Nootropics: Natural Supplements with Brain-Boosting Power
Supplement companies can make wild claims without any basis. That’s the unfortunate truth about the industry. As a result, the consumer is heavily burdened by figuring out what’s realistic and what’s not when adding a natural supplement to their life.
Beyond having to research and make your own determination about whether a supplement will do what you hope it does, the nature of the supplement industry can make you feel jaded and untrusting. So, when you hear about natural supplements that can make you feel smarter, you might automatically think, “yeah, right.”
We want to caution you about immediately writing off nootropic supplements; some of them can bring about measurable changes! So, in an effort to help you feel more comfortable with giving nootropics a try, let’s talk about them!
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics, sometimes referred to as “smart drugs,” are synthetic or natural supplements designed to support cognitive functions like memory and energy.
The term “nootropic” was coined in the ‘70s by a chemist named Corneliu Giurgea from Romania.
Originally, to be called a nootropic, it had to:
- improve learning ability and memory
- support brain function in times of stress or disruption
- protect the structure of the brain
- improve upon neural mechanics in the brain
- be free from stimulants, sedatives, or toxins
Today, the definition is much broader and allows for widely accepted stimulants (think caffeine) and sedatives (think melatonin). But, in general, you can think of nootropics as synthetic or natural supplements that can safely enhance cognitive functions.
What Does the Science Say about Nootropics?
The experts that talk about nootropics are similar to those who talk about any natural supplement—they’re not thoroughly convinced. Better than the average person, medical doctors and PhDs understand how complex the human brain and body are and fully appreciate how much we don’t understand about it.
The brain is a bit of a mystery, and experts don’t like anything that presents itself as the end-all-be-all solution or magic pill that can help you become more intelligent and so on. On the other hand, we, as health experts and consumers, need to have realistic expectations. There is no magic pill that will suddenly make you brilliant, just like there’s no magic pill that can help you drop weight or gain muscle.
However, when we move the dial of expectations from these extremes to a more realistic place, such as nootropics can enhance what you already have going on, even the medical experts have to agree that nootropics have potential. The key is using trustworthy supplement brands and looking for ingredients that are backed by science.
Do Nootropics Work?
With a looser definition than Giurgea originally intended, it’s impossible to throw out a blanket statement like “yes, nootropics work,” just like it’s impossible to say, “yes, pre-workout supplements work.”
We have to address that there is no specific formula, and so to answer the question of whether they work, we have to instead look at specific ingredients. We encourage you to change your question to “which nootropic ingredients work?”
Are Nootropics Safe?
As with the above-posed question, the answer is similar. We must change this question to the safety of individual ingredients, as there is no one specific formula for nootropic supplements.
While we can’t answer to the general safety of these synthetic or natural supplements, we can answer questions about the safety of the well-known effective nootropic ingredients. We will discuss some of them below, and as always, encourage you to shop with brands you trust to limit potential contaminations or the use of banned substances.
Types of Nootropics
Some supplement categories share names with prescription drug therapies, like hormone supplements. Nootropics are another category where the name could refer to prescriptions or synthetic or natural supplements.
Prescription nootropics are typically stimulants. These types of nootropics might be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of conditions like:
Some common prescription nootropics used include:
While prescription nootropics can be highly effective in treating appropriate medical conditions, they also carry risks and potential adverse side effects. Therefore, these powerful prescriptions should never be used without a prescription and careful monitoring by the prescribing doctor.
Natural Supplement Nootropics
Natural supplement nootropics are substances that fall under the broad definition we mentioned above—they safely offer cognitive benefits, and they’re naturally occurring. Natural supplement refers to those with ingredients that occur in foods or plants, and they’re available over the counter without a prescription.
Synthetic Supplement Nootropics
Similar to natural supplement nootropics, these are over-the-counter, non-prescription health supplements. The difference is that the ingredients are made in a lab, and while most substances are found somewhere in nature, these ingredients are synthetically created.
The Best Nootropic Ingredients
Now that we’ve addressed the basics let’s look at the most promising ingredients when you’re looking for a synthetic or natural supplement nootropic.
By “promising,” we mean that these are the ingredients that are backed by science and deliver effects that benefit cognitive functions. We will also look at the safety of each individual ingredient.
L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid. The substance is found in green and black teas, some mushrooms, and it’s also available in natural supplements. Theanine is a non-essential amino acid that the human body doesn’t produce, but it also doesn’t require it for basic cellular functions.
With that being said, L-theanine has been found to benefit people in many ways, including its nootropic properties.
This amino acid seems to affect cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin levels in the brain, which translates to a better mood and reduced stress level. Other nootropic properties include promoting relaxation, improved focus and cognitive performance, and more restful sleep.
It’s easy to see why this natural supplement would be a promising nootropic ingredient, but the potential benefits don’t stop there. Some research indicates that L-theanine also promotes weight loss and reduces blood pressure.
Is it Safe?
L-theanine is generally regarded as safe. There is some evidence that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine may amplify the positive effects. However, if you do combine the two, the safety concern is overdoing the caffeine, not the natural supplement.
