Ask a group of neurohackers which are the best nootropics and you’ll get a symphony of opinions. But when you drill down to what people are taking every day you start to see a pattern.
Experienced biohackers working on cognitive enhancement find it’s easier to focus their brain hacking goals into a few well-defined categories. Then look for the best nootropic to address each one.
One thing we learn quickly in the biohacking community is that there is no “one-pill” solution to cognitive optimization. We soon find that it takes a ‘stack’ of several supplements to get to where we want to go.
And our list looks something like this…
Best Nootropics for …
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, Lion’s Mane, NALT, Noopept, B-Complex
Learning & Memory
Aniracetam, Bacopa Monnieri, CDP-Choline, DHA, L-Theanine, Noopept, Phosphatidylserine, Pine Bark Extract
Anxiety & Depression
Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, Sulbutiamine, B-Complex, Lithium Orotate
Energy & Motivation
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, CDP-Choline, Rhodiola, CoQ10, PQQ
Brain Repair & Maintenance
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, DHA, Phosphatidylserine, Noopept, Vinpocetine, Rhodiola Rosea, Pine Bark Extract, Lithium Orotate
Table of Contents
Total Brain Optimization
I have my favorite nootropics after 12-years of trial and error. And chances are that what works for me may work well for you too. The nootropics I’m talking about here are part of the stack I use every day.
You’ll notice in the categories above that some nootropics work in multiple areas of cognitive enhancement. The obvious benefit is fewer nootropics in a well-rounded stack.
And once you dive into the neuroscience behind each nootropic, you’ll find synergy on how many of these compounds work together. This extends to smaller doses of each for a bigger benefit.
Brain optimization comes with a lot of experimenting to find what works best. Trying different compounds, keeping a log of what works and how well, and a considerable investment.
Naturally, I’m on the lookout for how to save money without cutting corners. So once I’ve narrowed my stack choices, the search begins for a quality pre-made nootropic stack that will save me buying individual packs, tubs of powder or capsules.
Fortunately, I found the best pre-made nootropic stack in late 2015 which covered the bulk of the nootropics I’d selected for my stack. It’s called Mind Lab Pro®.
I’ll talk more about Mind Lab Pro in a few minutes and how it ties into my brain hacking goals.
The company that makes MLP just recently introduced a new line of supplements called Performance Lab®. Offering even more options for brain optimization. More on that later as well.
Before I get into detail on how my stack works, here are what many neurohackers consider the best nootropics available today.
7 Secrets to the Best Nootropic Stack
For a more detailed dive into how to build the best nootropic stack, check my other posts:
Here we’ll do a quick review on building a great nootropic stack.
- Define your goals – it is critically important to define exactly what you’re trying to achieve by using nootropics. It could be boosting learning & memory, eliminating brain fog, tackling anxiety or depression, improving focus, or increasing energy & motivation. Use the first table in this post for ideas on how to define your goals.
- Natural vs racetams or combination – next decide if “all natural” nootropics are important to you. Or are you comfortable using semi-synthetic or purely synthetic compounds like the racetams. Either choice is fine.
The more we learn about some of nootropics that have been used for thousands of years for cognitive enhancement. The more we realize these natural compounds are often as good as or better than modern prescription medications.
- Listen to your body – as your nootropic journey progresses, you’ll find you are more in tune with your brain & body and how you feel than ever before. At times you’ll know within an hour of taking something of how well (or not) it’s working. Sometimes it many take days, or a couple of weeks, before you can decide if something is working as expected.
- Dosages are key – every nootropic listed here on Nootropics Expert has recommended dosages. These dosages are based on personal experience and clinical trials. Each compound has a u-shaped response curve. And synergy when taken with other nootropics in your stack. More is never better for the most part. And sometimes more can be downright dangerous.
As you gain experience, you’ll also come to realize that some pre-made nootropic stacks simply don’t make sense. Amounts are well below therapeutic doses to expect any reasonable kind of benefit.
- Simple is best – it’s wise to understand right from the start that sometimes all you need to boost your memory is a good B-Complex supplement. Or using 1000 mg of DHA. This approach is cheaper than trying out the latest racetam first. And you could surprise yourself.
- What is your risk level? – are you comfortable experimenting with compounds that have only been ‘officially’ tested on animals? Or most of the clinical trials are in Russian? How important is it to you to optimize your brain? Would you risk shortening your lifespan by a few years for optimized cognition now? Only you can decide.
