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Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers, have been around since the late 1950s but have exploded in mainstream popularity during the last decade. The nootropic market hit $10.7 million in 2021 and is projected to double that figure in the next three years.¹ It’s easy to get excited about something that could erase so many of our day-to-day productivity problems — brain fog, short attention spans, and fading memories, to name a few — but our brains’ needs are all unique. And sifting through dozens of supplements that all make the same claims to find the right choice for you is a Herculean task.
We researched, investigated, tried, and compared the most compelling nootropic options of 2023 to help you find the right smart pill for your needs. If you’re short on time, here is the rundown of our top picks.
Thesis is our top nootropic recommendation. Their formulas are scientifically backed and stimulant-free.
Thesis supplements help rebalance the brain, without negative habit forming side effects. Choose between 5 personalized brands to enhance your mental performance.
Over the past two decades, Innerbody Research has helped tens of millions of readers make more informed decisions about staying healthy and living healthier lifestyles. As nootropics have emerged and proliferated in the supplement landscape, we’ve invested serious time to determine which are worth your consideration.
We’ve spent hundreds of hours researching and testing various nootropics, including specialized formulas, generalized nootropics, and individual ingredients. Over the course of our nootropic studies, we’ve read over 350 clinical studies examining the safety and efficacy of various nootropic ingredients. To get a first-hand look and feel, we ordered and tested nootropic supplements ourselves, meaning we’re speaking from experience — not just regurgitating what others have said.
Additionally, like all health-related content on this website, this review was thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy. To keep things up to date, we monitor the nootropics landscape and update this page as information changes.
Nootropics are complicated supplements, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for the average person to understand them. When we review nootropic supplements, we consider four main criteria:
Typically, a nootropic’s effectiveness is the most important criterion: no matter how good of a deal it is or how safe it may be, it doesn’t make sense to invest in a product that just doesn’t work. Safety ranks second above cost; your brain is a delicate organ, and many nootropics contain ingredients without a long history of adequate research, which calls their safety into question far more than something like a multivitamin. Those ingredients and a company’s testing routine vary much more dramatically than cost or convenience.
Thesis comes close to a clean sweep in our ratings in 2023, winning in effectiveness and convenience (with TruBrain as a close runner-up) and matching Mind Lab Pro in safety. It’s one of the most effective nootropics out there, with:
The only area where Thesis falls short is its price: spending $79 or more per month on a nootropic is out of reach for many of us. If you have a tighter budget, Focus Factor has the most reasonable price point on our list by a long shot; it costs four times less per dose than our second least expensive nootropic, Hunter Focus.
An effective nootropic is one that makes a big difference in your mental state without overloading your system with thousands of unnecessary milligrams of botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients. If 100mg works similarly to 10,000mg, it’s going to be much more effective to get 100mg in a blend. And when it comes to nootropics, effectiveness becomes slightly more complicated because there are two major categories:
Because of their jack-of-all-trade tendencies, generalized nootropics tend to be less effective than specialized nootropics.
We think Thesis is the most effective nootropic because of its reasonable dosing and, more importantly, its unique blend configuration. Where most other nootropics provide one formula, Thesis lets you try four of its six formulas in a Trial Kit before committing to your favorite (or favorites). Each blend is dedicated to a specific part of your cognition you might want to enhance, such as motivation and creativity, so you can utilize effective ingredients to treat the aspect of your cognitive health that’s most important to you.
TruBrain’s drinkable nootropics take a similar approach but are ultimately less effective because not every formula has the same scientific robustness as all of Thesis’, and the drinkable liquid means there are more ingredients necessary for a good flavor — like agave syrup, xylitol, citric acid, and cane sugar — that you just won’t see in a capsule nootropic like Thesis.
Runner-up: Mind Lab Pro
Despite having been around since the mid-1950s in some form, nootropics still often use lots of ingredients without much research that backs up positive effects on cognition. Because your brain is a sensitive and delicate organ that controls every part of your life, it’s critical that nootropic supplements are safe. The more research into a product or ingredient has behind it, the more we know about its safety and can make better-informed decisions. We consider the following factors to be critical for our safety scores:
Both Thesis and Mind Lab Pro are exceptionally safe nootropic supplements. Neither contains hazardous ingredients you’d need to cycle (though Thesis still recommends taking at least one day off a week from their nootropics, just in case), and both use ingredients that are backed by the latest research.
Both Mind Lab Pro and Thesis make their nootropics in GMP-certified, FDA-registered facilities, but Thesis is more transparent about its use of third-party testing for ingredient and formula purity. And more importantly, Thesis uses short lists of ingredients in doses that are closely aligned with scientific studies. Mind Lab Pro is mostly underdosed (only three ingredients are present at the same doses found in clinical studies), though their in-house study found the nootropic had great success matching, if not exceeding, said studies.
Winner: Focus Factor
New technologies — and supplements — are often much more expensive than ones that are simpler or have been around for longer. For the most part, nootropics follow this trend. Prices can range considerably depending on the manufacturer, ingredient list, and other factors but generally fit into one of two categories:
Among the group of nootropics that provide a reasonable formula, Focus Factor is our least expensive nootropic by a long shot. The company makes several different nootropic supplements, and its Original formula is one of the best and the least expensive per serving on our list. One 15-serving bottle costs $14.99, and costs per dose decrease as you buy bigger bottles. Even the next least expensive nootropic, Onnit’s Alpha BRAIN, costs more than twice as much per serving.
While some of the biggest nootropic companies make one product and others make dozens, here’s a breakdown of the costs and money-saving opportunities for our top picks’ most popular product in as close to a 30-day supply as possible. (All costs noted are pre-savings.)
Focus Factor doesn’t accept returns, which is a pain, but you can get both bulk deals and savings from subscription programs on your orders, which drops the price further. And it has the least expensive shipping across all of our favorite nootropic options, so while you can’t get it in stores yet, you can get it regularly shipped to your front door for very little.
Nootropics aren’t the most convenient supplements. Most of the time, they require taking several medium-to-large pills with food in the morning. Depending on their ingredients, some will ask you to cycle your use. Cycling means that you take a few days, weeks, or months off to keep yourself from developing a tolerance or building up too much of a substance that could harm you in high enough doses. And while nootropics hopefully improve your memory enough to remember when you need a refill, subscription services that are easy to modify or cancel improve a nootropic’s convenience score.
Every formula from Thesis contains multiple capsules, which is a little inconvenient but standard for nootropics. However, its serving sizes are small for nootropics, and the company lets you opt in or out of a caffeinated formula whether or not you’ve purchased either form. Its caffeine pills come as a separate white capsule, so you can identify and skip it if you’d rather not give up your morning coffee. Every day’s serving is packaged in an individual plastic bag, and while you’ll have to pull out a pair of scissors to open it (there’s no tear notch), you won’t have to count capsules and can easily slip the packet in your bag or pocket for on-the-go use.
Except for TruBrain, all other nootropics come in homogenous capsules or tablets in a big bottle, which means lots of counting and a commitment to either caffeinated or non-caffeinated formulas. Add in the excellent starter kit so you can try four of the six formulas before committing to your favorite few, and it becomes clear why we consider Thesis to be the most convenient nootropic.
On the other hand, you can take TruBrain’s six nootropic formulas in three different forms: liquid pouches (like squeezable applesauce), capsules, or powder sticks. It also offers a “brain aging” supplement with its own separate formula. This is the only liquid nootropic worth its salt right now, providing a convenient option for people who can’t swallow pills. Like Thesis’ packets, it’s also easier to carry and take with you, and you won’t have to worry about dividing up your daily dose.
