The Truth About Nootropics: Efficient and Safe Brain Enhancers

Fact Checked by Brett Melanson, PhDc

Sometimes we just need a bit of a mental boost to get through our daily projects in and outside of work.

Other days, you may want to try and combat awful brain fog that bogs you down and prevents you from becoming motivated and thinking clearly.

Fortunately, nootropic compounds appear to be the saving grace when it comes to sharpening our mental abilities.

Here, we’ll provide a brief description of what nootropics are and some of the most effective nootropic compounds that you can use to improve attention and focus so you can overcome any daily challenge that comes your way.

1. What Are Nootropics?

Simply put, nootropics are natural or man-made (i.e., synthetic) compounds that are known to have positive effects on cognitive function, such as improving memory, attention, creativity, and motivation (1).

Nootropics may be frequently sought after by students looking to improve their studying habits or an office employee looking for that extra motivational boost to complete their daily duties.

Typically, nootropics can be divided into three primary categories: synthetic, natural (dietary), and prescription drug (2).

Because Clinical Effects deals with natural compounds that are freely available in the environment, this article is going to focus on a select few of the best natural nootropic compounds.

Main point: Nootropics are natural or synthetic compounds that are intended to boost mental performance and improve cognitive functioning.

2. Caffeine

It’s no wonder that many people tend to organize their day around coffee breaks, after all, it contains caffeine, which is the most commonly consumed psychologically active substance in the world (3).

Caffeine is widely used due to its ability to increase energy and alertness, which it does by blocking the actions of proteins in the brain called adenosine receptors (4).

Typically, the average cup of coffee will contain about 95 mg of caffeine, and some people are known to achieve the benefits of caffeine with less, while others require more (5).

This all comes down to how you react to the dose of caffeine as some can be more sensitive to the effects of this compound than others.

Main point: Caffeine can increase alertness and reduce fatigue by blocking protein activity in the brain. Different people require different doses of caffeine, so start low and gradually increase to your comfortable dose.

3. Vitamin B6

Another compound that you will surely want to include in your regimen to boost cognition is vitamin B6.

Your body runs off oxygen—it is a necessary part of life and is in the air that we breathe in all around us.

Importantly, oxygen is also essential for cells to produce energy in the body.

If you think back to your younger years when you learned that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”, you’ll begin to understand what we mean by the requirement of oxygen.

This is because mitochondria in the cell requires oxygen to make energy. But, importantly, mitochondria also require vitamin B6, too (6).

Vitamin B6 is also very important when it comes to your red blood cells.

As you may know, red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all organs throughout the body. They do this by directly binding oxygen and shuttling it through your blood vessels (7).

However, without vitamin B6, molecules in the red blood cells cannot grab onto the oxygen coming from the lungs (7).

In this case, without vitamin B6, your body cannot use oxygen as much and you can begin to feel tired and unmotivated.

Main point: Vitamin B6 is important for energy metabolism in the body. Without it, you may feel tired. Make sure you get a sufficient amount of this vitamin in your diet to maintain energy levels throughout the day.

4. L-Theanine

Next on our list is the compound called L-Theanine, which is an amino acid that can be found naturally in tea (8).

Researchers studying the effects of L-Theanine have found that it can have an overall calming effect and can increase attention and alertness (9), (10), (11).

L-Theanine may promote creativity and calmness by increasing alpha waves in the brain, as this specific type of brain wave has been linked to non-drowsy, relaxing states (9).

Main point: L-Theanine is a naturally occurring nootropic that is known to provide calming effects and increase attention, possibly through its actions on brain wave activity.

5. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

GABA is a particularly interesting compound as it can not only be taken as a supplement, but it is also produced within your own body.

In fact, GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which means that when it is released, it tends to reduce activity within the surrounding brain region(s) (12).

Just as with caffeine, different doses of GABA supplements can have different effects, depending on the person. As such, if you are thinking of taking GABA supplements, you should also begin with a lower dose and work your way up.

In any case, studies have shown that GABA can greatly reduce stress and relieve symptoms of anxiety in some people (13).

And, people who were asked to drink a beverage containing only 50 mg of GABA were better able to complete problem-solving tasks and reported lower levels of tiredness while at work (14).

Main point: GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid that is produced in the body. Supplementing with GABA may reduce fatigue and improve mental functioning, especially on demanding tasks such as those commonly encountered in the workplace.

6. L-Tyrosine

Similar to GABA, L-Tyrosine is also a naturally occurring amino acid that is produced by the body. It can also be found in a variety of foods like chicken, cheese, fish, and other foods high in protein content (15), (16).

L-Tyrosine is an important amino acid because it is required to produce key neurotransmitters in the brain like dopamine and norepinephrine (15).

Dopamine and norepinephrine are important in the formation of memories while dopamine is also very important in maintaining wakefulness . In other words, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in keeping you awake and alert throughout the day (17), (18).

Thus, including L-Tyrosine in your diet through food or supplementation is essential for staying alert and maintaining focus on challenging tasks in your day-to-day life.

Main point: L-Tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid that can be found in protein-rich foods. It is required to make neurotransmitters in the body that are important for memory formation and daytime alertness.

7. Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Finally, we have another B vitamin that helps with cognitive functioning—vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin (19).

Like other vitamins, niacin can be found in many different food sources like chicken, beef, salmon, peanuts, tuna, and lentils (20).

Niacin has been shown to have positive effects in animal models of Alzheimer’s Disease, and low levels of this vitamin have been linked to psychiatric disorder and brain fog (21), (22).

Importantly, niacin is required for energy production and plays a key role in the development and survival of brain cells (23).

Without niacin, brain cells would struggle to produce the energy required to carry out daily tasks in our lives and would likely cause us great strain when dealing with stress.

Main point: Niacin is also known as Vitamin B3. It is required for energy production and is thought to help brain cells, like neurons, grow and survive. Niacin allows the brain and body to produce energy to keep us moving and alert throughout the day.

How Can I Take Advantage of So Many Nootropic Compounds?

Of course, it may seem like optimizing your cognitive function is a daunting task with so many nootropics to include in your diet.

Luckily, many of these are found in everyday foods and beverages, so including a combination of sources that contain these compounds is a great way to boost your mental performance.

An easier method is to consume supplements that contain all of these compounds in optimal doses to ensure you are receiving the right amount of nootropics in your diet each and every day.

As always, you should discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with a healthcare professional.


Fact Checked by Brett Melanson, PhDc