I have also found over years of hacking my own brain, that we can simplify the list of supplements we use if we narrow our choices down to only 5 categories for brain optimization.
Those brain hacking categories look like this …
Best Nootropics for …
Processing speed, Decision-Making, Focus, Flow, & Thinking
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, CDP-Choline, Lion’s Mane, Magnesium, L-Tyrosine, B-Complex
Learning & Memory
Bacopa Monnieri, CDP-Choline, DHA (Omega-3), Magnesium, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Pine Bark Extract, L-Tyrosine, B-Complex
Anxiety & Depression
CDP-Choline, Bacopa Monnieri, Magnesium, Rhodiola Rosea, B-Complex, Saffron
Energy & Motivation
Caffeine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, CoQ10, L-Theanine, MCT Oil, Rhodiola Rosea
Brain Repair & Maintenance
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Astaxanthin, CDP-Choline, DHA, Lion’s Mane, Magnesium, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Rhodiola Rosea, Pine Bark Extract, Saffron
Table of Contents
Best Nootropic Supplements in 2023
I have my favorite nootropics after 17-years of trial and error. And I’ll share what I’ve found and use in this article. Because 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 of the most popular nootropic supplements work in multiple areas of cognitive enhancement. This means you can use fewer capsules in a well-rounded nootropic stack.
I encourage you to invest a little time and learn how each nootropic works in your brain. Because you’ll find that many of these compounds work in synergy. This translates to smaller doses of each supplement for a bigger benefit.
The key to success with nootropics is having the willingness and determination to experiment and find out what works best for you.
And there is no “one pill” solution for repairing and optimizing your brain. It often takes several carefully chosen supplements to get the job done.
Pre-Made Nootropic Stack Benefits
Fortunately, I found the best pre-made nootropic stack in late 2015 which includes most of the nootropics I’d selected for my stack. All packed into 2 capsules in a natural pre-made nootropic stack called Mind Lab Pro® v4.0.
I’ll talk more about Mind Lab Pro® v4.0 in a few minutes and how it ties into my brain hacking goals.
The company that makes Mind Lab Pro® also produces a line of dietary supplements called Performance Lab®.
They also make a nootropic snack bar that I use when I need an energy boost. They are called Nu:tropic® bars.
And before I go to the gym, I mix a glass of Pre Lab Pro®. It contains ingredients for mental clarity, more energy, improves cognitive function, better muscle performance and growth, and quicker recovery,
get Nu:tropic® bars
get Pre Lab Pro®
Choose the Best Nootropic Supplement Stack for You in 2023
If you are new to nootropics, or have years of experience but need a refresher on building your own nootropic stack, see my articles:
Improve Brain Function with the Best Nootropic Supplements to buy in 2023
Each of the nootropics I detail below contain links through to my full review. 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, the mechanism of action in your brain, potential side effects, recommended dosages, and the best supplement to buy.
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® v4.0 formula of two capsules per day.
Each of these nootropic supplement stacks 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, 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
As a nootropic, Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory providing protection from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disease.[iv]
Astaxanthin protects your cells from the destructive effects caused by free radicals and protects cognitive function by increasing cerebral blood flow for better memory, cognitive abilities, and overall cognitive performance. [v]
And supplementing with Astaxanthin helps reduce cortisol, a biomarker for stress and mental fatigue.
Researchers at Banaras Hindu University in India showed Bacopa Monnieri as effective for anxiety as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam.
And unlike benzodiazepines, Bacopa Monnieri did not cause memory loss. In fact, it boosted mental function.[vi]
Another study done in Portland Oregon demonstrated that 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri per day for 12 weeks:
- Improved word recall
- Increased attention
- Enhanced processing speed
- Boosted memory
- Improved focus while learning
- Lowered anxiety and heart rate[vii]
Caffeine is the main active compound found in a cup of coffee and is an adenosine antagonist which is why it helps prevent you from getting sleepy. Which in turn influences acetylcholine, epinephrine (adrenaline), serotonin and it boosts the use of dopamine. Providing the stimulant effect you feel when consuming caffeine.[viii]
A valuable addition to any potent nootropic stack, the cholinergic compound CDP-Choline is a multitasker which boosts cognition, mental processing, cognitive function, and brain power, improves focus and motivation, and reduces fatigue.
