Taking a pill for super human intelligence is an awesome idea.
Hollywood seems to agree with movies like Limitless and Lucy (both great and thought provoking flicks in my opinion) as well as Silicon Valley with their countless brain supplement company upstarts.
But sadly, no, there is no hyper-advanced, underground, quasi-illegal concoction that can 10x your neuron growth rate and quintuple synaptic messaging.
So what then is the point of this article you ask? Simply to highlight the best brain supplements currently available for overall increased mental performance. The ultimate goal – MAXIMIZE YOUR POTENTIAL.
Brain supplements are nothing new. In fact, they have been around since the 70’s. The subreddit Nootropics (the more “legit” word for brain supplements) has over 50,000 readers.
High level hedge fund managers, Silicon Valley tech millionaires, and elite students all have been known to use trace minerals, herbs, and supplements to boost performance.
Even in research for this post, we found more brain supplement products/companies than even pre-workouts or protein. This is a growing segment with some truly great and effective products available.
We like companies that focus on research and companies that have data to back up their claims. There should be no Bro Science in brain supplementation.
If you’re curious about how these products work within the body, or about which ingredients to look for in a brain supplement stack, read below. If you just want to find out which are the best products available, skip to the end.
What to Expect From a Brain Supplement
As with all supplements, expectations are important. You need to remember to keep your expectations in check and realistic.
Supplement companies love the hype. They often do themselves disservice by over-hyping and passing the threshold of realistic and believable.
With brain supplements (and most supplements), we are talking about 5-50% performance boost. Even on the higher end of the spectrum, some people are just not in tune enough with their bodies to notice the improvements. This obviously doesn’t mean that the improvements are not there.
Some of the benefits one could expect from brain supplements are as follows…
- Increased ability to focus
- Reduced Mental Fatigue
- Clarity of Thought
- Improved Memory and Recall
- Increased Processing Speed
- Ability to Bounce Between Thoughts and Ideas
- Improved Overall Health of the Brain
Not all products touch on each of these highlights. Some focus on one or two benefits and some go for a broad spectrum of benefits.
Know the areas you want to improve and picking a brain supplement product should be easy.
EXPERT TIP. If no one product seems to work well for you, then perhaps consider creating your own nootropic stack. There are large communities of brain hackers online who share and discuss what raw ingredients work for them. Most ingredients can be purchased individually in powdered form. Creating your own stack is often more expensive than purchasing a ready made product.
A Note on Proprietary Formulas
Supplement companies are notorious for “proprietary formulas” – which means they do not disclose the exact amount of each ingredient within the formula. The primary purpose of proprietary formulas is to protect the exact formula from copy-cat competitors, however, companies often use these nondisclosures as opportunities to label stuff (meaning including an expensive ingredient for the advertising benefit without including the proper clinically tested dosages).
A strategy for getting around this is to pay attention to the order in which the ingredients are listed and the total mg/g count of the whole proprietary formula. From this you can deduce approximations on the various ingredient qualities with acceptable accuracy.
Best Ingredients For Brain Supplement
Whether you are hoping to buy a ready made product or create your own stack, it is important to know your ingredients.
The following list is the best nootropic brain supplement ingredients currently available. It is not necessary to take ALL these ingredients. A lot of the ingredient effects overlap so it is not wise to take clinically tested dosages of both. Some ingredients are synergistic and work well paired with others. The products below all use ingredients that work well synergistically.
- Piracetam: Piracetam is one of the oldest and most studied nootropics. It is commonly used as a benchmark in clinical studies for comparison of other nootropic compounds. It increases circulation within the brain, promotes fluidity in cell membranes, and increases neurotransmission signaling. Most studies show improvement in cognition with older (55+) demographic, and little improvement with younger subjects.
- Bacopa Monnieri: Perhaps my favorite of all nootropics, Bacoppa Monnieri has been shown effective in all age demographics. Its primary function is increasing neural communication by increasing the growth rate of nerve endings. It’s noticeable effects are reduced anxiety (which clears thought and improves learning) as well as increased memory. It is often paired effectively with caffeine. Bacopa requires time to maximize potential. Usually 2-3 weeks.
- CDP-Choline (aka Citicholine): One of 3 phospholipids that effectively convert to useable choline within the body (other two are phoshpatidylcholine and Alpha GPC). Choline helps produce the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, which is responsible for learning and proper cognition. Noticeable effects are improved memory and clarity.
- Alpha GPC: Also converts to choline within the body. Although the mechanisms of action of Alpha GPC and CDP Choline are different, the net effect are very similar – increased brain levels of choline and increased acetylcholine and phoshpatidylcholine synthensis. Noticeable effects are similar.
