If you are just getting started with nootropic supplements, the choices can seem overwhelming. And even confusing at times.
Here at Nootropics Expert I do my best to reduce the overwhelm and confusion.
Natural nootropics are typically made from plants or plant extracts, amino acids, and other nutrients sourced from nature.
The term “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. It is derived from the Greek words nous (mind) and trepein (to bend).[i]
Dr. Giurgea described a nootropic as having the characteristics of enhancing learning and memory. It should protect the brain while increasing natural cognitive processes. And should not be toxic, nor stimulate or depress the brain.
By this definition, smart drugs are not nootropics.
You’ll learn why each natural nootropic works. And you’ll find a live link through to a full review for each nootropic described in this post.
Table of Contents
How fast you can ‘think on your feet’ or make a decision touches every area of your life.
Think of how much easier life is when it feels like your brain is firing on all cylinders. Driving is safer and stress-free. Relationships are better with fluid conversation. Business is more successful when decisions come easier.
That seems like a lot of brain power because it is. But a small stack of natural nootropic supplements can help.
- CDP-Choline – is also known as Citicoline. This naturally occurring choline source is present in every cell in your body.
If there is not enough choline in your system, your brain gets it from phosphatidylcholine (PC) that makes up the outside of each brain cell membrane.
You can prevent this decline and even boost this function by supplementing with CDP-Choline.
As a natural nootropic, supplementing with Creatine helps re-charge Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) produced by your mitochondria and after that ATP is used as your cellular energy source. Creatine adds a phosphate molecule to the depleted ATP so it can be used again to fuel brain cells. Creatine essentially re-charges the fuel cells in your neurons.
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom – a “brain tonic” used by Buddhist monks for thousands of years to enhance brain power. And strengthen their ability to focus during meditation.
By boosting neurogenesis and assisting in repair, Lion’s Mane as a natural nootropic increases neurotransmitter levels and brain cell signaling. Affecting memory, learning, recall and mood. Leading to quicker thinking and decision-making.
- Pine Bark Extract – as a natural nootropic is used primarily to increase cerebral blood flow. By increasing nitric oxide which helps dilate blood vessels.[vi]
Better blood flow in your brain results in quicker thinking.[vii]
You realize you could use more energy if you’ve ever felt mentally drained after an intense study session or exam, a misunderstanding with your partner, or after working out a business problem.
A quick cup of coffee may seem to perk you up for a bit. But it doesn’t last and certainly will not help in the motivation department.
The right stack of natural nootropic supplements on the other hand can help provide all the energy you need to make it through your day. And not feel completely drained on your way home.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) – is a precursor required for the synthesis of acetylcholine (ACh) in your brain. ACh is directly tied to memory and overall brain function.
And ALCAR works as a shuttle transport for fatty acids through brain cell membranes. ALCAR helps deliver fatty acids into mitochondria where it’s used in the cycle that produces cellular energy.[viii]
And ALCAR helps shuttle used fatty acids out of mitochondria once they’ve served their purpose.[ix] Continuously flushing out toxic byproducts ensures pure, clean energy throughout your day.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid – as a natural nootropic increases acetylcholine production by activation of choline acetyltransferase and by increasing glucose uptake. This process supplies more Acetyl-CoA to produce acetylcholine.[x]
Acetylcholine is integral to brain cell signaling, memory formation, and overall brain function and energy.
The R-Lipoic Acid form of this nootropic supplement also functions as a cofactor for mitochondrial enzymes involved in energy production.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is also a unique antioxidant. It’s water- and fat-soluble which means it works in all parts of the human cell. The more lipoic acid you have in your system, the more antioxidant benefits you experience.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is one of the best natural nootropics because it boosts energy in your cells while reducing inflammation. And even getting rid of heavy metals.
- Coenzyme Q10 – is also known as “ubiquinone” because it is ‘ubiquitous’ in the human body. CoQ10 is used by every single cell.
CoQ10 is your cell’s natural source of energy. It fuels your mitochondria by taking fat and other nutrients and converting them into usable energy.
