Do you struggle to get stuff done? Or maybe you great at starting a new task only to find your mind wandering half-way through?
You’re not alone, I know because I am the same!
Keeping focused and maintaining concentration is getting harder for me too as I get older – I just get way too distracted. It’s not only an issue with my peers though as younger kids seem to have ever-decreasing attention spans.
Nootropic supplements and so-called smart drugs promising a smarter, more intelligent, and focused you, are no doubt appealing. But do they actually work and should you take them?
As I delve into the world of over the counter (OTC) nootropic supplements I am going to check out some of the popular brands available, popular ingredients, and understand actually what the true benefits there are.
Keen to discover nootropic supplements that could make you smarter?
What are Nootropics or Smart Drugs?
Nootropics are supplements that are used to enhance mental ability and improve memory, concentration, and focus. They are intended to be used by healthy people who are looking for a boost in productivity.
Nootropic supplements are available over the counter (OTC) supplements without prescription from your local health store or online.
The term nootropics were first used by Belgian scientist Corneliu Giurgea in the 1970s when he designed Piracetam (synthetic nootropic).
So, what does nootropics mean?
The word Nootropics is taken from the Greek meaning of “Noos” to mean Mind and “tropos” that means to turn. So taken literally the nootropics means to turn the mind.
Nootropic, n., adj. — from the Greek nous (“mind”) and trepein (“to bend” or “turn”), literally meaning “mind turning.” Pronounced: no-uh-TROH-pic. A nootropic is a substance that enhances cognition.
These days you see many supplements referred to as a “nootropic” if it claims to help the brain in any way. This could be from simply providing ingredients needed for everyday mental functions to boosting memory and concentration.
This expanded definition of nootropics means that any supplement claiming to affect the brain could be classified as a nootropic supplement.
Benefits of Taking Nootropics
Clever marketing of nootropics makes you believe that by simply popping a few capsules you can be suddenly turned into the next Einstein. This is clearly not the case, but there is no doubt that there are benefits to taking nootropics.
So, what are the benefits of nootropics?
The wider definition these days means there are quite a few benefits associated with brain supplements now, these include:
- Better Memory – Improved learning and reduce age-related declines in mental ability
- Improved Mood – Reducing anxiety and enhancing mood
- Better Focus – Improved concentration and alertness, so to be more productive
- Less Brain Fog – Reducing symptoms of fatigue to be able to work longer – I can certainly relate to this one
- Improved Creativity – Better reasoning skills and problem solving
Many of the nootropics benefits tend to focus on the short-term benefits of improved mental performance. However, there can be longer-term benefits such as promoting a healthy brain and reduce age-related cognitive decline.
What about Nootropic Stacks?
There is a practice amongst neurohackers that involves taking multiple nootropic ingredients or products at the same time called nootropic stacks.
So a nootropic stack refers to the combination of two or more supplements taken at the same time consecutively or at different times of the day with the aim of enhancing cognitive ability.
Spend a little time researching the subject of nootropics and you will soon see blogs discussing the best nootropic stack and which ones perform the best – it’s a hotly debated topic by those in the know!
To complicate nootropic stacks a little further some supplements actually brand themselves as stacks themselves because they include several ingredients known to boost mental performance.
Generally, though the technique of nootropic stacking consists of using multiple products safely together for better results.
Who Takes Nootropics?
Most people could benefit from taking nootropics even though you tend to associate students trying to seek out the best nootropics supplements.
Anyone that relies on mental performance from high achievers to competitive athletes, people who rely on their brainpower for work.
In recent years the biohacking community has grown to the point it’s reached mainstream media, and blogs such as lifehack and LifeHacker are commonplace. Such communities were even an inspiration for me in developing and writing this blog!
Nootropics Gaining Popularity – Limitless Pill
I was first introduced to the term nootropics after watching the hugely entertaining film Limitless in 2011, starring Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper.
If you haven’t seen this I recommend checking it out, in short, the main character Eddie is a struggling author and ends up taking an experimental nootropic drug called NZT-48 (1). Whilst taking the smart drug he develops new powers that help him become super focused and make mental connections not seen before.
Basically, his lifestyle dramatically improves by becoming super smart!
The film kick-started the nootropic supplement industry and within months there were countless Limitless Pill supplements on the market, many of which used the film as part of their marketing.
Be forewarned though and don’t be fooled into thinking that a limitless pill really exist though as many supplement brands have taken advantage of the film’s success to promote their products.
Best Nootropics for Brain Optimization
So now that your interest in nootropics has been piqued, where do you go about buying nootropics?
