Nootropics are natural or synthetic agents that have mental performance-enhancing properties. Research shows that they boost memory, concentration, attention, perception, executive functions, motor functions, and language . They even target learning and memory deficits that may associated with certain psychiatric conditions or age-related cognitive problems. Natural nootropics help improve various mental functions and target cognitive impairments by heightening the activity of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters . More specifically, natural nootropics play a role in the production and activity of dopamine, acetylcholine, and glutamate, among others.
Increased activity of these particular chemicals improves the transfer of brain signals and facilitates reactions in the brain that promote processes such as learning, focus, optimal processing speed, and memory. According to numerous studies, four natural nootropics that provide dramatic improvements in mental performance are Caffeine from Coffea Arabica bean, L-theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Bacopa monnieri.
Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed nootropics in the world and it is naturally found in coffee beans, cocoa beans, and tea leaves . It helps reduce fatigue and influences brain functions such as memory, learning, and overall mental performance, but it also targets certain types of age-related brain dysfunctions. Servings of caffeine that are between 40 to 300 mg enhance attention, alertness, focus, vigilance, arousal, mood, and processing speed . In addition, the benefits are usually more pronounced in individuals who are mentally fatigued.
Another beneficial nootropic is L-theanine, which is an amino acid that is found naturally in tea leaves . Servings of this amino acid that range from 50-200 mg have been shown to heighten mood and increase the activity of brain waves that are associated with creativity. It also has a calming effect, which makes it easier for people to remain focused on completing tedious tasks. Research even shows that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine leads to more pronounced cognitive improvements than if either nootropic is taken alone . More specifically, taking these two nootropics together helps improve alertness, performance in attention-switching tasks, and memory, while preventing the brain from becoming easily distracted .
Similar to caffeine and L-theanine, Rhodiola Rosea is a nootropic that improves mental performance (e.g., focus, concentration), mood, and overall well-being . However, it is also described as an adaptogenic herb because it enhances the body’s ability to deal with mental stress by targeting anxiety, burnout, and mental fatigue. In particular, Rhodiola Rosea decreases the response to the stress hormone called cortisol and this helps reduce feelings of fatigue and anxiety. Servings of about 500 mg or less afford individuals with these benefits.
Bacopa monnieri is a well-known herb that has been frequently used in Ayurvedic medicine to heighten brain function. Accordingly, research shows that it can help the brain process information more rapidly, while improving memory and reducing reaction times. It also contains active components called bacosides the protect brain cells from toxin-induced damage and positively influence the transfer of signals in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus. Memories are processed in this region and this means that Bacopa monnieri’s effect on this particular structure supports optimal memory function. Servings of less than 300 mg afford individuals with these benefits, and experiences with Bacopa monnieri supplementation gradually improve when this herb is taken regularly. Therefore, it is important to take these types of herbs consistently and to take them in combination with other useful nootropics (e.g., caffeine, L-theanine) when possible to further enhance their health-boosting properties.
Overall, natural nootropics are increasing in popularity due to their proven benefits toward enhancing mental performance. A number of nootropics occur naturally in a variety of foods, and in addition to improving memory, focus, processing speed, learning, and concentration, they also target certain types of mental impairments and brain dysfunctions . People who take nootropics regularly may also experience a heightened ability to handle mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
Furthermore, natural nootropics are a safe alternative to synthetic nootropics such as nicotine, modafinil, Adderall (amphetamines), etc. These types of nootropics are often referred to as smart drugs and some of them may cause addiction as is the case with nicotine, while others such as modafinil and Adderall may lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms as well as side effects that include a low sex drive, anxiety, excessive sweating, and even heart problems. Research shows that natural nootropics cause minimal to no side effects, especially when they are taken at the recommended servings. Indeed, the right blend of these cognition-boosting agents supports long-term mental health when they are incorporated into the daily diet .