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Nootropics vs. Coffee - Which is More Sustainable for Cognition?

By Dave Wright | |

Nootropics vs. Coffee compares 2 popular cognitive enhancers for people looking to optimize cognition and alertness.

Nootropic ingredients are brain supplements you can take regularly to boost mental abilities. On the other hand, coffee contains several bioactive compounds that are beneficial for cerebral blood flow, cognition and psychomotor behavior.

Both nootropics and coffee can enhance the different aspects of cognition. But which brain enhancer has fewer risks and more cognitive benefits? Let’s find out in this review.

Coffee and Cognition

Coffee is a valuable, caffeinated commodity that generates mass amounts of money worldwide every year. For example, in 1999, 2.25 million cups of coffee were being consumed every day throughout the world. And it's no surprise considering its brain-boosting, energy-enhancing effects.

Simply put, the caffeine in coffee supports cognition by boosting certain brain chemicals to enhance energy and alertness. So, even if we didn't get much sleep last night, the caffeine in coffee can help keep us going.

Caffeine is a popular bioactive compound and stimulant known for its energizing effects. However, other phytochemicals in coffee also play vital roles in improving mood and cognition. So all together, coffee may help with energy, focus, mood and overall cognition.

How Does Coffee Affect the Brain?

Specifically, caffeine works by modulating various neurotransmitters in the brain. The primary neurotransmitters affected by caffeine are noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, glutamate and GABA.

Manipulating these chemicals can enable your brain to function properly while enhancing your mood, even when you're exhausted. For example, one study shows caffeine boosts arousal, mood, concentration and learning.

As you know, many people drink coffee in the morning to start their day. But whether they know it or not, consuming caffeine first-thing in the morning helps stimulate and prepare the brain for cognitive tasks throughout the day.

Caffeine has even shown to speed up reaction-time to stimuli for Navy SEALS working on target practice.

However, remember caffeine is a stimulant. Thus, if you drink too much coffee, you may experience jitters, anxiety and other negative side effects like sleep deprivation. In addition, cutting yourself off from coffee can trigger withdrawal symptoms like headaches, brain fog and fatigue.

What's more, our cognition and motor functions tend to decline as we age. But coffee can help delay the signs of aging and protect our brain cells with its antioxidant properties.

Pros and Cons of Coffee Consumption

As you can see, coffee has different benefits and risks. For one, the bioactive compounds found in coffee are prone to interact with compounds found in foods and dietary supplements.

Not to mention, everyone has a different level of sensitivity to caffeine. Hence why the effects of coffee vary greatly from person to person. Here are the pros and cons:


  • Increase brain energy
  • Enhance cognitive function<1>
  • Improve mood and memory<2>
  • Modulate neurotransmitters
  • Regulate cerebral blood flow<3>
  • Promote physical performance
  • Increase antioxidant activity<14>
  • Reduce mental fatigue<4>
  • Has analgesic effects<5>


  • Potential crashes
  • Possible caffeine dependence or addiction<6>
  • Indirect mode of action on cognition<7>
  • Too much coffee can cause tachycardia, palpitations and elevated blood pressure
  • Withdrawal symptoms (weariness, apathy, weakness and drowsiness, headaches, anxiety, decreased motor behavior, increased heart rate, and increased muscle tension and, occasionally, tremor, nausea, vomiting, and flu-like feelings)<6>
  • High intake of coffee may negatively impact sleep
  • Increase the risk of acute coronary events<8>

Nootropics and Cognition

Nootropics are cognitive enhancers that can boost various aspects of human cognition. And to be clear, they are not drugs. They are natural supplements that support natural cognitive processes to enhance cognition.

These smart supplements first became popular in the 1960s when a well-known psychologist created the cognitive stimulant Piracetam. The criteria for a nootropic was initially established by the same man, Romanian Psychologist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, in 1972.

