The best nootropic supplements in 2018 can do more for brainpower than you might think. Also known as cognitive enhancers, smart pills and brain supplements, nootropics -- whether taken in stack combinations or alone -- are now more effective than ever, thanks to recent nootropic advancements.
However, it can be hard to figure out which nootropics are the best. This guide discusses the nootropic features, forms and combinations to look for in brain supplements, and how the best nootropics stack may deliver everything you need for mental performance in one formula.
What Makes a Nootropic Supplement the Best?
A good nootropic might help with memory, attention, learning or some other aspect of cognition.
Better nootropics support the brain in many different ways, enhancing several cognitive functions at the same time.
The best nootropic supplement will do more -- using intelligent formulation strategies that combine multitasking nootropics to unlock the brain's full potential: Peak mental performance that fires on all cylinders.
Ultimately, to be the best a nootropic supplement must work. We can get an idea if a brain supplement might work by looking at the research behind its ingredients.
Some top nootropics are supported by well-designed human clinical studies demonstrating their brainpower benefits.
Brain supplements may also include human, animal and in vitro research-backed nootropics that support the healthy brain functions that drive peak mental performance: Brain energy, neurotransmission, brain regeneration, cerebral circulation and others.
The best brain supplements will only formulate with research-backed nootropics that are shown to be safe and effective.
Quality helps the best research-backed nootropics to work even better. Quality features seen in the best nootropic supplements include:
- Enhanced Absorption - Nootropics can only work if they are absorbed. Some high-quality nootropic forms are easier to absorb than others
- High Potency- Some advanced and branded nootropic forms are enhanced to supply more brain-boosting activity per milligram
- Clean Delivery - Artificial fillers, colors and preservatives may be linked to negative side effects. Quality nootropics keep it clean
The best nootropic supplements prioritize quality for safety, tolerability and superior brainpower results.
Combining different nootropics, also known as stacking, may produce better results than when the nootropics are taken alone.
The best nootropic supplements (as well as the best DIY stacks from biohackers on Reddit and the like) will use intelligent stacking strategies, including:
- Combining nootropics that have synergy - some nootropics may work hand-in-hand to amplify each other’s beneficial brain activities
- Multi-pathway nootropics - using several nootropics to address one aspect of cognition; or using one nootropic with several brain benefits
- Optimizing overall brain health - Enhancing brain’s structure for healthy function may improve cognition in diverse ways
Smart stacking strategies and the right nootropic combinations unlock the best possible brain supplement benefits.
Best Individual Nootropics
Now that we know what makes a brain supplement the best, let's take a closer look at some of the best individual nootropics, and the best-quality forms that maximize their benefits.
Citicoline is the best nootropic for energy and best overall nootropic for brain health and peak cognitive performance.
Citicoline may be most well-known as a clean and effective mental energizer. It powers up the brain on a cellular level -- within brain cells' powerhouse mitochondria -- to enhance alertness without the "crash" of stimulants.
- One human research study found that Citicoline may boost brain energy production by 13.6% and accelerate brain cell formation by 26%<1>
With additional roles in supporting the brain chemical acetylcholine, protecting brain structure, enhancing blood flow to the brain and more, Citicoline works in many ways to boost many aspects of brainpower -- making it the best nootropic overall.
In terms of mental performance benefits, researchers have suggested that Citicoline may help with:
- Overall cognitive function<2>
- Attention and reaction time<3>
- Memory performance<4>
- Verbal learning performance<5>
- Age-related cognitive and mental performance decline<6>
Human research suggests Citicoline (as Cognizin®) may improve cognitive performance related to attention
In this study, subjects took 250 mg Cognizin®, 500 mg Cognizin®, or placebo every day for 28 days, and then took cognitive performance tests. Both doses of Cognizin® were linked to higher test scores, with 500 mg demonstrating greater benefit. Researchers concluded Citicoline may enhance cognitive function and attentional performance.<2>
In addition to boosting performance-driven brain functions, Citicoline nourishes brain regeneration -- so it also helps with long-range brain health and clarity.
