If you're serious about brain performance – focus, recall, memory, mental speed, rapid learning, creativity, motivation and/or long-term brain health – then you've likely heard the term nootropics.
Otherwise known as "smart drugs" or "cognitive enhancers" nootropics include a broad range of substances (both natural and synthetic) including drugs, dietary supplements, and other substances that enhance brain function in healthy individuals.
There are several ways in which nootropics can act to boost brainpower. Below we have detailed the types of natural nootropics and method of action, along with a few examples of specific natural nootropics included in each category. Because drug-based nootropics can have significant negative side effects, we only reviewed the best natural nootropic supplements.
Benefits: Focus, Alertness, Concentration
Your brain cells send electrical messages across the tiny gap between them called a synapse. Neurotransmitters do the work of transferring those electrical messages across the synapse. Huperzine-A, L-theanine, L-Tyrosine, magnesium, and glycine are science-backed nutrients that support neurotransmitter function to help you avoid mental distraction and experience peak focus and productivity. They are especially helpful for people who depend heavily on brainpower like executives, athletes, students, the sleep-deprived, and top performers of all types.
Huperzine-A is a nutrient found in Chinese club moss that protects brain neurons  and increases levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. These effects help to sharpen concentration and memory, enhance learning, and reduce cognitive decline that commonly comes with aging. The most common effective dose range is between 300 and 500 mcg per day.
The body uses magnesium to make neurotransmitters. Studies at MIT and Northern Kentucky University suggest that an increased level of magnesium in the brain likely improves memory formation and improved learning. The US FDA recommends a daily intake of 420 mg magnesium for adults.
L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea leaves and some mushrooms. It acts in several ways to improve attention, focus, memory and learning. It supports proper balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. It also helps reduce levels of cortisol and corticosterone – two stress hormones that can negatively impact the brain, interfering with memory formation and learning. L-theanine can also increase your attention span and reaction time. The combination of caffeine with L-theanine is a proven way to increase attention span, boost your ability to process information visually, and improve accuracy when switching between tasks. An effective combination seems to be 12 to 100 mg of L-theanine with 30 to100 mg of caffeine.
Tyrosine is an amino acid naturally produced by your body from another amino acid called phenylalanine, but it can also be supplemented. When you're under stress, your levels of neurotransmitters decline, leading to a decrease in mental performance (reasoning, memory, and attention).[8,9] Tyrosine supports your mental performance while under stress by reversing the decline in neurotransmitters. One study shows Tyrosine improves working memory during a cognitively challenging task. Another study shows it improves cognitive flexibility. Tyrosine can be taken in a wide range of doses, from 500-2000 mg before encountering a stressor like exercise, to as high as 10 grams.
Glycine is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter, both stimulating and inhibiting brain cells. It's also one of the amino acids your body uses to make glutathione – a potent antioxidant that helps to protect your cells, including brain cells, from free radical damage  that may cause certain degenerative cognitive conditions. Glycine is taken for a variety of reasons from 1 to 4 grams per day. The effective dose for neurotransmitter balance is not well established.
DMAE is a compound that researchers believe works by increasing our natural production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for nerve cells to send signals within the brain.
It may also decrease the buildup of beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. For this reason, it may be especially important for older people to have adequate DMAE levels to avoid age-related mental decline and memory loss. It also acts as a protective antioxidant that blocks free radicals from damaging cells. The common dose range is between 100 and 350 mg daily.
Benefits: Faster & More Accurate Recall, Mental Speed & Rapid Learning
Your brain cells contain phospholipids (good fats) that form a protective covering and are critical to the health of both cell membranes and neurotransmitters. They help you retain and recall information better, respond faster, and keep your memory sharp, but they decrease with age. L-Alpha GPC, phosphatidylserine, and DMAE support phospholipid health to help you achieve a hyper-fast mind for peak cognition, and avoid embarrassing mind lapses, slower learning, and poor performance.
