Think about your average day. Are you working? Going to school? Creating any sort of art? Washing dishes? Practicing a hobby? Buying groceries? Learning a new language? Raising kids? Dealing with relationship issues?
No matter what you are doing – from the biggest task to the most mundane – you are using your brain.
And it can be exhausting, right? Sometimes it all just feels a little hard. Like your brain is running a mile a minute just to get you through one day – and before you know it, another day arrives.
You want to bring your A game – let me rephrase that – you MUST bring your A game.
You want to kill it in the boardroom, you want be more innovative, more creative, more successful. And you want it all with less stress and better coping skills. You want optimal brain power.
I know. Me too.
Luckily for us, there is a helping hand for our brains. They’re called nootropics. I’m here to help you understand what they are, why they can help, and how to use them safely and effectively.
This isn’t a miracle cure; there’s no such thing. But just like the natural world offers supplements that can strengthen an immune system or improve gut health, you can also boost the brain when you’re using the best nootropics.
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics is a group name for different substances that act as cognitive enhancers. They are often called “smart drugs” because they improve brain function. They can be medicines, herbs, extracts, amino acids, and even drugs.
Though the phrase has been around since the early 1970s, nootropics started gaining fame more recently thanks to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and brainiacs. These professionals obviously want an edge in their cutthroat professions, and nootropics help them win. Some go as far as taking microdoses of illicit drugs or using prescription ADHD medication for increased focus.
So what’s the big deal with these cognitive enhancers? Well, the best nootropics can:
- Heighten attention
- Increase focus
- Quicken reaction time
- Create motivation
- Sharpen memory
- Improve learning abilities
- Boost energy
- Decrease stress
- Increase positive emotions
- Provide mental clarity
- Intensify creativity
- Speed up mental processing
- Banish brain fog
As you can quickly see, any high performer would be thrilled with this list.
And I want to be crystal clear here: We are only discussing the natural, safe, and fully legal nootropics that can work in harmony with your body to enhance your productivity and provide all the incredible benefits listed above.
How Do Nootropics Work?
Since nootropics is a group name for countless substances, it is difficult to give one hard and firm answer on how exactly they work.
The best nootropics use all sorts of different methods to bring you to different brain-supporting results. This could include – but is definitely not limited to:
- Affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters
- Boosting different brain chemicals
- Balancing hormones
- Aiding in growth/regrowth of brain neurons
- And much more
Do nootropics work like a magic pill that instantly makes you the smartest person in the room? Do nootropics work overnight? No. This is not a superhuman solution. Taking your vitamins can boost your immune system, but they don’t make you impervious to illness, right? Same goes for nootropics.
They are a little boost to give your brain the edge you desire.
- Some nootropics work like an immediate flipped switch – like when you drink a cup of coffee and feel that energy right away. Of course, quick benefits go away quickly (like right around 3pm when the power of coffee has drained away leaving you tired once again).
- Other nootropics shoot for the long-term brain enhancing by actually improving the chemistry of your brain. (This is closer to the act of taking daily probiotics to eventually build up a healthy gut.)
The ideal combination of the best nootropics will ideally do both.
Are Nootropics Safe?
So here’s the million-dollar question: are nootropics safe?
Quick answer: it really depends on what you’re taking.
In 2015, the Rolling Stone had a feature on the new trend of highly educated professionals using drugs like LSD and mushrooms at an extremely low microdose to boost their creativity and productivity. The goal was not to get high, but to capture these drugs’ pure nootropic effect.
That is absolutely 100% not the type of nootropic use I’m about to recommend. I’m also not talking about using drugs like Adderall, nor do I endorse highly synthetic nootropics. This isn’t safe and I don’t recommend it.
Instead, the best nootropics should come from natural sources. You don’t want fillers, sugars, coloring, or any “surprise” ingredients. There are plenty of pure nootropics that fit this bill, so there is honestly no reason to start walking down the path of illegal and potentially dangerous medications.
Remember: the best nootropics are natural nootropics.
Sticking on the topic of safety, I have an important disclaimer for you before taking these pure nootropics:
Talk to your doctor first. This is even more important if you have any health problems, or if you are currently taking any prescription medications (especially those for mental health like antidepressants or SSRIs), you should absolutely consult with your doctor before starting even the best nootropics from natural sources.
Best Nootropics List
Now let’s talk about your options.
Figuring out which nootropic supplements to take can be tricky. You don’t want anything dangerous (or illegal!). You’re not interested in the “grey” market online. And you sure don’t want to spend money on ineffective gimmicks.
Luckily there are so many effective natural nootropics.
This nootropics list could get quite long. So in the spirit of quality over quantity, I will highlight 10 of the best nootropics available to you. These repeatedly come up in the nootropics community as solid options with little to no side effects and high effectiveness. Win/win.
Remember when green tea was hailed as the super drink of our era? There was actually a lot of truth to that. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea, and it’s often used for anxiety; it calms the brain without making you feel drowsy, sluggish, or just plain “out of it.” This helps you power through the tough stuff with more ease.
Recognize this one? Leaves from the ginkgo biloba tree have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to cure everything from pain to PMS. But it also happens to be a powerhouse “brain herb” used for improving overall mental function, aiding memory, limiting anxiety, and getting better blood flow to the brain. It’s so powerful that it is often used in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Ayurvedic medicine has been using this plant for countless years, so it’s no wonder it landed on our list of best nootropics. By increasing brain chemicals, Bacopa not only improves memory and symptoms of ADHD, but is also a big anxiety-buster (and may even help male and female sexual performance… but that’s a topic for another day.)
If being told to take a mushroom called “Lion’s Mane” feels a little too close to crazy college days, fear not! This type of edible mushroom can safely aid in the growth of brain neurons. One study even showed just how effective Lion’s Mane is at improving a mild cognitive impairment.