Some of our favorite nootropic companies center on one formula. Others have broad horizons and create multiple lines of products. It can make trying to compare nootropic supplements confusing at best. To simplify things, we’ve created two charts:
Here’s a closer look at our top products from each company. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and we’ll go into more detail on a few other products from these same companies later, but this will give you a good starting point in your investigation.
Here are a few important facts about the companies themselves:
Broadly speaking, nootropics are substances that improve your cognitive functioning. This definition is generous as it applies equally to supplements, prescription medication, and recreational drugs. In recent years, the supplement industry has grabbed onto this term to describe products with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and botanicals that are designed to improve your brain game. We’ll follow suit and focus on nootropic supplements in this guide.
The first nootropic to use the term was a drug developed throughout the 1950s and 60s called piracetam. It was intended to treat anxiety and provide patients with a soothing experience that might even lull them to sleep.² The effect was quite different than what its creators intended, as users reported sharper focus, and later testing pointed toward improved memory. (At the time of writing, the FDA still hasn’t approved piracetam for use in supplements or as a prescription medication, though many still take it.)³ Nootropics also include prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin, as well as medications for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine is also a nootropic substance and an ingredient you’ll find in many nootropic supplements.
Nootropic supplements may have one ingredient, or they may have dozens. Some ingredient lists look similar to multivitamins, and others focus more on cutting-edge botanicals. Because no two brains are identical, the best nootropic for our team or other people may not work for you, but we’ll provide all of the research and information you need to make the best decision in this guide.
Contemporary nootropics generally have three main goals:
Not every nootropic does all three; some have a more specific focus, such as improving your learning ability or neuroprotection. These kinds of nootropics are called specialized nootropics. Others, called generalized nootropics, try to improve your brain’s function holistically across all three categories. But either way, all nootropics are designed to help your brain work more efficiently.
As cognitive enhancers, nootropic ingredients alter how your nerve cells and neurons work. This takes place in a variety of ways, including:
To better understand the potential mechanisms of action in any nootropic, we have to take a closer look at its ingredients. Unfortunately, there are several hundred ingredients used in these kinds of supplements, yet manufacturers claim that all of them work equally well. This, obviously, isn’t true. A vast majority of nootropic ingredients have mixed evidence of their benefits and few research studies verifying these benefits.
That said, there are some nootropic ingredients that research supports wholeheartedly (or close to it). Here are nine of the best ingredients you should consider noteworthy when picking a nootropic supplement.
Choline is an essential nutrient that allows our bodies to make phosphatidylcholine, a fatty acid necessary to build our cell membranes. There are several choline-related ingredients you might find in a nootropic supplement, including choline, phosphatidylcholine, citicoline, and alpha-glycerophosphocholine (alpha-GPC). The latter two are the most common in nootropic supplements; between the two, citicoline works more effectively, but alpha-GPC is more common (though the research suggests that alpha-GPC may not produce statistically significant results over caffeine or a placebo).⁴ Citicoline more reliably improves episodic memory without serious side effects and is a contender for a future possible dementia or stroke treatment, though more research is necessary.⁵ ⁶
Ashwagandha comes from a plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to lower stress and anxiety levels, improve sleep, and regulate your HPA axis (which, for men, can also boost testosterone levels).⁷ In contemporary research, these practices hold up well, consistently lowering self-reported anxiety levels and improving sleep quality by up to 72%.⁸ ⁹ By improving your sleep and lowering stress, ashwagandha seems to work as a natural nootropic, but there’s some evidence it may also improve executive functioning in people with neurological and severe psychiatric disorders.¹⁰ Our testers noted significant drop-offs in their stress and anxiety levels when they tried ashwagandha supplements.
Tyrosine is an amino acid commonly found in nootropic supplements because our bodies use it to create dopamine and norepinephrine. Having higher tyrosine levels means you’ll have more materials to make dopamine and norepinephrine, so your body is less likely to fall flat when you need them most. Studies show that higher tyrosine intake translates to better resilience in stressful or cognitively demanding situations, better short-term memory, and improved cognitive flexibility.¹¹ ¹² You’re most likely to see tyrosine as NALT (N-acetyl L-tyrosine) in supplements.
You might find you don’t function the same without your morning cup of coffee. That’s thanks to caffeine, a potent nootropic. While scientists don’t know exactly how caffeine works in the brain, the running theory is that it prevents adenosine (which gradually makes you sleepy over the course of a day) from building up in your brain. This makes you feel more alert than you would be without caffeine. Repeatedly in scientific studies, caffeine improves human attention spans as much as prescription stimulants.¹³ A 2022 review also outlined how caffeine has neuroprotective effects against Alzheimer’s disease in animal models, though this still needs to be tested more rigorously in humans.¹⁴ And it doesn’t take much caffeine to see these improvements — even 100mg of caffeine, or what you’d get from one cup of coffee, is enough to benefit your brain.
Most common in tea leaves, theanine is another amino acid that’s key for our relaxation. Like ashwagandha, it’s long been known to reduce stress, particularly when used in conjunction with caffeine (where theanine reduces the jittery effect so common when you have a little more than you need).¹⁵ There’s a link between L-theanine and improved sleep quality, too, though there still needs to be more research on this subject before anything can be stated definitively.¹⁶
Rhodiola rosea is an herb common in northern Europe that’s similar to ashwagandha. It’s surprisingly effective at reducing fatigue, calming your nerves, and lowering stress levels.¹⁷ Rhodiola also works in combination with tyrosine to improve your focus during stressful times.¹⁸ There’s some research on its role in learning and memory that’s generally favorable, but most of these studies focus on animals, not humans.¹⁹
Bacopa monnieri is a botanical nootropic ingredient that’s common for a good reason: it’s one of the better-studied nootropic ingredients and improves choline levels, giving ingredients like citicoline or alpha-GPC a boost. According to a 2014 meta-analysis, it seems to improve your attention and decrease reaction time.²⁰ However, studies are mixed on whether or not bacopa extract improves memory recall, too.²¹
There are a few kinds of ginseng you might find, but they can generally be separated into Asian ginseng (including Korean red ginseng, a particularly potent form) and American ginseng. Generally, Asian ginseng improves cognitive performance more than American ginseng, though the American form does still have cognitive enhancement properties.²² It generally improves concentration, scanning ability, and memory recall and is thought to stabilize the nervous system and decrease neuroinflammation.²³ Ginseng seems to be particularly potent when paired with ginkgo biloba, another nootropic botanical.²⁴
Huperzia serrata produces a potent compound known as huperzine A. Huperzine A raises your acetylcholine levels by limiting the amount of acetylcholinesterase (which breaks down acetylcholine) released. This essentially means you’ll have more acetylcholine available for synapses to take up for longer. It has potent antiepileptic and neuroprotective effects and, when used correctly, is perfectly safe.²⁵ However, because nootropic supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, there’s a greater likelihood that supplements containing Huperzia serrata can be dangerous. When too much acetylcholine accumulates (known as cholinergic toxicity), you can experience things like headaches, nausea and vomiting, and confusion, and it can lead to overdose in extreme situations.
It’s important to note that just because an ingredient works well in one research study, it doesn’t mean the ingredient will work exactly like that in your body. Our brains are just as individual as our fingerprints, shaped by both genetics and our lived experiences. Everything from our weight and what we ate for breakfast to our parents’ reactions to medications can make individual nootropic ingredients interact differently from person to person. Likewise, these ingredients’ doses and interactions with other ingredients can change a lot about how they work. Some ingredients might keep others from working, while others might boost others’ ability to work. Most of this information hasn’t been properly researched yet, so it’s hard to predict how a nootropic will work without an independent study of the product. (We take a look at the four studies that have been done on specific nootropic supplement formulas later in this guide.)
