Memory is fundamental to quality of life. Something as simple remembering where you left the keys. To the recall required for your next exam or board presentation.
Science has now discovered not only how memory works in our brain all the way down the molecular level. But also has empowered us as neurohackers to be able to select the best nootropics for improving learning and memory.
Once you understand, even on a basic level, how memory works in your brain, and the different mechanisms affecting it – you can confidently build a stack that works.
I encourage you to read this entire post so you’re confident that this isn’t magic. We have real science and years of practical experience on boosting memory with nootropic supplements.
- CDP-Choline (Citicoline)
- Phosphatidylserine (PS)
- Pine Bark Extract
- Vitamins B1, B9 and B12
You can use individual supplements to build this stack. Or save some time and money by using pre-made nootropic stacks like I do with:
- DHA (Omega-3)
- Performance Lab® NutriGenesis Multi (for the B-Vitamins)
- Mind Lab Pro® (Citicoline, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Pine Bark Extract, Lion’s Mane, and NALT)
- PQQ, or Performance Lab® Energy (ALCAR, R-Lipoic Acid, CoQ10, PQQ and BioPerine)
Table of Contents
How Memories are Formed
A new memory typically involves interactions between thousands of neurons. If this new encoding doesn’t get used, it will soon fade. But when you continue to reactivate the information that you’ve stored by re-reading this sentence, the connections become reinforced.
There are tiny, physical changes going on in your brain at this moment because your reading this sentence. And several parts of your brain are involved in this process of memory encoding and storage. Particularly your cerebral cortex and hippocampus.
Hippocampus and Memory
In May 2016, researchers at the University of Bonn identified the mechanism of action behind memory switching from recall to memorization mode.
Every new sensation you experience including taste, sound, and sight first enters your hippocampus. This seahorse-shaped section deep in your brain also retrieves stored information from deep within your memory.
Your hippocampus controls the flow of information to and from your brain. It’s like memory mission control. Hippocampal astrocyte cells ensure new information is given priority. When your hippocampus switches your brain into memorization mode, already stored memories must wait.
In your hippocampus, acetylcholine (ACh) stimulates astrocyte cells which then are induced to release the neurotransmitter glutamate. The released glutamate then activates inhibitory neurons which inhibit pathways mediating the retrieval of memories.
This process in your hippocampus is one of the reasons acetylcholine (ACh) helps boost memory. As a nootropic, we use choline supplement precursors to produce ACh. Including CDP-Choline, and Alpha GPC.
Glial Cells and Memory
The astrocyte cell discovery about memory prioritization published in the journal Neuron is particularly significant because astrocytes are glial cells. Making up at least half of your brain cells, glial cells were once thought to simply provide support for neurons. (This is where the idea that we only use 10% of our brain comes from).[i]
Glial is derived from the Greek word for glue (glia). And make up the white matter in your brain. Types of glial cells include astrocytes, ependymal cells, microglia, Schwann cells, and oligodendrocytes.
Recent research shows that glial cells in your hippocampus and cerebellum participate in synaptic transmission, regulate the clearance of neurotransmitters from the synaptic cleft (preventing glutamate toxicity), and release gliotransmitters like ATP, which modulate synaptic function.[ii]
Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells that link neurons to their blood supply in your brain. And help form the blood-brain barrier. And astrocytes regulate the expansion and contraction of blood vessels. Clearly, astrocytes are crucial to cerebral circulation (brain blood flow).[iii]
Astrocytes also help provide nutrients to neurons in your brain. And play a role in the repair and scarring process in your brain and spinal cord following traumatic injury.[iv]
Vinpocetine, Bacopa Monnieri , Gingko Biloba and Pine Bark Extract are the most used nootropics to increase blood flow to, and throughout your brain.
Oligodendrocytes are the glial cells that help produce the myelin sheath coating axons in your brain. This myelin sheath is like wrapping a wire in electrical tape. It provides protection, and allows electrical signals (action potentials) to be more efficient.[v] Which plays a critical role in memory encoding and recall.
Myelination generally proceeds in a wave from the back of the cerebral cortex (lower back of your skull) to the front (forehead) as you grow into adulthood. The frontal lobes are the last places where myelination occurs.
These regions are responsible for higher-level reasoning, planning and judgement. Skills that come with experience. Teenagers typically have less fore-brain myelin. And is one reason why teenagers do not have adult decision-making abilities. (Keep this in mind the next time your teenager makes a particularly dumb decision).
Piano virtuoso and associate professor Fredrik Ullén at the Stockholm Brain Institute, used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) brain-scanning technology to look at the brains of professional pianists.
Professor Ullén found that professional pianists had more highly developed white matter regions in their brains compared to non-musicians. These regions connect parts of the cerebral cortex that are crucial for coordinated movement of the fingers with areas involving other cognitive processes that operate when making music.
The more these musicians practiced over time, their white matter increased because their axons were more heavily myelinated or tightly packed. This study shows that when learning a complex skill, there are noticeable changes in white matter in your brain.[vi]
To help produce this critical myelin sheath for your brain’s axons, you can use Sulbutiamine, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), SAM-e, Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin), and Vitamin B9 (Folate).
Dendrites and Memory
Why do we remember some things and not others? Think about your daily commute to work for example. Or a trip to the grocery store. This simple trip that you take all the time requires the activity of millions of neurons in your brain. But you would be hard pressed to remember what was happening halfway to your destination during your commute last Thursday.
So how is it that millions of neurons could be activated during this commute without storing this information in your brain? Two Northwestern University researchers may have the answer.
Looking into the brains of living animals, the team discovered signals in dendrites that could explain learning and memory. In your hippocampus are 100’s of thousands of place cells (neurons essential to your brain’s GPS system).