L-Alpha GPC works by quickly delivering choline (a foundational component of phospholipids) to the brain, while at the same time, increasing the body's production of acetylcholine. It also may protect cell membrane phospholipids by increasing the rate of phospholipid synthesis. The standard dose range for this nootropic is 300 to 600 mg daily.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in the brain at a concentration 6 times higher than in other tissues, and It supports the formation, structure, fluidity, and function of cell membranes  Studies show phosphatidylserine has the potential to reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia in older individuals,  and it may improve memory and recall. Researchers believe its benefits may be related to a supportive impact on brain cell regeneration and repair, brain cell production, and brain cell membrane function. The average person is estimated to only get about 130 mg per day through diet, so supplementation is a good idea. The recommended dose is 100 to 300 mg daily and it is sold in high quality under the trade name PS-SHARP®.
Benefits: Alertness, Cognition, Mental Endurance
Your brain requires healthy blood flow to access essential nutrients and oxygen, allowing it to function at a higher level. Curcumin, L-Taurine, and natural caffeine all help to increase blood flow to the brain to support cognitive potential. Poor blood flow to the brain can cause foggy cognition.
Curcumin is a component of turmeric root, often supplemented as an extract. It has several brain health benefits including nitric oxide production which helps to increase blood flow. It also supports the reduction of oxidative stress and decreased inflammation. Supplementation with curcumin may also support the body's production of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is fatty acid important to brain health, development, and brain cell protection. Curcumin is poorly absorbed and should be taken with fats, or dissolved in oil, not taken in dry pill form. For best absorption it should be taken with piperine like BioPerine®. The dosing is not well established, but it has been taken up to 1,500 mg per day.
Taurine is an essential amino acid that naturally exists in body tissue and is the most plentiful amino acid in the brain. Taurine provides protective support for the brain by improving blood flow to both the right and left brain, keeping it fueled with nutrients and oxygenated. Taurine may also help some people manage anxiety and depression.[24,25] Taurine has been shown effective between 500 mg and 2 grams per day.
Caffeine is a neuro-stimulant that constricts blood vessels to increase blood pressure. In moderation, caffeine increases cerebral blood flow to the brain. Studies have also shown that caffeine has quite a few brain-boosting benefits such as increasing energy levels and alertness, improving mood, and may provide protection from dementia.[27,28] Doses ranging from 40 mg to 300 mg have improved cognition in studies. As a reference, a standard cup of coffee has 95 mg of caffeine.
Benefits: Cell Protection & Healthy Brain Aging
Antioxidants help protect brain cells from damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules) and may reverse some of the symptoms of aging. Asian Panax Ginseng, Lutein, and Black Pepper Fruit Extract all have protective antioxidant effects on cells. Without proper antioxidants, cell damage builds up over time, reducing cell function, dulling mental sharpness over time.
PANAX GINSENG EXTRACT
Panax ginseng is a protective herb that acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect the brain from harmful free radicals  and enhance the body's defense mechanisms when used at effective doses as a supplement. Along with its protective properties, panax ginseng also helps with cognition, learning and recall, and can boost mood by promoting a feeling of calmness.[31,32,33] It is typically taken at a dose range of 200 to 400 mg per day, while one study indicates doses as low as 40mg might be effective. A 400 mg dose appears to result in the most cognitive impact.
Lutein is a type of carotenoid (pigment) that can be found in a variety of yellow, orange, and dark green plants. It is the most abundant carotenoid found in the brain, and it is deposited in areas that experience high levels of metabolism, which in turn causes high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. Upon supplementation and eating lutein-rich foods, lutein protects these vulnerable areas of the brain with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is typically taken at a dose of 6 mg to 20 mg per day.
BLACK PEPPER FRUIT EXTRACT
Black pepper fruit is a common spice you probably can find next to your saltshaker. However, supplementing black pepper, especially sourced from BioPerine®, is different from peppering your dinner. BioPerine® black pepper fruit is absorbed at specific places in the digestive tract for enhanced absorption. Being an antioxidant, studies have shown that black pepper has possible memory enhancing benefits due to the antioxidant activity in the hippocampus of the brain. The standard dose range for BioPerine® is 5 mg to 10 mg depending on the product.