Keep an open mind while you’re starting to try nootropics. We recommend starting with nootropics supplements that have relatively short ingredient lists so you can quickly pinpoint ingredients that do or don’t work for you.
There are some other classes of ingredients that may not directly affect your brain like you might expect a classic nootropic to, but that are still important to support your brain’s overall health.
Like the rest of your body, your brain and central nervous system need amino acids to make proteins. It’s well-known that the brain uses three amino acids — tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine — to make the three major neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, respectively).²⁶ But a 2020 study found seven amino acids that improved older adults’ cognitive, social, and psychological functioning: leucine, lysine, isoleucine, histidine, valine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan.²⁷ The only amino acid that we know doesn’t make much of a difference in your brain is glutamine. You might see some of these amino acids as acronyms like NALT (tyrosine), too.
Fatigue and brain fog are extremely common symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. B vitamins (especially B6, B9, and B12), vitamin D, iron, and magnesium are the most important vitamins and minerals for your cognitive health. Though direct analyses often yield mixed results, fatigue and brain fog make a big difference in how easily thoughts come to you and how good you feel, and vitamins and mineral deficiencies are more common than you might expect.²⁸ Healing these deficiencies is often just as good as — if not better than — just taking a nootropic supplement.
Oxidative stress is caused by a buildup of free radicals — reactive oxygen species missing electrons that cause damage to nearby cells. It occurs due to aging, environmental pollution, exposure to tobacco smoke, food breakdown in our digestive system, and dozens of other small factors that add up over time. With enough buildup over time, oxidative stress can cause permanent damage and may lead to things like heart disease and cancer. This damage is most common and harmful in the brain due to its massive oxygen consumption and the fact that adult brains don’t replace dead and dying cells.
Antioxidants have free electrons that they donate to the raving oxygen molecules, taming them and allowing the body to repair damage. There are thousands of antioxidant compounds, but things like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, polyphenols, and carotenoids are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants are most useful when consumed alongside chemicals present in their natural forms like fruits, vegetables, and fish, but they can still help on their own in a supplement.
Insider Tip: You likely won’t see pure amino acids in a nootropic supplement. Instead, you’ll see something with a letter before it, like L-theanine. This letter represents the direction the molecule is turned in production — L- means it’s all turned to the left, D- means it’s all turned to the right, and DL- means there’s some of both. L- amino acids are absorbed best by the body and are almost always cheaper.
Some ingredients require a little more care to use properly. Tolerance (our brains physically adapting to a new situation) and habituation (our psychological adaptations) can both be present while you’re using nootropics. (These are both different from addictions, which involve an inability to control your use even when you want to and developing a dependence on it for daily functioning, among other features. It is possible to become addicted to some nootropics, though it’s not common.)
If a nootropic asks you to cycle, or occasionally take a few days off from taking it, it’s likely that it contains ingredients that could build a tolerance. These generally are ingredients that affect your brain’s acetylcholine levels, like huperzine A.
Some ingredients with little to no evidence still find their way into nootropic supplements. There aren’t many that are inherently dangerous; vinpocetine can induce miscarriages or birth defects if taken while pregnant, and huperzine A can cause acetylcholine toxicity if taken in extreme doses for too long. But plenty of ingredients are essentially filler. Sadly, most nootropics will contain at least one ingredient with questionable research behind it. Here are some of the worst offenders we’ve found, even in our favorite nootropics:
Because nootropic ingredients vary so wildly in their clinical support and almost no research studies look at ingredients in combination with each other, it’s always nice to see a company run a study on its product. There are some clear biases possible — when a company funds a study, the researchers may feel pressured to produce certain results — but some information is better than none.
Four of our top picks tested their nootropics in some capacity: Focus Factor Original, Alpha BRAIN, Mind Lab Pro, and Qualia Mind. In general, Mind Lab Pro worked the best on reaction time, anticipation, memory recall, and information processing (particularly among the 30-and-over crowd), and Focus Factor Original also had some significant positive findings on recall ability.³³ ³⁴ Alpha BRAIN has two studies under its belt, both of which are somewhat mixed but suggest that it may improve verbal memory, and Qualia Mind’s findings were disappointing — while participants reported significant improvements across six cognitive categories, they weren’t significant over a placebo.³⁵ ³⁶ ³⁷ These findings ultimately make a big impact on how we judge these supplements, and while nothing’s going to work perfectly for every person, it provides insight as to the strengths and weaknesses of these products.
You can read more about these studies in the products’ full reviews, linked under each product breakdown in this guide.
No nootropic pills are created equally, so it’s hard to say they’re all safe. Many are safe for healthy adults who don’t take any prescription medication, but that leaves out two-thirds of all U.S. adults, according to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.³⁸ And nootropics can also interact with other supplements, so you’ll want to cross-check ingredient lists. As with any supplement, we encourage you to talk to your doctor before starting a nootropic to ensure it doesn’t interfere with any conditions you have or medications you take.
Our top recommendations generally use ingredients in safe doses for most people. They err on the side of caution and are more likely to under-dose than overload your system with the latest and greatest botanicals, which is frustrating in practice but better for you in the long term. This isn’t the case for every supplement — we’ll point out which ones to approach with extra caution in our product breakdowns — but, in general, you’re more likely to experience fewer effects than a laundry list of side effects.
Side effects and contraindications are always a possibility, though. Some ingredients cause more side effects than others. (Since many nootropics have at least 90mg of caffeine, we recommend curtailing your coffee and tea consumption until you know how this new energy source affects you.) Keep an eye out for things like headaches, stomach aches, and dizziness when you’re starting a nootropic. If you find these symptoms don’t go away after a day or two of use, stop using them and contact your doctor. It may be a poor ingredient fit, or nootropics might just not be a good idea for you.
Some nootropics will require you to cycle (take days off in your weekly dosing routine). It’s inconvenient and a bit of a pain to have to remember, but it’s important for your health to follow these instructions. Taking a few days off keeps them from building up in your brain, either flooding your body with excess acetylcholine that can’t get cleaned up (and can cause problems like muscle twitching or decreased respiration) or causing you to develop a tolerance or dependency. Cycling requirements generally depend on a few ingredients — notably huperzine A and other acetylcholinesterase blockers — included in a given formula.
Other ingredients you might see that mean you should regularly take time off include:
Caffeine, for example, is an addictive stimulant (as you may know if you drink a cup of coffee each morning and don’t feel right without it), whereas NAC regulates the amount of glutamate released by your body. Cycling NAC prevents building a tolerance, which can have effects on your mood — like an inability to feel pleasure — whereas cycling caffeine can keep you from developing a dependency on it.
You might find that taking your nootropic five days a week and resting for two days works for you. Taking it for three months straight, then stopping for one month, may be better for others. Many nootropics that suggest you cycle have recommendations on how to plan your weeks, but ultimately, deciding the right routine is up to you and how you feel while taking the nootropic.
Most of us can understand a desire to be smarter. Many of us have struggled through brain fog and confusion after several nights of staying up too late. A nootropic sounds like something we could all use, but some populations would benefit more from adding it to their routine, and others should stay away at all costs.