The scientists found that dendrites are not always activated when the cell body is activated in the neuron. Signals produced in the dendrites are used to store information. And signals in the neuron cell body are used to compute and transmit, but not store information.[vii]
Disruption to the brain’s GPS system in the hippocampus is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. And why many patients are unable to find their way home. Their dendrites are not storing the information.
Dendrites are like branches projecting out of neurons that act like an antenna. Dendrites receive electrical signals sent by the synapses of neighboring neuron axons.
You can have as many as 15,000 dendrites projecting from a single neuron.[viii] When you experience incoming stimuli from your senses, neuron activity increases. And dendritic spines change size, shape and conduction leading to long-term potentiation (LTP).
This change in dendritic spines (neuroplasticity) and long-term potentiation plays a fundamental role in learning and memory.
The structure and branching of a neuron’s dendrites, as well as voltage-gated conductance in the cell body, tells the neuron what to do based on input from other neurons.
But dendrites are not passive participants in this chat between neurons. Voltage changes at a particular location on a dendrite transmit the electrical signal through a system of dendrite elements including different diameters, lengths, and electrical properties.
We’ll dig into these neuron electrical properties in more depth later in this article because they’re crucial to how memories are formed. And which nootropics do what to influence these electrical signals to boost cognition and mood.
Nootropics to boost dendrite health include Ashwagandha, Artichoke Extract, DHA, Gotu Kola, and Turmeric.
Axons and Memory
Each neuron in your brain can have thousands of dendrites, but only one axon. The neuron uses its axon to transmit an action potential (electrochemical signal) down the length of the axon. With the intent of finding neighboring neuron’s dendrites to communicate with.
The neurotrophic factors nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin 3 (NT3) are involved in axon development.
See this Nootropics Expert® article on 13 Nootropics to boost Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
When the action potential reaches a presynaptic terminal (tip of the axon), it activates the synaptic transmission process. The first step is opening calcium ion channels in the axon, allowing calcium ions to flow across the axon.
This increase in calcium concentration causes vesicles (tiny containers enclosed by a lipid membrane) filled with a neurotransmitter to fuse with the axon’s membrane. And empty their contents into the extracellular (outside) space.
The neurotransmitter diffuses across the synapse to receptors located on dendrites of the target cell. The neurotransmitter binds to those receptors and activates them.
Depending on the type of receptors activated, the effect on the target cell can be to excite the target cell, inhibit it, or alter its metabolism. This entire process takes less than 1,000th of a second.[ix]
The presynaptic axon terminal then moves a new set of vesicles into position. Ready for release when the next action potential arrives.
This process of communication between neuron’s axons and dendrites is how memories are formed. And affects alertness, concentration, cognition and mood.
Use the nootropics Ashwagandha, Gotu kola, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), and Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin) to maintain axon health in your brain.
Neuroplasticity and Memory
The basic mechanisms involved in neuroplasticity include neurogenesis (growth of new neurons), dendrites and axons, cell death (apoptosis), and synaptic plasticity. Repetitive stimulation of synapses can result in long-term potentiation or long-term depression of neurotransmission.
Together, these changes are associated with physical changes in dendritic spines and neuronal circuits that influence your behavior, memory and mood.
Neuroplasticity is most active during childhood. But remains with us into adulthood.[x] Researchers have measured and studied neuroplasticity in human brains for decades.[xi] And is the basis behind how and why many nootropics work to boost memory.
Neuroplasticity was identified back in 1949 by Donald Hebb in his book “Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory”.[xii] Hebb’s theory was that your brain adapts to its environment based on experience and development. Thinking and learning change your brain’s physical structure and functional organization.
Hebb was also the guy who coined the term so often quoted in nootropic circles, “neurons that fire together, wire together”.
Nearly all the nootropics in our Big List of Nootropics influence neuroplasticity. But you can boost neuroplasticity in other ways as well.
Meditation and Neuroplasticity
Several studies have linked meditation to differences in cortical thickness and gray matter. One study at Emory University worked with 13 regular practitioners of Zen meditation, and 13 matched controls. This study examined how the regular practice of meditation affected the normal age-related cognitive decline of gray matter in the brain.
The study found that Zen meditators did not experience any significant reduction in gray matter. But the non-meditators showed the expected loss of gray matter. And loss of attentional performance.[xiii]
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin led experiments with the Dalai Lama on the effects of meditation on the brain. The study showed that meditation practice results in different brain activity levels associated with attention, anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and even the ability of the body to heal itself.
The study concluded these functional changes resulting from meditation may be caused by changes in the physical structure of the brain.[xiv]
For more on how your meditation practice can be enhanced with nootropic supplements, see my post on Best Nootropics to Enhance Meditation – Calm Your Mind.
Fitness & Exercise and Neuroplasticity
Aerobic exercise boosts adult neurogenesis by increasing the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IFG-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).[xv]
Neurogenesis in the hippocampus from exercise is associated with better spatial memory.[xvi] And consistent aerobic exercise over several months significantly boosts executive function and increased gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.[xvii]
ADHD Stimulants and Neuroplasticity
Studies on ADHD patients using MRI’s suggest that long-term treatment of ADHD with stimulants like amphetamine or methylphenidate (Ritalin) decreases abnormalities in brain structure and function. And improves neuroplasticity in several parts of the brain.[xviii]
Studies with ADHD stimulants with ‘normal’ adult brains (people not being treated for ADHD) showed mixed results. Some studies showed ADHD stimulants reduced neuroplasticity in the healthy adult brain.[xix]
The Molecular Biology of Memory
Since this is about nootropics, and how supplements work to help boost memory, we’ll not delve too far into the neuroscience of which part of your brain does what.
Instead, we’ll dig down to the cellular level to explore how nootropics influence brain function. And what you can do to improve memory.
We now know that thousands of neurons, dendrites, axons, neurotransmitters, action potentials, neuroplasticity and growth factors all contribute to the formation of memories. And we reviewed many of the nootropic supplements that can assist each of these.
