Thinking about taking a nootropic supplement for the first time? Nootropics can be confusing, which is really no surprise considering the brain’s complexity.
This Nootropics for Beginners Guide is designed to give you a quick, easy-to-understand rundown on what nootropics are, how they boost brainpower, and how beginners can find the right nootropic supplement to get the best results.
Nootropics for Beginners: FAQs
What are nootropics?
Nootropics are brain boosters that you can take as nutritional supplements. You can find them as single-ingredient supplements or stacks that combine two or more nootropics into one capsule. (or pill, or softgel, or liquid. You get the idea.)
Also called smart drugs (though they are technically not drugs), nootropics work by enhancing various brain functions to produce results that you can feel.
- Nootropic benefits include sharper focus, improved memory, enhanced learning and many other pro-cognitive effects.
Nootropics have also been suggested to work in ways you don't feel now, but may feel years from now. By supporting overall brain health, nootropic brain supplements can promote healthy longe-range memory, mental clarity and more.
By definition, nootropics must be:
- Clinically shown to benefit the brain in some way;
- Supported by human clinical research studies;
- Safe to use: Extremely low toxicity, very few side effects
These days, pretty much any supplement linked to brain health is called a nootropic -- regardless of whether it meets the true nootropic definition.
Over 85 different nutrients may be classified as nootropics (see the full nootropic list here). However, the number that actually work to boost brain health and mental performance is far fewer.
Do nootropics really work?
Some nootropics do seem to work, as suggested by research across in vitro, animal and human studies.
Collectively, nootropics appear to help the brain's structure and function in several significant ways.
Some potentially beneficial nootropic mechanisms of action proposed by researchers include:
- Optimizing brain energy: Nootropics support brain cell energy production.<1> helping with brain fog and fatigue while promoting mental agility and focus
- Helping to balance brain chemistry: Nootropics optimize brain chemicals tied to memory, processing, mood, attention, motivation and others<2>
- Enhancing brain regeneration: By helping repair, maintain and regenerate brain cells, nootropics support brain health and long-term memory<3>
- Maintaining blood flow to the brain: Healthy cerebral circulation supplies oxygen and glucose used to produce brain energy that powers cognition<4>
- Protecting the brain: Some nootropics neutralize age-accelerating free radicals in the brain while preserving brain structure; good for brain aging<5>
- Raising Alpha brain waves: Nootropics promote the Alpha frequency,<6> for feelings of wakeful relaxation, mental clarity and enhanced creativity
Nootropics appear to support the brain in a lot of different ways, producing a broad range of brainpower-boosting effects.
What are the benefits of nootropics?
The list of potential nootropic benefits is long, covering many areas of brain health and cognitive function.
The most evidence-backed nootropic benefits may help with:
- Memory: Short-term, long-term, storage, encoding, learning, recall
- Mental Performance: Speed, processing, attention, focus, verbal
- Mindset: Mood, sleep, relaxation, creativity, motivation, anti-stress
- Brain Health: Brain cell protection, repair, regeneration, anti-aging
By enhancing the brain's overall function, nootropics may improve many different types of thinking.
Learn more about the potential benefits of nootropics here.
Are nootropics safe?
For the most part, yes. Nootropics are safe. By definition nootropics cannot be harmful. Rather, nootropics must protect and enhance brain health -- or else they are not really nootropics.
- The formulation and design of nootropic supplements may present more risks than the nootropics themselves.
Bad nootropic combinations, incorrect dosage and poor quality can all affect a nootropic supplement's safety.
Manufacturers in the nutritional supplement industry who don't know what they are doing can make even the most innocent of nootropics a risky proposition.
The best nootropic supplements, however, are reliably safe and effective due to good formulation practices, premium ingredients and extensive quality testing.
The bottom line is, if you do your homework and buy a high-quality supplement, nootropics are overwhelmingly safe and free of unpleasant side effects.
Do nootropics have side effects?
By definition, nootropics are free of side effects. However, individual experiences and sensitivities may vary.
Beginners who are concerned about side effects are advised to look for nootropics that:
- have been used by humans for a long time without major side effects;
- have been shown to be easy and comfortable to take in human clinical trials;
- ideally, meet both of the above criteria.