Your body uses CoQ10 faster than it can produce it. Meaning you need supplemental CoQ10 either from food or a nootropic supplement. You can get CoQ10 from eating fatty fish, beef, poultry, nuts, seeds and oils.
Supplementing with high quality CoQ10 can be one of the most powerful natural nootropics for boosting energy.
- PQQ – is the only known nutrient and natural nootropic that can promote the growth of new mitochondria.[xii] More mitochondria means more energy.
And PQQ boosts the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) which assists in the repair, maintenance, and regeneration of neurons in your brain. Including many of the neurons responsible for cognition, memory and learning.
Anxiety and depression are something most of us have had to deal with at one time or another.
Anxiety[xiv] and depression[xv] are often grouped together both in nootropic circles as well as in the psychiatric/medical world. But they are two distinctly different conditions. Even though the cause of anxiety and depression may overlap.
The cause of anxiety and depression can be traced to a number of different conditions. But contrary to what mainstream medicine and the big drug companies would have you believe, it’s probably not as simple as a serotonin problem.
So boosting serotonin in this case will not help. And is often the reason why so many people have no success with SSRIs and other prescription antidepressants.
Illness and stress can also cause anxiety and depression. Poor cerebral blood flow, a lack of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), mental fatigue from a lack of cellular energy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and more can all cause anxiety and depression.
The bottom-line is it may take experimenting with different natural nootropic supplements before you are able to figure out what is causing your anxiety and depression. And which nootropic or nootropic stack will work for you.
But if your depression or anxiety is severe, please, please seek professional help while you are exploring your nootropic options.
- Bacopa Monnieri – is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing. Bacopa has been used for millennia to relieve anxiety, fatigue, restore energy and boost concentration.
- Coenzyme Q10 – is your cell’s natural source of energy. Creating fuel in your mitochondria by taking fat and converting it into usable energy. CoQ10 preserves brain function, helps fight mental illness and migraines.
Major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are now being recognized as having mitochondrial dysfunction in common. With higher oxidative stress levels.[xvii]
Studies show that 1,200 mg per day of CoQ10 in bipolar adults experienced a significant reduction in depression.[xviii] Note that this is a very high dose of CoQ10 and not recommended unless done under your doctor’s supervision. The standard recommended dose for CoQ10 is 200 – 400 mg per day.
- Ginkgo Biloba – is a tree native to China that has been used for thousands of years to boost mental alertness, improve cerebral circulation and improve overall brain function.
Many have found Ginkgo Biloba to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. And for boosting mood.
1,570 men and women in England participated in a study using 120 mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract daily for 4, 6, and 10 months.
Those who used Ginkgo the longest experienced the most improvement in ratings for anxiety, depression, energy, drowsiness, sadness and happiness.[xix]
- N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) – is a highly bioavailable form of the amino acid L-Tyrosine. Your brain uses tyrosine for the synthesis of dopamine and norepinephrine.
And norepinephrine which is synthesized from dopamine is associated with the regulation of emotions and cognition. Several studies show increases in norepinephrine in the brain helps alleviate depression.[xxi]
- Rhodiola Rosea – is an adaptogen and herb that has been used in traditional medicine in Russia and Scandinavian countries for centuries.
Rhodiola activates AMPA receptors in your brain. Which decreases depression and stress-related mood swings, reduces fatigue, stimulates energy and alertness, and boosts cognition.
A clinical trial was conducted with 57 depressed patients who were given Rhodiola Rosea extract, sertraline (Zoloft®), or a placebo for 12 weeks.
The study found that Rhodiola was slightly less effective than sertraline for depression. But produced far fewer side effects and was better tolerated.[xxii]
Experienced neurohackers typically start with individual nootropic supplements. With the intention of finding out exactly what works for their unique problems.
But most find that it takes more than one natural nootropic to alleviate the symptoms of brain-related health issues.
First, they find what works for them. And then select a combination of supplements that we call a “nootropic stack”.