- Phosphatidylserine: Found within every cell in the body and most densely within the brian, phosphatidylserine works to increase glucose metabolism and communication between neurons. Additionally, phosphatidylserine has been shown to increase fluidity between cell membranes and strengthen cell walls. Noticeable benefits are improved memory and cognition.
- L-Tyrosine: L-Tyrosine has been shown to improve cognition (especially memory) while under stress, making it a fantastic brain performance enhancing supplement. It works by helping to replenish depleted levels of norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter, when depleted, often associates with sluggishness or mental fatigue.
- Caffeine + L-theanine: Together these two form a clean and alert state of mind. L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine and helps to balance out the negative effects. Subjects are left calm and focused. Brain supplements that use caffeine without l-theanine are counterproductive in my opinion.
- ALCAR: ALCAR or acetyl-l-carnatine is an amino acid that is involved in energy metabolism. It is an antioxidant that is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and works to promote mental energy and focus.
- Omega-3: Few all-in-one brain supplement products contain any omega-3 properties (SmartX is half way there with about 100 mg of DHA). Omega-3’s are one of the most essential supplements EVERYONE should be taking to strengthen and protect the brain. Omega-3’s contain essential fatty acids DHA and EPA. DHA works to promote healthy brain cell fluidity and growth, while EPA works to reduce inflammation (super abbreviated and simplified).
Top 5 Best Brain Supplements for 2015
Author Note: I began research for this post January of 2015, and did not complete until early June (at which point I started writing this article). I wanted 20 days to test each ranked product and 10 days off. I first selected the top 5 based on outside reviews and ingredient analysis. I then tested all 5 and ranked based on personal performance.
When researching the market, we looked for products that contain ingredients (at appropriate clinically tested dosages) that aid in the areas of focus, memory, processing speed, and overall brain health.
The following list comprises the best all-in-one options or combo packs for synergistic performance.
#5 Alpha Brain
The super hyped brain boosting, lucid dream inducing, wonder supplement of Joe Rogan. Personally, I think the lucid dream angle is a bit over exaggerated. There is nothing special about Alpha Brain that would induce lucid dreaming greater than any other choline centered stack – which is pretty hit or miss based on the person.
That being said, Alpha Brain has put together a decent product with a number of undisputed effective nootropic ingredients. Some of the ingredient highlights are L-Tyrosine, Phosphatidylserine, Alpha GPC, Bacopa Monnieri and Huperzine – A. Alpha Brain contains L-Theanine but no caffeine. This is great for people who already take large amounts of caffeine, however, it lacks an energy component that many people enjoy when looking to boost mental performance.
Reviews seemed to be mixed. Even on the Onnit website, there are many 1 star reviews. Props to Onnit for being transparent, but it is cause for concern.
Personal Experience: My experience with Alpha Brain was pleasant. I felt relatively calm, alert, and clear of mind. The one thing I did not notice was an increase in drive to work (I usually take brain supplements when doing research and writing reviews for my various online publications).
I first heard about CILTEP in a CNN article about Dave Asprey’s $300k worth of nootropic experimentations – a headline that would peak anyone who follows nootropics interest.
Ciltep claims to “naturally induce long-term potentiation” which is to strengthen nerve impulses and support memory and learning. Unfortunately, there are few clinical studies to support these claims, but there is a ton of really interesting information gathered by the founder of Ciltep and other brain hackers found here.
Personal Experience: I really wanted to like this product and it wasn’t totally disappointing, however, I expected more. Overall, the effect seemed really minor and weak. Perhaps Ciltep would be better stacked with other products/ingredients, but it is definitely not an all in one solution for increased performance.
That being said, I did feel slightly more alert and motivated throughout the day. Energy levels seemed baseline – not higher or lower. Really didn’t notice much.
#3 Nootrobox: Rise
Sometimes simple formulas with only a handful of ingredients at high dosages is better than a ton of ingredients at low dosages. Rise contains 3 tried and true ingredients – one of which is my favorite, Bacopa Monnieri. Also included is Rhodiola Rosea (anti-anxiety but low evidence of improved cognition) and Alpha-GPC (see above).
The company has split their product in half. Their energy component, Sprint, can be purchased separately at stacked effectively with Rise. Sprint contains caffeine and L-Theanine at a 1:2 ratio respectively. It also contains glucuronolactone (found in many energy drinks and SmartX), Inositol, and B vitamins. Overall, I find the Sprint blend to be overpriced per serving, considering the relatively cheap ingredients.
Personal Experience: Rise and Sprint, when stacked together, form an effective punch. I found best results after a few weeks of use. The energy component was very clean – no jitters, crash, or harsh effects from caffeine. Overall, Nootrobox makes a solid product.
