bacopa can help reduce anxiety, is a cognitive enhancer, and may protect your brain. Bacopa might also be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. In animal studies, Bacopa Monnieri has been discovered to boost the brain’s acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin levels. Learn about Bacopa’s top benefits here. [Ref]
CDP Choline (also known as Citicoline) is a powerful nootropic best known for its positive effects on memory improvement. CDP Choline protects the brain and increases attention, mental energy, reaction speed, and thought clarity. [Ref]
Alpha GPC is a supplement that helps the brain work better. It can help with cognitive functions, like thinking and learning. Alpha GPC helps keep the brain healthy by quickly and consistently delivering choline. It is a well-researched supplement recognized for its beneficial physical and mental effects. Aside from cognitive advantages, it also promotes physical health and muscular strength and is often used pre and during workouts to boost performance.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (or ALCAR) is a precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, known as the learning neurotransmitter. It is a potent neuroprotectant for its effects on mitochondrial function and energy generation. According to research, it boosts energy by upregulating levels of noradrenaline and serotonin and lowering those of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. [Ref]
Keep supplements and herbs away from children. This is because they might misuse them or take too much by accident. Supplements can have a small lethal dose, so it is important to be careful.
Keep your nootropics in a cool, dry place. Ensure the containers are sealed tightly to protect them from heat and sunlight. The two most important things to remember about storing nootropics are that they should be kept in a cool place, and they should be kept dry.