But to really understand how memories are formed and recalled, we need to dig even further. All the way down to the molecular level. This can be a little intense so stay with me here.
There are basic steps in the molecular biology of short-term memory. And its conversion to long-term memory for both implicit (procedural) and explicit (declarative) memory.
Procedural (implicit) memory is long-term memory that is responsible for motor skills, and knowing how to do things. Things like talking, walking and driving your car.
Declarative (explicit) memory is long-term memory that includes episodic memory (your store of people, places, and objects), and semantic memory (your store of facts and events).
When new information comes in from your senses, short-term memory uses existing proteins in neurons. Short-term memory lasts from 20- 30 seconds. But its conversion to long-term memory requires new proteins to be created via gene expression (new mRNAs and protein synthesis). Long-term memory can last from a few hours to a lifetime.
Incoming stimulus from your senses to your brain stimulates the release of serotonin (5-HT). 5-HT binds two types of receptors on the neuron. One is coupled to the DAG (diglyceride)/PKC (protein kinase C) system. And the other is coupled to the cyclic AMP (Cyclic adenosine monophosphate)/PKA (protein kinase A) system. Both are signaling pathways.
These protein kinases exert two type of actions. First, they regulate the properties of membrane channels in the presynaptic neuron. This action regulates the amount of calcium that enters the synaptic terminal during an action potential. And causes a boost in the release of the neurotransmitter. Leading to an increase in the excitability of the post-synaptic neuron.
Second, kinases regulate the cellular processes involved in neurotransmitter release. Including the pool of available synaptic vesicles available for release in response to the incoming Ca2+ (calcium ions) with each action potential.
Finally, serotonin (5-HT) leads to changes in the properties of the post-synaptic neuron. Including an increase in the number of glutamate receptors.
I hope I haven’t melted your brain yet. Just know that the consequences of these processes determine the strength of synaptic connections. And your ability to form even short-term memories. Like knowing you better stay out of the way of that guy running a Stop sign. Or that fork full of salad goes in your mouth and not in your ear.
One more thing.
Learning involves the engagement of second messenger systems. This is where protein kinase C (PKC) and protein kinase A (PKA) come in. And cyclic AMP (cAMP) is one of the critical second messengers involved in memory.
There seems to be a lot going on here just to form short-term memories. But they’re short because all the above processes are very transient. The duration of these memories is dependent on how long the various proteins and membrane channels are phosphorylated.
PKA will only be activated for a short time after a brief stimulus because cyclic AMP will be degraded and PKA levels will decrease. Protein phosphatase will remove the phosphate groups on the proteins that are storing these short memories.[xx]
You need the ability to form short-term memories to form long-term memories.
Short-term memory can be increased with the nootropics Huperzine-A, Kava, Rhodiola Rosea, Phosphatidylserine (PS), CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, and Nicotine.
Earlier we touched on the two major differences between short-term memory and long-term memory. Long-term memory requires new protein synthesis and gene regulation and expression, and short-term memories do not. And long-term memories typically involve physical modifications in your brain. Otherwise known as neuroplasticity.
Long-term memory relies on long-term potentiation which is a strengthening of synapses between neurons resulting from repeated activity in the brain. “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.
Think of reading this last sentence 5 or 6 times so you remember it. And you’ve started long-term potentiation to create the memory of that sentence long-term.
Long-term potentiation comes in two forms: early long-term potentiation (E-LTP) which lasts 1 – 3 hours, and late long-term potentiation (L-LTP) which last 6 – 10 hours.[xxi]
cAMP, one of the second messengers involved in short-term memory, is also involved in producing long-term memory. cAMP effects the membrane channels like in short-term memory. But in long-term memory, cAMP with PKA also phosphorylates (introduces a phosphate group) transcription factors like cAMP responsive element binding protein (CREB).
Transcription factors such as CREB, once a phosphate group is added, leads to gene expression. Which leads to changes in expression of proteins needed for producing and maintaining changes in synaptic strength. And long-term memory.
Multiple genes and transcription factors acting synergistically in a single neuron are involved in the production and maintenance of memory. Properties of the neuron, the strength of synapses, and gene expression occur at different phases of the memory development. Some occur early and some up to a day after the learning takes place.
NMDA and AMPA Receptors
NMDA glutamate receptors are involved in long-term potentiation (LTP) with CA3-CA1 synapses in your hippocampus. Post-synaptic spines of CA1 neurons have two type of glutamate receptors; NMDA-type glutamate receptors and AMPA-type glutamate receptors.
Both types of receptors respond to sodium ions (Na+) and potassium ions (K+). But the NMDA receptor is also responsive to calcium ions (Ca2+), and can be blocked by magnesium ions (Mg2+).
When the NMDA receptor is activated by an electrical signal from a neighboring neuron, calcium ions enter that neuron and stimulate Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII).
CaMKII regulates neurotransmitter synthesis and release, modulates ion channel activity, gene expression and is critical to learning and memory.[xxii]
CaMKII also makes AMPA receptors more active and recruits more AMPA receptors to the synaptic cleft. Which strengthens E-LTP and helps form short-term memories.[xxiii]
Recent research has shown that ampakine nootropics like Aniracetam, Coluracetam, Noopept, Oxiracetam, Piracetam, and Resveratrol can increase synapse response and enhance long-term potentiation.[xxiv]
Ras and ERK
Activation of NMDA receptors also results in an influx of calcium at the synaptic cleft. Repeated influxes of these signals activate the proteins Ras-specific guanine nucleotide-releasing factor 2 (Ras-GRF2) and Ras-specific guanine nucleotide-releasing factor 1 (Ras-GRF1) which stimulates Ras (reticular activating system) and extracellular-signal-regulated kinases (ERK).[xxv]
ERK integrates many signals in your brain. And if ERK is blocked, long-term memory is inhibited.[xxvi] You can use the nootropic Turmeric to activate ERK.
