If you’ve never heard about nootropics, here’s a crash course on the newest “trend.” But actually, the roots of nootropics are not new at all.
In fact, you may already be consuming some of these traditional and botanical brain boosters without even knowing it. Supplements like Omega-3, Caffeine, and Ashwagandha all fall under the ‘nootropics’ moniker.
In this article, we unpack the case for natural nootropics.
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What are nootropics?
A term coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, “nootropic” comes from the Greek word “noo”, which means mind and “trope”, which means change.
Put simply, nootropics are brain boosters intended to change one’s mind. When Dr. Giurgea originally created the term, he intended nootropics to mean compounds with six distinct benefits:
1. That they enhance memory and learning
2. That they improve cognition under stress
3. That they should be “neuroprotective” (protecting the functioning and upkeep of brain cells in particular)
4. That they facilitate and improve cell-to-cell communication
5. That this activity is backed by scientific research, showing consistent brain bioactivity
6. And, most importantly, that the best nootropics, in the truest sense of the word, should be ones that showcase a demonstrable absence of those pharmacological side-effects one usually feels with psychotropic drugs. This is why nootropics are sometimes referred to as natural “smart drugs.”
Botanical brain boosters: 6 best nootropics for memory
Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi, water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and herb of grace, is an herb that’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine — namely for improving memory, reducing anxiety, and even treating epilepsy. Bacopa can be helpful for memory, verbal learning, attention, and mood. Bacopa also contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pain-fighting properties. When it comes to enhanced brain function in particular, several studies point to positive results for those that regularly consume Bacopa. For example, one study found that adults that took 300 mg of Bacopa every day for 12 weeks had significantly improved their memory skills, learning rate, and had increased speed of processing visual information. In a similar study focusing on elderly subjects (median age 62), results showed that those who took a daily Bacopa supplement for 12 weeks had significant improvement to their memory, attention, and ability to process information, in comparison to the placebo group.
Gotu Kola is a perennial herb, used in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Early clinical trials suggest that Gotu Kola is helpful for easing anxiety, reducing stress scores, and enhancing memory. Gotu Kola may also be beneficial for microcirculation and wound healing in diabetics. Ayurvedic practitioners have long used Gotu Kola to help people relax — and now there’s scientific evidence to support its mood-boosting benefits. A meta-analysis conducted on Gotu Kola showed that it increases self-reported alertness scores and reduces self-reported anger. It has also been shown to induce calm in some clinical trials.
A group of compounds called tripterpenoid saponins are thought to be responsible for its brain-boosting, circulatory, and skin benefits. Related reading: What is Gotu Kola?
Sometimes called ‘Indian Ginseng’, Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, and has also been shown to help ease stress symptoms. An eight-week study of 50 individuals with mild cognitive impairment showed that a 300 mg dose, taken twice a day, resulted in a marked improvement in memory, attention, and information-processing speed. Another controlled study found healthy men that took 500 mg of ashwagandha a day experienced significant improvements in reaction time and task performance, while the placebo group did not experience any improvements.
In addition, this herb from the nightshade family may be useful for blood glucose control and cholesterol reduction. Related reading: What is Ashwagandha?
Here’s a nootropic you’re likely very familiar with! Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant found naturally in coffee, tea, and chocolate. It is a well-known alertness enhancer, that has also been shown to boost metabolism and improve strength and endurance output.
Our CLA supplement contains 159mg of caffeine, which is roughly the equivalent of 2 espresso shots.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea. Some people report that it induces ‘calm attentiveness’.
Clinical studies suggest that L-Theanine helps improve attention and reduce errors when taken before a test. In addition, it may be helpful for symptoms of stress and promoting relaxation. The teas with the highest L-Theanine content are matcha and gyokuro.
Omega-3 fats fight inflammation by blocking inflammatory pathways and are found naturally in fatty fish, krill, flaxseed, walnuts, and algae.
Observational studies indicate that higher levels of DHA and EPA — two types of Omega-3 fats — help protect against cognitive decline associated with aging. Furthermore, Omega-3s have been shown to be beneficial for heart health, joints, and liver function, in addition to offering nootropic benefits.
The bottom line
The best combination of nootropics most likely varies based on age, sex, individual diet, and lifestyle factors. As with any supplement, some people notice more of an effect than others.
Curious to give some nootropics a try for your memory and cognitive functions? Take our consultation quiz to discover which of these best nootropics are right for you and your unique needs.