Benefits: Concentrate Longer
Your brain requires energy to function. Although your brain represents only 2% of your total body weight, it burns 20% of your body's energy. Just thinking burns about 320 calories per day for the average person. Cognitively challenging work burns even more calories. So, what type of fuel does your brain need to convert into energy?
Cognitive fuel for long-lasting brain energy comes in the form of glucose and ketones. Your brain gets most of its energy from glucose, but ketones are also a major healthy and more efficient source. Omega fatty acids and MCTs help produce ketones in your body and regulate brain glucose uptake. Vitamin B6 boosts the conversion of food into energy, while vitamin B12 helps build red blood cells that carry oxygen to the brain. MCTs, omega fatty acids, Vitamin B6, and B12 provide the fuel your brain needs to avoid burnout and mental fatigue and give your brain an enduring mental boost to stay on task longer.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential types of fats your body needs to get from a supplement or foods like fish, nuts, or seeds. Unlike Omega 3 and 6, your body can make its own omega 9 fatty acids. All three of these omega fatty acids, especially omega 3, support brain health. Omega fatty acids can be converted efficiently to ketones in the body, making it a premium fuel for your brain. Studies have shown improvements with cognitive function, learning, and memory when supplementing omega 3 fatty acids. Research also suggests that omega-3 may protect against Alzheimer's and cognitive decline. The effective dose ranges from 200 mg to 4 g.
MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) is a type of fat that is typically derived from coconut or palm oil. MCT has the ability to elevate ketones that your brain uses more efficiently than glucose for fuel, which can improve cognitive functions like recall. MCT may also be helpful for memory and recall in those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The standard dose range for MCT oil is not established. It is taken in a wide range, from 3g to 14g, but smaller doses may be effective.
Vitamin B6 is an essential water-soluble vitamin you need in your diet because your body cannot make enough on its own. You can get this nutrient from foods such as fish, chicken, and chickpeas, and also from dietary supplements. Vitamin B6 plays a role in regulating cognition and mood, and prolonged severe deficiency in this vitamin can lead to depression, migraines, or dementia. Vitamin B6 also boosts the conversion of food into energy. The US FDA recommends a daily intake of 2.4 mcg of vitamin B6 for adults.
Vitamin B12 is another essential B vitamin that your body needs to get through diet or a nutritional supplement. This particular vitamin is mostly found in animal products therefore, a supplement is critical for those on a plant-based diet. It helps to regulate glucose balance and provides protective support to your brain by lowering levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Accumulated homocysteine in your body can lead to health complications, including cognitive decline. It also helps build red blood cells that carry oxygen to the brain. The US FDA recommends a daily intake of 1.7 mg of vitamin B12 for adults.
The Best Nootropic Supplement Doesn't Come in a Pill
Healthycell's Focus + Recall is the easiest one-a-day way to support a healthy brain, focus, and recall because it's the only supplement combo with all 18 of the essential brain-boosting nutrients referenced in this article.
Focus + Recall is complete with the top 18 nootropic supplements, in the most absorbable form available. What's more, the nutrients in the Focus + Recall formula are sourced to synergistically enhance absorption and balanced to be delivered in the proper amounts.
When comparing nootropic supplements, it's important to consider not only what's in it, but also what's not in it. In addition to excluding animal-based products, Healthycell has designed its Focus + Recall supplement to be free from common allergens like wheat, nuts, and peanuts, as well as artificial colors and flavors. You also won't find binding glues, coatings, flow agents, and fillers that are commonly found in most supplement pills.
Many people don't realize that the supplement ingredients in tablets, capsules, and powders can be 10-100 times too big for our GI tract to absorb. Instead of a hard-to-swallow and potentially poorly absorbed pill, Healthycell's MICROGEL™ technology is a delicious-tasting "focus gel" with medical-grade absorption. It's a first-of-its-kind, using patent-pending technology that ensures you're getting the nutrients your body needs to boost your brainpower, sharpen focus, concentrate longer, enhance recall, improve mental speed, learn rapidly, and be more alert.
To your health,
Dr. Vincent Giampapa, MD, FACS
Visiting Scholar, The Sinclair Lab
Harvard University, Boston, MA
Cell Aging Researcher & Author
Director, Cell Health Institute