Pregnant people, nursing parents, and children under 18 should all avoid taking standard nootropic supplements. There are a few nootropic supplements specifically designed for children (including types from Focus Factor and BrainMD), but we don’t know enough about how they might interact with a developing fetus to state they’re safe for pregnant people.
We always strongly recommend sitting down with your doctor before starting any new supplements, especially nootropics. Your situation may be unique, and they’ll have the best sense of what might work for you. They may also order lab tests to ensure you don’t have any deficiencies, disorders, or other health problems that could be causing your cognitive symptoms.
Psychiatric and neurological medications can cause some of the biggest problems when combined with nootropics. (We’ll explore this in more depth shortly.) You should also avoid nootropic supplements if you’re taking:
Likewise, several conditions can be exacerbated by nootropic supplements. Not every nootropic will affect all of these conditions, but if you have anything listed below, be particularly cautious about starting a nootropic.
Nootropics also don’t interact well with drugs or alcohol. Some nootropics may be safe to have alcohol in moderation (such as a glass of wine with dinner) while taking it, but it’s generally best not to combine the two for your liver’s sake. Ingredients like green tea extract can cause liver inflammation, which is exacerbated by alcohol.³⁹ Recreational drugs generally increase either dopamine, serotonin, or glutamate (inhibiting GABA), so adding nootropic ingredients that do the same thing can lead to side effects like tremors or worse.
Studies on individual products — such as the self-funded study on Mind Lab Pro — regularly find that nootropics work best for the over-30 crowd. This doesn’t mean that they can’t help college students or young professionals, but because your 20s are generally some of your healthiest years, there’s less age-related dysfunction for the nootropics to address. One of our 25-year-old testers who tried Thesis, for example, found that it supported their focus and clear thinking as much as — if not more than — a 37-year-old peer tester. Like all other factors, age can make a difference, but your youth alone won’t keep you from getting something out of a nootropic supplement.
If you have a psychiatric condition — even mild depression or generalized anxiety disorder — you are more likely to experience negative side effects or worsening symptoms by taking a nootropic. This is especially true if you take neurological or psychiatric medications, which act on the same neurotransmitters as nootropics. Having too much of any neurotransmitters is just as bad as not having enough and can lead to unpleasant side effects like headaches, stomach aches, tremors, or serious complications like serotonin syndrome.⁴⁰
This neurotransmitter is responsible for our mood, sleep, and digestion, and it stabilizes other neurotransmitters. It’s implicated in many psychiatric disorders, most notably depression, and is the subject of many psychiatric mediations. This includes SSRIs (such as Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Paxil), SNRIs (such as Effexor and Savella), MAOIs, tricyclic antidepressants, and some mood stabilizers like lithium. Nootropic ingredients that affect it include acetyl-L-carnitine, Bacopa monnieri extract, L-tryptophan, and Zembrin (Sceletium tortuosum).
Dopamine plays two roles in our brains: motor movement and reward. It’s responsible for pleasure and plays a critical role in our executive functioning.⁴¹ There’s a huge range of medications that influence dopamine: stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta; medication for Parkinson’s disease like Mirapex; antipsychotic medication (which primarily targets dopamine but may also affect serotonin) like Seroquel, Risperdal, and Abilify; and prescription nootropics like L-dopa and modafinil. Many ingredients in nootropic supplements also affect your dopamine system, including Bacopa monnieri extract, citicoline, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), and uridine.
Like dopamine, acetylcholine controls our muscles and learning, memory, and attention. Cholinesterase inhibitors prescribed for dementia or mild Alzheimer’s disease keep acetylcholine in a neuronal synapse, as do medications treating myasthenia gravis and many eye conditions.⁴² Acetylcholine-influencing compounds are extremely common in nootropic supplements. The most common ingredients you’ll find are alpha-GPC, citicoline, and huperzine A, but you might also find DMAE, donepezil, and galantamine.
Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter, which makes it easier for neurons to send impulses where they need to go. This speed also means it’s critical for learning and memory. While there aren’t currently many prescription medications that directly affect glutamate, there are several companies investigating its potential for treating severe treatment-resistant depression, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, works along the glutamate pathway and has shown promise as a potential treatment for severe depression in small doses. In nootropic supplements, caffeine, cocoa, theobromine, and l-theanine may influence glutamate.
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, turning down the rate of electrical impulses in the brain. Antiepileptic medications, like Lamictal and valproic acid, raise GABA levels. So can traditional anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines (Xanax and Klonopin) and barbiturates (Seconal), Gabapentin, and some sedative-hypnotic sleep medications like Ambien. L-theanine can influence GABA, as can phenibut and kratom, but you’re more likely to see GABA on its own as an ingredient in nootropics or on its own as a supplement.
Best overall, best for brain health, best for stress and anxiety, and best for studying
Between strong testing measures and even more robust customer service — along with convenient packets delineating daily doses that are easy to travel with —- Thesis easily ranks as one of our favorite nootropic companies and is our top pick among nootropic supplements in 2023. The company relies on strong science to back its empathetic messaging, emphasizing that having cognitive deficits isn’t a cause for shame but that there are ways to improve your brain in a healthy way.
The company offers six different formulas, posed as working well in pairs. These include:
Generally, each product contains fewer than 10 ingredients, including caffeine and L-theanine. (You can read more about the individual ingredient breakdowns in our full review of Thesis.) However, there are clear goals for each formula:
Our testers found that Clarity gave them the biggest effects, with a significant boost to their focus great for a several-hour study session, but some experienced a sense of dissociation or a headache as it wore off. One tester ultimately preferred Logic for a subtler, longer-term sense of clarity and better memory recall.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can take a short quiz on Thesis’ website to determine which one would be best for you. Most quiz results offer more than one formula in the form of a starter kit. This kit allows you to try each blend for a week to see how they affect you, eventually choosing one (or more) to become your daily nootropic. You can also continue to receive the starter kit on a subscription basis and use different nootropics for different situations.
Insider Tip: If you already know what you want to try, you can skip the quiz by navigating to the Starter Kit page. The first question in the FAQ, halfway down the page, has a link to “Get Started,” where you can assemble your kit yourself.
Special Offer from Thesis: 10% OFF your first order with code INNERBODY
Quite possibly the best part of using Thesis’ is that you can easily toggle caffeine on or off with any formula. Other companies either don’t offer a stimulant-free option or have a different formula that may not be as effective. Thesis simply lets you order any of their formulas without stimulant ingredients included. Our testers did find that caffeine enhanced the effects, so if you aren’t sensitive to caffeine or are looking for the biggest boost, we still recommend going with the caffeinated form. Plus, if you decide later that you don’t want to take caffeine, Thesis keeps each caffeine pill as a separate capsule (the smallest white capsule in each packet), so you can easily ditch it.
Thesis also provides wellness coaching to all subscribers, so you can get the most out of your nootropics and find new ways to improve your life and your brain.
Several companies in this guide take pains to test their products, looking at purity and dosage in particular. But Thesis is among the few who rely on third-party testing rather than internal testing. One of the reasons the ingredient lists in Thesis nootropics are shorter than some of the competition is that Thesis only uses ingredients that are either Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA or have undergone phase III clinical trials. The only ingredient that’s of any potential concern is ashwagandha, which isn’t safe for people who have thyroid problems.
Thesis has a particularly unique structure. If it’s your first time ordering from them, you’ll have to take a quiz to identify what formulas might fit your needs best. Since nootropics can be such a dense, confusing industry to navigate, it’s a definite plus that Thesis helps you select what might work best for you based on real cognitive testing measures and lets you try more than one formula at once (since a test can only reveal so much). Those are two big benefits you won’t find with any other nootropic.
