Nootropics may seem like a trendy new health fad, but they have been used throughout many cultures for thousands of years to improve mental performance and overall brain health.
Modern healthcare is re-discovering the far-reaching benefits of brain-boosting nootropics for improving and preserving both short term and long term cognitive functioning.
But not all nootropics are created equal. Find out what separates quality nootropics from poor imitations in this article detailing the pros and cons of nootropics.
Nootropics can provide targeted, short-term benefits or help promote long-term, overall brain health. Some nootropics work quickly, proffering noticeable effects within hours. Others work better with extended use.
Likewise, certain nootropics work well alone, while others function better when combined with complementary compounds.
Nootropics help boost mental performance by improving one or more cognitive functions in various ways.<1> Some nootropics are naturally produced by the human body, while we depend on nutritional intake for others.
Either way, nootropic supplements can fill the gap between what your brain needs and what your body and diet provide, helping you to feel your best and keep your brain sharp.
When it comes to exercise protocol, your brain is actually your most important body part. Brain health and mental performance can make or break an effective workout routine. Being able to harness optimal brain power optimally will make your workouts more focused and productive.
Nootropics can boost motivation, energy, and mental sharpness, helping you amp up your workout. This is precisely what many pre-workout formulas claim to deliver. And it explains why nootropics have recently become popular additions to pre-workout supplement stacks.
And, unlike many traditional pre-workout supplements, nootropics are not packed with stimulants that usually produce a quick high – followed by a heavy crash.
At the office, nootropics can enhance multitasking skills and improve focus. Modern jobs in corporate, technology, and social media positions often require us to perform multiple tasks simultaneously or quickly switch between tasks for the better part of each work day.
Nootropics for multitasking may help increase your productivity at work by supporting memory, improving attention, and mediating stress responses.
Studies show we can actually improve our multitasking skills with training over time by increasing processing speed in the prefrontal cortex.
And Some nootropics can boost skills training via mechanisms that target cognitive functions controlled by the prefrontal cortex.
College students face more dynamic cognitive demands than most other groups. The immense amounts of brain energy required for academic excellence can leave them drained of brainpower, especially during periods of high mental stress, like mid-term or final exams.
Some nootropics enhance learning ability while boosting mood and brain energy, without the potential risks and side effects that often accompany stimulant options.
Nootropics for college students target several bio-pathways to optimize cholinergic status, catecholamine levels, and stress resilience. Opening these cognitive pathways may improve:
Specific nootropics moderate acetylcholine (ACh) levels, a neurotransmitter important for learning, mental processing, and memory functions. This cognitive combo can heighten studying capability and provide calm clarity during intense study blocks and exam sessions.
Staying cool under pressure can mean the difference between winning and losing. Nootropics for stress can help athletes and other competitive professionals stay calm and play on.
Nootropics may improve strategic thinking, enhance spatial reasoning and help generate faster reaction times. Competitive athletes use nootropics to feel "the flow" - a mind state that combines instant clarity, awareness, sense of control, and a feeling of reward, among other things.<2>
Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow termed this flow state peak experience, noting that nearly everyone has experienced this state of mind at some time in their lives. Usually, we don't intentionally strive for this experience or even think about it as a possibility.
But athletes do commit to finding ways to get into the zone, and often their success depends on it.
Nootropics for competitive sports engage both right and left brain hemispheres to help you strategize both creatively and logically. Plus, they can stimulate attention-focusing dopamine neurons in the frontal lobe for better focus, short-term memory, and problem-solving, helping to stimulate a flow state.
Nootropics can enhance social skills by supporting relaxation, brightening mood, and expanding verbal skills.
Humans primarily use verbal language to communicate with each other. Nootropics for language target cognitive functions specifically associated with language production, comprehension, and processing by moderating serotonin, ACh, and GABA levels in the brain.
Balanced neurotransmitter levels reduce susceptibly to stress and increase endurance, potentially helping you communicate more effectively and choose your words more wisely during stressful verbal interactions.
