Constantly feeling as though your brain is rioting against you? Taking hours to complete a task, which you typically would have breezed through in 20 minutes? Can't seem to get anything done despite your best efforts? If you've nodded along, know that you're not alone. For many of us, brain fog is an unavoidable part of living through the still ongoing (!) coronavirus pandemic–with it forcing us into various states of social distancing and physical isolation. Of course, when it comes to managing brain fog, you're well-aware of the reliable and expert-approved methods: stick to a regular exercise routine, get adequate sleep nightly, practice mindfulness, and seek therapy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). But given everything going on, you've likely tried all the above… To no avail.
What are you to do then? Well, there is something else you could try: nootropics. Below, find out what they are and how they could help you get in the zone, so your work gets done a little easier.
What Are Nootropics?
At its core, nootropics–also known as cognitive enhancers or 'smart drugs'–positively impact mental skills (e.g. improved memory, faster speed-of-processing, enhanced concentration) (6, 7, 8, 9). Generally, nootropics can be further classified into 3 groups: dietary supplements, synthetic compounds, and prescription drugs.
Scientists aren't exactly sure of how nootropics work to stimulate the mind. Still, a popular theory is that they may increase blood flow to the brain, in turn, delivering greater amounts of oxygen into the brain (10, 11, 12). Other theories also state that nootropics may elevate the body's adrenaline and various neurotransmitters (like dopamine), raising alertness and enhancing mental clarity (13, 14).
Why Go For Natural Nootropics?
Anyone looking to boost their brain performance with nootropics should largely avoid prescription drugs–and synthetic compounds, in general. Examples include Adderall, Ritalin, Racetams (e.g. Piracetam, Aniracetam, and Oxiracetam), and Modafinil (15). These are typically prescribed for individuals with attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to bolster focus, attention, and other cognitive functions. While these drugs could improve your concentration and focus despite not having ADHD, they are not without side effects.
For instance: Adderall abuse by otherwise healthy adults can bring about side effects like low sex drive, anxiety, and sweating (16, 17, 18, 19). In severe cases, recreational Adderall abuse can even cause heart attacks, especially when mixed with alcohol! Worryingly, Ritalin abuse can cause hallucinations, psychosis, seizures, heart arrhythmias, and high blood pressure–particularly when taken in high doses (20, 21, 22). Bottom line? These drugs can be useful in treating symptoms of ADHD. And that means it could help you better focus. But they carry risks of severe side effects and interactions, meaning you should only take them under a doctor's care.
Best Natural Nootropics To Enhance Focus
So, if you’re considering trying nootropic supplements, you should definitely only consider those that come from natural sources. And thankfully, there are many available. Here are 5 of the best natural nootropics that’ll boost your memory, focus, creativity, intelligence, and even motivation.
#1 – L-theanine
L-theanine is a naturally-occurring amino acid most commonly found in both green and black tea (23, 24). It’s also available as a dietary supplement, in pill or tablet form, at many drugstores. Several studies have found that L-theanine supplementation can benefit cognitive performance. For instance, according to a 2012 study published in Neuropharmacology, participants who took 100 mg of L-theanine made fewer errors in an attention task than those who did not (25). Also, research shows that taking even just 50 mg (the amount found in roughly 2 cups of brewed tea) increases alpha-waves in the brain–which is believed to help with creativity (26).
By now, you must be familiar with the effects poor sleep can have on your cognition, memory, learning, and processing (27, 28). But what if you can't fall asleep at night, no matter how hard you try? L-theanine can help. Various studies indicate that L-theanine dramatically improves sleep quality in both animals and humans. A 2011 study found that those who'd taken 400 mg L-theanine daily had longer, more restful sleep than those who did not (29). Other research also highlighted L-theanine’s efficacy in improving the sleep quality for those diagnosed with schizophrenia (30). Take anywhere between 100 mg to 400 mg for a cognitive boost.