Ras can also be activated by Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).[xxvii] We already discussed how to boost BDNF in the “Axons and Memory” section earlier in this article.
And in long-term potentiation, the Ras/ERK pathway combines with the cAMP/PKA pathway to activate cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB). Which causes gene transcription activity in the neuron’s nucleus. And creates more permanent strengthening of neuronal networks.[xxviii]
You can use the nootropics PQQ, and Pterostilbene to help boost CREB.
cAMP is degraded by the PDE4 enzyme. If you inhibit PDE4, you increase the duration of CREB’s activity by prolonging cAMP’s activation of CREB via PKA.[xxix]
You can inhibit PDE4 with Resveratrol, Oat Straw and Artichoke Extract. And you can increase cAMP with Forskolin and Vinpocetine. Artichoke Extract and Forskolin are key ingredients in the CILTEP stack.
And finally, Nefiracetam has been shown to increase the amount of time calcium channels in neurons remain open. Tied to protein kinase A (PKA) and the Gi alpha subunit (Gi/o protein), signaling is enhanced in the neuroreceptor independent of the synapse. This calcium channel pathway is critical for long-term potentiation (LTP) and the formation of long-term memories.
Nefiracetam also potentiates protein kinase C alpha (PKCα) which is involved in long-term potentiation (LTP). PKCα is dependent on glutamate signaling.
And Nefiracetam activates Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) which is critical in memory formation. Again, dependent on glutamate signaling.
Memory touches every aspect of your life. Your heart beating, to remembering your anniversary, to making sure you pick up milk on the way home.
Armed with the right knowledge and the willingness to experiment, you can put together a nootropic stack to help improve your memory.
Just one word of caution – please do not attempt to use every single nootropic mentioned in this post. Take care in assembling your nootropic stack to include at most, one nootropic supplement from each section.
Nootropic supplements work in synergy. So carefully read through each detailed nootropic review here on Nootropics Expert® that you want to try.
Finally, it was not my intention to overwhelm you with all the information in this post. But I couldn’t find all this information in one place anywhere else. If you found this helpful, please share it with anyone who could use some help with their memory. And if you have any questions or suggestions, please use the Comments section below.
[i] “The Root of Thought: What Do Glial Cells Do?” Scientific American scientificamerican.com Retrieved November 28, 2016 (source)
[ii] Newman E.A. “New roles for astrocytes: Regulation of synaptic transmission” Trends in Neuroscience Volume 26, Issue 10, p536–542, October 2003 (source)
[iii] Figley C.R., Stroman P.W. “The role(s) of astrocytes and astrocyte activity in neurometabolism, neurovascular coupling, and the production of functional neuroimaging signals” European Journal of Neuroscience Volume 33, Issue 4 February 2011 Pages 577–588 (source)
[iv] “For the first time opened the mechanism of recovery of nerve cells after a stroke” Lenta.ru Science and Technology October 13, 2014 (source)
[v] Baumann N., Pham-Dinh D. “Biology of oligodendrocyte and myelin in the mammalian central nervous system.” Physiological Reviews. 2001 Apr;81(2):871-927. (source)
[vi] Fields R.D. “White Matter” Scientific American March 2008 (source)
[vii] Sheffield M.E.J., Dombeck D.A. “Calcium transient prevalence across the dendritic arbour predicts place field properties” Nature 517, 200–204 (08 January 2015) (source)
[viii] Koch C., Zador A. “The function of dendritic spines: devices subserving biochemical rather than electrical compartmentalization” The Journal of Neuroscience 1 February 1993, 13 (2) 413-422 (source)
[ix] Debanne D., Campanac E., Bialowas A., Carlier E., Alcaraz G. “Axon Physiology” Physiological Reviews Published 1 April 2011 (source)
[x] Rakic P. “Neurogenesis in adult primate neocortex: an evaluation of the evidence.” National Review of Neuroscience. 2002 Jan;3(1):65-71. (source)
[xi] Keller T.A., Just M.A. “Structural and functional neuroplasticity in human learning of spatial routes.” Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 15;125:256-66 (source)
[xii] Shaw G.L. “Donald Hebb: The Organization of Behavior” Brain Theory pp 231-233 (source)
[xiii] Pagnoni G., Cekic M. “Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation.” Neurobiology of Aging. 2007 Oct;28(10):1623-7 (source)
[xiv] Davidson R.J., Lutz A. “ Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation” IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING MAGAZINE  JANUARY 2008 (source)
[xv] Tarumi T., Zhang R. “Cerebral hemodynamics of the aging brain: risk of Alzheimer disease and benefit of aerobic exercise” Frontiers in Physiology 2014; 5: 6. (source)
[xvi] Erickson K.I., Miller D.L., Roecklin K.A. “The Aging Hippocampus: Interactions between Exercise, Depression, and BDNF” Neuroscientist. 2012 Feb; 18(1): 82–97. (source)
[xvii] Pinilla F.G., Hillman C. “The Influence of Exercise on Cognitive Abilities” Comprehensive Physiology. 2013 Jan; 3(1): 403–428. (source)
[xviii] Spencer T.J. et. Al. “ Effect of Psychostimulants on Brain Structure and Function in ADHD: A Qualitative Literature Review of MRI-Based Neuroimaging Studies” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2013 Sep; 74(9): 902–917. (source)
[xix] Urban K.R., Gao W.J. “Performance enhancement at the cost of potential brain plasticity: neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain” Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 2014; 8: 38. (source)
[xx] Byrne J.H. “Learning and memory” Neuroscience – The University of Texas (source)
