What Should I Look For In A Nootropic Stack?
The best nootropics utilise safe yet potent herbal extracts and other all-natural compounds to deliver real, tangible cognitive enhancements. These typically include improving memory retention and recall speed, boosting focus and concentration, and reducing stress.
The best supplements provide this alongside a range of compounds, vitamins, and minerals to ensure that the brain has everything it needs to operate at its full potential.
Essentially, they put get the brain firing on all cylinders, increasing the fuel supply to the brain in order to sustain that performance enhancement, while also supporting brain health, which allows the grey matter to become adapted to its new level of functioning. The best supplements will always look to put the brain in a position to grow in the long-term while enhancing performance in the shot-term.
This is a much healthier approach to improving cognitive performance than simply plying the brain full of stimulants.
Listed here are the best ingredients for any brain boosting, memory enhancing supplement. If you’re looking for a high quality, safe, and effective natural nootropic, then some combination of the below ingredients is vital. The exact formula you are looking for will very much depend on whether you’re looking for memory enhancement, improved focus, or all-over brain health.
This herb (also known as Brahmi to Hindus) has long been used as a nootropic and general tonic by people around the world. It is found naturally in temperate wetlands, meaning it is relatively common in Southern India, Northern Australia, parts of Europe, Africa, and South America. However, it is most commonly associated with traditional Hindu medicine (Ayurveda), as it grows most abundantly in India.
Traditional uses have ranged from treating anemia to tumours, but careful study is revealing that it has some potentially powerful neuro-protective and cognitive enhancing properties.
Some recent studies have identified Bacopa monnieri as having strong anti-oxidative properties, and several, more focused, studies have demonstrated the importance of the herb’s anti-oxidant function on promoting brain health: http://ow.ly/QTMWH
Bacopa is now undergoing closer study to asses whether supplementation brings a number of impressive benefits, including: reducing anxiety, enhancing your ability to retain memories, reducing the strain of stress on the central nervous system, and increasing neuron communicative capacity.
Bacopa is now essentially accepted as being a memory enhancing supplement. A number of well-respected studies have found that it significantly improved memory acquisition and retention. Participants in these studies did experience some side effects, but at lower dosages this should not occur.
The mechanism by which Huperzine A supports cognitive function, memory, and overall mental well-being is both well-documented and easy to explain. Huperzine A inhibits the creation of acetylcholinesterase; an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The absence of this enzyme means more acetylcholine is available for use in the brain, which means improved focus, enhanced memory function, and more efficienct brain cell maintenance.
While it does have multiple nootropic properties, the main way that greater acetylcholine benefits you is by improving memory function.
This is all very well documented in the scientific literature. Clinical trials in China have shown that Huperzine A “significantly improved memory deficits in older people with benign senescent forgetfulness, and patients with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia”, all without any unwanted side effects or toxicity. In short, a must for any memory enhancer.
Folic acid is a B vitamin, and when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and functioning properly, few nutrients are as important as this. Read this study carried out by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA): http://bit.ly/1JgOeeb
These researchers concluded that regular supplementation of homocystein-lowering B vitamins, of which folic acid is one, can significantly reduce the onset of physical brain degradation (or atrophy) in later life. Put simply, folic acid is able to stop your brain from physically wasting away. This is important both for the prevention of diseases related to brain atrophy (Alzheimer’s), and for improving brain function generally.
Choline has well established nootropic and neuro-protective properties. It is a water-soluble nutrient found naturally in food, but serious users of nootropics, or those interested in enhancing brain function to the highest possible degree, will invariably need to supplement.
In terms of cognitive enhancement, choline is the precursor for acetylcholine; an essential neurotransmitter for the function of memory, both long and short term, concentration, and also for muscle control. Acetylcholine, when in abundant supply, will also facilitate lucid dreaming.
One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that “ higher concurrent choline intake was related to better cognitive performance” amongst the dementia free cohort of just under 1400 participants. Suffices to say, choline is a necessary ingredient for any professional-grade natural nootropic supplement.
In my opinion, the most efficient way to supplement with choline is to take Alpha GPC. This compound has other peripheral benefits beyond the mere conferring of choline to the body. It also happens to be the most effective compound for donating choline, and therefore it is the best choice for anyone wanting to elevate their acetylcholine levels.
The other top quality choice of cholinergic is CDP-choline, or Citicoline. This stuff is just as effective at elevating acetylcholine availability in the brain, and it has the added benefit of being a precursor to uridine.