#2 – Creatine
You might know creatine as a popular bodybuilding supplement–used by fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes to increase muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance (31, 32, 33, 34). But here's something you might not have known. It's also a fantastic nootropic! A little background beforehand: creatine is an amino acid located mostly in your body's muscles, as well as in the brain. Your body converts creatine, which you could get from your diet to phosphocreatine, where it's then used for energy. And because your brain requires plenty of energy to function optimally, supplementing with creatine can help boost your cognitive functions (35). Research agrees.
Various studies show that creatine supplementation improves short-term memory and reasoning skills, especially in vegetarians and highly stressed individuals (36, 37, 38). As for how much you should take, studies show that you can take up to 5 grams of creatine daily without experiencing any side effects (39).
#3 – Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi, thyme-leaved gratiola, and water hyssop, is a perennial, creeping herb commonly found in India–and has a long history of use in the Ayurvedic medicine tradition in the treatment of several disorders, particularly those centered around anxiety and poor memory (40, 41, 42). Impressively, modern research supports these uses.
A 12-week study published in Psychopharmacology, for example, found that individuals who’d taken 300 mg of the herb daily saw significant improvements in their speed of processing visual information, learning rate, and memory, compared to those in the placebo treatment group (43). Another study also reported improved memory, attention, and the ability to process information in older adults who'd taken either 300 mg or 600 mg of Bacopa monnieri extract daily (44). As typical doses for the herb in human studies range from 300 to 450 mg daily, you should follow this dosing.
#4 – Panax ginseng
Panax ginseng (commonly known as Asian ginseng) is a perennial shrub that grows in China and parts of Siberia. The herb was commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to increase energy, stamina and boost the immune system (45, 46, 47, 48). As it turns out, there are many more health benefits to Panax ginseng than previously thought. And one of them? Its ability to improve cognition.
According to a 2019 review paper, Panax ginseng enhances cognitive performance–particularly short-term memory (49). Several studies also show that a single dose of 200 to 400 mg of the herb can reduce brain fatigue and significantly improve performance on challenging mental tasks (50, 51, 52). Interested in trying it out for yourself? Take anywhere between 100 to 600 mg daily.
#5 – Turmeric
Think the only application for turmeric is as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking? Think again! The truth is that this old Indian spice is also a powerful nootropic. And it is all thanks to its high curcumin content. Impressively, turmeric exerts positive effects on your brain through 3 separate (but connected) pathways. First: studies show that turmeric’s curcumin boosts neurogenesis–which is the production of new brain cells (53, 54, 55, 56, 57). This, in turn, enhances multiple cognitive aspects, including learning and memory. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, found that those who ate more turmeric (via curry) had higher scores on a broad measure of cognitive abilities (58).
Second: turmeric's curcumin also boosts your serotonin and dopamine levels; these are neurotransmitters that are critical for cognition and focus (59, 60, 61). And last but not least, turmeric's curcumin is also known as a potent antioxidant. By protecting your brain from the damaging effects of inflammation, turmeric helps reduce the formation of plaques associated with various neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer's Disease (62, 63, 64, 65).
Additional Note On Turmeric Supplementation
Oh, here's the crucial bit. You cannot expect to enjoy the nootropic benefits of turmeric by merely eating more curry. You need to get a high-quality, 100% organic turmeric extract containing at least 95% curcuminoids (66). It's also worth noting that turmeric is poorly absorbed by your gut when taken on its own. You'll need to boost its bioavailability by taking it together with Piperine (a bioactive compound found in black pepper). A 1998 study showed that combining curcumin with Piperine increased the former’s bioavailability by 2000% (67)!
Struggling to find a high-quality turmeric supplement that delivers on its nootropic promises? The search is over with Dr. Danielle’s Turmeric Curcumin supplement. Formulated to contain 95% curcuminoids and 15 mg of BioPerine® (black pepper extract) per serving, you can be sure that each serving will bring you laser-like concentration and focus. It’s time to bid farewell to fuzzy thinking.