I have picked out some of the nootropic supplements that stand out from the research that I believe is worth checking out.
Whether you’re looking for the best nootropic for studying, athletic performance, or standing out at work, these are some of the popular brands on the market today.
So, here is my selection of 9 popular nootropics on the market today. Which one of these brain supplements can get your performing like MIT graduate?
Mind Lab Pro – Universal Nootropic
Whether you’re a student, athlete, professional or active 55-year-old plus, this nootropic could be for you to nourish and protect your brain today and for the long-term.
Mind Lab Pro is a slick supplement from a company (Opti-Nutra Ltd) that knows what they’re doing.
1-months’ supply of 60 capsules retails for $65.
Check out my honest and unbiased Mind Lab Pro review here.
Onnit Alpha Brain – Memory & focus supplement
One of the most popular nootropics on the market is produced by Onnit supplements. I took a look at their super greens product before (check out my Earth Grown Nutrients review).
Onnit also produces another brain focused supplement called Onnit New Mood, which is more towards reducing anxiety and daily stress.
Costs $79.95 per tub (90 capsules) with a subscribe and save option save 15% ($67.96 per tub).
Hunter Life Focus
A relative newcomer to the nootropics scene is a brand called Hunter Life Focus. It actually forms part of a series of three brands promoted at guys looking for increased testosterone (Hunter Life Test) and increased fat burning (Hunter Life Burn).
The cost of Hunter Life Focus is $75 per bottle of 120 capsules. Cheaper bottle prices are available for multi-bottle purchases including free USA and UK shipping.
CILTEP by Natural Stacks
Developed by Natural Stacks, CILTEP is an acronym for chemically induced long-term potentiation ( I am glad they shorted it!). If the reviews are anything to go by its one of the best nootropic stacks out there at the moment.
CILTEP is focused (pun intended) on boosting levels of concentration, focus, and memory function.
In a departure from most nootropics, this supplement adheres to the less is more theory with only five ingredients in their nootropic formula.
One bottle of 60 vegecaps costs $42.95 from Amazon.com.
Optimind – Nootropic to “unleash your mind”
Optimind promotes their supplement as a way to “unleash your mind”. Their formula is one of the few nootropics that actually contain caffeine (150mg per serving) and so could help to increase energy levels too.
The company behind Optimind (AlternaScript LLC) offers a “free trial” and customized subscription options if you want to receive bottles every month or few weeks.
One bottle of Optimind (32 capsules) costs from $43 each month. It doesn’t seem like you can buy one-off bottles, but they say you can cancel easily.
Nootrobox – System of four nootropic blends
Nootrobox is from the guys at HVMN Inc and looks a really cool product actually.
These guys are a little different from most nootropics as there are 4 supplement tubs in their bundle; Rise, Kado, Sprint, and Yawn. Each focuses on different aspects of mental performance.
A quick look at the nootropic blends and the usual ingredients are inside in sufficient amounts.
To buy the nootropic bundle from HVMN will set you back $109.95 for a one-off purchase or $97 for subscription monthly payments.
Focus Factor – ThinkFuel Nootropics
Focus Factor stock a number of nootropics in their “Thinkfuel” range for athletes, gamer, women, professional and student.
I wasn’t sure what the difference is between say a professional or a woman (no intended jibe at sexism here!), so I briefly checked over the ingredients and they look very similar. They are branded differently though and have to admit they do look great!
Each bottle of Thinkfuel nootropics costs $29.95 for 60 capsules with bundles of 3 and 6 packs available.
Qualia mind by Neurohacker
Qualia Mind is a nootropic supplement for mental performance and manufactured by Neurohacker Collective LLC. Claiming to be a “premium” supplement it comes with a premium price!
Each serving is 7 capsules and one bottle will last only 22 days. As such each serving contains a hefty ingredient amount with some 28 ingredients in total.
When I checked the product was sold out but the normal price is a whopping $139 for one bottle of 154 capsules.
Neurofuse – Find Your Focus!
Neurofuse claim to unlock your brains potential with their elite neuro enhancing formula – sounds great and just what I need!
According to the manufacturers (BD Health Partners, LLC), their brand is a “top nootropic stack” voted by leading testers. (not sure who they are though!).
They do a free trial option just paying for shipping and handling for 14-days – I am always a bit wary of these but if you check the terms and conditions and cancellation policy you should be okay.
One off-bottles cost $69.99 but it seems you have to try the 10-day trial first.