High-quality nootropic ingredients and well-designed nootropic stack supplements also tend to have fewer side effects.
Read more on the possible side effects of nootropic supplements here.
Are nootropics legal?
For the most part, yes, nootropics are legal -- but it depends on which nootropic you are using, and where in the world you live.
Different countries have different nootropic regulations. You can read about nootropic laws country-by-country here.
If you can buy a nootropic a reputable vitamin store or retailer in your country, you can probably consider that nootropic to be legal.
For nootropics purchased online, make sure the manufacturer addresses legality somewhere in their FAQs, ideally with country-specific information.
Types of Nootropics
What are the different kinds of nootropics? There are at least 85 nutrients and compounds that may be considered as brain boosting nootropics.
Nootropics can be split into a few different categories:
Some basic essential vitamins and minerals are important for overall brain health and sharp cognitive function.
B-complex vitamins are regarded as nootropics, especially:
- Vitamin B6 - needed to make brain chemicals that help with stress<7>
- Vitamin B9 - helps with healthy blood flow to the brain<8>
- Vitamin B12 - helps make protective nerve sheaths<9>
B-vitamins make sense as beginner's nootropics for a couple of reasons;
- B-complex vitamins are just good foundation nutrients for overall nervous system and brain health
- many people don't get enough of some B-vitamins, which is simple for nootropic supplements to correct
In addition to supporting some basic brain functions, some nootropic B vitamins may help cognitive performance. Vitamin B6, for example, has been shown to significantly improve storage of information in older adults.<10>
Herbs have been used as cognitive enhancers for centuries.
This gives them a long history of safe, effective use. Modern extraction methods and potency-enhancing techniques make traditional brain herbs safer and more effective than ever. For these reasons, botanical nootropic supplements a great starting point for beginners.
Bacopa monieri and Lion's Mane Mushroom are two good traditional nootropic herbs for beginners to start taking.
Both have been around forever, have great safety profiles, and deliver research-backed brain-boosting benefits that many beginners are looking for:
Bacopa monnieri has been shown to enhance higher order cognitive processes, which involve turning new information into stored learning and memories.<11>
- Research also suggests Bacopa may slow the rate of forgetting new knowledge.<12> This makes it a popular beginner's nootropic for students.
- Lion's Mane Mushroom has been used in traditional herbalism and cuisine for centuries, so it has an excellent safety and tolerability profile for beginners. It is linked to Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), and has been shown in human research to help with mood balance and age-related cognitive decline.<13><14>
Adaptogens are a special class of botanicals that work a little differently from other nootropic herbs.
In addition to acting on the brain, adaptogens regulate the endocrine system -- helping to balance hormonal stress responses so both mind and body can perform better under pressure.<15>
- Since stress creates brain fog and mental fatigue, adaptogens' anti-stress effects are suggested to clear brain fog and revitalize mental performance.
Rhodiola rosea is an ideal adaptogen nootropic for beginners, with a long history of helping everyone from farm workers to Olympic athletes to stay calm, clear-headed and focused in stressful settings.
Phospholipids are healthy fats that are used as raw materials to repair and regenerate brain cells. They are especially important for keeping brain cell membranes fluid and flexible.
Healthy brain cell membrane function is key for healthy cell-to-cell signaling and overall mental clarity.
Phospholipid nootropics in supplement form help to maintain healthy brain levels of these neuro-building-block fats, supporting healthy brain structure. In addition, some phospholipids unlock more benefits by helping brain chemicals, brain energy and more.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a good phospholipid nootropic for beginners because it is one of the best nootropics for memory, with lots of human research showing it is safe and well-tolerated.
PS is also good for beginners because it has been linked to a wide range of cognitive benefits, including:<17>
- Memory formation, storage and retrieval
- Attention, focus, concentration
- Critical thinking; reasoning and problem solving
- Communication and verbal ability
- Maintaining a healthy mood
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is one nootropic that does many positive things for the brain, which can help beginners get off to a great start.
Choline is a natural compound that helps the body to synthesize and regulate fats. Just like with phospholipids, choline sources support healthy fats in the brain, which is itself 60% fat.<18>
Nootropic choline sources can supply choline directly, or significantly raise brain choline levels indirectly.