Best Citicoline for Nootropic Supplements: Cognizin®
- Cognizin® is premium-quality, 99%+ pure Citicoline
- Naturally made with a patented fermentation process
- Backed by gold-standard human clinical research trials
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is the best nootropic for memory, with additional anti-stress effects that may help with competitive cognitive performance.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid (healthy fat) nootropic used in brain cell genesis, repair and maintenance. It is especially important for brain cell membranes and nerve-protective myelin. PS has additional roles in brain chemicals and brain cell energy metabolism.
PS enhances several cognitive functions, with its greatest nootropic potential in the area of memory.
- Researchers have suggested PS promotes the formation and storage of short-term memories, consolidation of long-term memories, and memory retrieval (also known as recall)<8>
Additional mental performance benefits linked to PS supplementation include:
- Stress reduction and mood balance<9>
- Improving cognition in mild age-related cognitive impairment<10>
- Increasing sports-oriented cognitive functions<11>
- Delayed recall memory enhancement in elderly subjects<12>
Best PS for Nootropic Supplements: Sharp-PS® Green
- Sharp-PS® Green is premium PS made from non-GMO sunflower lecithin
- Some PS is soy-derived; Sharp-PS® Green is a 100% soy-free PS source
- Patented, eco-friendly process that produces clean vegan Sharp-PS® Green
Bacopa Monnieri is the best nootropic for learners, with unique brainpower benefits for knowledge mastery, memory performance and cognition under stress.
This traditional Ayurvedic herb supplies active nootropic bacosides, which regulate brain chemicals and brain circulation while supplying brain-protective antioxidant activity.
Bacopa Monnieri's versatile brain benefits deliver some of the best cognitive effects for students and learners, but may help anyone seeking a sharp mental performance edge.
Researchers have suggested that Bacopa Monnieri may help:
- Slow the rate at which we forget newly acquired information<13>
- Significantly improve memory acquisition and retention in older adults<14>
- Supply neuroprotective activities that may be therapeutic in memory loss<15>
- Activate the brain for clear thinking under stress (animal research)<16>
Human research shows Bacopa Monnieri at 24% bacosides/9 bioactives may enhance learning, immediate recall and delayed recall memory
In a study that included 81 healthy Australians over the age of 55, Bacopa Monnieri supplementation for 12 weeks appeared to significantly improve verbal learning, memory acquisition, and delayed recall<14>
In another study, researchers linked Bacopa Monnieri supplements to significant improvements in delayed recall memory. In weeks 0-12, a 36.5% improvement was noted with Bacopa supplementation. Over the study's 24-week duration, a 78% improvement in delayed recall was noted with Bacopa.<17>
Bacopa Monnieri is one of the best nootropics because it is associated with so many different performance-oriented brainpower benefits. In addition to learning, it supports short-term mental performance, long-range healthy brain function, and stress resistance in all age groups
Best Bacopa Monnieri for Brain Supplements: Standardized for 24% Bacosides, Calibrated to 9 Bioactives
- 24% potency of active nootropic bacosides ensures consistent activity
- Advanced HPLC-analysis ensures 9 bioactive bacoside nootropics are present
- Precisely calibrated botanical extract for more reliable Bacopa brain benefits
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is the best nootropic for Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).<18> Healthy NGF levels in turn support several cognition-enhancing brain functions.
Lion's Mane Mushroom is among the best nootropics is because its NGF-boosting bioactivity is rare, but highly significant for brain health and mental performance:
- Healthy NGF levels support a range of brain bioactivities including plasticity, brain regeneration, cell-to-cell signaling and more
- Suboptimal NGF levels have been linked to blue moods, poor memory issues and cognitive decline
Researchers have suggested Lion's Mane Mushroom's brain-healthy NGF support may boost brainpower by:
- Increasing cognitive performance scores in older adults with mild age-related cognitive issues<19>
- Potentially helping to balance mood and ease anxiety<20>
Lion's Mane Mushroom (Yamabushitake) has been shown to enhance cognitive performance in human research
In one clinical trial, subjects took Lion’s Mane Mushroom or placebo three times a day for 16 weeks. Researchers found that the Lion’s Mane supplementation was associated with enhanced cognitive performance scores, and that cognitive testing scores dropped four weeks after supplementation stopped.<19>
Best Lion's Mane for Nootropic Supplements: Full Spectrum Extract
- Full spectrum extract supplies all the mushroom's constituents
- Includes Lion's Mane nootropic actives: hericenones and erinacines.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Maritime Pine Bark Extract is the best antioxidant nootropic because it combines potent brain anti-aging activity with natural support for brain blood flow and brain regeneration.