The thing is, putting together the best natural nootropic stack can take time. And could be a considerable financial investment.
Another option that could save you time and money is a high quality pre-made nootropic stack.
My favorite natural nootropic stack, and the one I’ve been using daily for the last 5 years is Mind Lab Pro®. Opti Nutra® who make Mind Lab Pro® call it the world’s first “universal” nootropic stack.
Mind Lab Pro® contains therapeutic dosages of CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Phosphatidylserine (PS), N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT), L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Pine Bark Extract. And the B-Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Performance Lab® is a sister company to Mind Lab Pro® who make a nootropic stack called Performance Lab® Energy which contains Coenzyme Q10, PQQ, Acetyl L-Carnitine and R-Lipoic Acid. Another great option if you want to boost energy and motivation. But want to do it naturally.
You don’t need to risk smart drugs for better concentration, focus, energy, and mood.
Natural nootropics work and have been proven by millions of neurohackers worldwide.
[v] Lai P.L., Naidu M., Sabaratnam V., Wong K.H., David R.P., Kuppusamy U.R., Abdullah N., Malek S.N. “Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54. (source)
[vi] Nishioka K., Hidaka T., Nakamura S., Umemura T., Jitsuiki D., Soga J., Goto C., Chayama K., Yoshizumi M., Higashi Y. “Pycnogenol, French maritime pine bark extract, augments endothelium-dependent vasodilation in humans.” Hypertension Research. 2007 Sep;30(9):775-80. (source)
[vii] Belcaro G., Luzzi R., Dugall M., Ippolito E., Saggino A. “Pycnogenol® improves cognitive function, attention, mental performance and specific professional skills in healthy professionals aged 35-55.” Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences 2014 Dec;58(4):239-48. (source)
[x] Ahmed H.H. “Modulatory effects of vitamin E, acetyl-L-carnitine and α-lipoic acid on new potential biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in rat model.” Experimental Toxicologic Pathology 2012 Sep;64(6):549-56. (source)
[xii] Chowanadisai W., Bauerly K.A., Tchaparian E., Wong A., Cortopassi G.A., Rucker R.B. “Pyrroloquinoline quinone stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis through cAMP response element-binding protein phosphorylation and increased PGC-1alpha expression.” Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2010 Jan 1;285(1):142-52 (source)
[xiii] Nakano M., Kawasaki Y., Suzuki N., Takara T. “Effects of Pyrroloquinoline Quinone Disodium Salt Intake on the Serum Cholesterol Levels of Healthy Japanese Adults.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo). 2015;61(3):233-40 (source)
[xvi] Bhattacharya S.K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., “Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9. (source)
[xvii] Maes M., Galecki P., Chang Y.S., Berk M. “A review on the oxidative and nitrosative stress (O&NS) pathways in major depression and their possible contribution to the (neuro)degenerative processes in that illness.” Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2011 Apr 29;35(3):676-92. (source)
[xviii] Forester B.P., Zuo C.S., Ravichandran C., Harper D.G., Du F., Kim S., Cohen B.M., Renshaw P.F. “Coenzyme Q10 effects on creatine kinase activity and mood in geriatric bipolar depression.” Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology. 2012 Mar;25(1):43-50. (source)
[xix] Trick L., Boyle J., Hindmarch I. “The effects of Ginkgo biloba extract (LI 1370) supplementation and discontinuation on activities of daily living and mood in free living older volunteers.” Phytotherapy Research. 2004 Jul;18(7):531-7. (source)
[xx] McLean A., Rubinsztein J.S., Robbins T.W., Sahakian B.J. “The effects of tyrosine depletion in normal healthy volunteers: implications for unipolar depression.” Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 2004 Jan;171(3):286-97 (source)
[xxii] Mao J.J., Xie S.X., Zee J., Soeller I., Li QS., Rockwell K., Amsterdam J.D. “Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):394-9. (source)
This article may contain affiliate links for which I receive a small commission and you are doing your part to support the work of Nootropics Expert.