- Flexibility – flexibility is key when experimenting with nootropics. Realize there will be times it can cost you $50 or $100 just to find out that one of the latest racetams doesn’t work for you. Or your favorite nootropic is suddenly no longer available. Or your favorite supplier has gone out of business.
And understand that no one is a master of the science and art of nootropics. Don’t believe anything I have to say. Find out for yourself if something is true. And change course when you need to if you want to achieve your neurohacking goals.
Best Nootropic Supplements
Each of the nootropics covered below contain links through to a complete and thorough report. When you click through to each individual nootropic supplement review you’ll find more detail on what it is, why we use it as a nootropic, how it feels, mechanism of action in the brain, side effects, forms available and recommended doses.
You’ll also notice in the table above and each nootropic listed below some are marked with an asterisk (*). This means it is part of the Mind Lab Pro® formula of two capsules per day.
Each of these nootropics are generally regarded as safe and non-toxic at recommended doses. Your mileage may vary. How you respond to each of these compounds depends on a host of variables including:
- Interactions with prescription meds
- Current state of health
So please click through to each nootropic and read the side effects, prescription drug interactions and any other notes or warnings. But in general, these are among the safest cognitive enhancers we know of.
Read more about Nootropics Safety and Side Effects
Aniracetam is one of the best nootropics available today. It’s well-known among experienced nootropics users for reducing anxiety, depression, fear and improving sociability.[iii] But it does so much more.
Aniracetam enhances your brain’s ability to repair damaged cell membranes. It desensitizes glutamate (AMPA) receptors in your brain.[iv] Which boosts neural signaling by increasing the effectiveness of glutamate. Resulting in better focus and concentration.
Bacopa Monnieri is one of the best nootropics for studying. Researchers at Banaras Hindu University in India showed Bacopa as effective for anxiety as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam. Unlike benzodiazepines, Bacopa did not cause memory loss. But in fact, it boosted cognition.[vi]
Another study done in Portland Oregon demonstrated that 300 mg of Bacopa per day for 12 weeks:
- Improved word recall
- Increased attention
- Boosted memory
- Improved focus while learning
- Lowered anxiety and heart rate[vii]
A valuable addition to any great nootropic stack, CDP-Choline is a multitasker which improves cognition and brain function, improves focus and motivation, and reduces fatigue.
CDP-Choline also helps in the repair of brain cell membranes. The cytidine in CDP-Choline converts to uridine in your body. And works as a bridge between choline and neuron membrane synthesis. Uridine is needed to synthesize phosphatidylcholine (PC) which is needed to repair damaged neuron membranes.[ix]
Choline is so vital to cognition and nerve function that without it, we couldn’t move, think, sleep or remember anything. And one the best ways to provide your brain and body with the choline it needs is supplementing with CDP-Choline.
If you suffer from chronic depression, within a few weeks of adding DHA to your nootropic stack, you should feel the depression lift. Your cognition will be better. You’ll think clearer and quicker. Your memory and ability to learn will improve. And you’ll likely have more energy and motivation.
But it is very likely you won’t think to attribute these improvements to adding DHA to your stack. Something else will get the credit. 😊
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is an ancient Chinese remedy for improving cognitive performance, and overall health.
In our modern world, Lion’s Mane makes it into some of the best nootropic stacks. Why?
Because Lion’s Mane stimulates enzyme production that releases Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).[x] It stimulates the repair and creation of neurons (neurogenesis). Boosting neurotransmitters and signaling that effects memory, learning, recall, and mood. And Lion’s Mane helps eliminate brain fog. Restoring memory and mental alertness. And lowers anxiety and depression symptoms.[xi]
Lithium is an alkali mineral considered essential for human reproductive health, and general health and wellness. Microdosing lithium using Lithium Orotate has become one of the best additions I’ve made to my nootropic stack in years.
Lithium upregulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), nerve growth factor (NGF), neurotrophin-3 (NT3) and their receptors. And lithium stimulates the proliferation of stem cells in the brain. All boosting neurogenesis and assisting in repair from all types of brain injury.[xiii]
Lithium increases brain gray matter, increases DNA replication for neurogenesis, prevents apoptosis, increases N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), inhibits beta-amyloid secretion and protects against damage once it’s formed, chelates aluminum, and protects against glutamate toxicity.
