Nootropics: 9 Nutrients to Optimize Your Brain

Who doesn’t want to hack their brain?

Today’s society is more competitive than ever, with ever-increasing demands on our time. So, when we’re not able to work harder, we’ve got to find ways to work smarter to achieve our goals. In response to all of these demands Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” or “smart nutrients”, have been developed.


The popularity of Nootropics has grown in the last couple of years, essentially because of all their claimed incredible benefits. Nootropics (both the natural or synthetic versions) are used to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence, and motivation in healthy people. Sounds great, right?


As mentioned above, there are both natural and pharmaceutical nootropics. The pharmaceutical options are often stimulants that you would need a prescription for.


There may be some natural nootropics that you’re already using without realising. Let’s take a look at a few of the best natural nootropics, as well as their effect on performance.


1. Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed mind-altering substances in the world. It is naturally found in cocoa, coffee, tea, guarana and kola nuts, and is often added to energy drinks, fizzy drinks and medications. You can also get caffeine in supplement form.


Essentially caffeine works by blocking a specific receptor in the brain, reducing your feelings of fatigue. Taken in moderate amounts, caffeine increases your attention and alertness, and speeds up your reaction time. If you’re feeling tired, anywhere between 40 – 300mg of caffeine (with ±90mg in a cup of coffee) will be enough to give you a boost.


2. L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that also naturally occurs in tea, such as in green tea, but is more commonly taken in supplement form.


There is a good body of evidence to demonstrate that taking 200mg of l-theanine calms your mind, without causing you to feel tired. Taking as little as 50mg of l-theanine leads to increased alpha-waves in the brain, and these are associated with creativity and focus.


For the most effective results, l-theanine is often paired with caffeine in performance enhancing combinations, to give you the boost but also the focus.


3. Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Yamabushitake)

Personally, I think the name of this mushroom is fantastic, and it has a rather impressive appearance. Lion’s Mane has been an important part of Chinese medicine for centuries in the treatment of various conditions.


Recently, a number of clinical trials have suggested that Lion’s Mane is neuro-protective. It improves the survival and function of nerve cells, reduces inflammation, and encourages growth of new nerve cells. All of this leads to improved brain health, and Lions Mane is now being looked at as a potential option for the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


The doses of Lion’s Mane will vary depending on the strength of the extract, so check the label of the supplement you’re trying and start with the lowest dose first.


4. Creatine

It may have surprised you to see creatine on this list, but this amino acid does more than promote muscle growth in bodybuilders.


Creatine is an amino acid that your body primarily uses to make and repair muscles in the body. However, ingested creatine also enters the brain and binds with phosphate to create a new molecule, which then serves as fuel for brain cells. This short-term increase in fuel for brain cells has been linked to an improvement in short-term memory and reasoning skills. This is especially true for vegetarians or vegans, and for highly stressed individuals.


It’s safe to take 5g of creatine daily without side effects. There are higher doses available but the long-term safety of these is not yet confirmed.


5. Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is a herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance brain functioning. It has been shown to speed up reaction times, improve memory and enhance information processing in the brain. Bacopa Monnieri also serves to protect your brain from oxidative stress.


It takes a while to feel the effects of Bacopa Monnieri, so ideally a dose of 300 – 600mg should be taken for a few months to get the maximum benefit.


6. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a nutrient we’ve spoken about plenty of times before. It serves as an adaptogenic herb that helps your body to cope with stress more effectively. Rhodiola has been shown to be effective at boosting mood, decreasing burnout, and reducing feelings of mental fatigue in stressed and anxious individuals. It is also neuro-protective.


The ideal dose specifically for brain functioning has not been determined, but the recommended dose is 150 – 200mg daily.


7. Panax Ginseng

Based on available research we now know that Panax Ginseng, an ancient medicinal root, can boost brain function. It’s unclear exactly how it exerts it’s nootropic effect, but Panax Ginseng does have strong anti-inflammatory effect on the brain. This may help protect the brain from oxidative stress.


Taken as a single dose, 200 – 400mg of Panax Ginseng reduces brain fatigue, and significantly improves performance in tasks such as challenging math problems. Some studies have shown that over time our bodies may adapt to Ginseng, making it less effective with time. In order to determine the long-term benefits to brain health, more research is needed on Ginseng.


8. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba serves to increase blood flow to the brain, which is hypothesised as the method behind its nootropic effect. Supplementing with Ginkgo Biloba has been shown to improve memory and mental processing, as well as decreasing stress-related blood pressure and cortisol levels.


The recommended dose for Ginkgo Biloba is 40mg, 3 times daily. However, a minimum of 4 weeks of Gingko Biloba supplementation may be required before the maximum benefit can be felt, according to the available evidence.


9. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a naturally-occurring phospholipid serving as a part of every single cell membrane in the body. It helps to maintain the fluidity of our cells, and controls the transport of important proteins, enzymes, nutrients, and oxygen into and out of the cell.


In the brain, phosphatidylserine’s involved in the chemical signalling between nerve cells. It also supports nerve cell’s overall health, energy supply and growth. It is arguably one of the most important nootropics available today. Phosphatidylserine helps to improve memory and recall, mood and anxiety, alertness and attention, as well as cognition.


The recommended dose of phosphatidylserine is 100mg, 3 times daily.


Final Thoughts

Nootropics as a field is developing rapidly, possibly in response to obsession with testing the capacity of our bodies. All of us are hustling, stressing, and pushing ourselves further all the time. It’s no wonder that this leaves us with foggy, ineffective brains. To give your mind some much-needed support, consider the natural nutrients mentioned in this article.

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