My newsletter subscribers frequently ask me what the best nootropic is for _________. Fill in the blank with your choice for decision-making, memory, learning, anxiety, depression, energy, motivation, or …
You get the idea. There are so many things that can go wrong with the human brain. And a group of neurohackers will offer a variety of opinions on the best solution for each thing.
But take a step back and you notice something. People generally sort their brain hacking goals into a few well-defined categories. Then look for the best nootropic to address each one.
And our categories and list look something like this…
Best Nootropics for … Recommended nootropics Processing speed, Decision-Making, Focus, Flow, & Thinking Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Aniracetam, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, NALT, B-Complex Learning & Memory Aniracetam, Bacopa Monnieri, CDP-Choline, DHA, L-Theanine, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Pine Bark Extract Anxiety & Depression Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, Sulbutiamine, B-Complex Energy & Motivation Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Alpha Lipoic Acid, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, Rhodiola, CoQ10, PQQ Brain Repair & Maintenance Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Aniracetam, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, DHA, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Vinpocetine, Rhodiola Rosea, Pine Bark Extract
Best Nootropics for …
Processing speed, Decision-Making, Focus, Flow, & Thinking
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Aniracetam, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, NALT, B-Complex
Learning & Memory
Aniracetam, Bacopa Monnieri, CDP-Choline, DHA, L-Theanine, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Pine Bark Extract
Anxiety & Depression
Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, L-Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, Sulbutiamine, B-Complex
Energy & Motivation
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Alpha Lipoic Acid, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, Rhodiola, CoQ10, PQQ
Brain Repair & Maintenance
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Aniracetam, Caffeine, CDP-Choline, DHA, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Vinpocetine, Rhodiola Rosea, Pine Bark Extract
Table of Contents
Total Brain Optimization
I have a couple of new favorite nootropics this year after 13-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 what I use every day.
You’ll notice in the categories above that some nootropics work in multiple areas of cognitive enhancement. This means fewer nootropics in a well-rounded stack.
And once you dive into the neuroscience behind each nootropic, you’ll find synergy with how many of these ingredients work together. This may result in 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 quality pre-made nootropic stacks that will save me buying individual nootropics.
Fortunately, I found what is in my opinion the best pre-made nootropic stack in late 2015. Which uses most of the nootropics I’d selected for my stack. All packed into 2-daily capsules in a nootropic supplement stack 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 go into detail how my stack works, here are what many of our fellow biohackers worldwide consider the best nootropics available in 2020.
Coconut & MCT Oil
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
Pine Bark Extract
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7 Secrets to the Best Nootropic Stack
To learn more about what goes into designing a personal 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. You can 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 synthetic compounds like the racetams. Either choice is fine.
But the more we learn about the nootropics that have been used for thousands of years for cognitive enhancement. The more we realize that natural compounds are often as good as or better than some modern synthetics or prescription meds.
- Listen to your body – as you gain more experience with nootropics, 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 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 you thought it would.
- Dosages are key – every nootropic reviewed here on Nootropics Expert® includes recommended dosages. Dosage recommendations that are based on personal experience and clinical trials.
Each nootropic has a u-shaped response curve. And synergy when taken with other nootropics in your stack. More is never better. And too much of one nootropic can be 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 1,000 mg of DHA. This approach is cheaper than trying out the latest racetam first. And you may 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 may cost $50 or $100 just to find out that something 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 art and science 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.
Next, we’ll take a closer look at each of the nootropics recommend above and that I use every day.
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Each of the nootropics covered below links through to a complete review. When you click through to each individual nootropic supplement review you’ll find more detail on what it is, why we use it, how it feels, its mechanism of action in the brain, side effects, forms available or types to buy, and dosage recommendations.
You’ll also notice in the table above and each nootropic listed below that many of these ingredients are conveniently encapsulated in the Mind Lab Pro® formula of two capsules per day. Or in Performance Lab® Mind, or Performance Lab® Stim.
Each of these nootropics are generally regarded as safe and non-toxic at the recommended dose. But 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.
Aniracetam also improves memory and recall by releasing 200 – 300% more acetylcholine in your brain.[v] Which increases focus, and clarity of thought.
And I’ve found that the combo of Aniracetam and Sulbutiamine is better than any antidepressant I’ve even tried.
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. And 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]
Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist which helps prevent you from getting sleepy. And in turn influences acetylcholine, epinephrine (adrenaline), serotonin and boosts the use of dopamine. Providing the stimulant effect experienced when consuming caffeine.[viii]
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.[xi]
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).[xii] 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.[xiii]
Lion’s Mane is a great compliment to any nootropic stack including Aniracetam, CDP-Choline and DHA (Omega-3’s) for an immediate cognitive boost.
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.[xv]
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.
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 contributes to healthy 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) to 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 supporting improved learning and memory.
And Pine Bark Extract prevents accumulation of oxidatively damaged proteins. Which may reduce the risk of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s.
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 within 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 for the synthesis of 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. (But avoid combining 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.
- Vitamin B-Complex
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.
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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.
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 MCT or coconut oil with my stack does not interfere with water-soluble supplements either. It’s a win-win.
Clear Path to Improved Performance in 2020
I’ve tried a lot of different nootropic stacks in the last 13 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’ve used Mind Lab Pro® as the “base” for my personal nootropic stack since 2015. And continue to use it in 2020. 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 NutriGenesis® 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 which I also use daily. This multi contains nature-identical NutriGenesis® 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 NutriCaps® vegan-friendly capsules and no additives. Just pure, tested nutrients that work.
In 2019 I added Performance Lab® Stim which I used occasionally when energy is running a little ragged. And I need that extra boost to finish what I’m doing.
Because it contains Natural Caffeine (from Coffea Robusta seeds) 50 mg, L-Theanine (Suntheanine®) 100 mg, Ajipure® L-Tyrosine 250 mg, with a balanced NutriGenesis® B-Complex. For alert clean energy without the jitters.
If you’re feeling frustrated finding your ideal stack, my hope is this page provides the pointers you need to create your best nootropic stack.
Each nootropic I’ve featured on this page works. How do I know? Because I use them every single day.
But I’m not the only one. 10’s of thousands of people just like you and I have found success with these nootropics too.
I encourage you to try each of them in your nootropic stack in 2020. Or save some money on your monthly supplement purchases, and try some of the pre-formulated stacks like Mind Lab Pro® and the Performance Lab® supplements.
My attitude is that once I’ve found a nootropic supplement company that puts out high quality product, I keep using them until something better comes along.
So far that has not happened. I’m confident you’ll like and appreciate the pre-formulated nootropic stacks on this page. Opti-Nutra Advanced Nutraceuticals puts out amazing product.
When it comes to brain optimization and what I put in my body, “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. Spend some time with each of the following posts I wrote on individual areas of brain optimization.