TruBrain – Think Drink Nootropics
TruBrain take a novel approach to nootropics and ditch the pills and instead go for a drink, giving the term – Think Drink!
It’s a nice idea and could mean taking your nootropics each day is a little easier, providing you like the taste.
The price for a box of 30-supply costs in the region of $65 with a subscription option, otherwise the cost is a little higher.
Check out my recent TruBrain review and you can decide for yourself if a nootropic drink is best for you.
Lumonol / Lumultra by Avanse Nutraceuticals
Lumonol appears to have re-branded to Lumultra but some of their nootropic range still uses the old name, such as Lumonol smart drink and Lumonol prep.
The supplement contains three proprietary blends (focus, energy, and memory) and so although we’re not sure how much is in each blend claims it can be your “secret weapon” for gaining an advantage on who you were yesterday.
One-off bottles of Lumonol costs $59.97 with a monthly ship and save option for $47.97 (saving of 20%).
Other Nootropics I have reviewed
I have also checked out some other nootropics brands and whilst they didn’t make the list above and worth highlighting here.
Do you have a product you want me to take a look at? Then place a comment below and I will check it out!
Most Popular Nootropic Ingredients
Spend even a small amount of time researching nootropics and you soon become familiar with the most common ingredients. Many of the nootropic supplements contain similar ingredients, in fact, the main difference typically comes down to the amounts used.
If you have spent any time reading my website you will know that ingredient dosages really do matter. So, with this in mind, I have highlighted the recommended dosages specified in clinical studies for each ingredient below.
Any brand that makes mental performance claims and their supplement contains insufficient ingredient amounts, then beware. It’s unlikely the supplement can have these benefits.
That said, many of these nootropic ingredients are a superb choice for anyone looking to improve mental ability and performance.
Ashwagandha root extract *
This somewhat tricky to pronounce herb is popular in ayurvedic medicine for its ability to reduce anxiety and allegedly help the body adapt to stressors. For this reason, Ashwagandha is known as an adaptogenic herb.
There are many Ashwagandha benefits reported but specifically for its nootropic benefits can help improve mental energy, stress resistance, and mood; may also help with healthy brain aging.
Typical dosages range from 300-2,000mg per day.
Gingko Biloba *
Gingko biloba is well known and most likely top selling herbal supplement. There are many therapeutic properties but its notably for its high antioxidant content.
The ginkgo is one of the oldest species of tree in the world and uses it for symptoms ranging from a bladder infection to increasing sexual energy!
Studies using Gingko biloba have suggested that mental performance and well-being can be increased through supplementation in the right dose.
According to research, the typical dosages range from 120 to 240mg per day. Results aren’t immediate but may take 4-6 weeks to be noticed.
Bacopa Monnieri *
This ancient herb, which is also called brahmi, is used in Ayurvedic medicine has been shown to boost brain function and alleviate anxiety and stress, among other benefits.
It’s thought that powerful active compounds in Bacopa Monnieri called bacosides are responsible for these benefits by protecting the brain from oxidative stress and
There are several studies that support these findings and the recommended dosages range from 300-600mg per day. Typical dosages from human studies range from 300-450mg per day.
One interesting point to highlight with Bacopa is the effects are not immediate and you will need to supplement for several months to notice any change.
Rhodiola Rosea *
Rhodiola is another adaptogenic herb that’s been used in traditional medicine for many years. It’s a popular brain supplement ingredient as some people claim it can help to strengthens mind-body stress resistance
The consensus is that Rhodiola can help mental processing, learning, attention, mood, and work capacity. There is also evidence for reducing physical and mental fatigue from clinical studies and for blunting the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Typical dosages range from 400-600mg per serving. For performance-enhancing effects suggested to take 200-300mg 1-2 hours before exercise.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is required for normal functions in the body. Choline bitartrate is made from combining Choline with tartaric acid. There are a few sources of choline namely Choline bitartrate, CDP-Choline, Choline Citrate and Alpha GPC.
You need Choline to produce a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that is crucial for regulating memory, mood, and intelligence.
A number of human studies have shown Choline bitartrate to have positive effects on memory, brain development, and mental health.
Typical dosages range from 500-3,000mg per day. The limit for adults has been suggested to be 3,500mg per day.
Alpha – GPC
This provides a good source of Choline a substance mentioned above that’s critical for production of neurotransmitters in the brain, which is responsible for memory and learning.
Alpha GPC is 40% choline by weight and so to get the recommended dosages of choline you will need at least 600-1,000mg. So the question is which is the best source of choline, Alpha GPC, or choline?
