Nootropics are the supplements you never knew you needed. They can boost your brain in amazing ways, paving the path to greater concentration, creativity, and clarity. In fact, “nootropic” derives (albeit roughly) from the Greek word for “to bend or shape the mind.”
“Nootropics are compounds that have beneficial effects on the central nervous system,” says Dr. Mahmud Kara, Founder of KaraMD (@KaraMD). “To refer to a compound as a nootropic, it should offer some degree of enhanced cognitive performance, improved mood and well-being, and neuroprotection.”
In today’s ultra-competitive, fast-paced society, giving your brain a little boost is very appealing. The good news: all-natural nootropics can offer a safe and healthy way to give yourself a little boost of focus, problem-solving, and mental endurance.
Because we wanted a list of the best all-natural brain boosters just as much as you do, we reached out to the experts for their go-to nootropics. Here’s what they recommended:
Rhodiola is an excellent nootropic or brain enhancer. It's an adaptogenic herb that increases energy and decreases stress, making it an excellent addition to your diet when you need to concentrate during stressful times.
Research shows that rhodiola may be helpful for enhancing physical performance and alleviating mental fatigue. You can take it in supplement form for best results, but I recommend clearing it with your doctor first if you are currently taking any prescription medications.
Nutritionist Heather Hank
Derived from the Griffonia seed, 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin in the body. Because over 95% of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut (and a majority of the U.S. population has some level of dysfunction in their gut microbiome), I find this supplement to be immensely beneficial in helping my clients achieve a more balanced mood, improved sleep quality, and healthier weight.
Serotonin is crucial for a myriad of biological processes, including sleep, mood regulation, and digestion. While many physicians will default to putting a patient on an SSRI when they're depressed, anxious, or struggling with insomnia, this does little to address the fact that they often aren't producing enough serotonin to begin with due to a disruption in their microbiome. In that case, the SSRI is simply forcing more of that deficient amount into the bloodstream, which helps some symptoms (sometimes), but creates a whole host of others.
By supplementing with 5-HTP and using nutritional and probiotic interventions to heal the gut, individuals can not only achieve results similar to or better than those obtained with SSRIs, they can do so without the side effects and dangers associated with them.
Nootropics are drugs, typically supplements and other natural substances, that are used to enhance cognitive function. They are marketed stating they improve mental clarity, motivation, memory, focus, and overall mood.
Creatine is an amino acid used to build muscle in the body. Once consumed, it enters the brain and binds with phosphate to create a molecule that fuels cells and energizes the brain. This reaction is linked to improved short-term memory, especially people under significant stress, as well as vegetarians.
Lisa Richards, Nutritionist, The Candida Diet
Probiotics are living bacteria that provide countless health benefits when ingested. These bacteria are naturally occurring in the gut, but can be replenished through external means. One benefit that is rarely highlighted is the link between the gut and brain, which is improved through probiotic use.
The gut contains beneficial bacteria, known as the microbiota, which plays a key role in maintaining health in both the body and mind. These health benefits include mental health as well.
To understand the “gut-brain axis,” it’s important to first understand the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is a vast network of neurons that line your intestinal tract and carry messages from the gut, to the brain, and back.
Researchers have found that a direct line of communication exists between the brain and your enteric nervous system. This is what they call the gut-brain axis. This line of communication works both ways, linking the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal function.
Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, Balance One Supplements
Optimize your gut to fuel your brain with KOR’s Gut Check. This itty bitty shot contains a big boost of probiotics (1 billion CFU, to be exact) and all-mighty apple cider vinegar (with the gut-nurturing “mother”). Make it your go-to for digestive support.
5. Lion's mane mushroom
Lion's mane mushroom is a culinary and functional mushroom that has the ability to support healthy brain function. The name comes from the mushroom's resemblance to a lion's mane. It’s also known as a monkey head, bearded tooth, or pom pom mushroom. It can be found in many areas all over the world, primarily growing on hardwoods, and if you're lucky, maybe at your local grocery store or farmers market.
The mushroom has been shown in animal models to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF), which helps to maintain the health of neurons in our brain. Clinical data out of Japan found that elderly individuals scored better on brain function tests when regularly consuming lion’s mane mushrooms. Unfortunately, these benefits subsided after ceasing to consume the mushroom. Another small clinical trial out of Japan also showed that consuming lion's mane mushroom may support a positive mood and relieve occasional stress.
Lion's Mane mushroom, like most other functional mushrooms, also contains beneficial beta-glucans, which help to support a healthy immune system function.
Skye Chilton, Chief Mushroom Funguy, Real Mushrooms
It’s no surprise that our Focus Fuel would show up twice in an article about brain boosters. Containing lion’s mane mushroom (and the previously mentioned rhodiola), this shot should be on hand for all nootropic seekers.
6. Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng (also known as red ginseng) is one of the most widely used and researched nootropics in the world.
Red ginseng in particular helps with mood and stress levels. Ginseng provides neuro-protective effects on the dopaminergic-pathway, which can help with ADHD and improve brain energy by acting as an anti-inflammatory and reducing cytokines. Not only does red ginseng help with brain function, it also strengthens the immune system and helps fight off stress and disease.
Herbalist & Founder, Qi Alchemy
As a quick recap, gut health can assist with stress, inflammation, skin health and appearance, fertility, athletic performance, and sleep. That’s a lot of good things!
As a quick recap, here are two nootropic-rich KOR shots the experts recommend for promoting a bigger better brain:
- Focus Fuel: for rhodiola and lion’s mane mushroom
- Gut Check: for nourishing your gut, so it can better serve your mind
Get smart and get focused with KOR!