Lithium provides a calming effect in healthy people as well as those dealing with depression, bipolar disorder and mania.
Adequate levels of lithium have been shown to reduce suicide risk in multiple studies worldwide.
Some say Lithium Orotate works better than any prescription that they’ve ever tried to treat severe depression.
Lithium Orotate could be one of the most effective and least expensive additions to your nootropic stack this year. Highly recommended.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine produces the catecholamine-triad of neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. As your dopamine levels increase, you’re better able to concentrate, organize your thoughts, and stay productive.
NALT can be an effective treatment for ADHD symptoms. NALT works in synergy with pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin and Adderall by boosting extracellular levels of dopamine. Helping these drugs be more effective. And mitigating side effects like crashes when the stimulant wears off.
And we have clinical evidence that Noopept boosts Alpha and Beta brain wave activity.[xvi] You become calmer and more creative. It’s easier to go into flow. And you are more prone to making innovative and resourceful decisions.
For more tips on supporting flow, see my post:
Phosphatidylserine is one of the best nootropics because:
- PS helps the efficient transfer of proteins, enzymes, nutrients, oxygen and glucose into and out of each cell
- PS is involved in the formation and sending of signals within neurons
- PS promotes healthy nerve growth factor (NGF)
- PS supports the neurogenesis needed for long-term potentiation (LTP)
- PS is involved in building mitochondria which are the energy centers of each brain cell
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is arguably one of the most effective and important nootropics we have available today. It has a reputation for improving alertness, attention, cognition, memory, recall and mood.[xvii]
Pine Bark Extract is one of the best nootropics around but relatively unknown to the nootropic community. It’s a naturally derived standardized extract of French maritime pine bark.
Pine Bark Extract helps prevent decreases in dopamine, norepinephrine, and the glutathione (GSH) and GSH-disulphide reductase (GSSG-R) ratio. Neurotransmitter problems which contribute to hyperactivity in ADHD.[xviii]
Pine Bark Extract helps boost blood flow to and within your brain.[xix] By increasing nitric oxide (NO) which helps dilate blood vessels. And helping repair and maintain the health of the lining of blood vessels. Crucial to overall brain health, maintaining signaling pathways and leading to improved learning and memory.
And Pine Bark Extract prevents accumulation of oxidatively damaged proteins. And may reduce the risk of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s.
In Russia, Rhodiola Rosea is widely used as a remedy for fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased memory. It’s also believed to make workers more productive.
As one of the best nootropics around, this adaptogen helps reduce stress and fatigue, increase energy, alertness and stamina, while boosting mental performance under periods of chronic stress.
Research shows Rhodiola Rosea can increase attention to detail-oriented tasks by improving concentration over a prolonged period. Making it one of the best nootropics for studying.
Rhodiola Rosea boosts mood by influencing serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain, and the feel-good opioids like beta-endorphins. It also helps in neurogenesis by repairing and growing new neurons. As well as activating the synthesis and re-synthesis of ATP, your body and brain cell’s main energy source.
One more reason to add Rhodiola Rosea to your nootropic stack – it helps reduce the inflammatory C-reactive protein. And salidroside, one of many components of this incredible herb, protects neurons from oxidative stress-induced cell death.
Sulbutiamine is one of the best nootropics in my stack. It’s a synthetic derivative of Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Two Vitamin B1 molecules joined together helps thiamine more easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Sulbutiamine is directly involved in the citric acid cycle that provides adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy for your mitochondria. It has been shown to improve glutamatergic, cholinergic, and dopaminergic neurological transmissions. It may also increase the density of D1 dopamine receptors.[xx]
Sulbutiamine also contributes to the production of the enzyme PDH which is essential in making the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
I love this nootropic because it boosts cognition, memory, decision-making, improves athletic performance, reduces chronic fatigue[xxi] and erectile dysfunction,[xxii] and is one of the best antidepressants I’ve ever used.[xxiii]
L-Theanine is an amino acid which naturally occurs in green and oolong tea. Many consider it the best nootropic when combined with caffeine for the synergistic effect of lowering blood pressure, rejuvenate and relax, boost thinking ability, improve focus and change your mood.
