Nootropics are natural supplements or drugs that have a beneficial effect on brain function in healthy people.
Many of these can boost memory, motivation, creativity, alertness and general cognitive function. Nootropics may also reduce age-related declines in brain function.
Here are the 10 best nootropic supplements to boost your brain function.
1. Fish Oils
Fish oil supplements are a rich source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two types of omega-3 fatty acids.
The other omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil, EPA, has anti-inflammatory effects that may protect the brain against damage and aging (4).
Taking DHA supplements has been linked with improved thinking skills, memory and reaction times in healthy people who have low DHA intakes. It has also benefitted people experiencing a mild decline in brain function (5, 6, 7).
Overall, the best way to get the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids is by eating two portions of oily fish per week (20).
If you can’t manage this, then taking a supplement could be beneficial.
More research is required to find out how much and what ratios of EPA and DHA are beneficial. But taking 1 gram per day of combined DHA and EPA is generally recommended to maintain brain health (21).
Bottom Line: If you don’t eat the recommended amount of oily fish, consider taking a fish oil supplement to help promote good brain health and healthy brain aging.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant that occurs naturally in the skin of purple and red fruits like grapes, raspberries and blueberries. It’s also found in red wine, chocolate and peanuts.
It’s been suggested that taking resveratrol supplements could prevent the deterioration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain associated with memory (22).
If this is true, this treatment could slow down the decline in brain function you experience as you get older (23).
Additionally, one study on a small group of healthy older adults found that taking 200 mg of resveratrol per day for 26 weeks improved memory (26).
However, there currently aren’t enough human studies to be sure of resveratrol’s effects (27).
Bottom Line: In animals, resveratrol supplements have been shown to improve memory and brain function. It’s not yet clear if the treatment has the same effects in people.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee and dark chocolate.
Although it’s possible to take it as a supplement, there isn’t really any need when you can get it from these sources.
It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, making you feel less tired and more alert (28).
The amount of caffeine in one cup of coffee varies, but generally it’s 50–400 mg.
However, taking too much caffeine can be counterproductive and has been linked with side effects such as anxiety, nausea and trouble sleeping.
Bottom Line: Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can improve your brain function and make you feel more energized and alert.
It’s been suggested that taking phosphatidylserine supplements could be helpful for preserving brain health (37).
However, larger studies need to be carried out before its effects on brain function can be fully understood.
Bottom Line: Phosphatidylserine supplements could improve your thinking skills and memory. They could also help combat the decline in brain function as you age. However, further study is needed.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid produced naturally in your body. It plays an important role in your metabolism, particularly in energy production.
In humans, studies have found that it may be a useful supplement for slowing the decline in brain function due to age. It may also be useful for improving brain function in people with mild dementia or Alzheimer’s (47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52).
However, there is no research to show it has a beneficial effect in otherwise healthy people who aren’t suffering from a loss of brain function.
Bottom Line: Acetyl-L-carnitine could be helpful for treating a loss of brain function in the elderly and people with mental disorders such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Its effects in healthy people are unknown.
6. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement derived from the Ginkgo biloba tree. It’s an incredibly popular supplement that many people take to boost their brain power.
It’s thought to work by increasing blood flow to the brain and is claimed to improve brain functions like focus and memory (53).
Despite the widespread use of ginkgo biloba, results from studies investigating its effects have been mixed.
Bottom Line: Ginkgo biloba may help improve your short-term memory and thinking skills. It may also protect you from age-related decline in brain function. However, results are inconsistent.
Creatine is a natural substance that plays an important role in energy metabolism. It’s found naturally in the body, mostly in muscles and in smaller amounts in the brain.
Although it’s a popular supplement, you can find it in some foods, namely animal products like meat, fish and eggs.
Interestingly, creatine supplements can improve memory and thinking skills in people who don’t eat meat (61).
In fact, one study found that vegetarians taking creatine supplements experienced a 25–50% improvement in performance on a memory and intelligence test (62)
However, meat eaters don’t see the same benefits. This may be due to the fact that they are not deficient and already get enough from their diets (63).
Bottom Line: Taking creatine supplements could help improve memory and thinking skills in people who don’t eat meat.
8. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa monnieri is a medicine made from the herb Bacopa monnieri. It’s used in traditional medicine practices like Ayurveda for improving brain function.
However, it’s worth noting that only repeated use of Bacopa monnieri has been shown to have this effect. People generally take about 300 mg per day and it may take around four to six weeks for you to notice any results.
Studies of Bacopa monnieri also show that it may occasionally cause diarrhea and an upset stomach. Because of this, many people recommend taking this supplement with food (70).
Bottom Line: Bacopa monnieri has been shown to improve memory and thinking skills in healthy people and in those with a decline in brain function.
9. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea is a supplement derived from the herb Rhodiola rosea, which is often used in Chinese medicine to promote well-being and healthy brain function.
It’s thought to help improve mental processing by reducing fatigue (71).
However, results have been mixed (75).
A recent review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that more research is required before scientists can know if Rhodiola rosea can reduce tiredness and boost brain function (76).
Bottom Line: Rhodiola rosea may help improve thinking skills by reducing fatigue. However, more research is needed before scientists can be certain of its effects.
10. S-Adenosyl Methionine
S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is a substance that occurs naturally in your body. It’s used in chemical reactions to make and break down important compounds like proteins, fats and hormones.
One study found that adding SAMe to the antidepressant prescription of people who had previously not responded to therapy improved their chances of remission by around 14% (80).
More recently, a study found that, in some instances, SAMe may be as effective as some types of antidepressant medications (81).
However, there is no evidence that this supplement benefits people who don’t have depression.
Bottom Line: SAMe could be useful for improving brain function in people with depression. There is no evidence it has this effect in healthy people.
Take Home Message
Some of these supplements show real promise for improving and protecting brain health.
However, note that many brain-boosting supplements are only effective for people who have a mental condition or are deficient in the supplemented nutrient.