What are Nootropics? Overview of Nootropic Supplements



Nootropic supplements are supplements that improve cognitive functions and general brain health. They have been shown to improve memory, attention, mood, focus, resistance to psychological stress and many more areas of cognition. When taken over a longer period of time, nootropics can benefit the general health of the nervous system. [1]

In this blog post we’ll be taking a closer look at nootropics, their effects and mechanisms of action. We’ll also be covering important aspects of what to take into consideration, when You have decided to try out nootropics for the first time.

Before moving on, we would also like to mention that, although nootropics are also known as “smart drugs”, this article will only cover nootropic supplements that can be bought over the counter and don’t need a prescription.

Definition of Nootropics

Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs”, are a class of compounds that have been shown to improve several aspects of human cognition, such as memory and learning ability. [1]

The word “nootropic” originates from two Greek words: “nöos” meaning “mind”, and “tropos” meaning “turning”. The term was first used in 1972 by a Romanian chemist, psychologist and the pioneer of nootropics Corneliu E. Giurgea. Giurgea stated 6 criteria that a compound must have in order for it to be classified as a nootropic. The criteria are as follows:

  1. It should enhance learning and memory
  2. It should support brain functioning during stressful situations
  3. It should have neuroprotective properties
  4. It should improve neuronal cell-to-cell communication
  5. It should be backed by human research showing bioactivity in the brain
  6. It should possess few adverse effects and have low toxicity [2]

Following Giurgea’s criteria, only a handful of compounds can be truly classified as nootropics. Nevertheless, in the last few decades we have discovered a lot about the brain and supplements that are beneficial for it.

Nowadays, you can call any supplement a nootropic, if it boosts brain functioning in any way. Therefore, the list of nootropic supplements is now longer than ever, amounting to more interest among the general public for the use of these supplements to improve many aspects of human cognition.

What are nootropics mainly used for?

In the past, brain health supplements were mainly used by the elderly to support and improve short and long term memory. Now, nootropics are being used by people in all age groups to reap the many benefits they provide.

The list of brain-beneficial supplements, and their effects, is very along and includes but is not limited to:

Improved memory - many nootropics are used for their positive effect on recall and short and long term memory.

Improved attention - some nootropics can enhance attention, focus and concentration which may give users an edge in productivity.

Improved learning - many students take nootropic supplements to benefit from their positive effects on learning ability, such as memory formation, recall and improvements in complex processing tasks and reasoning.

Reduced stress - some nootropics can lower perceived psychological stress which in turn, leads to improved brain functioning.

Better mood - nootropics may improve one’s day-to-day life by helping them relax, increase motivation and reduce anxiety.

In addition to perceived improvements in cognition, nootropics support general brain health. The long-term use of nootropic supplements can do this by having an effect on the following:

Cell damage - damage to neurons associated with old age is caused by so called free radicals, that are reactive molecules which in large amounts damage the cells. Many nootropics act as antioxidants and can help neutralize and lower the amount of these free radicals.

Decline in cognition - decline in cognition is considered normal in the aging brain. Some nootropics can help slow down the rate of decline in cognition and may alleviate symptoms associated with it.

Brain structure - some nootropics can support brain health by providing essential nutrients for neuronal cells, which leads to the maintenance of the cells’ structural integrity and functioning. [1]


Nootropics’ mechanism of action

The aforementioned benefits of nootropics arise via several mechanisms of action. Usually, nootropics, and combinations of them, work via one or many of the following mechanisms:

Supporting neurotransmitters - cell-to-cell communication in the brain works by the help of neurotransmitters. Increasing the amount of neurotransmitters and modulating their release can help improve cognitive functions.

Improved cell metabolism - the brain demands a lot of energy. Many nootropics have been shown to boost neuronal cell metabolism by improving nutrient transport to the cells or functioning of the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell.

Improved blood flow - reduction of blood flow to the issues, including the brain, may be caused by trauma or old age, which may lead to cognitive decline. Some nootropics help maintain the structure and functioning of healthy blood vessels in the brain and therefore, help reduce cognitive decline.