This amazing amino acid:
- Boosts alpha brain waves (8-12Hz) promoting alert relaxation.[xxiv]
- Increases GABA, serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. Producing an energizing and calming effect helping you go into flow. And improving cognition and memory.
- It is an antagonist of NMDA receptors and can inhibit synaptic release of glutamate. Protecting your brain from over-stimulation caused by glutamate, and possible glutamate toxicity.
- Boosts the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in your brain. As well as increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).[xxv]
Most neurohackers report a calming effect within 30 – 45 minutes of taking L-Theanine. Cognition gets a boost, and energy levels rise without the jitteriness caused by stimulants like caffeine.
Some report L-Theanine has stopped their anxiety and panic attacks. (Just don’t combine it with anti-anxiety meds like Xanax®).
Vinpocetine is a semi-synthetic derivative of the lesser periwinkle plant which is known for increasing cerebral circulation, taming inflammation and oxidative stress, and boosting alertness, cognition, concentration, memory and mood.
Vinpocetine inhibits the enzyme PDE1 which boosts cerebral blood flow. It blocks the accumulation of sodium in neurons, reduces the toxic effects of oxidative stress, scavenges free radicals, and protects neurons from glutamate and NMDA toxicity.
The B-Vitamins that should be part of every nootropic stack include:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – needed to produce ATP for mitochondria
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – used in the synthesis of acetylcholine
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – needed to synthesize acetylcholine
- Vitamin B6 (P-5-P) * – required for the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, GABA, melatonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin[xxvii]
- Vitamin B8 (Inositol) – regulates cell volume, signaling pathways in brain cells, DNA repair, long-term potentiation, component of cell membranes, regulates cellular metabolism and cellular energy consumption
- Vitamin B9 (Folate)* – Involved in DNA and RNA synthesis, gene expression, amino acid synthesis, myelin synthesis and repair, and required for synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin
- Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin)* – required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin
You may not realize the full benefit of a nootropic stack containing CDP-Choline, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, any of the racetams, or any nootropic for that matter without adding a good quality B-Vitamin Complex. Possibly the most important and least expensive addition to your stack.
Check Your Oil
Some nootropic supplement labels recommend taking it with a meal. The implication behind this recommendation is that the nootropic is fat-soluble. And requires some fat for proper absorption and to increase bioavailability.
Each of the nootropics listed above have links through to a full review which includes information about solubility – fat or water soluble.
To be on the ‘safe side’, I take one tablespoon of organic unrefined coconut oil with my nootropic stack. This healthy oil provides the fat I need for better bioavailability. And I don’t have to worry about taking it with a meal.
Using coconut oil with my stack does not interfere with the water-soluble supplements either. It’s a win-win.
Clear Path to Improved Performance in 2019
I’ve tried a lot of different nootropic stacks in the last 10 years. But in late 2015, I finally found one high quality pre-made stack that covered all the bases. That stack is Mind Lab Pro®.
I used MLP as the “base” for my personal nootropic stack throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018. And continue to use the same stack in 2019. It’s that good.
In fact, in 2017 Opti Nutra™ Advanced Nutraceuticals, the company that makes Mind Lab Pro upgraded their formula. Their B-Vitamins are now their own proprietary BioGenesis™ vitamins. ‘Nature-identical’ nutrients that your body recognize as food.
Then in 2018, Opti Nutra introduced an entire new supplement brand called Performance Lab®. The company recognized the demand for more choices when it comes to brain optimization. And the need to support the rest of your body.
Their nootropic stacks are supported by the Performance Lab® Whole-Food Multi containing nature-identical BioGenesis™ vitamins and minerals for whole-body and brain performance. This is now my preferred multivitamin supplement which works very well with Mind Lab Pro®.
In early 2018, I switched from using individual supplements to Performance Lab® Energy. Because this stack contains the Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Coenzyme Q10, PQQ, and R-Lipoic Acid that I was buying and using separately which was more expensive.
Performance Lab® Energy uses the patented, clinically-tested forms of each ingredient in Plantcaps® vegan-friendly capsules with no additives. Just pure, tested nutrients that work.
If you’re feeling frustrated in finding the ideal stack, my hope is this page provides the pointers you need to create your best nootropic stack.
I encourage you to try each individual supplement in your nootropic stack in 2019. Or to save on your monthly nootropic brain investment, you may want to try some of the pre-formulated stacks like Mind Lab Pro® and the Performance Lab® supplements.