Antioxidants fight cell aging, including within the brain. Antioxidants work by neutralizing the cell-damaging, age-accelerating effects of toxic free radicals.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract is a strong antioxidant substance because it:
- Supplies dozens of brain-protective flavonoid antioxidants in one complex
- Pine bark antioxidants are suggested to be 50X stronger than vitamin C
- One of the few antioxidants that can cross the blood brain barrier
Maritime Pine Bark Extract emerges as the best nootropic antioxidant because it does far more than protect the brain.
The flavonoid antioxidants that are found in Maritime Pine Bark also:
- Stimulate Nitric Oxide, which promotes blood flow to the brain<21>
- Help raise levels of BDNF, a growth factor for brain regeneration<22>
Researchers have linked flavonoids’ brain-regenerative and anti-aging bioactivities to improvements in memory, learning and overall mental function, as well as a potential reversal of age-related cognitive decline.<23>
Best Maritime Pine Bark for Nootropic Supplements: 95% proanthocyanidins
- Standardized to supply a minimum of 95% active proanthocyanidins
- Also called flavonoids or OPCs, proanthocyanidins are Maritime Pine Bark's nootropic antioxidants
- 95% active proanthocyanidins is the strongest available potency of Maritime Pine Bark’s nootropic actives
L-Tyrosine is the best nootropic for achieving peak mental performance and clarity in challenging, pressure-filled situations -- and then supporting mental recovery afterwards.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid used to make brain chemicals involved in memory, mood and mental processing, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
Stress, multitasking and other intense cognitive functions deplete these performance-oriented brain chemicals, which may lead to brain fog and attention problems.
By maintaining stress-depleted brain chemicals, L-Tyrosine appears to enhance cognitive performance in stressful, distracting and demanding scenarios.
L-Tyrosine's brainpower benefits and support for mental recovery easily rank it among the best nootropics for excelling in the modern age. Researchers have suggested L-Tyrosine improves:
- Working memory and learning speed during cold water immersion<24>
- Mental performance during loud 90 decibel noise exposure<25>
- Short-term memory during demanding multitasking activities<26>
- Cognitive performance and mood during sleep deprivation<27>
Best L-Tyrosine for Nootropic Supplements: N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)
- NALT is the preferred Tyrosine form for brain supplements
- May have bioavailability advantages over plain L-Tyrosine
L-Theanine's rare Alpha brain wave-boosting activity makes it the best nootropic for relaxed-yet-alert mental clarity, with additional support for sleep and long-range brain health.
A soothing amino acid nootropic from green tea, L-Theanine raises activity of Alpha brainwaves.<28> By tuning the brain to an Alpha frequency (8-14 Hz) , it helps produce feelings of wakeful relaxation, mood enhancement, creative thinking and calm mental clarity.
Researchers have suggested that L-Theanine's nootropic benefits include:
- Activating and enhancing the brain's attention circuitry<29>
- Reducing stress during demanding multitasking tasks<30>
- Enhancing age-related cognitive performance and protecting the brain<31>
- Improving performance on math tasks in a stressful environment<32>
- Helping to reduce the side effects of caffeine, for alertness without jitters<33>
Best L-Theanine for Nootropic Supplements: Suntheanine®
- Premium Suntheanine® is 100% pure L-isomer form of theanine
- Patented fermentation process mirrors green tea’s profile
- Protected by 40+ U.S. and international patents (as of 2017-2018)
- Suntheanine® is shown in human research to raise Alpha brainwaves
Rhodiola Rosea is the best nootropic for mind-body performance. It helps strengthen mental fortitude against stress, supporting mental energy, physical intensity, mood, work capacity and more.