The benefits of Alpha GPC and CDP-Choline are discussed in this article. As you can see, one if not better than the other for everybody; each one has slightly different benefits that will appeal to different people for different reasons. Both are superb choices for any stack.
Forskolin (also known as Coleonol) is another herbal extract with well established medicinal properties. By this, I don’t simply mean that shamans believe it improves cognitive function; it’s positive role in boosting mental capacity is being increasingly backed-up by robust empirical research.
For instance, one of Forskolin’s main benefits is the promotion of cAMP; an important biological ‘messenger’. Forskolin is very unique in its ability to promote the production of cAMP. This study proposes that cAMP plays a pivotal role in memory and learning in humans. You can’t ask for a more direct intervention in cognitive performance than that.
When you see vinpocetine listed on an ingredients list, it is most likely a straight periwinkle extract. It is thought to act as an anti-oxidant, ridding the blood of toxins and protecting brain cells from damage, as well as preventing inflammation. Its main use when supplementing orally is therefore neuroprotection.
More interestingly, one study observed that vinpocetine improved blood flow to the brain without raising blood pressure systemically.
It is used as a nootropic and memory enhancing supplement around the world, with popularity in Europe on the up, judging by how often it is included in formulas there.
While it has been used for decades as a herbal medicine and general brain supplement, claims that it can improve memory and focus have recently been vindicated by several clinical studies.
The benefits of fish oil supplementation are well known. Cod liver oil is generally considered to be good for your heart, bones, and brain, and plenty of people claim that it does wonders for your skin as well. These claims are well supported by scientific research.
However, for people who are serious about dramatically improving their brain function, not to mention their general health, krill oil is probably the superior alternative.
Krill oil contains plentiful amounts of the two crucial omega-3 fatty acids; DHA and EPA. In your standard fish oil supplement, these fatty acids are arranged in a triglyceride form.
In krill oil, these same fatty acids are arranged in a double-chain phospholipid form, making it identical to the lipid arrangement of your cell membranes, meaning that it is absorbed and put to use with far greater ease than the fatty acids derived form standard fish oil. This has immediate relevance to krill oil’s special brain promoting characteristics; the fatty acids derived from krill oil seem to be incredibly efficient at repairing and building brain cell membranes.
While the supplement has many positive health effects, such as lowering cholesterol and improving joint function, its ability to improve brain growth and maintenance is significant enough to make krill oil an essential nootropic supplement.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract
This is a really exciting substance right now. While research is still in relative infancy, there is strong evidence to suggest that supplementing with Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract can boost Nerve Growth Factor production.
Nerve Growth Factor, or NGF for short, is responsible for prompting the formation of new nerve cells in the brain.
Several studies have observed direct cognitive improvements as a result of supplementing with Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus). For example, this study found that subjects given Lion’s Mane extract for 16 weeks showing significant cognitive improvements that were not observed in the placebo group.
Most interestingly, the group given Lion’s Mane for 16 weeks were tested again 4 weeks after the end of the trial, and their test scores had lowered significantly. This is possibly because these test subjects were already suffering from age-related cognitive decline.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is therefore thought to be effective at preventing or delaying the onset of cognitive decline, largely by ensuring sufficient nerve dendrite growth.
This can be an important property for anyone looking to ensure that their brain is performing at maximum potential. While cognitive decline speeds up as we age, it is not an ‘all or nothing’ process. Supplementing with Lion’s Mane can ensure that your brain is forming new nerve dendrites at the correct rate, in turn ensuring maximum cognitive efficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is a growing phenomenon around the world, probably owing in large part to the dramatic shift in our working habits over the past few decades, as more of us than ever spend our working days indoors.
The growth of the problem has led to a corresponding growth in research, providing a mountain of empirical evidence which links vitamin D deficiency with increased risk of cancer, stroke, and diabetes to name a few of the more serious conditions.
With this mounting evidence comes a growing body of work that shows, quite unequivocally, that vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of dementia and general cognitive decline.
Once study, conducted in 2012, discusses the clear link between vitamin D and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, which stems from the vitamin’s function as a clearer of amyloid plaques, known to build up in the brain, exacerbating the onset of Alzheimer’s.
The study concludes “low vitamin D concentrations may increase the risk of cognitive decline”. With vitamin D so available and economical, failing to include this in a nootropic stack is questionable, if not plain stupid.
