8 Natural Brain Boosting Nootropic Supplements
What if you could make your brain work harder, faster, better, and stronger simply by taking a supplement? It’s the goal behind nootropics, also known as “smart drugs.”
Let’s be honest, we could all use a little improvement in our cognitive function, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to improve your brain’s energy and focus while defending against age-related memory loss?
At the same time, not all nootropics are created equal. It’s important to do your research before adding any new prescription medication or natural supplement to your routine.
For eight natural options, check out the best nootropics below. Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about boosting brain power with supplements and pills.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics are substances marketed as cognitive enhancers, casually known as smart drugs. “Cognitive function” is a pretty broad spectrum that encompasses plenty of mental jobs including
- Short-term and long-term memory
- Attention and sustained attention
- Emotion recognition
- Strategic planning and problem solving
- Reaction time
- High-level thinking
A nootropic can either be natural or synthetic, purchased over-the-counter or prescribed. Many people create natural nootropic stacks to enhance brain power on multiple levels.
Some nootropics may even improve your brain’s resiliency to stress and reduce your chances of developing age-related memory problems.
Keep in mind that each substance is unique. Just because it improves brain power that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you.
8 Top Natural Nootropics
You’re here because you want to improve your brain function in healthy ways with minimal side effects. We hear you!
It’s why we put together this list of the best natural nootropic supplements.
1. Medicinal Mushrooms
Functional mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail and chaga can all improve brain power in unique ways. Perhaps the most powerful mushroom for improving cognitive function and reducing brain fog, however, is lion’s mane.
Lion’s mane contains at least 70 bioactive compounds for improving brain function – specifically brain nerve function. (1) Two of these compounds, hericenones and erinacines, protect nerves in the brain from damage while encouraging the growth of new brain nerve cells. (2) Plus, you can’t find hericenones and erinacines in any other food substance.
It doesn’t end there. Lion’s mane also contains amycenone which studies show can reduce symptoms of mental health conditions like insomnia, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. (3)
L-theanine sounds like a dangerous synthetic substance but it’s actually a natural compound found nearly exclusively in tea – particularly green tea.
Have you ever noticed that calm yet focused feeling you get after sipping a cup of tea? That’s the l-theanine working.
Studies show that l-theanine can increase serotonin, GABA, and dopamine naturally. Together, these brain chemicals improve alertness, mood, and concentration. (4)
3. Bacopa Monnieri
If you’ve looked into Ayurvedic medicine for nootropic supplements, you’ve surely come across bacopa monnieri. Bacopa monnieri is a creeping and flowering herb known for its effect on mental clarity.
Studies show that bacopa monnieri is beneficial for improving information processing, speeding up the brain, reducing reaction times, and supporting memory. (5)
The herb’s benefits mostly come from bacosides – which also act as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. (6)
To notice the effects, you’ll need some patience. It takes a few months for bacopa monnieri to start working.
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Did you know that ginkgo biloba is part of a broader category of natural nootropics known as adaptogenic herbs?
If you suffer from age-related memory problems or stress-related concentration issues, you may want to add ginkgo biloba to your supplement stack.
Studies show that ginkgo biloba can decrease both cortisol levels and stress-induced rises in blood pressure. (7) In older adults, studies show that ginkgo can improve overall memory and brain processing functions. (8)
5. Rhodiola Rosea
As another adaptogen, rhodiola rosea improves your body’s resiliency to physical and mental stress. If low energy levels and anxiety overload are your main problems, it may be worth adding rhodiola to your routine. (9)
Studies show that this adaptogen can improve mental clarity, fatigue, and function. Studies also show that rhodiola can reduce symptoms of anxiety. (10)
We couldn’t put together a comprehensive list of natural nootropic supplements without mentioning caffeine: the most widely consumed nootropic in the world.
As a stimulant, caffeine blocks your brain’s adenosine receptors. Adenosine is the brain chemical responsible for promoting sleep and depressing the central nervous system.