Nootropics for social anxiety may help by:
- Moderating cortisol levels associated with stress and anxiety
- Regulating neurotransmitters associated with calm relaxation
- Tuning brain waves to a more peaceful mind state
Nootropics are extremely versatile, affecting many areas of the brain and improving several interlocking cognitive functions at once.
While some nootropics are best known for their ability to improve memory and others are praised for their mood-boosting benefits, nootropics work by acting upon many interconnected mechanisms to achieve results.
Nootropics can regulate neurotransmitter levels, elevate brain oxygen supply, and stimulate the growth of new nerve cells and neurons.
These mechanisms help upgrade language skills and memory and increase brain energy for better mental stamina. Studies show that some nootropics even have neuroprotective properties that can help reduce age-associated cognitive decline.
Nootropics for fluid intelligence optimize your brain’s processing power by enhancing key cognitive functions like attention, memory, learning, and language processing,
Nootropics for NGF work to increase NGF levels in the brain – an essential protein for maintaining healthy fluid intelligence as we age and enhancing overall cognition by encouraging neural growth.
Good attention is vital for memory encoding and recall. And memory is important for effective multitasking, making attention important for it too. In fact, anything that involves memory also requires focused attention.
Nootropics for attention work by stabilizing catecholamine neurotransmitters, including:
These catecholamines are linked to attention, working memory, impulse control, and other executive functions. Plus, balanced dopamine and norepinephrine levels can help you stay focused and improve memory.
Nootropics can also amp up learning skills, and since we’re required to be lifetime learners in this fast-paced, multitasking era, that can help us improve our career, salary, home life, social skills, and personal growth.
And nootropics can help us become better at multitasking by improving working memory and easing short-term memory retrieval, particularly under stressful conditions – the kind that often require multitasking, bringing those benefits full circle.
Others claim classroom inattentiveness is a result of normal hormonal functioning at a young age. Whether either theory is correct, proper nutrition is especially important for healthy brain development in children.
Adding nootropics to your daily routine can facilitate peak mental performance over an extended period of time. And beyond enhancing performance, nootropic supplementation nourishes cognition for long-term healthy brain function and helps offset premature brain aging while maintaining healthy neural networks and neuroplasticity.
Long-term studies show that many nootropics have neuroprotective properties that help preserve brain cells, neural communication, and overall brain health as we age.
Mild cognitive impairment is considered “normal” for people over age 55, but does it really have to be that way? Most of us expect that we will become forgetful, lose some short term memory function, or become more moody.
But new research indicates this type of cognitive impairment can begin as early as the mid-20’s. Researchers believe this is due to free radical damage, environmental toxins, and lack of proper nutrition, among other things.
So why do some people remain mentally sharp well into their golden years, while others seem to lose brain power prematurely?
The answers lie within a mixed brew of genes, lifestyle, environment, and other factors. But the long-term benefits of consistent, quality nootropic use may help offset some of those components and help preserve mental flexibility longer.
No Side Effects
Nootropics must be free of side effects, as defined by the father of nootropics, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea.<4>
And any high quality, natural, additive-free nootropic will not manifest any side effects in the correct dosage. While synthetic supplements and other stimulants may provide a short term cognitive boost, these substances are also often accompanied by other undesirable symptoms.
A true nootropic works to enhance cognition sans unhealthy and stressful side effects, period.
Numerous studies show that nootropics are safe for both short and long term use – when used properly.
Because nootropics are derived from natural substances or mimic elements our bodies produce naturally, they benefit the brain and body without disrupting natural mechanisms.
Nootropics are generally non-addictive, and they improve cognitive function and boost mood without narcotic or opiate effects.
Human clinical trials give the best evidence of a nootropic’s safety. In particular, extended, large, or long term studies give researchers the best opportunity to note any side effects or safety issues or lack thereof.
In lieu of human trials, well-conducted animal studies can imply the safety of individual or compound nootropics or signal potential problems with them.
Regardless of study results, the best way to ensure personal safety when taking nootropics is to start with the minimum recommended dosage and work up from there.
Some nootropics can start to present side effects when taken at higher doses, so be on the safe side and start small so you can see how your body chemistry will react to nootropics or nootropic combinations.