Whether you stick with the starter kit or customize your order, the prices for a 28-day supply remain the same:
Subscription orders ship every 30 days, and you can’t change their frequency, but you can pause or cancel at any time.
Insider Tip: We recommend you consider starting a subscription for the $30 discount; you can cancel, pause, or skip shipments at any point without hassle, though there are a few more steps involved than other subscription canceling menus. Luckily, you won’t have to pay for shipping at any step unless you need a refund.
If you aren’t happy with your Thesis nootropics, you can reach out to the company’s customer service team. They’ll recommend adjustments to a schedule or suggest other products to try first. When you know you want a refund, you’ll need to go to the returns page, which sends you an email link to actually process a return. You can send back any unopened box of Thesis for a full refund within seven days of delivery if you have more than you need, or you can refund one month’s supply within 30 days of purchase. You’ll have to physically mail back whatever you have — even if the box is empty — and Thesis doesn’t cover the cost of return shipping.
Best for memory and best non-stimulant
Mind Lab Pro has a lot going for it, including third-party testing and research. Its study is the most successful self-funded study out of any nootropic on our list, displaying the best results after three months of taking Mind Lab Pro in the following areas:
The supplement doesn’t use any novel ingredients, and its components all boast research of their own that show safety and efficacy. These include citicoline, lion’s mane mushrooms, and Rhodiola rosea, among others. Notably, though, all but three (two B vitamins and lion’s mane) are all underdosed compared to the supportive outside research. Luckily, Mind Lab Pro’s study is so successful that it’s still very likely you’ll see positive results from this nootropic.
They also have one of the lowest allergen profiles of any nootropic, as their formula is:
We think this is your best option if you want a generalized nootropic and know you don’t want a caffeinated supplement. You can learn more about its ingredient profile and how it’s changed over time in our full review.
Because Mind Lab Pro only offers one product, the pricing structure is simple:
Shipping on three-bottle orders is free, but smaller orders incur a charge of $9.95 for standard (3- to 10-day) or $14.95 for expedited (2- to 4-day) shipping. Mind Lab Pro has also kept in mind that mail times have slowed substantially in the last few years, extending their delivery windows by a few days.
Their refund policy is confusing, depending on whether you just want a refund or want to use their money-back guarantee.
You can get a refund in full within 14 days of delivery, assuming you haven’t opened the bottle. The money-back guarantee only applies to the first bottle in your first order, but you can claim a refund through this policy within 60 days, and you’ll have to pay shipping both ways. This reduces your expected refund amount to about $40.
Easiest to take
Designed by UCLA-trained neuroscientists, TruBrain offers a novel delivery method for their most popular nootropics. Each product is available in liquid form and stored in a small pouch. You can crack one open and drink it in short order, and it doesn’t matter if you have any trouble swallowing pills.
There are seven available flavors:
Mellow, Medium, and Strong are all nearly identical; Mellow adds functional CBD oils, and Strong adds caffeine. While they’re easy to take, you’ll need to be careful if you can’t take CBD or regularly need drug testing since full-spectrum CBD oil does contain a small amount of THC. (Though not enough to provide any psychoactive effects, the full-spectrum CBD oil in TruBrain could potentially cause you to fail a drug test.) Overall, the doses are okay, and TruBrain picked somewhat unconventional ranges of ingredients; Noopept is a strong, branded nootropic with some more serious side effects than normal, but there’s little research supporting most of the mushrooms included in the Mushrooms flavor despite not having any major known side effects.
Customers generally report that the flavors are pleasant, though there are a significant number of other ingredients added to make these drinks palatable. Overall, we think that TruBrain’s unique form makes their drinks interesting and a good option for people who don’t like taking pills, but they don’t offer as much value on a supplemental level as something like Thesis, which has many similar customizable aspects, starter kits, and trials and more advantageous formulas.
If you aren’t crazy about the thought of drinking your nootropic, TruBrain has shifted its capsule offerings to encapsulate all seven formulas (pun intended) as TruBrain Capsules. Now, you can get one bottle of 30 servings in every formula for the same flat price, which varies depending on how you’re ordering it. This payment structure is almost identical to Qualia Mind’s, though you’ll get a much more succinct ingredient list and a few more servings for $10 more on your first order.
You can get these drinks with both bulk (from 10 to 60 pouches per order) and subscription deals (10% off every delivery). Uniquely, you can also prepay and save up to a year in advance for 30% savings if you know you like them and will continue to drink these supplements through the subscription program. You can choose exactly how many of which flavors you want, which is a nice bonus.
|One-time cost||Subscription cost (first order)||Subscription cost (second and beyond)|
If you live in the U.S., you can also try 10 drinks for $29 with free shipping, though you won’t be able to pick and choose exactly how many of each flavor you’ll get. Note, though, that it automatically signs you up for a 20-drink monthly subscription; if you don’t cancel within two weeks, you’ll be charged $59/month for a box of 20 TruBrain drinks.
Clockwise is TruBrain’s brain aging supplement designed to counter the effects of time on cognition and memory. It contains nicotinamide, a B vitamin that can increase NAD production and mitochondrial functioning. That improved mitochondrial function should be able to address multiple systems, not just the brain.
Clockwise also contains green tea extract, vitamin C, and alpha-lipoic acid, among other ingredients in smaller quantities. However, note that these capsules are on the larger side, so they aren’t as accessible for people who have trouble swallowing. In that case, stick with TruBrain’s custom drinks.
One bottle of Clockwise costs $69, or you can subscribe and get bottles for $65 per month. (Those prices have gone up $4 and $6, respectively, in the last year.)
Unlike the shots, which are premixed, TruBrain’s powder sticks are designed for you to mix with water or a beverage of your choice. They contain Noopept, a generous dose of vitamin C, and several other nootropic ingredients. TruBrain uses xylitol, monk fruit, and stevia as sweeteners, so there’s no added sugar.
TruBrain Powder Sticks can make a good substitute for a mid-day cup of coffee. Each one contains 100mg of caffeine.
TruBrain Powder Sticks cost $59 for a one-month supply, or $55 per month if you subscribe.
These bars are one of the few solid, edible delivery methods for nootropics. They contain Noopept, citicoline, and theanine, along with several sources of healthy fats like chia and flax seeds. Their macronutrient balance isn’t the best among protein or meal replacement bars, but these really belong to a different class than those.
TruBrain Bars currently come in just one flavor: triple cacao. They’re primarily sweetened with dates but also contain stevia.
You can get a box of 12 or 24 from TruBrain, and here’s how they price out:
In addition to their signature shots, TruBrain offers a handful of other products, some of which are nootropics. (Others include ketogenic powder, coffee, and protein bars, all designed with brain health in mind.) TruBrain has a ‘prepay and save’ system on select products that allows you to save up to 30% when you buy in bulk. Here’s how it breaks down:
You can get free shipping on any order that costs more than $55. TruBrain’s return policy is quite strict and will only accept a return if you send back an unopened box within seven days of delivery (not just the products themselves, but the container they’re delivered in). You also won’t be refunded the cost of shipping.
Best budget pick
Focus Factor has its hands in several different areas of your cognitive health, branded and packaged specifically to help you while also providing things like energy drinks and partnering with NASCAR. Their Original formula includes a litany of ingredients connected with higher brain function. Some of these include:
Focus Factor provides a dose for their proprietary blend of nootropics, but they don’t reveal the quantities of individual ingredients in their blend. They do have specific measurements for each of their vitamins and minerals because it’s required by law, but everything else hides under the blend label. And that blend is relatively small, too — Focus Factor Original contains only 640mg of the entire blend, whereas most successful studies use that much on one ingredient alone.
