What Are Nootropics?

What Are Nootropics?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

If you want to sharpen your mental focus and attention, perhaps you think your options are limited to learning mnemonic devices and spending hours devoted to brain-training exercises. But there is another simple, healthy way to maximize your brainpower: nootropics.

While you'll find nootropic ingredients in some pretty ordinary foods, including salmon and coffee, the supplement industry has been exploding with nootropic formulas in recent years. Given today's ever-increasing demands for productivity, this is no surprise. More of us than ever need to make sure our thinking caps are in place, to keep up with the pace of our action-packed lifestyles. Fortunately, there is a bounty of ways to help us stay sharp.

Here is everything you need to know about these brain boosters.

What are nootropics?

Man training mental stamina and performance by doing a crossword puzzle

The word nootropics derives from the Greek for "mind turning." In plain English, this means a substance that encourages mental stamina and performance.

For those of us who just want to be a little more on our game, there are a wide array of foods, beverages and nutritional supplements that interact with your brain's neurotransmitters so that you'll be at your best.

What do nootropics do?

Woman with boosted cognitive functions thinking at work

Nootropic supplements help boost overall cognitive function by promoting better circulation and oxygen within the brain, as well as better uptake of vital nutrients. When your brain gets an optimal intake of blood, oxygen and nutrition, an increase in productivity and output is more likely to occur.

In addition to steady brain power, a nootropic may enhance your overall balance in brain chemicals and increase the amplitude in certain brain waves that boost attention.

Will a nootropic supplement work for me?

Friends studying together with improved cognitive performance

Perhaps your friend swears by a particular nootropic—does that mean the same one will work well for you? Not necessarily. And if nootropics do nothing for your neighbor, that doesn't mean they won't help you improve your cognitive performance.

The brain is one of the most complex organs in your body—and, most fascinatingly, everyone's brain works in a somewhat different way (as anyone who's ever had a heated political argument with a friend can attest!). Because we're each wired slightly differently, our responses to nootropics may vary. And in that same vein, one type of nootropic may affect you differently than another.

What are the most effective nootropic supplements?

Spoonful of brain boosting rhodiola as a nootropic

When it comes to brain-boosting nootropics you have a plethora of options to explore to reap all the cognitive benefits they have to offer. If caffeine isn't your thing, try one of these nootropics on for size:

  • Quick Brain NootropicAn all-in-one nootropic that contains brain boosting nutrients like bacopa, gotu kola and carotenoids. This potent and powerful formula helps promote sharper mental alertness, supports learning and retention while helping to encourage faster neural processing speeds.
  • L-theanine— L-theanine is the naturally occurring amino acid found in black and green teas that is responsible for the overall sense of calm that you feel when you take a soothing sip. If you ever wondered why tea was so calming, it's because l-theanine helps increase the brain waves that contribute to a relaxed (but not sleepy) body. Sipping on a cup of green tea or incorporating an l-theanine supplement will help you keep steady, focused energy.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids— There's nothing fishy when it comes to the brain-boosting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. This cognitive enhancer helps support cell membranes in the brain, promoting youthful brain function and a healthy nervous system. Omega-3s are abundant in fatty fish like salmon, and can be found in a variety of dietary supplement forms—commonly fish oil and krill oil.
  • Ginkgo biloba— When it comes to brain-boosting botanicals, you can't go wrong with Gink-go biloba! Native to Asia, the ginkgo biloba tree's leaves are rich with nutritional and herbal properties, including supporting overall brain function and blood flow to the brain. Ginkgo may also improve memory and the ability to process information more quickly.
  • Lion's mane— Lion's mane may sound like something you see at the local zoo, but it is actually a wild mushroom that has been used for thousands of years. First used by Buddhist Monks for meditation, this powerful nootropic helps heighten your ability to focus and assists the brain in regenerating and renewing at the cellular level.
  • Ginseng— Ginseng is one of the oldest and most popular herbs used for cognitive performance. It helps provides a calming sensation, improved cognitive function, and it also provides antioxidant support. This nootropic can be utilized in its natural state and added to tea or soup. For the most rapid absorption, take ginseng as a powder, tablet, or capsule.
  • Rhodiola rosea— Rhodiola rosea may help improve mental performance and memory. As an adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea also helps you manage stress and stay energized—which is key when you're trying to focus!

Are nootropics good for you?

Older man speaking with a doctor about incorporating nootropics into his wellness routine

As with any supplements, it is always best to follow the dosage instructions on the bottle and not to take more than what is recommended. If you are unsure which nootropic to take, or have any concerns about whether they are a good choice for you, speak with your doctor about your unique health goals.

Nootropics are not the be-all, end-all for promoting cognitive health. To achieve peak brain performance and overall well-being, make sure that you are also getting proper sleep, exercising daily, adhering to a healthy diet and practicing mindfulness.

Is coffee a nootropic?

One of the most used and known nootropics for cognitive performance is a good old cup of Joe.

Coffee has always been the classic go-to for beating the midday slump–and for a good reason. Coffee contains the most widely used nootropic in the world, caffeine, which is a naturally occurring chemical that supports your overall alertness, improves attention, and increases your ability to react more quickly to certain situations.

No matter if you are at home, the office, or on the go, you can count on Joe to pick you right back up. That's because caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain, making you feel less tired and giving you a boost of energy to power through your day.