[xxi] Huang Y.Y., Kandel E.R. “Recruitment of long-lasting and protein kinase A-dependent long-term potentiation in the CA1 region of hippocampus requires repeated tetanization.” Learning and Memory. 1994 May-Jun;1(1):74-82. (source)
[xxii] Yamauchi T. “Neuronal Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II--discovery, progress in a quarter of a century, and perspective: implication for learning and memory.” Biology and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2005 Aug;28(8):1342-54. (source)
[xxiii] Lynch M.A. “Long-Term Potentiation and Memory” Physiological Reviews 1 January 2004 Vol. 84 no. 1, 87-136 (source)
[xxiv] Arai A.C., Kessler M. “Pharmacology of ampakine modulators: from AMPA receptors to synapses and behavior.” Current Drug Targets. 2007 May;8(5):583-602. (source)
[xxv] Feig L.A. “Regulation of Neuronal Function by Ras-GRF Exchange Factors” Genes and Cancer. 2011 Mar; 2(3): 306–319. (source)
[xxvi] Davis S., Vanhoutte P., Pages C., Caboche J. Laroche S. “The MAPK/ERK Cascade Targets Both Elk-1 and cAMP Response Element-Binding Protein to Control Long-Term Potentiation-Dependent Gene Expression in the Dentate Gyrus In Vivo” Journal of Neuroscience 15 June 2000, 20 (12) 4563-4572 (source)
[xxvii] Mulholland P.J., Luong N.T., Woodward J.J., Chandler L.J. “BDNF ACTIVATION OF ERK IS AUTONOMOUS FROM THE DOMINANT EXTRASYNAPTIC NMDA RECEPTOR ERK SHUT-OFF PATHWAY” Neuroscience. 2008 Jan 24; 151(2): 419–427. (source)
[xxviii] Miyamoto E. “Molecular mechanism of neuronal plasticity: induction and maintenance of long-term potentiation in the hippocampus.” Journal of Pharmacology and Science. 2006;100(5):433-42. (source)
[xxix] MacKenzie S.J., Houslay M.D. “Action of rolipram on specific PDE4 cAMP phosphodiesterase isoforms and on the phosphorylation of cAMP-response-element-binding protein (CREB) and p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase in U937 monocytic cells.” Biochemistry Journal. 2000 Apr 15;347(Pt 2):571-8. (source)
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
While I was a teenager , I used to remember my dreams every night whenever I wake up in the morning. I could remember 2 to 3 dreams in the morning. However when I was about 35 till now 40. I cannot seems to remember my dreams . May I know what kind of memory supplement should I take?
David Tomen says
Wong, use the search function top right above the top menu and search for the keyword “dream” and see what turns up.
Nathan B says
Wonderful article, David! You’ve shown a light onto a rather obscure topic for me (reading r/nootropics can only get you so far).
Would you recommend any of the racetam’s for a study stack? And if so, what would pair well with racetams for the purposes of studying?
Thank you so much for your work in this field
David Tomen says
Nathan, any of the racetams may work for you but you’ll need to experiment. Look through the list on this page and choose one or two: https://nootropicsexpert.com/the-top-7-racetams-which-one-is-best/. My favorite is Aniracetam and I’ve been using it twice a day for the last 10 years.
Dave Lennon says
is it safe to use this b complex
Life Extension BioActive B-Complex
cdp choline 250mg
bacopa monnieri 200mg
for memory, something recommended for better cognition other than racetam because I don’t have it in my country
David Tomen says
Dave, you need the B-Complex with your nootropic stack because the B-Vitamins are cofactors in the synthesis of all your major neurotransmitters. You cannot make dopamine by using L-Tyrosine without Vitamins B6, B9 & B12.
Increase your L-Tyrosine dose to 500 mg twice per day. Use CDP-Choline twice per day. And you need ALCAR with CDP-Choline along with Vitamins B1 & B5 to make acetylcholine. Just that combo should help with cognition and memory.
dave lennon says
Thanks for your knowledge!
it will be done!
What mg is ideal for ALCAR, b1 and b5?
David Tomen says
ALCAR 500 mg twice per day. Vitamins B1 and B5 depends on if you are treating anything in particular. If it’s simply a cofactor in the synthesis of acetylcholine then it’s Thiamine 8 mg and Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) 20 mg will be enough. The same dose you would get in the Performance Lab Multi for men (https://bit.ly/347dm5M).
Dave Lennon says
One simple question, can i use weed to help me sleep while using my stack daily?
cdp colina 250Mg(Dduas vezes por dia)
Bacopa monnieri 200mg (35,00 Juliana)
L-Theanina 100mg 2x dia (46,00 Califórnia Gold)
L-Tirosina 500mg 2x dia (60,00 now foods)
Acetil-L-carnitina 500mg 2x dia (121,00 life extensivos)
David Tomen says
Dave, I suppose you could use week but a better and safer way is to use CBD Oil.
Can a potassium deificiency cause adhd like symptoms?
David Tomen says
Jatin, a potassium deficiency will manifest as feeling weak, fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, digestive issues, an abnormal heartbeat, tingling and numbness, hard to breathe, frequent urination, and high blood pressure. I wouldn’t consider those ADHD like symptoms.
I am 31 years old working male and doing my post graduation along with my job. I have to work 9 hours a day plus need to study minimum 6hours a day to complete my syllabus but i am not able to concentrate on both the things, if i concentrate on work, my studies get affected and if i concentrate on studies my work gets affected. Since last 1 month i have been researching on nootropics and have ordered the following nootropics.
caffeine- 200 mg
Alpha Lipoic acid – 300mg
Multivitamins including Vitamin B3- 18mg, B5- 5 mg, B6- 2mg, vitamin Vitamin B2- 1.6 mg, Vitamin – B1-1.4 mg
Vitamin B12 – 1500 mcg
L-tyrosine- 500 mg
L-theanine – 100 mg
Ginkgo Bilboa- 500 mg
Bacopa Monneiri – 750 mg
Choline Bitartae & inositol – 250 mg each
Pine Bark – 100 mg – (not yet ordered considering to order)
Gotu Kola- 600 mg
Omega 3 – Containing 660mg EPA, 440mg DHA- per serving
Need your Help in the dosage and timing.