A self-funded study found moderate success, improving participants’ scores on a verbal learning test over six weeks with no complaints of serious side effects. However, because it has huperzine A (albeit in a likely very low dose), you may find you need to cycle this nootropic.
One important ingredient is vinpocetine, which is present in Focus Factor Original. Vinpocetine is a known teratogen, meaning it might cause birth defects and miscarriages if someone consumes it regularly or in a high enough dose while pregnant. Nootropics aren’t generally a good thing to take while pregnant or lactating, but you should especially stay away from Focus Factor for your baby’s health. There’s no clear information on Focus Factor’s website about the products’ safety, nor any information about in-house or third-party testing, and asking customer service doesn’t provide any new knowledge, either.
Ultimately, if you’re already taking a multivitamin, you likely won’t get anything new out of Focus Factor. However, if your general nutrition needs a boost or if you’re hesitant to try a potent nootropic, Focus Factor Original could be a good fit. We don’t recommend any of Focus Factor’s other products, aside from their children’s line and Focus Factor Brain & Vision, because there just aren’t enough differences to justify their increased costs.
And in the case of the company’s energy shots, they’re identical to 5 Hour Energy and Monster drinks, which are significantly more accessible from your nearest gas station or vending machine, whereas Focus Factor isn’t sold in stores.
You can learn more about Focus Factor — including a full product breakdown — in our review.
Here’s a look at the company’s lineup and costs, which come down with larger orders:
|Price per bottle||Lowest possible price||Nootropic blend dose|
|Extra Strength (120-count)||$39.99||$38.40||798mg|
|Max Strength (120-count)||$59.99||$53.99||868mg|
|Brain & Vision (120-count)||$39.99||$38.39||634mg|
|Kids Chewables (150-count)||$24.99||$24||10.5mg|
|Kids Extra Strength (120-count)||$29.99||$29||21mg|
The Focus Factor Kids formula is extremely mild compared to the adult-oriented formula. We think this is a good thing, as children’s brains are still developing and are more susceptible to potential side effects.
The children’s formula includes the following in their nootropic blend:
The company has also added a new line of nootropic products in the last year, which are designed to work better for gamers. However, we still prefer their Original and Brain & Vision formulas; the nootropic formulas are closer to pre-workout and energy drinks than true nootropic supplements.
In the last year, Focus Factor has added free shipping to U.S. addresses for orders of $50 or more. If you don’t meet that $50 threshold, shipping from Focus Factor costs the following:
Focus Factor doesn’t accept any returns unless your product arrives defective.
One of the coolest things that Focus Factor offers is the Brain Hub app. You can try it for free for seven days, and it provides you with guided meditations, a small audiobook library, mind and mood trackers, and a suite of five kinds of brain games (in focus, memory, math, problem-solving, and language) designed to keep you sharp and show how you’re progressing as you take their supplements. However, our testers only found two game categories actually fun (focus and problem-solving).
The app looks old and isn’t super intuitive, and we think there are better cognitive training apps on the market, but because this one is paired with Focus Factor and comes with a free trial, it’s worth it to give it a shot. Just be sure to cancel as soon as you can so you don’t accidentally get charged.
After your week-long free trial, you can pay for the Brain Hub app in the following ways:
Best range of products
BrainMD offers both comprehensive nootropics like Brain & Body Power and more targeted combinations like Calm My Brain. The latter supplement provides only magnesium and ashwagandha, whereas Brain & Body Power boasts more than 40 ingredients. Generally speaking, products with shorter ingredient lists tend to be higher in quality — with doses more in line with scientific research — than products like Brain & Body Power that contain dozens of ingredients. The company’s more targeted supplements tend to deliver higher doses of specific ingredients, and their more comprehensive offerings have relatively low doses of each component. It’s a great brand if you know you’ll want to shop around and try a few different kinds of supplements for your cognitive health.
It can be difficult to know which of the company’s vast array of products you should take, so they offer a short quiz about your lifestyle and cognitive performance. After the quiz, an algorithm will identify yours as one of 16 brain types. The site then lets you shop by your brain type to see only the supplements that would provide you with the biggest potential benefit. It’s more comprehensive and less prescriptive than Thesis’ quiz, which is better for people who want a more hands-on approach to their supplement journey.
BrainMD’s prices vary widely depending on their ingredient lists (as do the products’ efficacy). Subscribing is a good way to save, as you’ll take 15% off your order, but the company’s supplements are a bit expensive for what they offer. They aren’t as high-priced as TruBrain’s Clockwise or Qualia Mind, but they also don’t generally have the same first-time saving discounts. Instead, you can bundle both subscription and bulk deals for extra savings, like Focus Factor.
Here’s a look at a few of their most popular supplements:
|One-time purchase||Cost per bottle (1) if you subscribe||Cost per bottle (3) if you subscribe||Cost per bottle (6) if you subscribe|
|Brain & Body Power||$104.95||$89.21||$83.96||$78.71|
|Serotonin Mood Support||$52.50||$44.63||$42||$39.38|
|Focus & Energy||$41.95||$35.66||$33.56||$31.46|
|Happy Saffron Plus||$51.45||$43.73||$41.16||$38.59|
|Brain & Memory Power Boost||$62.95||$53.51||$50.36||$47.21|
|Put Me To Sleep Naturally Chewables||$41.95||$35.66||$33.56||$31.46|
|Neuro-C Vitamin C liquid||$46.95||$39.91||N/A||N/A|
Previously, all seven of these supplements were available as part of a free trial program. Now, they only offer Put Me To Sleep Naturally, Happy Saffron Plus (which is one of our top picks for the best saffron supplement), Brain & Body Power, and Serotonin Mood Support, but you can still try any one of them for free for up to 14 days. After that, BrainMD will automatically enroll you in a subscription program for that supplement at the products’ standard cost.
Shipping with any subscription order is free, and non-subscription orders cost a flat $7.95 unless you order at least $75.
Hunter Focus is the nootropic component of Hunter’s supplement system. Much like Onnit’s range of products, the company’s system includes Hunter Burn, a thermogenic fat burner, and Hunter Test, a natural testosterone booster.
Hunter Focus is a relatively straightforward supplement. It contains many of the most popular nootropic ingredients in relatively high doses. Here’s a brief look at some of their most effective ingredients:
All told, Hunter Focus contains 20 active ingredients that can directly or indirectly improve cognition, memory, and mood. This nootropic is very similar to Mind Lab Pro but contains more ingredients at slightly higher doses. Some of these ingredients are likely to bring positive benefits — ashwagandha root and ginseng, for example — while others are still on the newer side in research, such as Spanish sage. Hunter Focus contains 100mg of caffeine, so it’s not a good option for people who want a stimulant-free nootropic. (100mg is about what you’ll get in a cup of coffee and is very typical to find in nootropics that have caffeine.)
Between the two, we think Mind Lab Pro will be better for more people because some of Hunter Focus’ ingredients may inadvertently cancel each other out or cause strange side effects. Combining ashwagandha and caffeine may cause a particularly complicated response, for example. However, there’s nothing that stands out as harmful or otherwise strange in this supplement, so it is still a solid option.