I first heard about TruBrain about 2 years ago from the Reddit community… which is filled with many knowledgeable contributors.
What’s interesting about TruBrain is that it is not exactly a legally classified brain supplement. In fact, i’m not exactly sure what to call it at all. It’s part supplement, part controversial compound of the racetam family. TruBrain combines Piracetam (sometime Oxiracetam) with Citicoline as the core of their product.
Personal Experience: TruBrain worked very well for me. I felt great – more alert, sharp, and clear of thought. Reminded me of the old Claritin commercials where they go from dreary cloudy day to bright sunny and vivid.
The stimulant blend seems to work well for me as I am plenty alert and energized. I like the addition of Carnatine and Magnesium – both essential for proper health, however, for a all-in-one brain supplement, I would love to see the inclusion of Bacopa Monnieri.
Overall, a fantastic option with nothing but solid ingredients. No safety concerns. Just tried and true ingredients.
There are a couple of down sides. 1) The cost. This is the most expensive option (by far) on the list. 2) The number of pills you take is a TON at 7 pills in the morning, 6 at night. I personally preferred the drinks, although the taste was pretty awful. 3) I had severe brain fog coming off TruBrain. I felt very dependent after only a couple of weeks. This bothers me because I’m not looking for something I have to take every day to function – even if it makes me function a bit better.
#1 SmartX – All in one.
SmartX (also goes by Cerebral Success) aired on Shark Tank back in 2014 and received investment from Barbara Corcoran. According to a Shark Tank update, the product was quickly picked up by GNC and is selling very well.
The main ingredients of SmartX are Cognizin (aka CDP-Choline) at 250mg/serving, Bacopa Monnieri, Caffeine + L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, Vinpocetine, and Huperzine. A powerful combination of some very strong ingredients.
SmartX is one of the few companies that has conducted a controlled study on their product. According to the study, subjects noticed a huge 55% increase in focus after taking the product for 7 days – measured by a 14 node Electroencephalography (EEG) device. Pretty incredible results. The study used 20 subjects – a bit less than the standard 30 subjects seen in many clinicals.
Personal Experience: SmartX seems more commercial than underground which was initially a turn off. However, I felt the effects of SmartX stronger than all others. I had strong, locked in focus for 4-5 hours. I was also able to multi task and bounce between ideas without losing my train of thought.
SmartX is one of the more affordable products. I highly recommend taking advantage of their discounted monthly subscription (free to cancel anytime). If you sign up for monthly, you get a free bottle of Omega-3’s every month (read Omega-3 description above).
Directions indicate 1-2 pills daily. I found that taking 1 in the morning and 1 after lunch provided me with the best results.
Overall, SmartX had the most noticeable improvement on my efficiency and ability to get tedious work done.
How to Get the Most from Your Brain Supplements
Brain enhancing products like the 5 listed above can be powerful tools for increasing mental performance. Remember to follow the manufacturers directions closely and to consult a physician before use, especially if you are not healthy or in good physical condition.
Brain supplements tend to increase blood flow to the brain. It is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Not only will this minimize the posibility of side effects, if any, but it also will help the products to work more effectively. Dehydration, even a little, can cause rapid decline in brain performance. Stay hydrated!
Consistency is key, especially with ingredients like Bacopa Monnieri. If you take one dosage and do not feel emediate results, keep taking the product for a few weeks. Many of the ingredients need to build within your body before noticeable effects take hold.
Enjoy your increased mental output!
Brain Supplements vs. Prescription Medication : If you are under the age of 26 or have children, you most likely have heard of Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. These are prescription drugs prescribed to individuals with ADD and ADHD and are amphetamines. For those with the aforementioned diseases, they work to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. For those with normal brains, they work as a super drug to enhance focus and mental agility – at a cost. These drugs have a number of side effects ranging from psychological instability to cardiovascular trauma.
A growing amount of students use these prescription medications without a prescription (with a “normal” chemical make up in the brain). This is dangerous and a growing concern. It is estimated that as high as 26% of college students have taken or take ADD medication illegally. The negative health and legal consequences are not worth it… especially when there are safe, healthy, and effective alternatives like brain supplements.
Brain supplements work within the natural framework of your body. The most effective supplements work to increase blood flow, provide needed and rare nutrients, stimulate communication between receptors, and improve brain cell growth and protection. A good brain supplement is not only effective in increasing focus, memory, and mental agility, but also works to strengthen and protect the brain.
So are brain supplements Adderall alternatives? The answer to that question depends on your intended use. Brain supplements are NOT for disease treatment. But if your adderall (or other ADD medication) use is for nothing but enhanced focus and mental energy – brain supplements are a much better option.
How’d we do? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. Share your experience with brain supplements OR even brain drugs. Let us know what works for YOU.