Rhodiola Rosea is one of the best nootropics and a must-have in performance-oriented brain supplements. Rhodiola Rosea is powerful brain-booster that works in a unique way:
- Rhodiola Rosea modulates stress hormones to strengthen mental (and physical) resistance to stress.<35>
Rhodiola's anti-stress and brain support promotes far reaching brainpower benefits, including an anti-fatigue effect that improves concentration ability, decreases stress responses and helps with peak mental performance.
Researchers have suggested Rhodiola Rosea:
- Enhances mental and physical performance<36>
- Promotes a significant anti-fatigue effect<37>
- Supports mental energy and neuro-motoric testing scores<38>
- Reduces mental fatigue in stressful settings<39>
- Supports a bright, balanced mood<40>
Rhodiola Rosea has been linked to dose-dependent mental energy benefits in human clinical research
In a human clinical study investigating Rhodiola Rosea's impact on mental work capacity during stress and fatigue, researchers reported that rhodiola group study subjects showed a pronounced antifatigue effect.<37>
Best Rhodiola for Nootropic Supplements: 3% rosavins, 1% salidrosides
- Standardized for a minimum of 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides
- Strongest potency of Rhodiola rosea nootropic bioactives available
- Enhanced-potency form of a traditional herbal performance booster
Vitamins B6, B9, B12
B-Vitamins get a special nootropic mention because they are among the best essential nutrients for brain health, but not everybody gets enough. While the B-Complex as a whole is believed to support brain health, three Bs in particular are noted for their nootropic activity:
Vitamin B6 is one of the best nootropics to look for in brain supplements because it regulates synthesis and conversion of neurotransmitters involved in healthy cognition, mood and memory performance.
Researchers have suggested that Vitamin B6 may:
- Significantly improve the brain's storage of information<41>
- Help form myelin sheaths throughout the nervous system
- Support brain chemicals associated with a bright, healthy mood<42>
Vitamin B9 is among the best nootropic supplements because it helps balance homocysteine levels, thereby optimizing blood flow to the brain and production of cognition-critical brain chemicals.
High homocysteine levels correlate to low B9 intake. Both are linked to cognitive decline and unhealthy changes to brain structure.<43>
- Vitamin B9 supplementation has been shown to increase blood B9 levels by 576%, reduce homocysteine by 26%, and significantly improve memory and information processing speed.<44>
B9 also plays a role in the synthesis of the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine<45>
Vitamin B12 is an important essential nutrient for the nervous system, including the brain. It supports brain cell energy metabolism and the formation of healthy, protective nerve sheaths.<46>
Low levels of B12 are associated with cognitive decline and mental imbalance.
Researchers have suggested that as a nootropic, Vitamin B12 may help to
- Maintain brain size against age-related shrinkage<47>
- Reverse age-related cognitive decline in some older adults<48>
- Support healthy blood flow to the brain<49>
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are the best essential foundation nootropics for overall brain health.
The B-Complex Vitamins are good for general brain and nervous system health. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 stand out as the best, performing a range of brain-supportive and nootropic activities. Most B-complex brain research and reviews focuses on these three B-vitamins.
When stacked together Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 unlock another benefit that makes them three of the best nootropics for long-range brain health: They help to regulate homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine is a strong modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline because it may interfere with healthy blood flow to the brain.
Vitamins B9, B6 and B12 for Healthy Blood Flow to the Brain
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are all involved in homocysteine metabolism, which in turn supports healthy cerebral circulation and brain chemicals:
In a meta-analysis review of 12 human clinical trials including over 1,100 study subjects, researchers suggested that B-vitamin supplements help with homocysteine metabolism:<50>
- Supplementation with .5 mg of Vitamin B9 appears to be associated with a 25% reduction in blood homocysteine concentrations;
- Adding .5 mcg of Vitamin B12 to the regimen was associated with an additional 7% reduction in blood homocysteine levels.