Naturally-occurring nootropics are derived from herbal or food sources, many of which have been used for thousands of years in ancient health and wellness practices like Ayurvedic tradition.
Plant and food sources provide an important source of nutrients which the brain needs for healthy functioning. But it can be difficult to consume enough of the right foods to reach the level your body needs.
The best nootropic elements that we normally receive from nutritional intake (but may not get enough of) are sourced directly from ethically grown, natural, chemical-free plant sources, not created in a lab.
While good, high quality synthetic nootropics do exist, they are relatively new. But many natural nootropics have been widely studied and are backed by a wealth of information that indicates positive results on brain function and brain health.<5>
Plus, natural nootropics can pass the blood brain barrier and act as a carrier for synthetic supplements that cannot.
Most of the safest and most effective nootropics are derived from natural, plant sources.
There are no known studies that indicate nootropics are dangerous or harmful. However, long-term studies are limited. And because nootropics are classified as a nutritional supplement, clinical trials are not required in order to produce and distribute them.
While nootropics are considered generally safe, they are not as closely monitored as other, more regulated substances, and they can continue to be sold until clinical studies or other strong evidence suggests otherwise.
Unsanitary manufacturing conditions, bad combinations, megadosing, inferior quality and other factors can turn an otherwise safe and effective nootropic or nootropic stack into a bad experience.<6>
Too much of anything can cause an imbalance in many cognitive areas. For example, high doses of St. John’s Wort can cause side effects diarrhea, hyperactivity, and insomnia. And all brain boosters are not created equal. Here are some of the potential downsides of nootropic use.
You should talk to your doctor any time you start a new health approach, whether it’s related to diet, supplements, medication, or exercise programs, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are currently taking any type of medication.
Drug interactions are more common than you may realize, and that can apply to some nootropics. Some nootropics are capable of altering brain chemical levels, nervous system function, and neurotransmitter activity.
These nootropics may counteract or amplify the effects of other drugs and supplements. That’s why it is important to know the specific ingredients and exact amounts present in your nootropic stack and how they work together.
Unless you are an expert in drug interactions, avoid experimenting with stacking supplements on your own and don’t take any supplemental formula that doesn’t list ingredient amounts by claiming they have a “proprietary blend.”
Racetams are lab-created synthetic compounds stemming from Piracetam (an imitative form of GABA) that are popular for their potent stimulant effects. They are sometimes considered as a specific nootropic class, but racetams can be harsh and over-stimulating.
And while racetams do have a large following, their nootropic mechanisms are not yet well-defined. Further research may reveal their benefits and detriments, but until then, naturally occurring nootropics may be a safer choice.
Some researchers question whether or not the body builds up a tolerance to nootropics, so regular users advocate cycling nootropic use over short periods for the more potent nootropics like racetams and other “smart drugs,” some of which can be habit forming.
Nootropics that the body needs regularly but does not either receive or produce in sufficient doses are not habit-forming and the body does not build up a tolerance to them over time. Rather, regular use of nootropic substances that the brain relies on for healthy function can become more beneficial with extended use.
Not all nootropics work well together. Stacking is the practice of combining nootropics in order to boost their individual effects.
Stacking can unleash exceptional brain power, but it also holds the potential for unwanted side effects. Watch out for these common pitfalls when stacking:
- Nootropic formulas. Simply put, manufacturers that produce inferior supplement stacks do not know what they are doing. Not all nootropics work well together, and just because a nootropic is side effect-free on its own does not mean it can safely interact with all other nootropics. Certain nootropic combinations can produce side effects in some people.
- DIY stacking. Do-it-yourself stacking can be even more risky than inferior commercial stacks. Commercial manufacturers must adhere to health codes and face the threat of recall, but DIY stackers don’t have to follow guidelines. This can lead to lengthy trial and error stacking that often results in unhealthy side effects.
Some stacks incorporate exotic-sounding – but unproven – nootropics and include enormous amounts of caffeine. The stack seems effective in the short term because of caffeine’s reliable energy-enhancing and alertness-inducing effects.
However, formulations that rely mainly on stimulant ingredients almost guarantee shaky side effects and quick highs followed by energy-sapping crashes and mood swings.
