What are Natural Nootropics and do they Actually Work?

Within this guide, I will provide to you the foundation and understanding of what natural nootropics actually are, and how they work within the human body.

The term nootropics originates from Ancient Greek linguistics, where ‘noos’ refers to the mind, making it seemingly appropriate due to the fact natural nootropics are used to supplement and aid cognitive function and brain function within humans.

Through movie culture outside the pharmaceutical laboratories nowadays, they are also referred to as ‘smart drugs’ or cognitive enhancers. In the movie Limitless, where Bradley Cooper goes from the bottom to the top of the wall street food chain, within a matter of weeks. And how? It was all down to the fact that smart drugs became his go-to.

So, if you are wondering to what degree this can all be true, and if in fact, there are nootropic supplements that can heighten mental performance and brain cell function overall, you are certainly in the right place. Keep on reading to find out more.

What are the best Natural Nootropics?

Before we get into science and theory, I have listed some of the best natural nootropics on the market to improve cognitive function. You do not need to look too far, they are all here and readily researched for you!



What I think you will like about it:

  • Great for anxiety and stress relief, without any drowsiness side effects.
  • Increased focus and clarity.
  • Improved immunity and intestinal function.
  • Blood pressure intervention aid.

L-Theanine is a natural amino acid found within green tea. Studies have shown that by taking just a 50mg supplement regularly, it can actually increase the alpha-waves that transmit within the brain and therefore lead to greater creativity, mental clarity and calmness. [1]  Those who take it always report a sense of peace, happiness and well-being. Who can say no to better self-esteem?



The benefits I think you will get if you take caffeine:

  • Can boost weight loss efforts or prevent weight gain.
  • Great for suppressing appetite.
  • Increases attention and alertness.
  • Improves physical activity performance and endurance.

Caffeine is probably the nootropic that is most commonly known by all, as it is often an essential part of everyday food and beverages. That morning cup of coffee says it all! Naturally sourced from the cocoa bean, it is able to stimulate the brain as well as boost energy levels in those that drink or take it in supplement form. Caffeine blocks the receptors’ transmission of adenosine, which is key to preventing symptoms of tiredness.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri

What you should like about Bacopa Monnieri:

  • Antioxidant properties to protect body cells and increase immunity.
  • Reduces inflammation and heightens the body’s natural defence response.
  • Boosts brain function and increases the nerve growth factor linked to improved learning and memory capacity.
  • Prevents anxiety and stress.

This nootropic is sourced from the Brahmi plant, and has long been a traditional key antidote within Eastern Asian medicine. Today’s research studies have proven that Bacopa Monnieri can improve cognitive functioning and relieve the stress hormones in the body to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Its antioxidant properties also fight free radicals and the damage they can cause from oxidative stress.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba

What are the benefits of taking Ginkgo Biloba?

  • A powerful antioxidant that can fight cell disease and improve immunity.
  • Fights inflammation of the body.
  • Improves heart health, and blood circulation.
  • Reduces symptoms of dementia and psychiatric disorders.

Ginkgo Biloba is one of the oldest living species of tree within the world. Naturally sourced and often never altered chemically by manufacturers, it has extremely positive health effects, especially with its contributions towards blood flow and brain health. Chinese medicine has long advocated this remedy and has hinted at its contributions to reducing dementia, which science today has confirmed.

Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng

Noticeable benefits you can get from taking Panax Ginseng:

  • Increases energy levels and stimulates high mental focus.
  • Fights inflammation of the body and flu.
  • Regulates blood sugars.
  • A good treatment for erectile dysfunction.

Panax Ginseng has been used for centuries within all of Asia, due to its amazing contributions towards lowering blood sugars and also regulating them. They have also been clinically proven to sustain lower mental fatigue episodes in people, as well as better cognitive function over long periods of time.

Lion's Mane Mushroom

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

What I think you will like by taking Lion’s Mane:

  • Helps relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Speedy recovery from nervous system injuries.
  • Immunity from digestive tract ulcers.
  • Heart disease risk is decreased.

Lion’s Mane mushroom is known for its quirky physical appearance that resembles the shaggy mane of a lion, making the name very appropriate indeed. Sourced only in the regions of Southern Asia, holistic medicine has taught us their multifunctional use allows the mushroom to be eaten raw, dried, or brewed as a tea. The extracts of this mushroom dried, are always found in the health shops, and can be bought over the counter.