And now in 2018, nootropics are well-known to enhance brain activity, enabling the brain to do more and handle stress better. However, not all smart supplements are considered REAL nootropics, so you have to be careful. Here's the difference between a real nootropic and the opposite.

Basically, real nootropics are made of mostly natural ingredients while others aren't. The best nootropics elicit little to no side effects so anyone and everyone can use them safely.

Moreover, there's a small group of synthetic nootropics that are strictly regulated by the government in certain countries. Natural nootropic supplements are always better than their synthetic counterparts because the body treats them just like food.

More on Nootropics

How do Nootropics Affect the Brain?

In general, we take nootropics to enhance overall cognition. However, nootropic ingredients differ greatly in quality and efficiency.

Nootropics can come as either single, potent ingredients or in stacks containing 2 or more ingredients that promote a synergistic effect. The idea is that you can improve your unique cognitive functions by choosing nootropic ingredients or stacks that are specific to you.

However, it may be best to choose a universal nootropic, which is a stack of nootropics built to support all aspects of cognition. Universal nootropics are ideal for anyone who deals with various cognitive tasks on a daily basis. And unlike caffeine and stimulants, quality, natural nootropic ingredients and stacks are unlikely to cause jitters and crashes.

More on Types of Nootropics

Pros and Cons of Nootropic Consumption

Below, we've listed the pros and cons of nootropic intake. Then, we'll compare and contrast the pros and cons of Nootropics vs. Coffee to choose a winner.


  • Safe and effective
  • Improve memory
  • Enhance productivity by increasing concentration and attention
  • Speed up learning
  • Uplift mood
  • Adaptogenic properties
  • Increase creativity
  • Intensify motivation and focus during physical activity
  • Help combat the effects of physical and mental stress
  • Regulate brain chemicals
  • Induce focused relaxation
  • Promote cerebral blood flow
  • Support brain cell regeneration<9>


  • Nootropic formulas can be pricey
  • Some nootropic compounds are strictly regulated or illegal in some countries<10>

Which is Better for Cognition: Nootropics or Coffee?

All in all, effective nootropics are natural ingredients that can elicit cognitive benefits with little to no side-effects. They do not typically contain stimulants like caffeine that can cause adverse effects. Hence why they are more sustainable for cognition than coffee.

Nootropics are More Sustainable for Cognition

While coffee can improve cognition and increase energy, some people are more sensitive to the compounds in coffee than others. Thus, it is well-known to cause jitters, crashes, withdrawal and sleep deprivation in many.

In addition, unlike coffee, you can choose nootropic ingredients based on your unique cognitive functions. So, if an ingredient doesn't work for you, you can try a different nootropic formula.

Although coffee is a great physical and mental energy-booster for short periods of time, the side effects may not be worth it compared to the little to no side effects linked to nootropics.

Keep in mind, however, that some nootropics do contain caffeine. But it is seldom used as the main ingredient. Instead, nootropics occasionally contain caffeine in small doses to further enhance brain activity. But if you want to avoid it, make sure to seek out a clean, stimulant-free product.

Can we stack Nootropics with Coffee?And if the only thing you're really worried about is giving up your morning coffee, don't fret! There may be no need.

Taking Mind Lab Pro® alongside your morning coffee may actually eliminate the horrible coffee crashes we all dread while still enhancing energy and cognition.

Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics with Caffeine-Like Effects

The Mind Lab Pro® Universal Nootropic™ is a quality, natural nootropic with zero stimulants or additives. It contains 11 research-backed nootropic ingredients stacked to boost brain activity throughout the day without the crash of stimulants.

Some nootropic ingredients can even provide caffeine-like benefits without the side effects. For example, they can help with alertness, focus, wakefulness, fatigue resistance and our fight-or-flight response. Here are some of the most beneficial nootropics for cognition with sustainable, caffeine-like effects.

Cognizin® Citicoline

Cognizin® is a superior form of Citicoline that is stable and highly absorbable. Citicoline is known to energize the brain on a cellular level. Not to mention, brain energy from Citicoline does not induce crashes, unlike caffeine.