Choline-related nootropics work together with phospholipid nootropics, and are crucial for the brain regeneration and repair that underlies overall brain health.
- Citicoline as Cognizin® is the best choline source for beginners, due to its strong safety profile and great brain-boosting benefits. More on that later.
Citicoline's versatile brain-boosting activities add up to human research-backed support for memory, mood and mental energy -- benefits that any nootropic beginner can appreciate.
Antioxidants help to protect the brain against free radicals: Unstable molecules that smash against brain cells, damage their membranes and accelerate aging.
There are many antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals. But not all can cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract is an ideal antioxidant nootropic for beginners.
The antioxidants in pine bark (called proanthocyanidins) can actually cross the blood-brain barrier, so they can reach and protect the brain. In addition, Maritime Pine Bark Extract:
- Is suggested to support nerve growth factors for healthy brain growth<19>
- Helps protect and relax blood vessels, for robust blood flow to the brain<20>
Amino acids are organic compounds. They are the "building blocks of life."
In addition to forming proteins, aminos perform many whole-body health-optimizing functions.
Some amino acids are nootropics. Amino acid nootropics have an interesting quality: They can be used as brain chemicals, while also being used as a raw material to make brain chemicals.
There are a few different amino acid brain-boosters, but two of them stand out as especially good nootropics for beginners:
- N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) - This brain amino is drained by stress; low levels may cause attention problems. NALT helps restore brain chemicals depleted by stress, and seems to improve cognition during multitasking and stress -- benefits that a lot of beginners are looking for.<21>
- L-Theanine - This soothing amino acid found in green tea is good for beginners because it has research-backed benefits for relaxation and sleep.<22> L-Theanine is one of those nootropics that you can really feel making a difference, which helps beginners stick to a nootropic program.
What is a Nootropic Stack?
Stacking refers to the practice of combining certain nootropics that work well together into a single formula that may unlock greater cognitive benefits than if you took them alone.
For example, a memory stack might combine three or four evidence-backed nootropics that help to support memory in varied ways -- for a more powerful overall memory-boosting effect.
Other stacks may seek to boost several aspects of mental performance at one time, or unleash greater brain boosting activity by uniting nootropics that help each other to work better.
Advanced nootropic stacking strategies and experiences have long been shared on online forums like Reddit. Pre-made stacks are also available to buy in supplement form.
What Should Beginners Look For in a Nootropic Supplement?
If you are just starting out with nootropics there are some tips that you should keep in mind before deciding on which supplement to buy:
Always look for quality. Some cheaper forms of natural nootropics don’t work as well, or may have harsh side effects. This can be discouraging for a beginner, making it harder to stick with a brain-boosting program.
Research matters. Beginners will achieve the best results by using tried-and-true nootropics backed by strong human research, as opposed to trendy products that may or may not deliver benefits.
Sensible stacking. If you start with a nootropic stack, make sure there are logical reasons and a cogent strategy for combining different nootropics; avoid products with haphazard stacking strategies. If the manufacturer doesn't explain their nootropic combinations clearly, then it is probably a product that beginners should avoid.
Avoid stimulants. Stimulants like caffeine boost alertness, but they are not true nootropics. Plus, they can mask the actual effects of nootropics you are taking, making it harder for a beginner to tell if they are working.
Clean label. It's hard enough for a beginner to determine sensitivities to nootropics -- but some supplement manufacturers make it even harder by using GMOs, artificial colors, preservatives and allergens. Beginners should look for the cleanest possible label to get safe-and-pure nootropic benefits.
Product guarantees. Beginners have no idea how they will react to nootropics. It’s a good idea to purchase nootropic supplements that have a money-back guarantee, just in case you find out the effects are not for you.
Best Single Nootropic for Beginners
If you are just starting out with nootropics, Cognizin® Citicoline is probably the single best nootropic for beginners to take.