Choline is so vital to cognitive functions, 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.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is crucial for the healthy structure and function of your brain. Your brain is made up of 60% fat. And much of that fat is DHA.
If you suffer from chronic depression, within a few weeks of adding DHA to your nootropic stack, you should feel the depression lift. 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 nootropic stack. Something else will get the credit. 😊
The thing is you cannot get these benefits from fish oil or most Omega-3’s on the market. Because the dosage of DHA is far too low. And purity is a problem.
Best to get your DHA from the source. The same place fish and other marine life get their DHA. And that’s from algae.
A recent addition to my nootropic stack, and thousands in our community, is the Performance Lab® Omega-3. It provides 540 mg DHA and 270 mg EPA made from Algal Oil (from life’s™ Omega 60) in two NutriGels® vegan softgels.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is well-known for its neuroprotective effects. It’s an ancient Chinese remedy and traditional medicine 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 may effect memory, improve cognitive function, learning, recall, and mood.
Lion’s Mane is a great compliment to any nootropic stack for an immediate cognitive boost.
L-Tyrosine is a precursor to the synthesis of 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.
L-Tyrosine can be an effective for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. L-Tyrosine works in synergy with Smart Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall by boosting extracellular levels of dopamine. Helping these drugs be more effective. And mitigating side effects like crashes when these smart drugs wear off.
Tyrosine also improves memory and cognition under acute stress.[xiv] It helps improve decision making, ‘flow state’ and creativity, cognitive flexibility, acts to support cognitive function, and working memory.
L-Tyrosine is a great addition to any nootropic stack, especially if you’re dealing with ADHD or ADD.
For more tips on how to deal with ADHD and ADD symptoms, see my article:
Best Nootropics for ADHD/ADD
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, cognitive function, memory, recall and mood.[xv]
Maritime Pine Bark Extract is one of the best nootropics around but relatively unknown to the nootropic community. It’s a naturally derived standardized herbal extract of French maritime pine bark.
Pine Bark Extract helps prevent increases in dopamine, norepinephrine, and the glutathione (GSH) to GSH-disulphide reductase (GSSG-R) ratio. Neurotransmitter problems which contribute to hyperactivity in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).[xvi]
Pine Bark Extract helps by increasing blood flow to and within your brain for better overall brain health.[xvii] 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 cognitive function and learning and memory.
And Maritime Pine Bark Extract also helps prevent the 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, cognitive function, 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 with 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 inflammatory C-reactive protein. And salidroside, one of many components of this incredible herb, protects neurons from oxidative stress-induced cell death.
Saffron is the dried stigma of the Crocus sativus plant native to the Middle East. And is the world’s most expensive culinary spice largely due to the way it must be grown and harvested (by hand).
Saffron has been used for thousands of years as an anxiolytic, sedative, and antidepressant.
Recent studies show Saffron as effective as some popular prescription antidepressants. And can even help alleviate the sexual dysfunction caused by these drugs.[xviii]
Saffron extracts (crocin & safranal) inhibit the uptake of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain which helps improve mood.
Saffron inhibits the deposit of amyloid-β which is associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Saffron also inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase) just like the current medication (donepezil) approved to treat Alzheimer’s.[xix]
Saffron is also a very effective vision supplement. Driving at night is easier on your eyes. And the flicker caused by screens and monitors won’t leave you with eye fatigue later in the day.[xx]
Saffron improves the oxygen and nutrient supply required for healthy eyes. By boosting blood flow in the retina and choroid of your eyes.[xxi]
For the best vision supplement on the market, get: Performance Lab® Vision. I’m serious. Get it!
L-Theanine is an amino acid and one of the main natural substances you get from 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 and cognitive function, improve focus and put you in a better mood.
This amazing amino acid:
- Boosts alpha brain waves (8-12Hz) promoting alert relaxation.[xxii]
- Increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine use in your brain. Producing an energizing and calming effect helping you go into flow. And improving cognition and memory.
- 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 use of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in your brain. As well as increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).[xxiii]
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.