What are Natural Nootropics?

Put quite simply, natural nootropics (also called herbal nootropics) are naturally occurring compounds found in nutrients that are not synthetically created. While they have become quite a buzz word within the health and wellness industry, these compounds have been filtered through generations of culture and ancient holistic medicine. Both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine scriptures describe in detail how natural nootropics have been heavily relied upon for their healing and beneficial effects to aid day-today activities. Traditional Chinese medicine research suggests how these naturally sought substances can aid healthy individuals who aim for greater mental focus and overall mental energy. [2]

Just as a thousand years ago, mental clarity, and brain health/cognitive function was appreciated, research hopes to steer these natural nootropics in light of new discoveries. We all are well aware how oxidative stress and poor lifestyle factors can create uncomfortable symptoms such as mental fatigue, short-term memory or age related memory loss; more severe illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease have led research towards natural nootropics. While there are plenty of long-term research studies on the affected and healthy adults, more research is needed to truly understand the broad spectrum of how natural nootropics can truly sustain effective results when it comes to brain power and brain development.

While many people commonly try to steer away from smart drugs/synthetic nootropics, understandably the term drugs will have a stigma around it within today’s society. However, as you will see from reading further into this article, you may have probably had a natural nootropic before, without even realising it-yes!

Nootropics are classified into seven categories [3]:

  1. Natural Nootropics
  2. Choline
  3. Vitamin B derivatives
  4. Racetams
  5. Ampakines
  6. Peptides and Smart drugs
  7. Smart drugs

Natural nootropics vs synthetic nootropics

Natural nootropics vs synthetic nootropics: A quick comparison

With the lifestyle and responsibilities that many of us have today, there is no wonder that people choose to take nootropics to aid their overall mental performance. If you are lucky enough to get sufficient sleep, then eating incorrectly combined with no physical activity can also take its toll on mental function. Nootropics are the hype nowadays, as everyone is looking to improve cognitive function which can be minimised due to stress.

If you’re on the bench for picking between natural and synthetic nootropics, pay attention to the summary provided for each down below.

Natural nootropics

Natural nootropics are much safer due to them being naturally sourced. Furthermore, you are less likely to suffer from any major side effects, as in the purest formation they are a high quality herb that can sometimes conveniently get manufactured or extracted in supplement form. This does not mean they are synthesised, as synthetic nootropics will undergo the breaking and formation of chemical bonds, arising to a change of their natural state. This does not occur to their natural derivatives. There are natural nootropics that will be altered slightly by their manufacturer’s, to have added artificial ingredients or allergens like dairy, soy and gluten, so make sure to always check the nutrition labels before you consider purchasing anything over the counter.

The different types of natural nootropics

Natural nootropic substances can be categorised, based on the way they chemically interact within the body and their mechanism of action.

Neurotransmitter Enhancers

This type of natural nootropic is one that will increase brain function, through increased activity within the brain. Chemical transmitters known as neurotransmitters, will transmit signals across the synapses of the brain, one neuron at a time. Examples of the transmitters are dopamine and acetylcholine.  Through the increased sensitivity of the neurons and receptors, it enhances overall brain health, memory and brain function, and will protect brain cells. [3] What still remains to be fully understood via longitudinal studies and more research is-do they actually work towards aiding the decline of brain function during ageing? This is still inconclusive.


Some natural nootropic supplements can enhance and boost the blood flow that is susceptible towards blood vessels. By widening the vessels that the blood goes through, this can maximise the capacity of the critical nutrient passageways towards the brain i.e. glucose and oxygen. This alone can improve mental function, learning and memory capability. A great example of this type of naturally sourced nootropic supplement is the Ginkgo Biloba, which can create vasodilation throughout the entire body, and not just the brain! [3]

Protective Antioxidants

Many natural nootropics have antioxidant properties, meaning they can protect the brain from any damaging free radicals and the effects that they can cause. Free radicals are created as by-products from oxidative stress within the biological metabolism process. The radicals can lead to the long-term damage of nerve cells and therefore can cause implicating side effects on your cognitive performance; with mental fatigue, cognitive decline and lack of focus. Protective antioxidants can prevent the overall degenerative processes, with research hinting towards their contribution towards reducing brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. [3]