Hunter Focus doesn’t offer any subscriptions, but you can save a little bit by buying in bulk (though comparatively much less than other products that offer bulk savings). Here’s how Hunter Focus’ pricing works out:
You’ll get free shipping as long as you buy two or more bottles at a time. Shipping for one bottle costs $7.95. Hunter has some of the widest-reaching international shipping options available with depots in London and Tennessee, and they can ship to all but 17 countries. If you don’t like Hunter Focus, you can return your bottle, opened or unopened, within 30 days of delivery; just reach out to their customer service team with your name, email, and order number, and tell them you’d like to return your bottle of Hunter Focus (and why) to get the ball rolling.
Qualia Mind is the nootropic offering from a company called Neurohacker Collective. They make other supplements to support skin, sleep, energy levels, longevity, and vision. Mind is their standard nootropic blend with both common ingredients and some more unique choices. There are 27 different ingredients in Qualia Mind, so you’ll have to take seven capsules to get a full serving.
These ingredients include:
It’s also important to note that Qualia Mind is generally underdosed in these ingredients compared to clinical studies. You could make the argument that we don’t know if the ingredients can all boost each other to sufficient efficacy, but we’d have to turn to the self-funded study on Qualia Mind to determine that. This study was thorough and clinically run, but after measuring six major cognitive performance aspects (executive function, attention and focus, inspiration, perceived stress, work engagement, and mindfulness) as well as self-reported sleep quality, immune health, productivity, and mood, researchers found that there was little difference between Qualia Mind and a placebo.
While it’s a relatively safe and very well-tested supplement, Qualia Mind isn’t going to be the best option for someone who’s just getting started with nootropics. If you don’t mind taking a lot of pills and are looking for a generalized nootropic with focus- and attention-boosting potential but are sensitive to high ingredient doses, Qualia Mind may be a good fit for you.
Learn more about Qualia Mind’s ingredients in depth in our full review.
Neurohacker Collective offers steep sales on all products when you start a subscription program. You can save $100 by ordering Qualia Mind as a subscription once and then canceling your subscription rather than purchasing a single bottle one time.
Here’s a closer look at Neurohacker Collective’s nootropic lineup:
|One bottle||First bottle of subscription||Subscription cost after that|
|Qualia Mind Caffeine Free||$139||$39||$119|
|Qualia Mind Energy Shot||$139||$69.50||$119|
The company used to offer free shipping on most orders but now charges either $7.98 for standard shipping (3-5 days) or $12.98 for priority shipping (2-3 days), only to a restricted list of English-speaking countries. Or, if you order from a third party, you’re more likely to get a now-extinct product called Qualia Mind Essentials, which comes in smaller sizes and has a shorter ingredient list. For the greatest chance of effectiveness, we recommend purchasing from the Neurohacker Collective website specifically.
Neurohacker Collective has one of the longest money-back guarantees in its category, offering users 100 days to see if the product works (and you’ll still get a refund if you open the bottle and test it). But a closer look reveals downsides here:
Onnit is a full-scale fitness brand offering everything from nutritional supplements to workout equipment. They have four Alpha BRAIN nootropic products that are caffeine-, dairy-, nut-, and gluten-free, as well as more than two dozen other supplements designed to optimize your health and wellness. We’ll focus mostly on their flagship product, Alpha BRAIN capsules, which also come in a Black Label version (with clearer dosage information, albeit a dissimilar ingredient list), an Instant powder, and Focus Shots, which are premixed caffeine shots with other nootropic ingredients.
Alpha BRAIN has a decent ingredient list as far as nootropics go, with a big focus on boosting your acetylcholine levels as much as possible (which may lead to things like intense lucid dreaming and requires a strict cycling routine).⁵⁷ However, most of these ingredients are hidden behind a few proprietary blends, meaning Onnit provides the measurement of blend per serving but not each individual ingredient. While it’s used to keep competitors from copying an exact formula, it also keeps you from understanding what you’re actually taking. Onnit does well with testing measures, but the lack of greater transparency is a disappointment for Alpha BRAIN’s overall safety measures. Proprietary blends make it difficult to determine what side effects you’ll be more likely to experience, if any. And while proprietary blends are sadly not uncommon in nootropics (and Alpha BRAIN isn’t the worst offender, at least breaking down their blend into three separate smaller blends), it isn’t something that gives us confidence.
Alpha BRAIN has been subject to two scientific studies with mixed results, though they both found some evidence that Alpha BRAIN improved verbal memory scores. If you’re looking to improve learning and memory overall with a special focus on being able to restate what you know and are able to track a cycling schedule, this might be a good option for you.
You can learn more about Alpha BRAIN and its specific ingredient breakdown in our full review.
Onnit Alpha BRAIN supplements come in various quantities, with larger orders offering impressive savings. Here’s a look at how their four nootropics price out:
|Price||Price with subscription||Bulk deals?|
|Alpha BRAIN 30-count||$34.95||$29.71|
|Alpha BRAIN 90-count||$79.95||$67.96|
|Black Label 80-count||$124.95||$106.21|
|Focus Shots 6-count||$23.99||$20.39|
|Focus Shots 24-count||$76.77||$65.25|
A 30-count bottle of Alpha BRAIN is the only option where you can get a bulk discount. If you buy two bottles, you’ll save 25% ($26.22/bottle, or $52.43 total), and if you order three bottles, you’ll save 30% ($24.47/bottle, or $73.40 total). Both bulk deals give you a free copy of Joe Rogan’s seven-page eBook on his life philosophy and workout routine, but you shouldn’t let the free gift sway you — you can find the PDF for free elsewhere on the Onnit site.
You can also get a 15% discount as a member of the military, first responder, or medical provider, though you’ll need to verify your identity at checkout with an ID the first time you want to use this discount.
Shipping from Onnit is free on orders over $150. Otherwise, shipping varies depending on your location; our testers found it averaged between $7 and $11.
If you know where to look, you can also get a free trial of Alpha BRAIN. Onnit will give you a 30-count bottle of Alpha BRAIN for just the cost of shipping and sales tax, though it’s slightly hidden on Alpha BRAIN’s webpage. Onnit also features the second-best return policy on our list with an extra twist — you have 90 days to return any bottles that are at least half-full for a full refund. If you ordered a 30-count bottle for your first purchase and didn’t love it, Onnit will give you a full refund for the bottle without asking you to return it within that same 90-day window.
Your brain is the control center of the rest of your body, but there’s a two-way connection. What you eat, how you sleep, and hundreds of other small decisions influence how well your brain works. Not every factor is something you can control — as much as we might like to, there’s no stopping aging — but there are still plenty of things you can control. Improving other areas of your health will also often improve your daily cognitive functioning.
Generally, we first recommend checking in on your daily habits (are you sleeping and eating enough? Are you getting time outside?) and making lifestyle changes if you’re otherwise healthy. Adding supplements like vitamins, minerals, and individual nootropic ingredients is also a good bet if you’re struggling without an identifiable cause — especially B and D vitamins, omega-3s, and ashwagandha. And if things don’t get better with nootropics, lifestyle changes, and other vitamins, we encourage you to reach out to your doctor. There may be a more serious underlying cause, and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
Many of the individual ingredients in nootropics can be purchased on their own as supplements, like ashwagandha, ginseng, vitamins, and minerals, if you’re curious about how a particular supplement works but don’t want to commit to the full ingredient roster (or price) of a nootropic supplement. However, there are a few other kinds of supplements that improve common complaints also addressed by nootropics.
