When you hear the word supplement, the first things that come to mind are supplements taken for gym purposes. We’re talking about pre workouts, fat burners, testosterone boosters, and protein powders. Some supplements are also designed to help you meet your daily vitamins and minerals requirement or even help you get over a hangover fast.
However, there are people who are looking to supplement more than just their body, but also their brain. More than helping the brain remain as healthy as possible, there are people out there who want to optimise brain functions for different occasions. When it comes to supplements meant for the brain, they belong to a group called Nootropics.
In this blog, we’ll go over what nootropics are, what they are often used for, some of the different kinds of nootropics available in the market, and the benefits of taking them.
To put it simply, nootropics are supplements designed with the intent of boosting brain power while maintaining brain health. Some refer to nootropics as “smart drugs” or the kind of pill that the protagonist in the film Limitless took that allowed him to maximise brain power and more. 
The truth of the matter is, nootropics are simply formulations that contain specific ingredients or concentrations of compounds that have been studied for their brain benefits. Most of the formulas you find in popular nootropics contain natural ingredients.
However, for the most part, the ingredients are often synthetic in nature so as to allow maximum absorption, especially when it comes to bypassing the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier (also known as the BBB) is a kind of “filter” that prevents some compounds that may cause harm to the brain from entering.
They are often taken to boost learning, focus, mood, cognition, memory, attention, motivation, and reduce stress levels. Nootropics also have the benefit of improving long-term brain health.
It should be noted that many nootropics are taken to improve the way our brain learns or memorise new information. At the heart of this process is a compound called choline.
Choline is naturally produced by the body in small amounts and is the prerequisite for another nutrient called acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter we use for learning. Raising choline levels is, therefore, the basic purpose of nootropic supplementation. More choline may lead to better learning function.
Other than to improve learning, raising choline levels can also confer more than a handful of health benefits to the rest of the body. Choline is also necessary for liver function, muscle movement, nerve function, metabolic maintenance, and brain development. You can say choline is key for the functions of every cell in the body.
There are a great number of nootropics in the market today, but the popular ones are Alpha GPC, Bacopa monnieri, Citicoline, Agmatine Sulfate, Uridine Monophosphate, Theacrine, Dynamine, Magnesium L-Threnoate and Lion’s Mane. Why are they popular? What do they do? What does the science say about their nootropic benefits?
Alpha-glycerophosphocholine or Alpha GPC is a nootropic heavily marketed for its ability to raise dietary choline through supplementation. This compound actually has a one-two punch when it comes to brain benefits.
The primary purpose is to help improve acetylcholine levels in the brain. As we discussed, acetylcholine is responsible in determining just how good we are at learning and storing new information. Alpha GPC’s secondary purpose is to maintain the brain cell membrane flexibility – a rare benefit among nootropics.
Studies about Alpha GPC mainly agree on its benefits regarding cognitive enhancement as well as reducing the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly. Some studies even suggest that taking Alpha GPC might help with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and is a nice complement with standard therapy.
“In the present study, we found that administration of α-GPC starting at 3 weeks after seizure improved cognitive function through reduced neuronal death and BBB disruption, and increased neurogenesis.” 
Bacopa monnieri, is a natural nootropic herb used in traditional medicine either to increase lifespan or for cognitive enhancement. The way bacopa monnieri works is it improves cognition by way of reducing anxiety and stress. It’s also been cited to have memory and learning benefits.
While the herb’s main perk is to positively tweak neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation, it also works on boosting neuron communication. Boosting neuron communication can have a positive effect on how fast a person can learn and memorise a new subject or process. Because it can promote neuron communication, bacopa is considered one of the best nootropics for students.
“Bacopa monnieri demonstrates immense potential in the amelioration of cognitive disorders, as well as prophylactic reduction of oxidative damage, neurotransmitter modulation, and cognitive enhancement in healthy people.” 
Citicoline or CDP Choline is considered one of the best, if not the best, nootropic in the market today. Much of the hype around it is due to how it not only increases choline content, but also another brain chemical called uridine.
Citicoline offers neuroprotective and brain regenerating properties which makes it ideal for age-related cognitive problems such as memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Young users can also use citicoline to improve memory, concentration, attention, and overall motivation.
“The biological activity attributed to citicoline has suggested a possible role of citicoline on improving memory.” 
A side benefit to taking citicoline is how it can help with problems with addiction, especially with illegal drugs like cocaine.
Citicoline works in a similar fashion to Alpha GPC, but if you’re looking for a nootropic that maximises brain function (especially learning and focus), Citicoline is the right choice.
Agmatine Sulfate or simply Agmatine is found in many pre workouts and other gym supplements because it can inhibit enzymes that breakdown nitric oxide, a compound that helps with performance and endurance. However, agmatine also has a nootropic side to it.