My attitude on brain optimization is that “good enough” isn’t nearly good enough until I’m performing my best. In all areas of life.
The right combination of nootropics in the right amounts have helped me get to the point where I feel I’m performing better than ever.
Near the beginning of this page we identified the main points that lead to cognitive improvement; cognition, decision-making, focus, flow, thinking, memory, anxiety, depression, energy, motivation, brain repair and maintenance.
What I love about the nootropic supplements outlined on this page is that it covers each of those categories.
And to help you fine-tune your nootropic stack even further. Take a look at each of the following posts I wrote on individual areas of brain optimization.
[iii] Nakamura K. “Aniracetam: Its Novel Therapeutic Potential in Cerebral Dysfunctional Disorders Based on Recent Pharmacological Discoveries” CNS Drug Reviews 2002 Neva Press, Branford, Connecticut Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 70–89 (source)
[iv] Isaacson J.S., Nicoll R. A. “Aniracetam reduces glutamate receptor desensitization and slows the decay of fast excitatory synaptic currents in the hippocampus” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America vol. 88, pp. 10936-10940, December 1991 (source)
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[vii] Calabrese N.D., Gregory W.L., Leo M., Kraemer D., Bone K., Oken B. “Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2008 Jul; 14(6): 707–713. (source)
[ix] Wang L., Pooler A.M., Albrecht M.A., Wurtman R.J. “Dietary uridine-5′-monophosphate supplementation increases potassium-evoked dopamine release and promotes neurite outgrowth in aged rats.” Journal of Molecular Neuroscience 2005;27(1):137-45. (source)
[x] 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)
[xi] Nagano M., Shimizu K., Kondo R., Hayashi C., Sato D., Kitagawa K., Ohnuki K. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” Biomedical Research. 2010 Aug;31(4):231-7. (source)
[xiv] Coull N.A., Watkins S.L., Aldous J.W., Warren L.K., Chrismas B.C., Dascombe B., Mauger A.R., Abt G., Taylor L. “Effect of tyrosine ingestion on cognitive and physical performance utilising an intermittent soccer performance test (iSPT) in a warm environment.”European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2015 Feb;115(2):373-86. (source)
[xv] Ostrovskaya R.U., Gudasheva T.A., Zaplina A.P., Vahitova J.V., Salimgareeva M.H., Jamidanov R.S., Seredenin S.B. “Noopept stimulates the expression of NGF and BDNF in rat hippocampus.”Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2008 Sep;146(3):334-7. (source)
[xvi] Vorobyov V., Kaptsov V., Kovalev G., Sengpiel F. “Effects of nootropics on the EEG in conscious rats and their modification by glutamatergic inhibitors.” Brain Research Bulletin. 2011 May 30;85(3-4):123-32. (source)
[xviii] Dvoráková M., Jezová D., Blazícek P., Trebatická J., Skodácek I., Suba J., Iveta W., Rohdewald P., Duracková Z. “Urinary catecholamines in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): modulation by a polyphenolic extract from pine bark (pycnogenol).” Nutritional Neuroscience 2007 Jun-Aug; 10(3-4):151-7. (source)
[xix] 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)
[xx] Ollat H., Laurent B., Bakchine S., Michel B.F., Touchon J., Dubois B. “[Effects of the association of sulbutiamine with an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor in early stage and moderate Alzheimer disease]”. L’Encephale2007 Mar-Apr;33(2):211-5.
[xxi] Tiev K.P., Cabane J., Imbert J.C. “[Treatment of chronic postinfectious fatigue: randomized double-blind study of two doses of sulbutiamine (400-600 mg/day) versus placebo].” La Revue de Medicine Interne 1999 Oct;20(10):912-8. (source)
[xxii] Dmitriev D.G., Gamidov S.I., Permiakova O.V. “[Clinical efficacy of the drug enerion in the treatment of patients with psychogenic (functional) erectile dysfunction].” Urology 2005 Jan-Feb;(1):32-5. (source)
[xxv] Yamada T., Terashima T., Wada K., Ueda S., Ito M., Okubo T., Juneja L.R., Yokogoshi H. “Theanine, r-glutamylethylamide, increases neurotransmission concentrations and neurotrophin mRNA levels in the brain during lactation.” Life Sciences. 2007 Sep 29;81(16):1247-55. (source)