Product Spotlight: ANS Performance Rave
This is a nootropic pre-workout combination supplement that combines 200 mg caffeine with 50 mg L-theanine and other nootropic ingredients to boost energy before a workout and enhance memory, cognitive performance, and relieve stress.
Creatine MonohydrateIt might surprise you to see creatine on a nootropic list. However, if you know anything about creatine, you know that its health benefits go far and beyond the muscle-building potential that the supplement is typically used for.
Creatine plays a major role in the energy processes at a cellular level within our tissues, including—you guessed it—our brains. In addition to the energy processes, the body also uses creatine to repair cellular damage from oxidative stress.
Creatine has been shown to improve brain function and reduce feelings of mental fatigue. Because creatine in its natural form is only available to humans through the consumption of red meat, including a synthetic creatine supplement can offer a mental sharpness that people who don’t eat red meat have been missing.
In addition to the nootropic benefits, creatine monohydrate also improves physical performance, strength, and muscle growth.
Is it Safe?
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most well-researched, safest supplements on the market to date. Unfortunately, there are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding its use, but none are founded in science.
This is a pure, pharmaceutical-grade creatine monohydrate powder. It’s a single-ingredient product, and it’s micro-ionized for better bioavailability. A serving is a 5-gram scoop, which is consistent with the current research regarding effective dosage.
Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, and as it turns out, it’s also the most widely used nootropic that you probably didn’t even realize you were using.
Caffeine is not only known for boosting energy, but it also supports improved critical thinking. In addition, caffeine has also been shown to make neurotransmitters like acetylcholine more available for use, which translates to better short-term memory and enhanced learning capabilities.
Caffeine is also widely used in the sports supplement market, as it’s known to boost performance and focus in the athletic arena.
Is it Safe?
Caffeine is considered safe for otherwise healthy adults, but there is a limit, as caffeine consumption beyond 400 mg per day can carry serious risks. Most people won’t typically drink enough coffee to surpass this limit; however, caffeine pills and supplements can easily overdo it.
Product Spotlight: Believe Supplements Brain Fuel
This nootropic product can be used daily to support brain function or as a pre-workout supplement. It contains 125 mg of caffeine, which is well within the safe limit, but enough to be effective. In addition, Brain Fuel also includes a B vitamin complex and Bacopa monnieri, a nootropic we will cover next.
Bacopa monnieri is a natural supplement traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an herb that’s native to wet, tropical environments. While traditional practitioners have known this for centuries, this natural supplement is a powerful nootropic ingredient.
Bacopa monnieri has been shown to boost cognitive function, reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce ADHD symptoms. In addition to these brain-boosting benefits, the natural supplement is also used to reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, and the rich profile of antioxidants is beneficial in and of itself.
Is it Safe?
Bacopa monnieri is a natural supplement that’s generally considered safe but should not be used in pregnant people. There are some medication interactions to be aware of, including amitriptyline, and while it’s safe, it has been known to cause some digestive upset in some people.
Product Spotlight: See Believe Supplement Brain Fuel above.
Like Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba is another natural supplement derived from a tree that grows in Eastern countries like China, Japan, and Korea. More research is needed to fully determine the health benefits of Ginkgo biloba, but it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
Potential benefits of this natural supplement include improving brain function, reducing anxiety, easing depression, and reducing dementia symptoms. In addition to the nootropic properties, Ginkgo biloba is also loaded with powerful antioxidants, which have a multitude of health benefits.
Is it Safe?
Ginkgo biloba poses a very small risk to healthy individuals, but we always recommend discussing any new supplements with your primary care provider. Possible side effects include digestive upset, dizziness, headaches, and an allergic reaction. There are also some potential drug interactions to be aware of, including those who are using blood thinners, antidepressants, and NSAIDS (Tylenol and ibuprofen).
Product Spotlight: Allmax Vitaform for Men
This is a multivitamin specifically designed for active men. It includes Ginkgo biloba and L-theanine for their nootropic properties, along with the vitamins and minerals you’d expect to find in a typical multivitamin product.
Omega-3 supplements, like creatine supplements, might be ones that you knew could benefit your health, but you didn’t realize they were considered nootropic supplements as well.
Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (also known as the “healthy” fats) found in fatty fish, fish oil, and marine algae supplements. The omega acids are critical to brain and nerve health, as they build the membranes around the body’s cells and neurons. These fatty acids are also known for fighting off depression and anxiety symptoms, in addition to other health benefits.
Such benefits include heart, skin, and eye health, reduced inflammation, and bone and joint health.
Is it Safe?
Not only are omega-3 fatty acids safe, but they’re also critical to a healthy body. The body cannot produce these fatty acids, so it’s necessary to consume them through either your diet or nutritional supplementation.
Product Spotlight: Believe Supplements Antioxidants + Omega 3
This premium fish oil product combines those beneficial fatty acids from pure, filtered fish oil with vitamins D and E and other antioxidants to support heart and brain health while also fighting off dangerous free radicals. This fish oil product is a flavoured liquid that’s completely devoid of the typical fishy aftertaste.
The bottom line is that nootropic supplements are like any other synthetic or natural supplement on the market—some are good, and some don’t have the science to back them up. The key in selecting an effective nootropic supplement is to look at the individual ingredients and choose one you know to be safe and proven effective.