Nootropic supplements are over-the-counter "smart drugs" designed for cognitive enhancement. Generally, nootropics are natural or chemical substances that can improve memory, concentration, mood, and focus. Some nootropic products even claim to protect the brain against degeneration and decline.
In this shopping guide we'll focus on natural nonaddictive nootropics that offer more subtle and slow-acting results than synthetic nootropics, and they're generally safe to take in their recommended dosages. We've also included our top picks at the end of this article, like Genius Brand's mushroom nootropic, which boosts both brain and immune functions.
Considerations when choosing nootropics
Natural nootropics are available as OTC supplements and are often "stacked" with several ingredients, meaning the ingredients are combined to enhance their effects. Here's a list of common nootropics that you may find as either standalones or in a blend:
Caffeine is commonly added to nootropic formulas to increase alertness, attention, and improve mood. It is widely consumed to reduce fatigue. However, be aware that caffeine can be addictive.
Medicinal mushrooms like lion's mane, cordyceps, chaga, and reishi are highly popular in the wellness world. There is study-backed evidence that these mushrooms support cognitive function. Medicinal mushrooms have many other benefits, like boosting the immune system and fighting mental decline.
Omega-3s are a common supplement that are considered nootropics because of their DHA and EPA content, both of which are fatty acids that support the brain. They help with memory and focus and protect neural cells against damage. They can also lower levels of depression.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea that has a calming anti-anxiety effect, while also improving alertness and concentration. You'll often find this nootropic paired with caffeine to optimize its efficacy.
Bacopa monnieri is an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used to enhance brain performance. Recent studies show it can improve memory, quicken information processing, and relieve symptoms of ADHD and depression.
Creatine is an amino acid popular in bodybuilding formulas. It's also considered a nootropic because it creates an energy molecule in your brain that fuels your memory and reasoning muscles. It may also be beneficial in reducing stress levels.
Rhodiola rosea belongs to a category of herbs called adaptogens that are touted for their stress-relieving qualities. Rhodiola rosea can combat stress-related fatigue, like burnout.
Panax ginseng is an adaptogen that combats stress, particularly mental fatigue related to stress. Panax ginseng also promotes feelings of calm.
Ginkgo biloba is a natural substance extracted from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree and can improve age-related mental decline. It also decreases levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone."
Form: Nootropic supplements come in either powder or capsule form. Capsules are more commonly available, but if you have a difficult time swallowing pills, select a powder. Powders may be more bioavailable — that is, they're better absorbed by the body.
Dosage: Pay attention to the serving size on the nootropic's label. Depending on the brand, dosage may require taking one to three capsules per day. Powder formulas often require just one scoop per day. Always factor in dosage when considering a product's price point.
Nootropics range in price from $14 to upward of $100 for one bottle or container. Nootropics in the mid-level price point cost between $21 and $39, and they usually contain stacked ingredients.
Q. What are synthetic nootropics?
A. Synthetic nootropics contain chemical ingredients that require a prescription. Adderall, Ritalin, and Nuvigil are examples of prescription drugs. They were originally used to treat serious conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. Some people use them as nootropics because of their potent effects on memory and attention.
Q. Are there any side effects of natural nootropics?
A. Generally speaking, no. However, some people are more sensitive than others, so we recommend beginning with a lower dose and gradually increasing to the recommended dose. Always check with a healthcare provider to be sure a nootropic formula, especially if it contains adaptogens, doesn't interfere with any prescription medications.
Nootropics we recommend
Our take: A powerful nootropic blending three different medicinal mushrooms for brain and immune support.
What we like: Vegetarian-friendly capsules. Third-party tested for purity. Contains no heavy metals or gluten. Organic ingredients. Decreases inflammation.
What we dislike: Must be timed to take 20 minutes before eating.
Best bang for your buck: Huntington Labs Neuro Health Brain and Focus Formula
Our take: Stacked with natural nootropics like green tea and bacopa monnieri, these low-priced capsules are food for your brain.
What we like: Increases both energy and memory. Jitter-free. Favored by students for focus during studying and test-taking.
What we dislike: May cause headaches and stomach upset in some.
Our take: A natural supplement that boosts cognitive function and contains recommended minerals and vitamins.
What we like: Can be taken in lieu of a multivitamin. Green-tea extract boosts energy without the caffeine. ADHD sufferers report this works better than prescription medication.
What we dislike: Slow-acting; takes as long as two months to notice results.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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