Would you be so kind to Help me in the dosage and timing of the Nootropics
David Tomen says
Anurag, the dosage and timing for each of the nootropics you listed are included in my individual review of each. You’ll find it under the subhead “Dosage Recommendations” or “Recommended Dosage”. You’ll find links to each of these on this page: https://nootropicsexpert.com/nootropics-list/
Mike Kaminski says
Hello guys I’m a medical worker, I started studying a really intense ICU course, also I suffer from studying anxiety. This is my stack:
Suntheanine 100mg + Espresso.
Fish oil 1 gram.
Suntheanine 100mg+ Espresso
Lemon Balm 500mg
I am really a novice… I don’t want to make any mistakes. Now I got a product which contains Alpha GPC 300mg + Phosphatidylserine 100mg in two pill form. I am planing on taking it in the morning should I reduce something from my morning stack? Am I getting too much Acetylcholine?
David Tomen says
Mike, for the larger doses you may want to consider doing half a dose in the morning and the other at noon. Dose like this because it offers a more consistent level of these supplements in your system.
And it shouldn’t be too much acetylcholine. But learn the symptoms of excess acetylcholine. And I highly recommend that you get rid of the Fish oil supplement and replace it with a high quality DHA supplement that has a small amount of EPA.
Mike Kaminski says
Oh.. Don’t we need EFA for the mood support?
David Tomen says
Mike, I think you meant EPA and yes we do need it but much smaller amounts than what is in the majority of fish oil and Omega-3 supplements. The ratio is often skewed in the wrong direction because of poor research on the designer’s part. Or a marketing decision because DHA has a strong fish smell if it’s not distilled correctly.
Look back through my DHA review (https://nootropicsexpert.com/dha/) to see why I put the emphasis on DHA. Much of the fat that makes up your brain is DHA. Not EPA.
Amazing work !
I’m a student from Spain, I have the exame of my life in 3 months and was looking for help. Thank god im perfectly healthy, 25 years old what dosages would you recoemend I try.
Thank you for your contribution and help in advance
David Tomen says
Nakamura, I can only recommend what works to increase learning and memory in general. Including recommended effective dosages. But in the end, it really is up to what you personally need. Because I could suggest something that may not work for you. Or the dosage is wrong for you.
That said, you have some time to experiment. My basic memory stack is like that in the gray box near the top of this post. And that is:
– CDP-Choline 300 mg twice per day
– DHA – 1,000 mg per day
– Phosphatidylserine (PS) – 100 mg per day
– Pine Bark Extract – 100 mg twice per day
– L-Tyrosine – 500 mg twice per day
– Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi for men – https://www.performancelab.com/products/nutrigenesis-multi-men/?a_aid=5c0957016035e&a_bid=a2ad38c1
If you try this I highly recommend adding them one at a time. Use each for a couple of days and see if you have any side effects. If not, add the next on the list. The only exception to this is you should be fine using the Multi and DHA right away. Possibly even the PS supplement. It’s CDP-Choline, L-Tyrosine and maybe the Pine Bark Extract that you need to experiment with one at a time at first.
Jeanie Eldon says
I’m an Interpreter and notice focus, memory and ability to remain calm are decreasing with age. I’ve experimented with various supplements and nootropics. DHA, B-Complex, Phosphatidylserine, Lions Mane are always on the list and so, rather than buy them separately, it’s easier to take a nootropic. However, most of them contain Acetyl-L-Carnitine which I don’t tolerate well causing heart palpitations and unable to sleep. I’m also not keen on N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine as I worry about the long-term effects of taking something meant for thyroid disorders.
As an all-rounder I like Mind Lab Pro, although it is expensive and only available online. I’m still not clear on whether to take it regularly, in a cycle or when needed, so I take it a few days before a big job. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.
Another cheaper nootropic I like is Motion Nutrition Day Time Power Up. It’s nowhere near as good as MindLabPro but easy to find on the high street.
Apologies, I know these are a lot of questions in one post but I’d really appreciate your feedback.
David Tomen says
Jeannie, first of all L-Tyrosine is for much more than producing thyroid hormone. It is a required precursor for the synthesis of dopamine as well. And dopamine declines by 10% per decade after about age 30. Acetylcholine, Phosphatidylserine (PS) and serotonin also decline with age.
But the aging brain goes through so many more changes as well unless we do something about it. And that’s where the right choice of nootropic supplements can help slow the aging process.
Please see this post for more on how to get things back on track: https://nootropicsexpert.com/best-nootropics-for-the-aging-brain/
And last thing, Mind Lab Pro does not need to be cycled in my opinion. Because each of the ingredients in this stack are either required by our brain every day. Or support and maintain our brain with daily usage. Particularly the aging brain.
Since homeostasis will kick in later or sooner, you think that using temporally (or cycling) some nootropics, will have an impact over the long run on the brain?
I mean for example if you adjust some neurotransmitter in order to feel better. Maybe neurogenesis, or improved dendrites will remain?
Also for example, keep using acetyl-l-carnitine, two weeks on, two weeks off, will provide some “permanent” effects on brain keeping it enhaced?
David Tomen says
Carl, homeostasis is the natural balance your brain is always trying to achieve. But in our modern world that balance may be below a threshold that’s acceptable to someone who wants a fully optimized brain. With careful dosing, timing and the right nootropics we can move that bar upwards. Left on it’s own with no intelligent input by us and using nootropic supplements, it’ll not “kick in sooner or later”.