As a prescription, adenosine is used to treat irregular heartbeats. That’s why it’s important not to exceed 300mg of caffeine per day – it can lead to irregular heartbeat and other heart conditions.
7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most people don’t think of omega-3 as a nootropic but when you consider how important it is for brain function and how much we lack in our current diet, its classification as a brain-booster makes more sense.
Naturally, you can find omega-3 fatty acids in cold water fish like salmon and albacore tuna. Since it’s difficult to consume enough omega-3s through diet alone, it’s best to add a supplement.
In the brain, omega-3 fatty acids support healthy memory, attention, creativity, and decision making. (11)
8. B Vitamins
B vitamins are all crucial for brain health and as we age, it gets more difficult to absorb certain B vitamins through digestion so supplementation is important.
Vitamin B12 is especially critical for brain development and unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find this vitamin in dietary sources.
Studies show that B12 supplementation can improve memory and cognitive function. (12)
Other studies show that vitamin B12 can reduce symptoms of depression. (13)
So, What’s the Best Nootropic?
Everyone is unique. Different nootropic supplements work better for different people.
Start by considering what your diet lacks. Many vitamins and minerals are essential for brain health and function. For example, many people – especially in northern climates – have dangerously low levels of vitamin D in the winter. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with low energy and depression.
Get your essentials in order first: B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D. Next, look for additional supplements, mushrooms, and herbs to boost your brain potential.
In many cases, you may not even need to add a nootropic supplement. Exercise and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference in cognitive ability.
Nootropic Side Effects and Interactions
Each nootropic comes with its own list of interactions and side effects. While most vitamins are safe in normal amounts, certain herbs are especially potent.
High levels of rhodiola, for example, can actually trigger anxiety and insomnia so make sure to use in moderation and test your tolerance.
Potentially Harmful Nootropics
Just because you can purchase something over the counter or without a prescription, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s 100% safe.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a report warning women of childbearing age about the risks of vinpocetine: a popular nootropic, related to periwinkle, found in many supplement stacks. According to the FDA’s findings, vinpocetine can lead to miscarriage or fetal harm. (13)
Kratom is another popular nootropic used widely across the United States. In small doses, kratom can improve attention and alertness. Many people use kratom as an alternative to prescriptions like Suboxone for weaning off of opioids. However, if you have a history of substance abuse or addictive tendencies, kratom can lead to dependence and addiction.
Creating Your Nootropic Stacks
You can find plenty of premade nootropic stacks on the market but you can also create your own.
Start by adding supplements or vitamins you’re lacking in your daily diet like vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Next, consider adding some extra brain-boosting nutrients like probiotics to support gut health.
Studies increasingly show that gut health is directly linked to mental health and brain function.
Once you’ve finished that part of your stack and tested it for a few weeks, add some additional supplements like functional mushrooms and herbs from Ayurveda medicine.
Other Natural Ways to Boost Cognitive Function
You can boost brain power in several ways before you even reach for nootropic supplements.
- Exercise every day to improve cognitive function.
- Try Zen meditation. This unique practice will help clear the mind of unnecessary information.
- Drink enough water. When your body lacks hydration, everything slows down and your kidneys have trouble flushing toxins from your body.
- Get enough sleep. Adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep – especially chronic sleep deprivation – is directly responsible for reduced cognitive ability.
Follow these important lifestyle changes before you consider adding supplements to your routine.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep and exercising, adding a nootropic won’t do much good.
The Bottom Line
Everyone could stand to improve their cognitive function a little bit. Like anyone else, you’re busy with work, family, household tasks, and plenty of other ways you’d like to spend your time.
Nootropics can help fill a void that diet and exercise simply can’t fill. Plus, many nootropics, like apoptogenic herbs, can help support healthy brain function as we age.
Start by making changes to your diet and lifestyle while you add any essential vitamins or minerals you may lack. From there, add some natural nootropic supplements to get the brain power flowing.