Nootropics are substances, supplements or functional foods that enhance moment to moment cognitive abilities such as memory, focus, creativity, mood, motivation, etc. Essentially they are mental enhancers that people use to improve their performance. Even though there is a slight difference, most think of them as a kind of “Smart Drug”.
Here we will be explaining what nootropics are, stacks vs. single use, how to get started along with some recommendations…
What Are Nootropics?
“Nootropic” is a relatively new term. Coined by Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea after synthesizing Piracetam in 1963. The word itself is derived from the Greek nous (“mind”) and trepein (to bend).
Dr. Giurgea laid out a list of five criteria that a substance has to have in order to classified as a ‘true’ nootropic.
- Enhances memory and learning ability
- Assist the brain under disruptive conditions
- Protect the brain from physical and chemical injury
- Increase natural cognitive processes
- Must be non-toxic and must not either stimulate or depress the brain
Most of the time, when you hear the term ‘nootropic’ used people the term to loosely mean “cognitive enhancer”. A substance or compound that improves memory, increases cognitive processing speed, boosts alertness, concentration and focus, or a combination of these qualities. But not all such enhancers are considered nootropics as they violate some of the above conditions.
It should also be noted that Dr. Giurgia’s piracetam (also known by trade name Nootropil), the first nootropic ever discovered, is still used today and is regarded by many as one of the best nootropics available, an especially a good choice for beginners. However, since piracetam was first made, more nootropics have since been creating giving us access to a much wider selection.
Now, nootropics aren’t the miracle drug some would have you believe, but they can be used in conjunction with healthy habits to dramatically increase your mental performance to achieve performance and results that right now don’t seem possible.
A wide range of people take nootropics:
- High achievers
- College students
- Anyone wanting to live a healthy, fulfilled life
So no matter what you do, there is always an area in which nootropics can help you take things to next level
But here is what nootropics are NOT:
- Magic pills that will increase your IQ
- Alternatives to healthy eating (to get the best results you must do both)
- Cure-all that you can pop anytime.
Remember nootropics are to supplement your digestive habits, not to outright fix a poor diet.
Nootropics vs. Smart Drugs
Like I said before, many people consider nootropics to be a “smart drug”. But there are some differences that are important to note. Biohackers generally like to be able to tell the difference so there is a clear line between the two.
The main difference between the two is that nootropics are natural cognitive enhancers while smart drugs, on the other hand, are more stimulants (like Modafinil and Adderall)
The essential difference is that nootropics tend to have long-term positive effects while at the same time leaving no harmful side effects.
Smart drugs, however, can be taken in smaller doses every now and then but can lead to further problems, if used over a prolonged period, causing long-term damage to the brain and body.
I hope that clears things up.
Not that smart drugs are bad all the time, they can be great for attaining that little extra boost. But nootropics are designed to be taken on a daily basis in most cases.
Single vs. Stack
Simply speaking a single nootropic is just one ingredient while a stack is a mix of different ingredients. But which one is better?
Well, it depends on what you want to get out of nootropics.
Vague I know but we will get into that a bit later.
Let’s take a look at the general difference in the use cases between the two.
If you are looking to just improve one portion of your cognitive function, say memory for example and you aren’t worried about the other parts say focus and energy, then taking a single nootropic is enough for you.
Single nootropics generally have very little side effects if any at all.
But if you are looking for a more complete solution and you need the boost in many different areas then a stack is what you would be after. Stacks tend to be more popular as they are a bit of an all-in-one, and also (though there is more research to be done here), at least anecdotally more effective than a single nootropic would be.
You would essentially improve several areas at one leading to overall improved cognitive ability.
Though there may be a chance of side effects from the mixing of different ingredients, which is why we here a NootropicScout recommend only using well-known name brands for stacks.
Where to Start with Nootropics
So, the first thing we need to do here is to identify an area which you would like to fix. Below we will be looking at:
- Immune System
- Anxiety and Sleep
This list will be added to over time so check back for updates
Description: Commonly used for enhancing physical performance, creatine has also been shown to improve cognitive ability when it comes to solving demanding tasks
Foods containing Creatine
Description: Pterostilbene is used as a general cognitive booster, but also has been shown to reduce levels of glucose and cholesterol (also commonly known as resveratrol)
Foods containing Pterostilbene
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Yamabushitake)
Description: Yamabushitake is a mushroom used as a cognitive enhancer for improving several different mental processes. However, as of now Lion’s Mane Mushroom has not been very well researched, but it does hold promise which is why many popular nootropic stacks use it.
Fish Oil (Omega 3)
Description: Fish Oil is known to increase brain function and activity in several different ways but is also used to improve general body condition.
Foods containing Fish Oil (Omega 3)
- Canola Oil
- Chia Seeds
Description: Alpha GPC is a choline-containing supplement used by older people to decrease the rate of their cognitive decline, one big area of which is their memory. Athletes also use it to increase their power output.