Cycling something “two weeks on, two weeks off” and it’ll take twice as long at least than if we were dosing every day. In fact, it’d likely take longer because our brain would regress during that two weeks off. Not necessarily to the point we started from. But backwards to some extent.
Archie Spencer says
What do you think of Magnesium L-Threonate and its purported neuroplasticity benefits?
David Tomen says
Archie, any version of magnesium that is highly bioavailable including this one contributes to neuroplasticity. And somewhere between 300 – 600 other functions in your body and brain.
Archie Spencer says
I have read about withdrawal issues with Magnesium L-Threonate and indications that brain returns to base level if you stop taking it.
David Tomen says
Archie, think about this for a minute. Your body and brain require magnesium to function. Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in your body. And over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium ions for their catalytic action. Too much magnesium as a supplement will cause diarrhea. How is it possible to experience withdrawal symptoms from something so critical to your health?
Julianna Bennett says
What an interesting article, thank you very much! I would like to ask for your recommendation on what to do. I have awful issues with immediate/short term memory retention to the point that I went to the doctor (I’m 48, in great shape, very healthy, eat a completely unprocessed organic diet). After doing a written Alzheimer’s test (my doc thought it was unnecessary but tested me anyway), a neuroquant brain scan, mold test, and all sorts of other tests, I was pronounced very healthy with no issues at all – in fact, I was told I had a very healthy brain. My hormones are also fine. The written Alzheimer’s test showed that I struggle with immediate short term memory (forgetting why I walked into a room sometimes, having to read a sentence a couple of times because I forgot what I just read), but that’s it.
After doing a lot of research and reading some health studies, I took Bacopa Monnieri (350mg every morning). I do find that I retain things better in the morning, and definitely worse in the afternoon, so perhaps it is working to some degree, although I’m not sure.
Could you please point me in the right direction with something you would recommend? My neighbor gave me a bottle of phenylpiracetam to try, but I’d like to know if this is something you’d recommend, and if so, how and with what. I’m currently studying Japanese and Tai Chi and I’m having a tough time retaining what I’m learning. I’m going nuts trying to solve this issue!
Thanks SO much in advance…!
David Tomen says
Julianna, sounds very much like what I was dealing with about 6 years ago. Two different neurologists tested me for Alzheimer’s. The tests came back ‘normal’ and they didn’t know what to do. Thus, one of the primary reasons Nootropics Expert came to be.
It’s going to take more than one supplement to solve your issues. Don’t be surprised or feel overwhelmed if you find yourself taking 6 – 8 different supplements to get back on track.
Look at the list of supplements at the top of this post. Click on each one and learn how and why they work. Then consider trying them.
If you think you want to try Phenylpiracetam please follow dosage recommendations in the following review including taking it with a good choline supplement: https://nootropicsexpert.com/phenylpiracetam/
This is NOT a “one-pill” solution contrary to how we’ve been conditioned to think about how to fix things. Dedication and commitment to using these supplements daily until you feel results is what it will take. Good luck.
Thanks for your great work David.
I’m 56 years old: 600mg-DHA, Coconut oil, Tumeric 10mg-Vinpocetine, 5mg-Lithium Orotate, 240mg-Pine Bark, 400mg-Alpha GCP, 500mg ALCAR, 100mg-Bcomplex, 4g-Arginine+1g-Citrulline, 50mg-Zinc Picolinate, 1g-Maca.
When I add to all this 300mg-NALT, I don’t take ALCAR, and for that day I’m awfully efficient and speed. I noticed that when taking 300mg-NALT for 2 consecutive days I’ve difficulties sleeping. Is this because of too much acetyl? One friend of mine experienced the same just taking 300mg-NALT.
David Tomen says
Dairo, the insomnia could be caused by too much dopamine. Are you using NALT early in the day or later?
Thanks a lot for this great work.
I’ve question about Mind Lab Pro: Can I give it to my daughter (16 years old) and my Son (13 years old + ADHD)?
David Tomen says
Adil, Mind Lab Pro is not “officially” recommended for anyone younger than 18. But my research into each ingredient did not turn up any contraindication for someone younger.
You may want to try one capsule instead the suggested two capsule dose first. And see how they respond.
Please also check out this post I wrote about ADHD. I personally followed the protocol described in this post for one year with NO stimulant medication: https://nootropicsexpert.com/best-nootropics-for-adhd-add/
Michael Lam says
Are there any nootropics out there that provides long term benefits after discontinuing? I recently purchased mindlab prob, should I be adding anything to this stack? ALA, ALCAR, NALT, Vinpocetine and Huperzine?
David Tomen says
Michael, any nootropic that boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) will provide lasting benefits even after discontinuing them. At least for awhile. But you may ‘slide back’ to how you were feeling before and not like that place. And you’ll want to continue using nootropics long-term.
Take a look at this post for increasing BDNF: https://nootropicsexpert.com/13-nootropics-to-boost-bdnf/
But I noticed that you mentioned “performance lab mind” and not “mind lab pro” I know they’re made from the same company, but their’s some difference in the ingredients. So which one is better for students?
David Tomen says
Motasem, both are great for students. But Performance Lab Mind works best if taken with a quality multivitamin. Something like the Performance Lab Whole-Food Multi.
Mind Lab Pro can be taken on it’s own. And is more of a universal stack because it not only helps with cognition, learning and memory. But it also helps with longevity and brain maintenance.