Here are the known benefits of Citicoline on the brain:

  • Supports healthy mitochondrial function
  • Promotes brain regeneration by increasing phosphatidylcholine levels
  • Helps with the production of acetylcholine, a brain chemical linked to learning, memory and problem solving
  • Regulates cerebral blood flow
  • Provides antioxidants to protect the brain from toxic substances and oxidative stress

Mind Lab Pro® contains 250 mg of Cognizin®, which is enough to provide caffeine-like effects without the jitters. So if you're after crash-free cognitive enhancement, Citicoline is a better option than caffeine.

More on Cognizin® Citicoline

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a popular adaptogen that can enhance cognitive abilities and physical performance. It is known to have potent anti-fatigue properties that protect cells from damage and stimulate cell repair.

In addition, Rhodiola rosea can restore brain energy while limiting the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Animal studies show Rhodiola rosea may also boost energy metabolism, so we can speculate the same effects in humans.

When we enhance our energy metabolism on a cellular level, it can benefit both the body and the brain. Here are the primary benefits of Rhodiola rosea as a nootropic:

  • Supports neurotransmitters while inhibiting enzymes that degrade acetylcholine
  • Energizes the brain and prevents fatigue
  • Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to maintain brain health

More on Rhodiola rosea

Suntheanine® L-Theanine

Suntheanine® is a branded form of L-Theanine. It has well-known nootropic benefits with no unwanted side effects, unlike caffeine. However, it is a main ingredient in many green and black teas alongside caffeine.

L-Theanine is the most science-backed natural nootropic for enhancing Alpha brainwave activity in the brain. Alpha brainwave activity is linked to relaxing the mind while enhancing cognitive functions like focus.

This nootropic is considered an antioxidant, not a stimulant like caffeine. But together, L-Theanine and caffeine can form a really effective nootropic stack that may improve mental performance during cognitively demanding tasks <11>.

Overall, L-Theanine can:

  • Calm the mind without impairing its functions
  • Directly regulate the neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine and serotonin<12,13>
  • Prevent or delay cognitive decline

More on L-Theanine

N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)

N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) is an advanced form of the amino acid L-tyrosine that is easily absorbed by the brain. NALT is known to support certain brain functions while limiting the effects of stress on the brain.

And while different factors can affect our neurotransmitter levels on a daily basis, NALT may be able to restore neurotransmitter levels to improve mood and overall cognition. For example, stress is a major factor that can disrupt brain chemical levels and create imbalances.

Ironically, high caffeine intake can also affect neurotransmitter levels. But luckily, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine can restore neurotransmitter levels once caffeine has depleted it.

In general, if you consume more than 200 mg of caffeine a day, you may experience negative side effects. However, NALT can enable you to experience nootropic benefits without risking a neurotransmitter imbalance.

Here are the other benefits of NALT for cognition:

  • Regulates dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine
  • Optimizes mood and cognitive performance despite sleep deprivation
  • Enhances working memory and multi-tasking ability
  • Protects the brain from the stress hormone cortisol
  • Improves cognition during noise exposure

More on N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT)


B-Vitamins are essential nutrients that help regulate specific body and brain functions. They are important for neurotransmitter production and cognitive performance.

Specifically, Vitamin B9 regulates cerebrovascular function and promotes brain development. On the other hand, Vitamin B6 acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitter conversions. And let's not forget about Vitamin B12, which is responsible for the formation of myelin sheath that conducts electrical impulses.

Vitamin B6, B9 and B12 are the most essential B-vitamins for the brain. In fact, the slightest deficiency can lead to significant changes in neurotransmitter levels and cognitive function. Not to mention, certain substances can interfere with the absorption of B-vitamins and/or deplete B-vitamin levels altogether.