Neuroprotection - nootropics can have antioxidative properties which can lower the amount of previously mentioned free radicals, and in turn, protect brain cells.

Brain renewal - many nootropics can activate neurogenesis, by which the brain tissue regenerates itself. The regeneration processes include reparation of cell damage and increases in brain plasticity, e.g. increase in the amount of cell-to-cell connections. Nootropics are able to do this by acting as supplies of important structural cell components or increasing the amount of various growth factors in the brain. [2][3]

Examples of Nootropics

Broadly speaking, nootropics can be classified as synthetic or natural. The use of many synthetic nootropics (such as racetams) as dietary supplements is strictly forbidden. That’s why many of the most used nootropics nowadays are of natural origin.

Herbs and fungi

Most of the natural nootropic supplements are standardized extracts of various plant and fungal species. Usually, researchers have determined the bioactive constituents of the plant and fungal species that have been shown to have positive effects on cognition. When it comes to herbal and fungal nootropics, the plant or fungus has been processed and made into a concentrated extract so that it would have a larger amount of the particular bioactive compound(s).

Bacopa monnieri is a perennial herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. A number of controlled studies have described its cognitive enhancing effects in areas, such as learning, memory and attention. In addition, it has been found that Bacopa monnieri has antioxidative properties and can therefore lower the amount of free radicals in the central nervous system. [3]

Saffron (crocus sativus) is mainly known in the culinary world as an exotic spice. But did You know that saffron extracts have also been shown to improve mood, lower stress and enhance attention and focus in healthy adults? These effects are mediated by saffron’s ability to modulate levels of dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin (neurotransmitters) in the brain. [4][5]

Rhodiola rosea is a perennial plant that has been used as medicine in Russia for centuries. Many research papers have shown that Rhodiola can improve mood and attention. Researchers have also found that Rhodiola can significantly lower stress and mental fatigue. Rhodiola produces these effects by improving levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. [6]

Sources of choline

Choline is an essential biomolecule that is involved in many physiological processes of the human organism. Choline also plays an important role in the reparation and regeneration mechanisms of neurons. In addition, choline is necessary for the synthesis of acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter required for learning and memory formation. Nootropic choline sources either directly increase the amount of choline in the body, or do it indirectly by acting on different metabolic pathways. [7][8]

The most popular nootropic choline sources are:

  • Phosphatidylcholine
  • CDP-choline (citicoline)
  • Alpha-GPC

  • Amino Acids

    Amino acids are key structural components of all biological organisms. Mainly, it is known that amino acids are necessary for the synthesis of proteins, but many amino acids also have a nootropic effect.

    L-tyrosine is a precursor for the synthesis of dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are neurotransmitters that play a major role in the brain during stressful situations. Supplementing with L-Tyrosine can help prevent deficits in the aforementioned neurotransmitters and, by doing so, help enhance cognition during stressful moments. [9][10][11]

    L-Theanine is an amino acid that is primarily found in particular plants, like green tea, and fungal species. L-Theanine is one of the best nootropic amino acids available and is known for its stress lowering effects. On top of that, L-Theanine has been shown to ameliorate the side effects, such as anxiety and jitters, of caffeine. [12][13]

    Creatine is a compound in the human body that is synthesized from amino acids. It is widely used among athletes because of its positive effects on strength and short bouts of exercise. Although, it is less known that it can positively affect cognitive functions as well. Researchers have observed its beneficial effects on short term memory and reasoning abilities. Creatine does this by boosting neurons’ metabolism. [14]

    Phospholipids, such as phosphatidylserine, are crucial structural components in the brain. To be more specific, they are necessary for the formation of healthy and functional cell membranes. Also, they are used during brain regeneration processes and processes linked to increases in brain plasticity. With old age comes a reduction in the levels of phospholipids in the brain, which is one of the factors associated with cognitive decline in the elderly. Research has shown that phospholipid dietary supplements can improve short and long term memory, reasoning and many other cognitive functions. [15]

    Caffeine is one of the most used nootropics in the world, which is mainly used for its wakefulness promoting effects. Caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine - a compound in the brain that causes the feeling of tiredness. [16]

    However, for many people, caffeine consumption comes with several side effects, like anxiety, jitters, caffeine crash and difficulties with falling asleep in the evening. Luckily, these side effects can be lessened or avoided altogether by consuming caffeine with L-Theanine. [13]

    Are nootropics safe?