And stimulants can be highly addictive. Once you become dependent on a stimulant substance, like caffeine and other nootropic stimulants, you will need to consume ever increasing doses in order to attain the same level of results you experienced in the first place.
So, while stimulants can be enticing because of their powerful, instantaneous results, it’s often just not worth the side effects and the end results.
Poor Quality Ingredients
Ingredient quality varies tremendously, and substandard quality can lead to uncomfortable side effects. For example:
- Poor-quality nootropic herbs may be cultivated under toxic conditions, producing a weaker end product. To compensate, a manufacturer may increase the dosage past the point of tolerability, and too much of a good thing can produce side effects
- Cheap nootropic substitutes (like low-quality synthetic B-vitamins) may be more difficult for the body to absorb, possibly leading to gastro-intestinal disturbances
The higher the quality, the safer the nootropic ingredients are. Examples of safe, advanced nootropic forms include:
- Branded nootropics – identifiable by a registered trademark (®), branded supplements often use proven processes to limit side effects and improve safety. Many branded nootropics are also backed by human clinical studies that demonstrate its safety.
- Standardized nootropic herbs are reliably safe because they are contain a consistently precise ingredient percentage.
- Nature-identical vitamins and minerals. Nootropics and other nutrients in a form identical to nature are easier for the body to absorb.
Unsanitary manufacturing facilities may produce contaminated nootropics that result in side effects. Unhealthy bacteria, substrates, and other contaminates can weaken nootropic effects at best and can potentially cause health problems and negative side effects.
With nootropics, as with any ingestible substance, it’s important to ensure product purity and consistency.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations are intended to monitor facility cleanliness and safety in order to lower the risk of contamination. Look for supplements produced at GMP-compliant facilities, which will always display the GMP seal on packaging.
Additives, preservatives, fillers, synthetic compounds, and other questionable ingredients can create problems for many people – including allergic reactions, mood issues, upset stomach, and other side effects. Some of these harmful ingredients include:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial preservatives
- Palm Oil
- Fish-based substances
- GMO ingredients
Check the “Other Ingredients” label carefully in order to avoid unknowingly ingesting unwanted additives that can lead to unnecessary side effects.
Stay Safe With Nootropics
Not all nootropics are created equal. To obtain the best results without side effects, don’t take any substance or blend of substances that doesn’t clearly list all ingredients in specific amounts.
Avoid formulas that rely on “proprietary blends” and don't provide exact ingredients and dosage. This practice is often called “fairy-dusting,” and a formula that doesn't list its ingredients is unreliable at best.
The most reliable nootropic substances are backed by solid, clinical research. Many are even used in health care facilities around the world to improve cognition and mood.
On the other hand, if you have never heard of a substance labeled as a "nootropic" and there is little or no research linked to it, your best bet is to avoid it, at least until there is more evidence of its safety and efficacy.
As the World’s Cleanest Nootropic Supplement, Mind Lab Pro® is free of stimulants, allergens, additives, artificial preservatives, GMO ingredients, unnecessary fillers, and other questionable substances.
Mind Lab Pro®’s patented, vegan-friendly formula is and includes powerful, branded ingredients from sustainable sources that work to unleash 100% Brainpower™, giving you the cognitive power to do everything better.
- Malik R, et al. Towards better brain management: nootropics. Curr Med Chem. 2007;14(2):123-31. PMID: 17266573
- Boniwell I. Living in Flow: What is it and How to Enter the Flow State? Positive Psychology Program. 2017.
- Prince J. Catecholamine dysfunction in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: an update. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2008 Jun;28(3 Suppl 2):S39-45. DOI: 10.1097/JCP.0b013e318174f92a
- Giurgea C, Salama M. Nootropic drugs. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology. 1977. 1(3-4): 235-247. DOI: 10.1016/0364-7722(77)90046-7
- Suliman NA, et al. Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 30 Aug 2016. DOI: 10.1155/2016/4391375
- Vitetta D. Need To Know: Nootropics. MedShadow Foundation. 12 Sep 2016.