A number of nootropics use Alpha-GPC as their source of choline.
Huperzine A is a common nootropic ingredient found in Chinese club moss Huperzia Serrata. Along with being fantastic for aiding memory by supporting neural mechanisms, Huperzine A improves Acetylcholine signaling, which is an important neurotransmitter that also regulates other nerve cells.
It’s also thought that this ingredient could increase the dreaming stage of sleep (REM sleep).
Typical dosages are low at 50-200mcg servings per day.
L-Theanine is a popular amino acid that is often combined with caffeine to counteract the stimulatory effects. Frequently used for relaxation and to help with focus, L-theanine in dosages from 100mg per serving can improve cognition and memory.
It’s been thought that L-Theanine works by enhancing the alpha brain wave activity.
Typical dosages of between 200-400mg can help sleep and when combined with caffeine dosages of 100mg for improved cognitive performance.
Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid derivative is highly prevalent in the brain.
This is a tricky one to say and it’s more commonly referred to by its abbreviation PS, it’s a nootropic ingredient that can help reduce stress by optimizing your mood via reducing cortisol.
Other benefits include aiding learning through enhanced cognitive processes and memory.
Studies have shown dosages ranging from 100-400mg per day can help Alzheimer’s and age-related mental decline.
N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT) *
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine can be a highly effective nootropic for boosting cognitive function even in stressful conditions. It’s been effectively used to treat symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).
One of the most important benefits of N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine as a nootropic is its ability to fight fatigue and boost focus and alertness.
Although readily available in our diets most of us are unlikely to be consuming enough.
Typical dosages range from 300-500mg per serving.
Nootropic Vitamins and Minerals
Everyone’s diet should contain all the essential vitamins and minerals but if you’re looking to get the best of yourself then these are a must!
Every nootropic stack should contain ALL the Vitamin Bs. Adding the Vitamin B complex to your diet is easy enough, many of the multivitamins or super greens supplements provide these.
In fact, it makes sense to get all these via a supplement as it’s inexpensive to do so and even the best-intended diets can sometimes fall short.
Here are the essential “nootropic” B-vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – essential for ATP production (mitochondria synthesis)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – used in the synthesis of acetylcholine
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – needed to synthesize acetylcholine
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – significant to protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism and the creation of red blood cells and brain neurotransmitters
- Vitamin B8 (Inositol) – not actually a vitamin as such but a type of sugar that’s used to regulate cell volume, signaling pathways in brain cells, DNA repair, long-term potentiation, component of cell membranes, regulates cellular metabolism and cellular energy consumption
- Vitamin B9 (Folic acid) – Involved in DNA and RNA synthesis, gene expression, amino acid synthesis, myelin synthesis and repair, and required for synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin
- Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin) – required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin
Do Every-day Foods Contain Nootropic Ingredients?
You are likely consuming such foods rich in nootropic ingredients every day without realizing it.
Brain foods that pack a nootropic punch include Eggs, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, blueberries, turmeric, broccoli, and even water.
However, you’ll unlikely consume enough to notice any immediate effect apart from maybe dark chocolate (Flavanol-rich cocoa beans actually increase blood flow to the brain).
This article is geared towards over-the-counter nootropic supplements but I wanted to briefly outline the prescription nootropic or smart drugs on the market. Of course, being prescription drugs you won’t find this over the counter unless you have been prescribed by a medical doctor.
Smart drugs should not be confused with nootropic supplements.
These synthetic nootropics are much stronger than supplements and mostly used to manage medical conditions, as such are taken whilst under medical supervision.
Popular prescription nootropics include Adderall, Ritalin, Phenotropil, Modafinil, Piracetam (similar to Noopept), and Noopept.
Many of the smart drugs have been abused by younger people looking for their stimulant effects due to them containing amphetamines. This is the case for prescription nootropics like Adderall and Ritalin.
Whilst natural nootropics can be effective they are slower acting and tend to behave more subtle effects. So, you’re not suddenly going to turn into a maths genius or wall street trader overnight!
The potential benefits of prescription nootropics sometimes mask the common side effects experienced. Although some of these side effects are temporary (insomnia, stomach ache, headache, and loss of appetite) others can be serious leading to complications (hallucinations, psychosis, seizures, heart arrhythmias, and high blood pressure).
I have never been tempted to obtain prescription drugs, smart or otherwise.
Do Natural Nootropics Supplements Work?
Certainly. There is enough evidence to suggest they do.