This one versatile, multitasking nootropic can boost many kinds of thinking, with a lot of clinical research-backed benefits for:
- Mental energy
- Overall cognition
In addition, Cognizin® Citicoline helps with brain regeneration -- helping to promote mental sharpness while optimizing brain health for the long haul.<23>
Notably, Citicoline helps to energize the brain without using stimulants -- delivering a benefit many beginners are looking for (more mental energy) while addressing the common concern of overstimulation and related side effects.
In short, Cognizin® is the one nootropic that is most likely to produce significant beginner results for brainpower.
Cognizin® uses a patented process that yields 99% pure citicoline. Human research demonstrates it is safe and well-tolerated.
It is a good example of the high-quality nootropic that beginners should be looking for to get the most reliable brain benefits without risks or side effect concerns.
Best Premade Nootropic Stack for Beginners
Mind Lab Pro®, the Universal Nootropic™
Nootropic stacking experimentation like you see on Reddit and related subreddits can result in side effects, weak results and other unintended outcomes.
- Random nootropic stacking is probably a bad idea for beginners.
Pre-made nootropic stacks can deliver the powerful brainpower effects of stacking without the unknown variables of self-experimentation.
These stacks are probably the best way for beginners to start taking nootropics... as long as you pick the right one.
Featuring 11 of the brain-boosters recommended in this guide for nootropic noobs, Mind Lab Pro® is the nootropic stack for beginners. Its formula includes:
- Cognizin® Citicoline: Energizes brain cells for focus and concentration
- Phosphatidylserine (PS): Best overall memory-boosting nootropic
- Bacopa: Anti-stress learner's nootropic helps you retain new knowledge
- Lion’s Mane: Nerve growth factor support for memory and mood balance
- Maritime Pine Bark Extract: Helps brain circulation and brain anti-aging
- N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine: Boosts cognitition under stress and multitasking
- L-Theanine: Modulates Alpha brainwaves for calm, alert brainpower
- Rhodiola rosea: Stimulates peak mental performance under stress
- Vitamin B6: Maintains healthy brain tissue and long-term memory
- Vitamin B9: Optimizes brain health and blood flow to the brain
- Vitamin B12: Helps support brain energy metabolism
Each of these brain-boosting nootropics is effective on its own.
But stacked together in Mind Lab Pro®, they support every aspect of peak cognitive performance. This ultimately culminates in the "Mind Lab Pro® Effect" known as 100% Brainpower:
What does Mind Lab Pro®'s Universal Nootropic™ stacking strategy mean for beginners?
It means that with one supplement, you can experience the many potential brain boosting benefits of nootropics.
But what good is a nootropic if it comes with side effects that make it impossible to take? Beginners do need to take extra precautions when starting out with nootropics because they do not yet know how they will react to brain supplements.
That's why Mind Lab Pro® is designed with nootropics that have been shown to be safe, effective, and well-tolerated. This empowers beginners to achieve brainpower benefits without discomfort or worry.
Mind Lab Pro® is also the cleanest nootropic supplement on the market. It takes care to avoid use of anything that could cause a beginner to experience an unpleasant side effect or health risk. Mind Lab Pro® uses:
- No artificial colors, no preservatives, no GMO, no gluten, no caffeine or stimulants, no soy and no synthetic additives
- Premium vegan Plantcaps®: Clean, clear pullulan naturally fermented from tapioca; no unsafe or synthetic capsule ingredients
Starting out with a clean nootropic supplement like Mind Lab Pro® will help beginners to get the best short-term and long-term results for brainpower while actually building and optimizing overall brain health.
Mind Lab Pro®'s whole-brain-boosting Universal Nootropic™ design supplies the best nootropics for beginners in one safe, clean and convenient stack.
There is a lot to gain from nootropics for beginners. But if you're just starting out, you may be put-off by nootropics that have side effects or just don't work.
That's why it is so important to start your brain-boosting journey the right way: With a responsible, premium-quality premade nootropic stack that works.
- Mind Lab Pro® is 100% brain-boosting nutrition, with powerful nootropics in upgraded forms shown to be safe and tolerable -- a key advantage for beginners who want to unleash maximum mental performance without jitters, crashes or side effects.
While it's great for beginners, anyone can benefit from Mind Lab Pro® -- it is a true Universal Nootropic™ that works for everyone, is safe for everyone, and fits any lifestyle.