Foods containing Alpha GPC
- Pasteurized Eggs
- Beef Liver (Grass fed)
- Cruciferous Vegetables (Cauliflower, Broccoli, Cabbage, etc.)
- Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, and Almonds
Description: Bacopa Monnieri is herb usually used as a memory booster and to improve general cognitive ability, but has also been shown to reduce anxiety.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Description: Citicoline is primarily used as a nootropic to increase memory function and can treat memory impairments.
Description: Ginkgo Biloba is a widely used for increasing cognitive performance, primarily long-term memory.
Description: Oxiracetam comes from the same family of racetams that the original nootropic Piracetam comes from. It is primarily used to slow down cognitive decline, but also shows potential to increase memory, though more research is needed in this area.
Description: L-Tyrosine is an amino acid used to improve cognition during stressful situations. Research shows it can also improve working memory
Foods containing L-Tyrosine
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Lima Beans
- Sesame Seeds
Description: Phosphatidylserine (PS) actually is synthesized in the body naturally and is vital for cognitive function.
Foods containing Phosphatidylserine (PS)
- Soy Beans
- White Beans
- Whole-Grain Barley
Description: Rhodiola Rosea is a popular herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. It has been shown to increase mental function and reduce fatigue.
Description: Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that has wide-ranging general health benefit but it is also used as a nootropic to improve mood.
Foods containing Vitamin B12
Description: Usually found in green tea L-theanine is an amino acid that can help improve focus as well as de-stress and increase alertness.
Foods containing L-Theanine
- Brown Rice
- Green Tea
- Citrus Fruits (Orange, Lemon, etc.)
Description: Believe it or not, caffeine is indeed a nootropic and one of the most widely used (even though many may not know it). Caffeine is very powerful for stimulating the brain increasing mental alertness
Foods containing Caffeine
- Coffee (of course)
Description: Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant and is commonly used to support the immune system and reduce the symptoms of a cold.
Foods containing Vitamin C (mostly fruits)
- Red Pepper
- Green Pepper
Description: Vitamin D is another important essential vitamin that improves general well-being as well as cognition.
Foods containing Vitamin D
- Fatty Fish
- Egg Yolk
- Beef Liver
- Orange Juice
- Soy Milk
Description: Vitamin K is useful for heart and bone health. Not directly tied to immune boosting, but can support Vitamin D and boost the effects of both.
Foods containing Vitamin K
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Cruciferous Vegetables
Anxiety and Sleep
Description: Ashwagandha is a herb that is used to prevent anxiety and also used for relieving insomnia and depression.
Description: Glycine is another amino acid used in to improve sleep quality
Foods containing Glycine
- Dairy Products
Description: Magnesium is great for lowering blood pressure substantially and has been shown to help people with poor sleep patterns. (this was one of the first nootropics I took to help with my poor sleep)
Foods containing Magnesium
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
- Fruit (figs, avocado, banana, and raspberries)
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans)
- Vegetables (peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts)
- Seafood (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Whole grains (brown rice and oats)
- Raw cacao
- Dark Chocolate
- Baked beans
- Chlorella powder
Description: Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone in the brain that regulates our sleep pattern. Therefore is one of the most important nootropics for sleeping.
Foods containing Melatonin
Recommended Nootropic Stacks
I’m sure you read through the previous section, but now you are wonder actually where to start. If you can’t nail down a single area for improvement and are just looking for general mental improvement. Maybe it will help you with the project you’ve been struggling with over the last few months.
This is where stacks come in.
While it’s great to know how to boost your mind in certain areas with singles and maybe you still can take some if there are areas you need a BIG improvement in. For general improved mental function you would want to look to be taking a stack. Which is again, essentially a mixture of all the ingredients we went over in the last section.
Before we get to the stacks themselves it is important to note that most stacks you buy will give you a month supply (30 days) which you should be taking every day to see the effects. Nootropic stacks aren’t something just to take when you need the boost, they are meant to be taken regularly as a multivitamin would be.
Below are some of my recommendations for full stacks that will give you that mental boost you are looking for:
Mind Lab Pro
If you are looking for overall cognitive improvement (memory, long-term support, speed, and clarity) then this is the one for you. Mind Lab Pro is one of the most advanced nootropic stacks available right now.
Qualia is again a full stack advanced nootropic and has recently revised itself from a 2-a-day supplement into a 1-a-day. The older used to have a lot of different vitamins that people weren’t too happy about since they are necessary for a nootropic stack. So they cut everything else out and now just deliver well-dosed nootropic goodness with Qualia Mind.
You can see a full list of their ingredients here
I cheated a little bit with this last one, Nootrobox is a little different from the other two above as it is more segmented than the other two. In fact, you can buy each component separately. These are:
If you are just after the whole stack then you can just go for the full Nootrobox which includes one of each of the supplements above. HVMN which is the company that produces the Nootrobox also has other products available including Ketone supplement and their chewable coffee bars Go Cube.