7 Best Nootropic Ingredients for Cognitive Enhancement

Updated on June 29, 2023
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
Best Nootropic Ingredients

What are the best nootropic ingredients?

Have you ever found yourself struggling to stay focused and productive throughout the day? If so, you're not alone.

Luckily, there's a solution. Nootropics (smart drugs), or cognitive enhancers, can help improve cognitive function, focus, and productivity. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this article, we'll explore the top nootropic ingredients for cognitive enhancement backed by scientific research and real-world evidence. So, let's dive in and find the perfect nootropic for your needs.

Best Nootropic Ingredients

  • L-Theanine — Best nootropic supplement for improving mental performance
  • Creatine — Best for long-term and short-term memory
  • Panax Ginseng — Great for enhancing information processing
  • Caffeine — Best for boosting focus and attention
  • Citicoline — Best to improve overall mental function
  • Phosphatidylserine — Great to improve brain function
  • Lion's Mane Mushroom — Great to improve short-term memory

1. L-Theanine

L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that has gained popularity for its calming and relaxing effects. It is often combined with caffeine to improve focus and attention while reducing the negative side effects of caffeine, such as jitters and anxiety. One study found that a combination of caffeine and L-Theanine improved cognitive performance and increased alertness compared to a placebo group. L-Theanine has also been shown to increase levels of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA in animals, which suggests a potential beneficial effect on learning and memory.(1)

Administration of L-Theanine has also been shown to alter brainwave patterns, specifically increasing alpha waves, which indicate relaxation while remaining alert. In a randomized controlled trial, a 50 mg dose of L-Theanine produced a significant increase in alpha waves compared to a placebo. L-Theanine is considered safe and well-tolerated, with few reported side effects.


  • Increases memory and attention span
  • Produces a peaceful and relaxed frame of mind
  • Enhances both short-term and long-term memory
  • Prevents neurodegeneration brought on by aging
  • Lowers the negative effects of stress


  • May take several weeks to show results

People consuming L-Theanine in tea form should be mindful of the dosage as over-dosage can cause some side effects in some people. Overall, L-Theanine is a promising nootropic ingredient with potential benefits for cognitive function and relaxation.

2. Creatine

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body and is mostly found in muscles and the brain. It's also a popular supplement that promotes muscle growth. Creatine is an energy source that helps to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the primary energy currency of cells. It improves cognitive function by supporting the brain's energy needs, increasing blood flow, and reducing oxidative stress.

Creatine supplements have been shown to improve memory and attention span, especially in vegetarians and those with low levels of creatine in their bodies.(2) It may also help to protect against neurological diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. Creatine has a long safety record and is considered safe for healthy individuals to consume as a supplement. It's important to note that creatine works best when taken alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise routine.


  • Supports muscle growth and strength
  • Enhances high-intensity exercise performance
  • Improve cognitive function and reduces fatigue
  • Has neuroprotective properties and helps boost memory


  • May cause stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhea
  • May lead to weight gain and water retention
  • Long-term effects on health not fully understood

By incorporating creatine into your health and wellness routine, you can improve your cognitive function and overall brain health. Consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements to ensure they are right for you and won't interfere with any medications you may be taking.

3. Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng is a nootropic ingredient that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, particularly in East Asia. This versatile herbal remedy has been lauded for its potential to improve cognitive function, physical performance, and overall well-being. It has been linked to improved cognitive performance in areas such as memory, attention, and mental processing.

Panax Ginseng has the ability to combat mental fatigue and enhance cognitive function under stressful conditions. This means that it is quite helpful in situations where you need to stay focused and alert for extended periods of time. Panax Ginseng has demonstrated neuroprotective properties, meaning it has the potential to protect neurons from damage and support brain health and function.(3) This is important because many neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline are linked to oxidative stress and inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to cognitive decline and various neurological disorders. Panax Ginseng possesses anti-inflammatory properties that may help protect the brain and support cognitive function.


  • Works to help protect brain cells
  • Reduces inflammation and improves immune function
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Promotes enhanced memory and healthy brain function


  • May interact with certain medications
  • May cause side effects such as insomnia, headaches, or gastrointestinal issues
  • May cause high or low blood pressure in some individuals

Overall, Panax Ginseng is a promising nootropic ingredient with a wide range of benefits that extend from cognitive enhancement to physical performance improvement. Its adaptogenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-supporting properties make it a safe and effective option for those seeking to optimize their cognitive function and overall well-being.

4. Caffeine

Caffeine is a popular nootropic ingredient that is commonly found in tea and coffee. It is also one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances around the world. Caffeine is known for its ability to increase alertness, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy. It increases the levels of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which can improve mood and focus.

Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 to 6 hours, which means it takes your liver that amount of time to metabolize half of the caffeine in your body. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep if caffeine is consumed too close to bedtime. Studies have shown that caffeine can improve reaction time, alertness, and working memory, especially in people who are fatigued.(4) Caffeine may also have some protective effects on the brain. For instance, it has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.


  • Provides immediate energy boost and improved alertness
  • May enhance physical performance and endurance
  • Enhances information processing in your brain
  • May have neuroprotective properties


  • High dose may cause jitters, nervousness, or restlessness
  • May lead to insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • May cause dehydration or increased heart rate in some individuals
  • May lead to dependency or addiction

While caffeine can be beneficial for cognitive enhancement, it is important to consume it in moderation. Excessive caffeine consumption can lead to side effects such as jitters, anxiety, and insomnia. As with any nootropic ingredient, it is recommended that you speak to a healthcare professional before incorporating it into your routine.

5. Citicoline

Citicoline, also known as CDP-choline, is a brain supplement that contains choline, a nutrient vital for cognitive function. This is a naturally occurring chemical compound synthesized in the liver. Citicoline is classified as a nootropic because it is known to improve cognitive function, memory, and focus. It is highly effective in enhancing attention span, focus, and concentration.

Citicoline is one of the most potent nootropics available on the market today due to its ability to increase dopamine and acetylcholine levels in the brain. These neurotransmitters contribute significantly to cognitive function. Many studies suggest that Citicoline may be effective in the treatment of various neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.(5) It can increase blood flow in the brain and enhance the growth of brain cells. Citicoline is also known to prevent age-related cognitive decline and improve memory impairments in older adults.


  • Enhances cognitive function and brain health
  • Enhances overall brain health and immunity
  • Reduces symptoms of Parkinson's disease
  • Protects against age-related cognitive decline


  • May cause headaches, nausea, or insomnia
  • May interact with certain medications
  • Long-term effects on health not fully understood

Overall, Citicoline is a highly beneficial brain supplement that can improve cognitive function, memory, and focus. Its ability to increase dopamine and acetylcholine levels in the brain makes it one of the most potent nootropics available on the market today. Additionally, Citicoline's potential to prevent age-related cognitive decline and improve memory impairments in older adults makes it a sought-after supplement for anyone looking to maintain good brain health.

6. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that’s naturally found in high concentrations in the brain, making it an essential nutrient for maintaining cognitive function. Studies have shown that PS can help improve memory, attention, and concentration in people of all ages, as well as reduce the symptoms of ADHD and depression. PS has also been found to support brain health by protecting against age-related cognitive decline and preventing the development of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.(6)

In addition to its cognitive benefits, PS has been found to help support the stress response and improve athletic performance, making it a popular supplement among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. PS supplements are typically derived from soy or other sources of lecithin and are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and powders. The recommended dosage of PS varies depending on the specific product and intended use, but most supplements provide anywhere from 100 - 300 mg per serving. PS is safe for most people, but some individuals may experience mild side effects like insomnia, headache, or stomach upset. As with any new supplement, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking PS.


  • Reduces symptoms of ADHD and depression
  • Improves athletic performance and recovery
  • Has neuroprotective properties


  • May cause upset stomach, insomnia, or headaches
  • May interact with certain medications
  • May lead to decreased blood pressure in some individuals

Overall, phosphatidylserine is a highly effective and versatile nootropic ingredient that offers a wide range of cognitive and overall health benefits. If you’re looking to enhance your brain function, reduce your risk of cognitive decline, or boost your athletic performance, it’s definitely worth considering adding phosphatidylserine to your supplement regimen!

7. Lion's Mane Mushroom

Lion's Mane Mushroom is a natural and powerful nootropic ingredient that has gained popularity in recent years due to its potential to improve cognitive function and memory. This mushroom contains compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which are believed to stimulate the growth of new brain cells and enhance nerve growth factors in the brain. Studies have shown that Lion's Mane may improve cognitive function and memory in both animals and humans.

One study found that elderly participants who consumed Lion's Mane for four months showed significant improvements in cognitive function compared to a placebo group.(7) This mushroom may also have potential neuroprotective effects and help with learning in animal studies. When looking for a Lion's Mane supplement, it's important to choose a high-quality product made from real mushroom fruiting bodies rather than just the roots or mycelium. Additionally, Lion's Mane Mushroom helps in optimizing NGF (nerve growth factor).


  • Improves cognitive performance and memory
  • Has neuroprotective properties
  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Improves gut health and immunity


  • May cause allergic reactions in some individuals
  • May interact with certain medications

If you're looking for a natural and effective way to improve your cognitive function and memory, Lion's Mane Mushroom is definitely worth considering.

How Do Nootropic Ingredients Work?