Agmatine is a derivative of l-arginine, an ingredient added to formulas to improve physical performance. What makes agmatine special is how it helps protect the brain from toxins and strokes as well as help treat neuropathic pain and drug addiction. Some studies also suggest its benefits for mood and anxiety. It’s also considered a brain antioxidant which protects the brain from oxidative damage.
Another positive note about about Agmatine is how it doesn’t seem to have any adverse side effects even when taken in large doses for at least five years.
“This case study shows for the first time that the recommended high dosage of agmatine may be consumed for at least 5 years without evidence of any adverse effects. These initial findings are highly important as they provide significant evidence for the extended long-term safety of a high daily dosage of dietary agmatine–a cardinal advantage for its utility as a nutraceutical.” 
As mentioned previously, uridine is a brain chemical like choline. Experts say uridine is responsible for many different neuroregulatory processes used in learning, short and long-term memory, and attention. It is naturally found in beer, breast milk, infant formulations, pig and beef liver and pancreas, fish, mushrooms, broccoli, cabbage, and Spinach.
Uridine is neuroprotective, supports brain health by means of increasing neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to fine-tune itself), shows evidence of enhancing mood, and generally brain protective against neurodegenerative diseases.
“In summary, the present study demonstrates that increased consumption of either Uridine or DHA, plus choline, improves the acquisition and retention of spatial memory.” 
The same study also says Uridine works best when combined with a cholinergic compound like Alpha GPC or Citicoline.
Dynamine and Theacrine are compounds isolated from the kucha tea leaf. These two nootropics were developed to provide performance and mental energy benefits similar to caffeine, but without the side effects.
Dynamine is understood to provide a higher burst of energy, but at a shorter lifespan. Theacrine, meanwhile, gives a moderate yet more sustainable flow of energy. Either one is used often alongside caffeine to provide a “smoother” and sustainable energy boost that also mitigates or reduces stimulant-related side effects.
What makes Dynamine and Theacrine great is how their repeated use does not lead to tolerance build up. More than tolerance, the effects of Dynamine and Theacrine on our adenosine receptors also help prevent the crash.
Magnesium is a nutrient that the human body needs to function and remain healthy. Recent studies have shown that by taking a Magnesium L-Threonate supplement you can potentially reduce your brain age by up to 9 years. Magnesium L-Threonate can also help with memory, sleep health and quality and working memory.
Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, such as regulating muscle and nerve function, regulating blood sugar levels and making DNA, protein and bones. We can get Magnesium by eating a variety of foods, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy spinach but getting more magnesium into our brain cells isn’t as simple as adding it to the diet because of the complex blood-brain barrier. As a result, consuming a fast absorbing Magnesium like Magnesium L-Threonate is important for the ageing brain.
Magnesium L- Threonate is the most absorbable and bioavailable source of Magnesium supplement. Studies have shown that taking Magnesium L-Threonate can help promote memory and overall cognitive function, improve age-related memory problems, and can create new neural pathways. It also supports sleep quality and healthy sleep habits.
Magnesium L-Threonate is unique due to its ability to quickly and efficiently boost magnesium levels in the brain. Rapid absorption enables this magnesium to structurally reverse certain aspects of brain ageing. A recent human study has shown the benefits of Magnesium L-Threonate in adults with cognitive dysfunction, sleep disorders and anxiety.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a mushroom that has both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries for its many health benefits. Taking Lion’s Mane can help support memory, focus and concentration. Lion’s Mane has been noted to increase nerve growth factor (NGF) when taken orally, which means it can help your brain process and transmit information.
A human study showed significant improvement on a rating scale of dementia in persons suffering from general cognitive decline.
Lion’s Mane has proven popular as an additive to coffee, with coffee drinkers finding positive health benefits from adding the mushroom. The mushroom can help you sleep more effectively and can also improve energy levels while awake. Research has shown it can have a positive effect on circadian rhythms, re-aligning sleep patterns and improving sleep in some people.
Theanine is a compound largely found in tea. While most of the nootropics we featured boost brain health and help users learn and memorize better, theanine is more of a brain relaxant and taken for its anti-stress and anti-anxiety benefits. After all, you can study or work better when your brain isn’t feeling stressed or burnt out. 
Hordenine is linked to the hormone norepinephrine. Norepinephrine can function as a neurotransmitter and used by the body to make us more alert, especially when training or trying to learn something new. Because of its effects on energy and wakefulness, hordenine has been cited for its benefits to concentration and focus. Some studies also suggest hordenine enhances brain plasticity and overall memory retention. 
Choline bitartrate is simply the choline compound bound to an acid tartrate. The intent is to directly supply the body with choline that can bypass the digestive system and penetrate the blood-brain barrier. The acid tartrate salt is said to help form a “barrier” around choline against our digestive juices.
Nootropics are supplements designed to boost brain power. Depending on what nootropic you use, you can greatly enhance memory, focus, attention, cognition, and have protection against many kinds of neurological disease.