Dear David, recently you recommended this stack to me (19 year old student). I took the stack at the low end of the dosages you recommend. There seemed to be improvements in cognitive performance which was pretty nice even tho they were not that apparent. The biggest effect was that it improved my mood and seemed to evoke a slight arousal in me, which was a nice benefit. After about 5 weeks of use i started having more trouble falling asleep at night and on some nights i remained awake for about 4 to 5 hours after i went to bed (keep in mind i meditate in the dark for at least 30 minutes before i go to sleep, so most of the winding down has already been done by the point i lay down). After 7 weeks of use i got of the stack and remained using only my multi, DHA, L-theanine and a few other non-nootropic supplements and started sleeping very well again. Besides this problem my cognitive skills did not seem to decline that much even tho i slept a lot less during those last two weeks.
Do you know which of the supplements might have caused this effect? I enjoyed the effects this stack bring me but it’s not worth laying awake from, of course. Also, do you think somebody my age can benefit from a choline supplement? I read that it’s likely somebody my age will just end up with too much choline, causing an adverse effect.
Thanks a lot for reading. I appreciate the fact that you always answer all the questions on here!!
David Tomen says
Mart, please remind me of the stack I suggested. I can’t seem to find it.
Excuse me for not including which stack i used. It was the ‘learning and memory stack’, the one with bacopa, pqq, cdp-choline, pine bark and fosfatyldiliserine.
David Tomen says
Mart, did you take these supplements in the morning or later in the day? I’m talking about time you had trouble sleeping.
I took the supplements first thing in the morning every time.
David Tomen says
Mart, earlier you asked if a choline supplement was really needed for someone your age. It all depends on the individual and how your brain uses these neurotransmitters.
The thing is the combo of CDP-Choline, Bacopa, and phosphatidylserine (PS) all affect acetylcholine in one way or another. And Pine Bark Extract along with PQQ is helping blood flow and things to work more efficiently. Add in DHA and a multi and there is the real possibility that excess acetylcholine may be causing your sleep issues.
I suggest continue what you are doing now and try each one of these nootropics individually but one at a time and see what happens. At your age and a reasonably healthy brain it’s easy to amp things up too much. It’ll feel good for awhile. And then something goes haywire.
It could be you do not need CDP-Choline because several other nootropics in your stack are influencing acetylcholine.
I have problems with hypothyroidism since child. I am in adulthood, and I have problems with concentration, focus and learning. I’m an engineering student.
ALCAR + Alpha-GPC + L-Theanine + Omega 3, is a good idea?
David Tomen says
Maicon, your proposed stack is a good ideas as long as you use the recommended dosages and types suggested in the review for each of these nootropics.
I’ve personally found that I needed to get my thyroid hormones at optimal levels before I could get any nootropic to work effectively. So I’m assuming you’re using thyroid meds and your levels are OK.
Also, please see my suggested starting stack at the very top of this post. The idea for that stack is to cover each of the bases involved in learning and memory. Which means adequate levels of neurotransmitters, optimal blood supply and the vitamins needed for neurotransmitter synthesis and brain signaling.
thanks for answering,
I need to take 1g Alpha? (40% de choline)
how long for the effects of nootropics?
David Tomen says
Maicon, 1 gram of Alpha GPC is too much. Please follow the dosage recommendations here: https://nootropicsexpert.com/alpha-gpc/.
You may feel the effects of whatever you are using within 30 minutes for some nootropics. Others are subtle and you won’t notice anything right away. But a couple weeks down the road you may realize you remembered something that would not have happened before.
Listen to your body …
How can I test the quality of nootropics?
In Brazil, this theme is not much talked about, unlike muscle supplements. Here it is done by drugstores manipulators.
Sorry about my english.
David Tomen says
Maicon, you would need to send each nootropic from each batch to an independent lab for testing which is simply not practical.
A better option is to ask for a “Certificate of Analysis” for the supplement batch you are considering ordering. Sometimes companies put the CoA on their website but most of the time you’d need to ask for it.
for a longer duration (16 hours), should I distribute the doses?
David Tomen says
Check the dosage recommendations for each nootropic you are using.
Did you use levothyroxine or did you supplement with L-tyrosine? (hypothyroidism)
David Tomen says
Maicon, my body cannot convert synthetic thyroid so I use NP Thyroid which is natural desiccated thyroid similar to Armor.
I do use L-Tyrosine but for supporting methylphenidate which I use for Adult ADD.
Pam Webb says
Why do you turn off the comments on your youtube channel?
David Tomen says
Pam, because so far I’m handling everything for Nootropics Expert on my own. With the help of a very small team for IT, and some graphics. All writing, video, responding to comments, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and everything else is handled by me. Adding YouTube comments to dozens of videos is just not something I have time for. And to do it right. Which is why I ask people to direct comments and questions to Nootropics Expert.
Can you think of any nootropic that is similar to Aniracetam and approved in Saudi Arabia?
I need something to help me with learning new languages.
David Tomen says
Shad, there really isn’t anything like Aniracetam in my opinion. The closest comparisons would be other nootropics in the racetam family of compounds.
You could try the CILTEP stack with Artichoke Extract, Forskolin, and ALCAR. Along with Resveratrol and DHA. Add the B-Vitamins and magnesium and you should have a pretty amazing stack for learning and memory.
Great Stuff! Thanks A lot!
Wife is starting to have cognitive problems. Extremely frightening. We are 74 years of age. Thanks so, so much for your contribution.
Hi- I am 48 years old female and find that in the last few years my I am having troubles with memory, LT recall, concentration. Is there is premade formula (ie i prefer not to buy 5 different bottles of pills). Perhaps a kind that I can take in the morning that can help. This problem is affecting work a bit and would like to try to mitigate the issue as much as possible.
David Tomen says
The best quality pre-made nootropic stack I’ve tried and still use today is Mind Lab Pro. You can read my review here: https://nootropicsexpert.com/mind-lab-pro-review/
Your other option is to choose one nootropic from each category in this post and build your own stack. Either way will work. But keep in mind this must be a long term effort. Don’t expect results in one day. It may take 2 – 4 weeks of daily consistent use before you notice a difference.
Thank you for quick reply!