The B-Vitamins are essential vitamins that should be part of every nootropic stack and they include:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – needed to produce ATP within mitochondria and is a cofactor in acetylcholine synthesis
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – used in the synthesis of acetylcholine and cerebral blood flow
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – needed to make acetylcholine
- Vitamin B6 (P-5-P) – required for the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, GABA, melatonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin[xxiv]
- Vitamin B8 (Inositol) – regulates cell volume, signaling pathways in brain cells, DNA repair, long-term potentiation, is a component of cell membranes, regulates cellular metabolism and cellular energy consumption
- Vitamin B9 (Folate) – involved in DNA and RNA synthesis, cognitive function, 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 the 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 bioactive B-Vitamin Complex. These essential vitamins are possibly the most important and least expensive addition to your stack.
get Nu:tropic® bars
get Pre Lab Pro®
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 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 absorption of fat-soluble supplements. And I don’t have to worry about taking it with a meal.
Using MCT or unrefined coconut oil with my stack does not interfere with water-soluble supplements either. It’s a win-win.
I’ve tried a lot of different nootropic stacks in the last 17 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® v4.0.
I’ve used Mind Lab Pro® as the “base” for my personal nootropic stack since 2015. And continue to use it in 2023. It’s that good.
In fact, in 2017 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, their sister company 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® NutriGenesis 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® v4.0.
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® Caffeine+ which I use 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, supported by NutriGenesis® Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B9 & Vitamin B12. For alert clean energy without the negative side effects like the jitters.
Or a get a quick boost by using a Nu:tropic® bar which contains Norwegian Black Oats, NutriGenesis® Choline, DHA (Omega-3) 150 mg, Prebiotic fiber, Phosphatidylserine (PS), NutriGenesis® Magnesium, and NutriGenesis® Vitamins D3, K2, B2, B3, B6, B9 & B12.
And they make an effective T-Booster for men.
Conclusion – Best Nootropic Supplements
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. 100’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 2023. Or save some money on your monthly supplement purchases and try some of the pre-formulated stacks like Mind Lab Pro® v4.0 and the Performance Lab® supplements. The company even offers a money-back guarantee if you try one of their supplements and are not happy with it.
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. The company puts out amazing products.
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 better cognitive ability, cognitive function, 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 articles I have written on individual areas of brain optimization here.
[iii] Galasso, C., Orefice, I., Pellone, P., Cirino, P., Miele, R., Ianora, A., Brunet, C., & Sansone, C. (2018). On the Neuroprotective Role of Astaxanthin: New Perspectives?. Marine drugs, 16(8), 247. (Source)
[iv] Nakagawa, K., Kiko, T., Miyazawa, T., Carpentero Burdeos, G., Kimura, F., Satoh, A., & Miyazawa, T. (2011). Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes. The British journal of nutrition, 105(11), 1563–1571. (Source)
[v] Lobos, P., Bruna, B., Cordova, A., Barattini, P., Galáz, J. L., Adasme, T., Hidalgo, C., Muñoz, P., & Paula-Lima, A. (2016). Astaxanthin Protects Primary Hippocampal Neurons against Noxious Effects of Aβ-Oligomers. Neural plasticity, 2016, 3456783. (Source)
[vi] Bhattacharya S.K., Ghosal S. “Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine. 1998 Apr;5(2):77-82 (source)
[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)
[viii] Walker J., Rohm B., Lang R., Pariza M.W., Hofmann T., Somoza V. “Identification of coffee components that stimulate dopamine release from pheochromocytoma cells (PC-12).” Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2012 Feb;50(2):390-8 (source)
[xi] 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)
[xii] 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)
[xiii] 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)
[xvi] 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)
[xvii] 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)
[xviii] Lopresti A.L., Drummond P.D., Inarejos-García A.M., Prodanov M. “affron®, a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Journal of Affective Disorders. 2018 May;232:349-357 (source)
[xix] Banerjee S., Hellier J., Romeo R., et al. “Study of the use of antidepressants for depression in dementia: the HTA-SADD trial - a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of sertraline and mirtazapine.” Health Technology Assessment. 2013 Feb;17(7):1-166. (source)
[xx] Natoli R., Zhu Y., Valter K., Bisti S., Eells J., Stone J. “Gene and noncoding RNA regulation underlying photoreceptor protection: microarray study of dietary antioxidant saffron and photobiomodulation in rat retina.” Molecular Vision. 2010 Sep 3;16:1801-22. (source)
[xxi] Xuan B., Zhou Y.H., Li N., Min Z.D., Chiou G.C. “Effects of crocin analogs on ocular blood flow and retinal function.” Journal of Ocular Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 1999 Apr;15(2):143-52. (source)
[xxiii] 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)