Nootropic ingredients are substances that can help improve cognitive function and enhance brain function. These ingredients work by affecting neurotransmitters, enzymes, and other chemicals in the brain that are involved in learning, memory, focus, and mood. Many of these ingredients have been scientifically studied and shown to improve cognitive function in different ways.

Some nootropic substances help improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain. This can help enhance brain function by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. Many nootropic ingredients work by increasing the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, Citicoline has been shown to increase the level of acetylcholine in the brain, which is an important neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.

Some nootropic ingredients can help enhance neural connections in the brain, which can help improve cognitive function. Hericenones and erinacines in Lion's Mane Mushroom can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and enhance nerve growth factors in the brain. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that works by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which can cause fatigue and drowsiness. By blocking adenosine, caffeine can help increase alertness, attention, and cognitive performance.

Overall, nootropic ingredients work in different ways to enhance brain function and improve cognitive performance. By using a combination of these ingredients, individuals can achieve greater focus, productivity, and mental clarity.

How We Picked the Top Nootropic Ingredients

We employed a comprehensive evaluation process to identify the best nootropic ingredients for cognitive enhancement. Our selection criteria included effectiveness, scientific evidence, safety, dosage, and synergistic potential. We considered each of these factors to provide our readers with a reliable and well-researched list of the top nootropic ingredients.


We examined clinical trials, user experiences, and expert opinions to determine the cognitive benefits of each ingredient, with a focus on memory, attention, mental processing speed, and overall brain health.

Scientific Evidence

We consulted peer-reviewed studies and meta-analyses to confirm the efficacy of individual ingredients in promoting cognitive enhancement.


We evaluated the safety profile of each ingredient, considering potential side effects, interactions, and compliance with regulatory guidelines. Ingredients with FDA approval were prioritized.


We analyzed optimal dosages and ingredient ratios, ensuring they are in line with established research for maximum cognitive benefits.

Synergistic Potential

We assessed the potential for certain ingredients to work in synergy, amplifying each other's benefits when combined in a nootropic formula.


We considered the accessibility and availability of each ingredient, taking into account factors such as supply chain stability and potential for sustainable sourcing.


We compared the prices of individual ingredients, ensuring they were competitive and proportional to their cognitive-enhancing properties.


We evaluated overall value, considering the balance of price, safety, effectiveness, and scientific evidence to guarantee the best return on investment for cognitive enhancement.


Nootropic ingredients offer a promising solution for those seeking to enhance their cognitive function and improve productivity. The seven ingredients discussed in this article, namely L-Theanine, Creatine, Panax Ginseng, Caffeine, Citicoline, Phosphatidylserine, and Lion's Mane Mushroom, have demonstrated their effectiveness in scientific research and real-world evidence.

L-Theanine, known for its calming effects, enhances mental performance and working memory. Creatine, a popular supplement for muscle growth, also supports brain energy needs and reduces oxidative stress, benefiting both short-term and long-term memory. Panax Ginseng has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and has shown potential in improving memory, attention, and mental processing, while also combating mental fatigue.

Caffeine, a widely consumed psychoactive substance, boosts focus, alertness, and information processing. Citicoline stands out for its ability to increase dopamine and acetylcholine levels in the brain, leading to improved cognitive function and memory. Phosphatidylserine supports cognitive function, memory, and stress response, making it valuable for athletes and individuals looking to optimize brain health.

Finally, Lion's Mane Mushroom, with its stimulating effects on new brain cell growth and nerve growth factors, has shown promise in improving cognitive performance and memory.

While each ingredient has its unique benefits and considerations, they collectively provide a diverse range of options for individuals looking to enhance their cognitive abilities. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating these ingredients into your routine to ensure they align with your specific needs and health conditions. By choosing the right nootropic ingredient or combination of ingredients, you can unlock your cognitive potential and achieve greater mental clarity and productivity.


Are nootropic ingredients safe?

Most nootropic ingredients are considered safe for healthy adults when taken in recommended dosages and without interactions with other medications or health conditions. However, some people may experience mild side effects such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, or irritability. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and people with certain health conditions or allergies should consult their doctor before trying nootropic ingredients.

How can I incorporate nootropic ingredients into my daily routine?

You can take nootropic ingredients in various forms, such as capsules, tablets, powders, or drinks. It's important to follow the recommended dosages and instructions, as well as to choose high-quality and reputable brands. You can also combine different nootropic ingredients to create a personalized stack that fits your specific needs and preferences.

Do natural nootropic substances work better than synthetic ones?

It depends on the specific ingredient and the individual. Both natural and synthetic nootropics have been shown to improve cognitive function, but natural nootropics may have fewer side effects and may be better tolerated by some people.

Do all nootropic ingredients have long-term effects?

Some studies have suggested that certain nootropic ingredients may have long-term nootropic effects, especially when taken over a period of several months or more. However, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.