Made from Chinese club moss, Huperzine A is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. It is unsurprising then that when used as a nootropic, Hyperzine A’s effects improve memory and learning capabilities. Be aware: while these nootropic supplements are considered natural since they come from a plant, there is “laboratory manipulation” to purify the supplement.
Your body already has a little bit of this amino acid which is an excellent source of choline – an essential nutrient that improves brain development and metabolism, as well as liver and nerve functions. As nootropic supplements, Alpha GPC can improve memory, slow down the brain’s aging process, and de-stress. Avid nootropics users like to normally use Alpha GPC in conjunction with other top nootropics – kind of like an amplifier of sorts.
Once again, we have an amino acid already present in the body. Carnitine is created by the liver and the kidneys to support your body’s energy production. When taken in higher doses than your body can make, Acetyl-L-carnitine works to aid memory, produce energy, calm depression, and even improve the brain’s blood flow.
Forskolin comes from the Indian Coleus plant and has been traditionally used in ayurvedic medicine for years and years. Though it has many health benefits, the reason it’s used as a nootropic has to do with cAMP, which is essentially a brain messenger. Forskolin improves cAMP levels, which leads to help with memory, learning, and overall mood.
Stressed a bit? Rhodiola Rosea is one of the best nootropics to help. This medicinal plant acts as an adaptogen – which does exactly what it sounds like: helps the body adapt to the stresses of being a human living in the 21st century – especially a high performer. It also fights fatigue, which is fabulous for your long day ahead at the office – but not so good before bed. So take it early.
Coffee, anyone? This one should be obvious to those who use their early morning cup of joe as a lifeline to the world. Caffeine gives you energy and alertness. Many people choose to benefit from the nootropic qualities of coffee through a supplement (somewhere between 50 and 200 mg). For comparison, a cup of coffee supplies about 95 mg.
Best Nootropic Stacks
Now you’re probably thinking – all of this is good and well, but how do I actually incorporate all of these different supplements into my daily life?
That’s where nootropic stacks come in.
Nootropic stacks are simply a combination of two or more of the best nootropics for optimum effectiveness. The idea is: if one is good, two or three (or many) joined together may be even better.
Some nootropic stacks are sold by a company that has already combined the best nootropics at their correct dosage into one convenient pill. I will mention one of those on this list: Qualia. This is the brand that I use and the one that I recommend that my clients use as well. You can learn more about Qualia here.
Then there are nootropic stacks that are more customized for what you are looking for. Essentially, you create the best nootropic stack for you based on your needs. With this, it is important to:
- Do your research: Even the best nootropics do not always goes well with one another. Don’t go popping a bunch of pills. Read, read, read. And talk to your doc.
- Know your body: How much can your body size/tolerance levels handle? Err on the side of caution.
- Go slow: Don’t start by combining 15 of the best nootropics for energy and creativity. Start with 2 and go from there.
So the key to customized nootropic stacks is to start low and slow: low dosage, slow additions.
Here are a few stack ideas to make taking the best nootropics a little easier:
Qualia Brand Nootropics
When it comes to easy one-and-done natural nootropics, you really can’t get much better than Qualia. This powerhouse of a nootropics stack has over 40 of the best nootropics that can improve brain function, support the gut-brain connection, and even balance your hormones.
What’s even better – they are all natural and safe. So Qualia is probably the best nootropic stack choice for newbies who don’t want to buy all these ingredients individually.
Here are only a few of the top ingredients in Qualia:
- Vitamins: B5, B6, B12 C
- Minerals: Magnesium, Zinc
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Green Tea Leaf Extract
- Artichoke Leaf Extract
- Huperzine A
- Lion’s Mane
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Alpha GPC
Again, this is the brand that I use and the one that I recommend that my clients use as well. You can learn more about Qualia here.
Caffeine and L-Theanine
This is a pretty common nootropics stack among the natural nootropics users. The average person is already well aware of how caffeine can wake us up, make us alert, and keep us energized. But we are also quite familiar with the common side effect: the jitters.
That’s where L-Theanine steps in. Since this tea amino acid calms you, it helps banish the jittery feeling. And because there is no drowsiness, it doesn’t stand in the way of the almighty caffeine.
But how much do you want of each? Keep this ratio in mind: 4 parts L-Theanine to 1 part caffeine.
Forskolin and Artichoke Extract
Bet you didn’t know that spinach artichoke dip was making you smarter (okay, it really isn’t!). But the extract of the artichoke leaf can enhance your memory. Often used as a weight loss supplement, artichoke extract combines brilliantly with forskolin as a brain enhancer.
Dave Asprey from Bulletproof recommends this combo particularly for “memory, focus and learning.”
Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa Minnieri and Lion’s Mane
This next nootropics stack comes from Ben Greenfield Fitness. He uses this particular grouping for three brain boosting effects: focus, memory, and learning. The dosage recommendation is:
- 500 mg of Lion’s Mane once a day
- 240 mg of Gingko Biloba once a day
- 100 mg of Bacopa Monnieri twice a day
Including The Best Nootropics Into Your Life
You don’t have to work in Silicon Valley to want a brain boost. Whether you’re managing a side business, working hard for a promotion, studying for a degree, or just hoping for a slight edge that puts you above the rest, the best nootropics can help.
As long as you remember that your safety and your health come before any sort of brain-boosting claim of a synthetic, or even illicit, nootropic… you should be good to go.
Staying natural gives you the confidence that you are doing good for your brain without harming your body.
Now I want to hear from you. Have you ever tried any of the best nootropics mentioned on our list? Or have you’ve found the best nootropic stack that works wonders for your brain? Tell me about your best nootropics experiences (and also any negative experiences!) in the comments below.