Fatigue can be hugely detrimental to your cognition, making it more difficult to think, recall memories, and convey ideas, and can dampen even great moods. It’s also a common symptom of multiple kinds of vitamin deficiencies — most notably vitamins B and D — so simply taking a vitamin (or multivitamin) supplement for energy can improve your cognition without having to turn to nootropics. (If you still want to try a nootropic but feel like a multivitamin may help you more, try Focus Factor Original.) Otherwise, vitamin supplements are cheaper and safer than nootropics. If a multivitamin isn’t the right step, you can also try a pre-workout supplement, which is designed for muscle building and exercise expansion, rich with amino acids and caffeine; they’re generally safer but less convenient to take, and they may not do much for you if you aren’t working out while you’re taking them.
Omega-3 — found in things like fish oil, algae, and walnuts — is one of the best things you can take for your brain as you get older. One large study in late 2022 found that even among people in their 40s, omega-3 intake correlated almost directly with brain health and structure, altered slightly by APOE genotype.⁴³ Omega-3 supplements are generally inexpensive and high-quality, as they’ve been around for a significant amount of time and are highly popular. If you aren’t thrilled about the possibility of dealing with fishy burps, NAD+ supplements improve mitochondrial functioning that wanes with age. Since NAD+ is closely linked to vitamin B3, these supplements are generally safer than the botanical blends in nootropics, though they aren’t necessarily less expensive, depending on the brand you choose. (We recommend Renue by Science’s NMN SL sublingual powder, which is easy to take and only about $32.)
However, we recommend not using Prevagen, another nootropic supplement advertised as the best for an aging brain. It only contains a small dose of vitamin D and apoaequorin, a protein found in bioluminescent jellyfish that binds to calcium, which some researchers think may lead to neuronal death in excess. Studies have shown that Prevagen just doesn’t really work.⁴⁴
The best ingredients for anxiety and depression in a nootropic supplement are easy to find on their own. Ashwagandha and ginseng are likely to be your best bets, as they have some of the most reliable clinical backings for stress relief.
You may also find success with a GABA supplement, particularly if you struggle with anxiety. However, if you have low blood pressure, you shouldn’t take a GABA supplement. GABA effectively lowers blood pressure, which is situationally great (high anxiety can raise blood pressure, even if you don’t have hypertension), but it can be dangerous if your blood pressure is low at the outset. We think Thorne’s PharmaGABA is the best GABA supplement on the market because of its high efficacy and flexibility. It comes in two doses: 100mg, which will be better for low-level anxiety, and 250mg, which will be better for more moderate anxiety and insomnia.
There aren’t as many non-prescription options for depression as there are for anxiety, and most of them that do exist have some serious problems. 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, is one of the bigger names you’ll see, but we hesitate to recommend it because 5-HTP can be toxic, causing serotonin syndrome in high doses. Most studies seem to agree that 5-HTP can alleviate depression symptoms, but these studies are also small.
If you’re struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to reach out to your primary care provider. Most general practitioners will write prescriptions for common SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac, and Celexa, so you don’t have to wait for a psychiatrist appointment.
We know: this is the last thing you want to hear. But living through the last few years means you’ve likely picked up some bad habits, experienced extremely high stress levels, or changed your lifestyle completely. It’s worth re-examining your daily routine to find ways you can naturally improve factors that impact cognition. These steps may make a bigger difference for some people than others — it may be more practical to fix your sleep cycle as a college junior than as a new parent — but it’s always going to be faster, safer, and generally better to try making lifestyle changes first.
Getting your eight hours a night is critical for proper brain function. While the exact mechanisms of sleep are still elusive, one theory is that sleep helps “wash” your brain, and medical experts know that your risk of brain disease increases the more sleep debt you get into. And sleep debt is difficult to recover from — even missing just two hours a night during one work-week means you’ll need to sleep an additional ten hours just to catch back up to baseline. Sleep deprivation is also closely tied to poor mental health outcomes and worse higher-level cognitive abilities.⁴⁵
Some people find they experience sharper cognition when they eat fewer calories, closer to their basal metabolic rate. Others find they aren’t actually eating enough, and eating more improves their capacity. Researchers have found that people suffering from anorexia nervosa who are underweight have diminished sensorimotor speeds and struggle with forgetting long-term memories, which improve with recovery and weight gain.⁴⁶ Different foods can make an impact on our cognitive states, too; our brains need healthy amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats in order to function at full capacity.
According to a 2020 meta-analysis, long sessions of coordinated exercises — such as yoga, tai chi, and pilates — are the most beneficial for our brains, particularly if you’re male.⁴⁷ The length of time you’re exercising is important here, as longer exercise routines require you to practice your planning, concentration, and willpower abilities, which strengthen the brain beyond the other healthy effects of exercise.⁴⁸ The neural benefits of exercise are even greater for people with mild cognitive impairments, as evidenced by a study that also found lower levels of depression and better sleep quality.⁴⁹
Psychological researchers agree: touching grass really can make a big difference in your mental health. Exposure to natural settings improves participants’ working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control more than exposure to urban centers, likely due to our long-standing evolutionary ties to natural settings.⁵⁰ Even things like air pollution and city noise can decrease your focus and general psychological functioning over time.⁵¹ Spending a few hours in spaces rich in green — whether it’s your backyard, a forest on a long hike — or kayaking down a river can help reset your brain and improve your cognition.
The harmful effects of blue light on our sleep are well established. Sunlight is blue light, and so is the kind that emanates from our screens. Your brain uses blue light to regulate your internal clock; getting too much blue light disrupts your natural melatonin production, making it more difficult to sleep and causing sleep loss, which dramatically affects cognition. Using blue light filters (built into iPhones and with downloadable programs for computers) and wearing blue light glasses can help diminish blue light’s effects, but minimizing screen time — especially in the two hours before bedtime — makes the biggest difference.
Our testers all listen to music regularly while they work and find it makes a big difference in their ability to focus. Studies generally agree: background music improves attention scores, with a few caveats. The best music to listen to if you want to improve your attention is generally low-energy music without lyrics that you already know.⁵² ⁵³ Genre doesn’t matter, but anything that you dislike — or enjoy — too much can be distracting.⁵⁴ Both scientists and musicians are picking up on this, and new concepts like binaural beats (providing slightly different tones to each ear in stereo) are starting to pop up, but note that familiarity is still one of the most important parts that makes music effective.⁵⁵
Focus Factor had the right idea when the company decided to release a cognitive training and diary app alongside supplements. Cognitive training through electronic games has been around as long as the technology it runs on, and many companies make huge claims about what their apps can help with (including things like ADHD, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and dementia). However, a 2017 meta-analysis looking at almost 8,000 studies found only two brain training programs had more than one study in their favor (BrainHQ and CogniFit), and there’s no evidence to support them as a preventative or treatment strategy.⁵⁶ Ultimately, playing brain games won’t make a huge difference in your cognition, but it can help you flex some skills better than another round of Candy Crush.
Whether you’re struggling with mild depression or the signs of early dementia, nootropics might help, but they aren’t a cure. We always recommend talking to a doctor before trying any supplements, especially nootropics, as there may be an underlying cause for your brain fog that needs to be professionally treated.
Depending on your experiences, you may be given:
It can be difficult to identify the root cause of cognitive issues because it’s a symptom of hundreds of different conditions, so checking in with a medical professional might help you catch something like hypothyroidism or anemia or, more seriously, something like MS or early-onset Alzheimer’s. You could also be experiencing a vitamin B12 deficiency, depression, or long COVID. A doctor will be able to look at your particular cognitive struggles and give you tests to identify the specific underlying problem. (Again, a nootropic supplement cannot, and will not ever, give a diagnosis, nor will it cure or prevent medical concerns.)
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