Today, the use of nootropics is on the rise. Increasingly competitive work and school environments are some of the driving forces of the renewed interest in nootropics. Everyone is interested in harnessing the power of these brain-boosting substances.
Nootropics are a category of substances that enhance cognitive performance—the core processes the brain uses to think, learn, remember, and solve problems. Specifically, nootropics are linked to memory, creativity, decision-making, and motivation.
The term is derived from the Greek words noos (meaning “mind”) and tropein (meaning “towards”). There are several classifications of nootropics: prescription “smart drugs” such as Adderall and Ritalin; a family of synthetic chemicals called racetams; and natural nootropics like caffeine and ginkgo biloba.
Humans have strived to improve their cognitive abilities since the dawn of civilization. Our ancestors used elixirs made from herbs and roots to enhance spiritual awareness during religious rituals and to boost mental sharpness before combat. Traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese healers have used natural nootropics like ginkgo biloba and ginseng root to increase cognition for more than five thousand years.
Natural Nootropics vs. Synthetic Nootropics
What is the difference between natural and synthetic nootropics? Natural nootropics are plant-based extracts, whereas synthetic nootropics are manufactured in a laboratory. Both synthetic and natural nootropics work by stimulating chemical activity in the brain. While synthetic nootropics are often prescribed by physicians to treat attention-deficit disorders and mood disorders, natural nootropics are widely available.
Many people prefer natural nootropics due to their long history of use and lack of side effects compared to prescription drugs. For example, caffeine and L-theanine are two nootropics that are naturally found in the Camellia sinensis plant, or tea plant, and have been consumed since 2732 B.C.
The Best Natural Nootropics
While there are many natural nootropics to choose from, we have highlighted several of the best-studied and most effective nootropics below.
Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed nootropics on the planet. This energizing substance is found in tea, coffee, yerba mate, cacao, and several other plants. Caffeine promotes alertness by blocking adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that causes feelings of sleepiness.*
Try It: Boost your energy levels with a flavorful high caffeine tea.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in certain plant species—most notably the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Studies have shown that at realistic dietary doses, L-theanine elevates serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels in the brain.* These neurotransmitters play a role in regulating mood and concentration.
Try It: Matcha green tea has been shown to contain a high concentration of L-theanine.
3. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species and is native to China, where it has been used as a healing herb for thousands of years. Ginkgo biloba acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow and circulation to the brain. Studies have demonstrated that ginkgo biloba is “potentially beneficial for the improvement of cognitive function.”*
4. Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng, hails from the mountains of China and East Asia. Researchers have found that panax ginseng may “enhance aspects of working memory” and “speed attentional processes” in healthy individuals.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.