Synthetic nootropics

Synthetic nootropics

Synthetic nootropics are man-made pills, and can also be referred to as pharmaceutical nootropics. While these compounds come with their cognitive benefits i.e. reduce mental fatigue, they do come with side effects. Even though they have become widely popular and used in the past decade, examples such as Piracetam, Adderall and Ritalin have brought to attention multiple side effects that can be quite unpleasant. [4] Side effect symptoms noted thus far, include:

  • Habitual consumption
  • Sleep disorders like insomnia
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Cardiac stress and palpitations
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Appetite problems

What is the most effective nootropic?

What has become increasingly popular is the combination of natural nootropics taken together. Also referred to as a ‘natural nootropic stack’, these nootropic stacks can be tailored to own personal usage and individual requirements, meaning they can have a greater efficacy overall.  We know that a nootropic supplement can have different mechanisms of action, so by forming a stack, you can get multiple cognitive enhancers simultaneously occurring at once. [5]

P.S. It is advised that you take caution when trying out natural nootropic stacks for the first time. Always practice combinations under guidance and research. By purchasing pre-formulated combined compounds from health stores, it can be consumed under safer regulations and practices, as you can use the accompanying nutritional labels and directions of use provided that are pre-tested. Under no circumstances should you combine your nootropic stacks with prescription drugs, and always consult a medical professional should you have existing medical conditions.

natural nootropic stacks

Best natural nootropic stacks

L-Theanine + Caffeine

Evidence has shown that this combination has given beneficial effects when consumed, with significant notes of cognitive benefits. This combination can help improve memory and enhance mental function. Caffeine has been noted to have side effects such as palpitations and anxiety, however when combined with the  naturally occurring amino acid L-Theanine, that side effect can be suppressed. [2]

Bacopa Monnieri + Lion’s Mane + Ginkgo Biloba

Mixing three of the most popular natural smart supplements will not offer you instantaneous results. However, in time it has been said to aid cognitive enhancement and contribute to a better mood regulation overall.

My final thoughts

Natural nootropics in my opinion, are the better milder alternative to take, for those that do not wish to take any synthetic pharmaceutical nootropics. While more research is needed, currently a multiple of recent studies have shown that the new-found efficacy of the natural derivatives has been massively misunderstood over the last decade. [6] Recently they have in fact, showcased mechanisms that can aid the body in a multitude of ways i.e. inflammation defence, heightened immunity, enhanced cognitive function, and guess what? All of these benefits come with a fraction of the side effects that synthesised nootropics often introduce. Therefore it would seem to me that the new ‘smart drug’ on the block is definitely not your typical functional nootropic pill anymore-it’s naturally sourced nootropics that are taking all the attention. And for good reason too, wouldn’t you agree?


  1. Julson, E., 2018. The 14 Best Nootropics and Smart Drugs Reviewed. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nootropics#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4 [Accessed 1 August 2021].
  2. Jones, R., 2021. What on Earth Is a Natural Nootropic, and How Do They Actually Work?. [online] Form. Available at: https://formnutrition.com/inform/a-beginners-guide-to-nootropics/ [Accessed 1 August 2021].
  3. Medium. 2021. The Best Natural Nootropics and Natural Nootropic Stacks. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/syndicate-post/the-best-natural-nootropics-and-natural-nootropic-stacks-6327043cfc90 [Accessed 1 August 2021].
  4. Shields, T., 2021. Top 10 Natural Nootropics: Cognitive Enhancers That Might Work For You. [online] FreshCap Mushrooms. Available at: https://learn.freshcap.com/tips/natural-nootropics/ [Accessed 1 August 2021].
  5. Suliman, N., Mat Taib, C., Mohd Moklas, M., Adenan, M., Hidayat Baharuldin, M. and Basir, R., 2016. Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, [online] 2016, pp.1-12. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/ [Accessed 1 August 2021].
Fatima Ahmed
Fatima Ahmed

Fatima is a writer, blogger, health and well-being advocate; with a nutritional science degree at her command. Her passion is to propagate the importance of female health and the ways lifestyle can be enhanced via dietary interventions and supplements. Embodying the literal term “we are what we eat”, she is a proud seeker of knowledge for the most updated methods to heighten personal health regimes.

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