Updated: Aug 23
Among the most commonly used supplements to help improve cognitive function and ward off age-related mental decline (such as learning, concentration, memory and creativity) are those that fall into the category of “nootropics.”
Nootropics are dietary supplements, that are used to boost cognitive performance. They’re also called brain supplements because they can help with focus, attention and productivity.
The term “nootropics” covers a broad range of products. These include brain-boosting herbs, amino acids and other supplements that are all proven to have cognitive-enhancing effects.
Nootropics cognitive and mental health benefits:
Enhancing learning acquisition.
Increasing the coupling of the brain’s two hemispheres (the way that the left and right sides of the brain work together to process information).
Improving executive processing, which includes tasks like planning, organizing, focusing, remembering and spatial awareness.
Improving one’s mood, energy, mental clarity, motivation and creativity.
Possibly working as a natural remedy for ADHD.
Building the body and brain’s defenses against a stressful and toxic environment.
Neuroprotective benefits, protecting your brain from damage and degeneration.
Improving long-term memory and short-term memorization of facts.
Affecting plasticity of synapses in the brain, how the brain changes depending on experiences.
Enhancing cellular membrane fluidity.
Improving cerebral blood flow.
Providing metabolic support, such as helping with mitochondrial production of ATP (the main “energy currency” that the body uses).
They include brain-boosting supplements made with ingredients like:
DHA/omega-3 fish oil
If you’re looking for an extra support and a way to compliment a healthy diet full of brain foods, check out these popular nootropics for brain support:
Panax ginseng is an herb commonly used in Chinese medicine that’s said to have beneficial effects on memory and improve mental fatigue.
Ginkgo biloba is a popular herbal supplement derived from the Ginkgo biloba tree, and is used to improve focus and memory, delayed and immediate word recall.
Medicinal mushrooms have been shown to support not only brain function and stress handling but also the immune system and detoxification.
Reishi mushrooms have been shown to possess immune-supportive properties and they also support normal blood glucose metabolism and liver health.
Chaga mushrooms help support a normal immune response.
Lion’s mane mushrooms may benefit those individuals with mild cognitive impairment and may help support healthy brain function and memory. Lion’s mane mushrooms may also support a normal response to stress.
Cordyceps mushrooms may promote exercise performance and help reduce fatigue. This type of mushroom may also support healthy immune function. In addition, cordyceps mushrooms may promote sexual health.
Maitake mushrooms may support immune activity, especially when combined with shiitake and reishi mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms may possess immune-supportive, antioxidant properties. Other potential benefits that have been observed are the support of normal blood glucose and lipid metabolism, and the support of healthy blood pressures that are already within the normal range.
Turkey Tail mushrooms may possess antioxidant properties and support a normal immune response.
Green tea extract
EGCG in green tea has been valued for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to support brain and central nervous system health by limiting oxidative stress. It also supports a healthy inflammatory response, regulates blood sugar and insulin levels as well as detoxification.
Fish oil (including omega-3 fatty acids like DHA)
Omega 3s are a major component of the brain and supports clear thinking, memory, cognitive function, positive mental outlook and balanced moods as well as healthy joints and skin, immune system, cardiovascular health.
GPC is a source of choline, which is a semi‑essential nutrient that supports brain health, nerve function, mitochondrial function and energy production.
Bacopa monnieri has a long tradition as a nerve tonic in Ayurvedic medicine for supporting brain function, cognition and memory. Modern research supports the role of Bacopa in promoting healthy neuronal function and in promoting a normal inflammatory response and antioxidant status.
Cat’s claw extract
The use of cat’s claw for medicinal purposes dates back at least as far as the Inca civilization, where it was used as an anti-inflammatory, to fight viral infections and to stimulate the immune system. It’s also a powerful cognitive enhancer that can help to improve motivation, creativity, memory, executive, and mental functions.
Artichoke leaf extract
The high luteolin content in artichoke may facilitate memory formation, particularly when combined with other nootropics. Bioactive ingredients in artichokes may play a critical role in the formation and retention of memories and it has neuroprotective properties due to high antioxidant levels.
Rhodiola rosea root (and Astragulus)
Acetyl L-Carnitine is structurally similar to acetylcholine and may help facilitate its production and maintenance of optimal levels. Acetylcholine is involved in supporting memory, focus, and learning. It also serves to regulate activities of vital organs and blood vessels, as well as communication between nerves and muscles. ALC can help support the repair of cells in the brain and nervous system that have been damaged by stress and poor diet. Helps support generation of cellular energy, mental health and focus, balanced mood, protects the brain and nervous system, supports brain cells during occasional stress, encourages proper neurotransmitter production.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb with a long history in Ayurvedic medicine for aiding a healthy stress response. It supports your central nervous system and works as an antioxidant to seek out and destroy free radicals. Ashwagandha helps to regenerate axons and dendrites of brain nerve cells and helps reconstruct synapses, the junctions where nerve cells communicate with other cells. Boosting memory, learning and cognition and restoring neural networks affected by neurodegenerative disease.
Mucuna prurien extract
A tropical plant that is a natural source of L-DOPA, the metabolic precursor to dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that affects many parts of behavior and physical functions including learning, motivation, sleep, mood, attention, and so on.
An amino acid that is a necessary component in the regular growth and development of the human brain. It can prevent brain cell mitochondrial malfunction and boosts the brain's GABA levels to protect against neurotoxicity and stress. Taurine lessens the likelihood of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease-causing inflammation as well as enhances neurogenesis, a process that has anti-aging benefits. It protects brain cells from damage caused by a stroke and eliminates damage caused by beta-amyloid, which increases the risk of Alzheimer's. Great for those that have a difficult time 'turning off the brain" or have ruminating thoughts.
L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid commonly found in green or black tea or taken in supplement form. L-theanine can induce a state of calm focus. It has been shown to increase levels of the neurotransmitter's dopamine, serotonin and GABA which can have a beneficial effect on learning and memory as well as relaxation and calmness.
Tyrosine is an amino acid required for optimal functioning of numerous biochemical pathways and physiological processes. It is a building block for thyroid hormone and the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. As such, adequate intake of tyrosine is important for supporting steady energy levels, an efficient metabolic rate, a positive mental outlook, and a healthy response to stress.
L-Phenylalanine is an efficient nootropic to boost cognition function due to its ability to boost the production of norepinephrine as well as dopamine production. This results in improved concentration, motivation as well as functioning memory. L-phenylalanine also has a significant effect on the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that increases the growth of new neurons throughout life.
Choline is important for brain development, liver function and the nervous system. Choline is required to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which works within the muscles and central nervous system. It plays a role in alertness, attention, learning and memory. High choline intake is associated with overall better cognitive performance.
At the end of the day, there are many foods and supplements that can support the brain and mental health. Choosing to incorporate brain superfoods into the diet can support your overall cognitive functioning and ability to deal with stress.
These nutrients and nutrient-packed brain foods fight disease and protect brain cells by providing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which can aid in memory, concentration, a positive mood and a better “gut-brain-connection.”
Brain-boosting foods may also reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression and other mental health conditions, plus most brain foods support your immune, detoxification and digestive systems too.
Get your brain foods on!