    Since the list of nootropics and their combinations is so long, there is a possibility for side effects to occur. Also, the sale of nootropics, which are considered as “safe”, may actually be unsafe because of poor production quality and contamination. That is why You should always make sure that the product You are about to purchase is safe, and opt for products that have been formulated with quality and safety in mind. It should also be mentioned that before using dietary supplements, a medical professional must be consulted.

    Do nootropics actually work?

    Supplements have a bad reputation - they are thought to be ineffective and not useful. This notion applies for both common and less known dietary supplements, like nootropics. And it actually holds true. One should have a specific reason in mind why they are using dietary supplements of any kind. They should also be certain that the supplement they want to use actually contains bioactive ingredients in the right dosages, which provide the benefits they are looking for.

    The list of nootropics is now longer than ever - some of them work, some of them don’t. Their efficacy can only be determined by high-quality human clinical trials. Many nootropics’ potency has been assessed by a number of studies that have either confirmed their effectiveness or the other way around. Also, a number of nootropics have been studied for decades and their safety has either been proven or disproven.

    By keeping all of this in mind, You can try science-backed nootropics with peace of mind. 

    ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 - A Science-Backed Safe Nootropic

    ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 is the ideal all-in-one solution for optimal brain health. It improves many aspects of cognition by having an anti-stress effect, improving attention, memory and mood. ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 is suitable for daily use, so that the positive effects can compound over a longer period of time.

    We have formulated ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 by choosing only the safest and most efficacious ingredients and dosages. Every ingredient is backed by a number of research papers that confirm their safety and effectiveness. We also believe that people should know what they’re consuming. That is why we have fully disclosed the formulation of ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 - each ingredient, its dosage and research papers that confirm our claims can be found on our website. We want everyone to have a healthy brain. That is why we have made ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 caffeine-free and vegan friendly.


    When a person asks “What are nootropics?”, they usually get the simplistic answer of nootropics being compounds that can improve short and long term memory, attention, mental clarity and many other aspects of cognition.

    To answer the question, one must look deeper. The answer lies in the criteria set by the forefather of nootropics C. Giurgea, which includes safety and efficacy backed by quality human research, that confirm the effects attributed to them.

    ENLIGHTENMENT 2.0 is one of the best nootropics on the market. It sticks to the true definition of a nootropic by being safe, effective and backed by research.


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    7. Silveri, M. M., Dikan, J., Ross, A. J., Jensen, J. E., Kamiya, T., Kawada, Y., … Yurgelun-Todd, D. A. (2008). "Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy". NMR in Biomedicine. 21 (10): 1066–1075.
    8. Tardner, P. "The use of citicoline for the treatment of cognitive decline and cognitive impairment: A meta-analysis of pharmacological literature."
    9. Broadley KJ (March 2010). "The vascular effects of trace amines and amphetamines".Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 125(3): 363–375.
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    12. Hidese, Ogawa, Ota, Ishida, Yasukawa, Ozeki, & Kunugi. (2019). "Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial". Nutrients. 11(10): 2362.
    13. Anas Sohail A., Ortiz F., Varghese T., Fabara SP., Batth AS., Sandesara DP., Sabir A., Khurana M., Datta S., Patel UK. (December 2021). "The Cognitive-Enhancing Outcomes of Caffeine and L-theanine: A Systematic Review". Cureus. 13(12): e20828.
    14. Prokopidis, K., Giannos, P., Triantafyllidis, K. K., Kechagias, K. S., Forbes, S. C., & Candow, D. G. (2023). Effects of creatine supplementation on memory in healthy individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition reviews, 81(4), 416–427. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuac064
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