But if you think you’ll wake up knowing how to game the stock market or learn a book cover to cover in a few hours, then you will be disappointed.
If you read reviews of the popular nootropics supplements it’s clear they don’t all work for everyone. This could be because of the particular brand of nootropics chosen of course, but it’s also because it may not be too effective for them.
Reminds of the saying that “everyone’s different”.
What is evident though is that cognitive benefits can be enhanced when consuming nootropic ingredients in effective dosages.
When I look at the nootropics available I first check the ingredients label and start researching the ingredients to see what the evidence says. Once you can be sure the proper ingredients are inside, you then need to confirm they exist in sufficient amounts.
This may sound daunting if you’re never before looking at supplement labels but it’s really not that difficult, in any case, I am here to help!
Are Nootropics Safe and Free From Side Effects?
Taking over the counter nootropics in the recommended dosages are likely to be safe. Many of the ingredients are natural substances and have been used for many years in traditional medicine.
Nootropic supplements should be safe for long-term use but if taking any medication or have a health condition, then it would be prudent to check with your physician.
There are factors that can affect the safety of nootropic ingredients and
If you are new to nootropics then it makes sense to start slowly. So, if your supplement yes take 2-3 capsules per day, then maybe try one per day to assess your tolerance.
Always respect the recommended dosage too.
There is no point in mega-dosing in the misguided belief that more is better – this is rarely the case!
It may be tempting to try double dosing to get better results but this may be overwhelming and cause adverse reactions.
The last point is if you choose a nootropics supplement is to select one that fully discloses its ingredients. Full transparent labeling means you really know what’s inside with no hidden surprises.
Unfortunately most supplements these days obscure their ingredient amounts by using proprietary blends, I have written about why proprietary labels are a bad idea.
What Nootropics Have I Tried?
I have to admit I haven’t tried too many nootropic supplements although after this research I am keen to try and few more.
Out of the many brain supplements out there I tried one of the most popular brands from Onnit called Alpha Brain some years ago now. I only took it for a few weeks and didn’t notice much difference in all honesty.
Most likely I needed to take it for longer than I did to notice any changes.
I plan to try out some of the nootropics highlighted above in the coming few months.
How About Limitless Super Greens?
Other than Alpha Brain I have been taking my Super Greens supplement that contains six dedicated nootropic ingredients (marked with * above).
When I first started looking at green powder supplements I became frustrated there wasn’t a product on the market that ticked all my requirements – so I went about creating my own.
As part of my “must-have” ingredient list, it was essential to have what I called a “brain blend” in my super greens supplement. In the end, the evidence was just too compelling from studies on the popular nootropic ingredients to ignore.
Nootropic ingredients like Ashwagandha Root Extract, Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, L-Theanine, Ginkgo Biloba, and L-Tyrosine – really do seem to offer effective mental improvement qualities.
These six nootropic ingredients are included in the right amounts to have a noticeable effect. They total 1,800mg per serving – which is in higher amounts than many dedicated nootropic supplements out there!
The Bottom Line
With the pressure to perform at all levels of society whether at school or work there has been an exponential rise in the use of nootropic supplements.
As the research suggested, there are clearly benefits from consuming the right nootropic ingredients in safe amounts. Picking the right supplement is the key to seeing any brain performance increase or simply wasting your hard-earned cash.
As with all supplements buying nootropics is very much a case of buyer beware. Remember it’s also your responsibility to use nootropics safely.
Have you tried nootropics before? How did you get on? I am keen to research this area more and will be buying and trying the most popular nootropics and will report my experience.
LifeHacker Guy Greens Recommendation
Please give me a few moments to shamelessly introduce my brand, SuperGreen TONIK.
I have researched a lot (and I mean a lot) of super greens out there but was disappointed with most of the ones I tried.
So, I went out and created my own with the help of a USA manufacturer because I wanted to ensure I got all my veggie goodness in the right amounts, and of course within a no-fuss single serving each day.
None of the other brands offered that.
Its the best out there (of course I would say that about my own), but let me tell you why...
- No hidden ingredient amounts - we have full disclosure labelling, so you know EXACTLY whats inside
- Sufficient ingredient amounts to make a difference - we include at least (if not more of) the minimum effective amounts supported by research
- Ingredients that also could boost mental clarity and shake off brain fog - to boost my at work and home
After many months I finally got a greens formula that fuels my body and mind for the day ahead.
But please dont JUST take my word for it, make up your own decision by checking out my review. (I TRY BE BE AS UNBIASED AS POSSIBLE )