One of the most exciting new supplement categories is nootropics, but the marketplace is increasingly crowded, and every manufacturer claims their product is better than the rest. Here are four solid options that contain research-backed ingredients, so you can have peace of mind knowing that they’re helping (and not harming) you.
Before we get into the details of the products themselves, what are nootropics? Like many other kinds of supplements, the term has become a bit nebulous, with makers of everything from energy drinks to pills and potions now putting “nootropic” on their labels. But in terms of pure definition, a nootropic is any substance that has an impact on cognition. According to WebMD, nootropics “fall into three general categories: dietary supplements, synthetic compounds, and prescription drugs.” This post will focus on the first of these, but let’s take a brief look at the other two.
Prescription nootropics can include drugs like Adderall for ADHD and donepezil for Alzheimer’s. These require a doctor’s note and are designed to have a specific effect to counteract one or more symptoms of a diagnosed medical condition, like lack of focus or lapses in memory or neuromuscular control. Then there are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can be classed as nootropics.
If I was to ask you if you’re currently taking prescription, OTC, or supplemental nootropics, you might quicky respond in the negative. And yet, without being too contentious, you’re probably wrong. That’s because the most popular nootropics in the world are arguably coffee and tea. They don’t fit into any of the three categories that the WebMD article outlines, but do have an impact on focus, drive, and perceived exertion – all reasons that you drink one or both regularly. Now that we’ve explored what nootropics are and seen how they can be found everywhere from your kitchen counter to your medicine cabinet, let’s now suggest four options that rise above the rest in the crowded and hype-filled supplements industry.
1) Momentous Brain Drive
Over the past few years, Momentous has made its mark by creating supplements that pass through rigorous NSF Certified for Sport® and Informed Sport testing to ensure they’re free of contaminants and banned substances. One of their latest offerings is the nootropic Brain Drive, which combines B-vitamins and other micronutrients to improve cognition. One of the main ingredients is l-tyrosine, which stimulates the secretion of brain chemicals like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, and is used to help treat adrenal fatigue.
Acetyl l-carnitine is another building block of Brain Drive. It’s the only form of this nutrient that’s proven to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning that it will actually have the intended positive impact on how your mind functions. Momentous’s formula also includes vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12, which are utilized to form neurotransmitters that help your brain cells send and receive messages. These B vitamins also protect your nervous system.
2) HANAH Coffee Boost
Unlike the other three companies whose products made this list, HANAH focuses on crafting potent blends from wild-harvested herbs sourced from mountainsides in Bhutan and India. Coffee Boost is a great complement to their flagship HANAH ONE blend. One of its primary ingredients is ashwagandha, which HANAH processes using the traditional method of milk soaking to increase its bioavailability. Ashwagandha has reached superstar status in the supplement world because of its ability to calm the nervous system and regulate hormones.
The company does offer ashwagandha as a standalone, but in Coffee Boost you get the added bonuses of bacopa monnieri. This herb has been demonstrated to improve cognition by sharpening concentration. This unique formula also contains mucuna pruriens, a favorite remedy among Ayurvedic medicine practitioners on the Himalayan Plateau, thanks to its ability to bolster nervous system function and stimulate the release of dopamine (aka the “happy hormone”). HANAH adds mucuna pruriens, bacopa monnieri, and ashwagandha to a base of coconut milk, to provide some long-lasting energy in your morning or afternoon cup of coffee.
3) Thorne Neurochondria
Some nootropics target an improvement in overall cognition, but the mad scientists at Thorne designed Neurochondria® to improve brain cell function. Several of the ingredients in this proprietary formula – including coenzyme Q10, phosphatidylserine, and r-lipoic acid – have been shown to increase mitochondrial activity. What the heck does that mean? Think of mitochondria as the power plants that drive the functions of all your cells.
Other ingredients in Neurochondria – like B vitamins and glutathione – help your brain buffer stress and reduce the cell-damaging effects of free radicals. They also do double duty by promoting the health of brain tissues and triggering the release of hormones connected to motivation and reward. Like all Thorne products, Neurochondria is crafted by a team of nutritional scientists in quality-controlled conditions – not the kind of muscle-bound bros cooking up tainted supplements in their garage that director Chris Bell spotlighted in his excellent documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster.
4) Designs for Health Keto-Nootropic
Ketones are another kind of nootropic that show promise in helping you focus more intently for longer. The body has two main ways to turn food into energy: gluconeogenesis using carbs and certain proteins and ketogenesis utilizing fats and particular amino acids. The latter has got a lot of attention in recent years thanks to the keto and Paleo diets becoming more popular and researchers like Dominic D’Agostino discovering more benefits of fueling your body with fats. But until recently, there were few ketone supplements that targeted brain function.
That’s where Designs for Health’s KETO-NOOTROPIC™ comes in. Made from exogenous ketones (in the form of beta-hydroxybutyrate salts) and ginseng, an herb that’s been used in Asia as a natural nootropic for centuries, this product comes in powder form. It acts as a carb-free fuel source that will give you the increased energy of a sugar hit without the inevitable crash that’s sure to follow. The blend also contains sodium, magnesium, and potassium, which are all electrolytes that can be depleted by sweating during exercise and will then need to be replenished.