The primary mechanism by which Ginkgo Biloba aids brain function is by vasodilation; the opening up of veins and arteries, and by increasing the viscosity of blood.
While the effects are therefore not limited to the brain, extending instead to the entire body, few areas of the body can benefit from greater blood flow than the command centre. The University of Maryland Medical Centre concurs that this herbal concentrate is effective at combatting, or preventing, vascular dementia.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ginkgo, like many other nootropic herbal extracts, contains an abundance of antioxidants that help to remove free radicals from the brain, which to some extent helps prevent degenerative diseases generally.
This is widely used and reliable stuff, and while it isn’t the most powerful or immediately noticeable brain booster, it certainly plays its part in improving brain function over the long term.
Phenyalanine will most commonly be found in the form DL-Phenyalanine, and may sometimes be written as DLPA. It is an essential amino acid that has been shown to directly influence the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, lifting mood, alleviating stress, and boosting confidence.
This happens because Phenylalanine is synthesised in the body to create Tyrosine; another amino acid with the power to significantly increase the production of powerful neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
It is able to cross the blood-brain barrier with incredible ease, making it effective at relatively small doses. Supplementation is safe at reasonable doses over a long period of time. However, as with all supplements, some side-effects are possible.
These side effects can include nausea, heartburn, and headaches; while mild, these effects are also rare, so self-monitoring should dictate whether you continue to supplement with Pheylalanine or not.
If I am truly honest, I think any health supplement worth its salt should provide some sort of B vitamin. Although Western diets are absurdly meat and dairy-centric, most people fall well short an optimal intake of vitamins B6 and B12.
This systemic B vitamin deficiency adversely affects our health in a number of ways; one of the more serious and lasting effects is to do with out brain function.
Not only does vitamin B6 play a central role in energy synthesis, literally giving your brain more energy to do what it does best, but B12 is responsible for the synthesis of myelin; a fat-like substance that forms a protective “wrapping” for your nerves, both protecting them and facilitating the transfer of information.
Without B12, you would not be able to synthesise sufficient amounts of myelin, and in turn, your central nervous system would lack a component that it needs in order to function properly.
Magnesium positively influences cognitive function and brain health in many ways. The way in which it acts to support your brain is nebulous rather than direct, but it is certainly powerful. For instance, magnesium concentration in the blood is related to testosterone levels, which, in men at least, influences your mood, sleep quality, and cardiovascular health. That said, the mineral does have some very direct mechanisms for improving brain function, memory, and mood.
Magnesium supplementation has been shown to substantially strengthen the synapses in the hippocampus; the part of the brain largely responsible for memory storage.
The mineral is also essential for the formation of the ions that are used to transmit information between nerves and synapses. This same study found a high correlation between high magnesium supplementation and improved memory capacity, recall speed, and cognitive skills generally.
It is important to note that most of the population does not get even the basic minimum requirements for magnesium to maximise their brain function. If you’re looking to increase your brain’s functioning capacity, then your magnesium requirements will increase in kind. Supplementation is therefore highly recommended.
Everyone eats the artichoke’s heart, yet the leaves of the artichoke contain the vast majority of its nutrients. Concentrated artichoke leaf extract is incredibly nutrient-dense; it provides a sizeable dose of vitamins A, B, and C, along with other key brain-boosting minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc, each of which I will come to later.
Nutritional density is certainly a major benefit of supplementing with artichoke extract, but the presence of vitamins is not what makes this substance so special.
Rather, it is the myriad other benefits that have been scientifically proven to result from regular artichoke extract supplementation. These include; cholesterol reduction (see this study for details) and improved digestive health.
Crucially, it has also been shown to be a powerful cognitive enhancer through the promotion of dopamine, and the suppression of PDE4. It is hypothesised that the suppression of PDE4, an enzyme, allows for greater cyclic adenosine monophosphate concentrations, which in turn helps improve focus. I will talk in more detail about all of this in a blog post.
Phosphatidylserine is a natural part of almost everybody’s diet. It is just highly likely that you don’t get anywhere near the amount that I would deem optimal for cognitive performance.
It is found in the cell membranes of almost all living things, both animals and plants. It is a basic component of neural tissue. It is, in that regard, vital for brain health and growth. Supplementing with PS has been repeatedly shown to be effective at slowing down the onset of mental decline. It has been shown to significantly improve cognitive performance in otherwise healthy individuals (though this has usually been in relation to athletes).