Unfortunately, even coffee is known to decrease circulating B-vitamins in the body. This is because coffee is a diuretic substance, which can increase the loss of surplus B-vitamins excreted in our urine. Interesting, right?

In addition, B-vitamin levels that remain too low for too long can impact neurotransmitters and slow down overall brain function. Hence why we should maintain healthy levels of B-vitamins and make sure to consume substances that can affect B-vitamin levels in moderation.

Here are the overall benefits of each primary B-vitamin on cognition:

Vitamin B6

  • Helps create the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA and melatonin
  • Supports the formation of myelin sheath
  • Combats cerebrovascular damage caused by homocysteine
  • Enhances mood, attention and mental clarity

Vitamin B9

  • Promotes healthy cerebrovascular function
  • Regulates neurotransmitters for a positive mood
  • Improves memory and overall mental performance
  • Modulates homocysteine to prevent it from interfering with blood flow in the brain

Vitamin B12

  • Promotes healthy brain energy production
  • Stimulates the formation and repair of myelin sheath
  • Supports overall brain health
  • Optimizes function of nerve cells
  • Protects cerebral blood vessels from homocysteine
  • Combats the effects of age-related cognitive decline

Mind Lab Pro® supplies highly-absorbable B-vitamins in superior and nature-identical forms. Keep in mind that not all B-vitamin supplements are created equal and thus not all forms of B-vitamins are easily absorbed by the body.

In addition, B-vitamin deficiency is linked to cognitive impairment and other serious brain problems. Hence why we need to maintain our levels to maintain overall cognitive health.

More on Vitamins B6, B9, B12


In the end, nootropics can provide cognitive enhancement with less risk of side effects than coffee.

While coffee is an effective, energizing beverage packed with plenty of bioactive compounds for a quick cognitive fix, it's not exactly sustainable.

  • If you're looking for crash-free cognitive stimulation and performance enhancement, nootropics are the way to go. Just make sure you're consuming clean, natural ingredients and stacks without stimulants (if that' what you're going for).

For example, the Mind Lab Pro® Universal Nootropic™ is one of the cleanest, most effective natural nootropic supplements on the market right now. It's even stacked in vegan NutriCaps® to provide 100% BrainPower™ minus the unnecessary additives.

**However, keep in mind that both coffee and nootropics have the potential to interact with other medications and supplements. Thus, it may be best to ask your doctor before taking another supplement alongside other supplements and medications.

But don't worry too much. The quality, synergistic ingredients in Mind Lab Pro® allow for close to zero chance you'll experience any negative symptoms, as long as you take it as directed.


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  2. Olsson EM et al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb; 75(2): 105-12.
  3. Duncan MJ, Clarke ND. The Effect of Acute Rhodiola rosea Ingestion on Exercise Heart Rate, Substrate Utilisation, Mood State, and Perceptions of Exertion, Arousal, and Pleasure/Displeasure in Active Men. J Sports Med (Hindawi Publ Corp). 2014; 2014: 563043.
  4. Deijen JB, Orlebeke JF. Effect of tyrosine on cognitive function and blood pressure under stress. Brain Res Bull. 1994; 33(3): 319-23.
  5. Thomas JR et al. Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1999 Nov; 64(3): 495-500.
  6. Neri DF et al. The effects of tyrosine on cognitive performance during extended wakefulness. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1995 Apr; 66(4) :313-9.
  7. Gibb AJ. Choline and acetylcholine: what a difference an acetate makes! J Physiol. 2017 Feb 15; 595(4): 1021-22.
  8. Nobre AC et al. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008; 17 Suppl 1: 167-8.
  9. Giesbrecht T et al. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Dec; 13(6): 283-90.
  10. Suidasari S et al. Dietary vitamin B6 modulates the gene expression of myokines, Nrf2-related factors, myogenin and HSP60 in the skeletal muscle of rats. Exp Ther Med. 2017 Oct; 14(4): 3239-3246.

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article is an opinion and explanation of current research given by the author. It is not an expression of a medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on as such.

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