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Nootropics are drugs, supplements, and foods that improve mental function. Sometimes people refer to them as smart drugs. They facilitate desired mental functions like memory and focus, and reduce undesired mental states like stress and depression. I've been researching and experimenting with them for years. And I've found that most don't seem to do much more than make expensive urine. But there are exceptions. Below is my list of nootropics that work, based on peer reviewed scientific research and my own experience.
1) Bacopa Monnieri is a perennial creeping herb native to wetlands worldwide (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable increase to memory, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a minor decrease to anxiety, depression, and forgetting.
- Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial.
- Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
- Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory.
- Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial.
- Randomized controlled trial of standardized Bacopa monniera extract in age-associated memory impairment.
- The acute effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy normal subjects.
- The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects.
- Brahmi for the better? New findings challenging cognition and anti-anxiety effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) in healthy adults.
2) Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in vertebrates (read more). It is best known for providing benefits to persons engaged in strength training. Supplementation may also provide a notable decrease to fatigue, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a notable decrease to depression; a minor increase to fatigue resistance, subjective well-being, and cognition; and a minor decrease to symptoms of sleep deprivation.
- Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol.
- Low dose creatine supplementation enhances sprint phase of 400 meters swimming performance.
- Prevention of traumatic headache, dizziness and fatigue with creatine administration. A pilot study.
- Creatine monohydrate in DM2/PROMM: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. Proximal myotonic myopathy.
- Creatine monohydrate in ALS: effects on strength, fatigue, respiratory status and ALSFRS.
- Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation.
- Effects of creatine supplementation on oxidative stress and inflammatory markers after repeated-sprint exercise in humans.
3) Ginkgo Biloba is a tree native to China (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable decrease to cognitive decline, according to robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials. It may also provide a minor increase to memory, cognition, sleep quality, subjective well-being, calmness, cerebral blood flow, processing accuracy, processing speed, and reaction time; and a minor decrease to symptoms of Alzheimer's, ADHD in children, anxiety, numerical memory, stress, symptoms of PMS, and symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Long-term use of standardised Ginkgo biloba extract for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease (GuidAge): a randomised placebo-controlled trial.
- Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia.
- A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of tanakan in the treatment of idiopathic cognitive impairment in the elderly
- Treatment of age-related memory complaints with Ginkgo biloba extract: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled study.
- Effect of Western medicine therapy assisted by Ginkgo biloba tablet on vascular cognitive impairment of none dementia.
- Ginkgo biloba special extract in dementia with neuropsychiatric features. A randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial.
- Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial to confirm the efficacy and safety of a daily dose of 240 mg.
- Efficacy and tolerability of a once daily formulation of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® in Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia: results from a randomised controlled trial.
- Ginkgo biloba for preventing cognitive decline in older adults: a randomized trial.
- Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761(R), donepezil or both combined in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease with neuropsychiatric features: a randomised, double-blind, exploratory trial.
4) Inositol is a sugar alcohol chemical compound that exists in various forms, the most prominent of which is myo-inositol, which occurs widely in nature (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable decrease to anxiety and panic attacks, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a minor decrease to depression, and symptoms of PMS.
- Double-blind, controlled, crossover trial of inositol versus fluvoxamine for the treatment of panic disorder.
- Double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial of inositol treatment for panic disorder.
- Inositol treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Effect of inositol on bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
- Acute inositol does not attenuate m-CPP-induced anxiety, mydriasis and endocrine effects in panic disorder.
5) Melatonin is a substance found in animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria (read more). Supplementation may provide a strong decrease to insomnia and notable decrease to symptoms of jet lag, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a minor increase to sleep quality, and memory; and a minor decrease to alertness.
- Evaluation of sleep, puberty and mental health in children with long-term melatonin treatment for chronic idiopathic childhood sleep onset insomnia.
- Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects.
- The effect of prolonged-release melatonin on sleep measures and psychomotor performance in elderly patients with insomnia.
- Prophylaxis of migraine with melatonin: a randomized controlled trial.
- Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.
6) Rhodiola Rosea is a perennial flowering plant that grows on sea cliffs and mountains in cold regions of the world (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable decrease to fatigue, according to robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials; and a notable increase to cognition and subjective well-being, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a notable decrease to depression; a minor increase to processing accuracy; and a minor decrease to rate of perceived exertion, and stress.
- The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials.
- Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study.
- Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance.
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen.
- A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work.
- Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty.
- The influence of adaptogens on ultraweak biophoton emission: a pilot-experiment.
- Rhodiola Rosea for Mental and Physical Fatigue in Nursing Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
7) Theanine is an amino acid analogue found primarily in particular plant and fungal species (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable increase to relaxation (usually without sedation), according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled. It may also provide a minor decrease to anxiety, and symptoms of schizophrenia; and a minor increase to sleep quality.
- The acute effects of L-theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans
- Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response
- Effects of Theanine on the Release of Brain Alpha Wave in Adult Males.
I'll also mention a couple other nootropics, not for general use, but specifically for those that may suffer from migraine headaches, which of course severely degrade proper mental performance. Like the nootropics listed above, these have solid scientific research supporting effective applications. And although I haven't used them myself, my son who has suffered from migraine headaches has used them with good results.
*) Feverfew is a perennial herb that was native to Eurasia and has spread around the world (read more). Supplementation may provide a strong decrease to migraine, according to robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials.
- Efficacy and safety of 6.25 mg t.i.d. feverfew CO2-extract (MIG-99) in migraine prevention--a randomized, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled study.
- The efficacy and safety of Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) in migraine prophylaxis--a double-blind, multicentre, randomized placebo-controlled dose-response study.
- Efficacy of feverfew as prophylactic treatment of migraine.
- Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of feverfew in migraine prevention.
*) Vitamin B2 is found in milk, cheese, leafy vegetables, liver, kidneys, legumes, yeast, mushrooms, and almonds (read more). Supplementation may provide a notable decrease to migraine, according to multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled.
- High-dose riboflavin treatment is efficacious in migraine prophylaxis: an open study in a tertiary care centre.
- A combination of riboflavin, magnesium, and feverfew for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized trial.
- Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis. A randomized controlled trial.
- Riboflavin prophylaxis in pediatric and adolescent migraine.
- High-dose riboflavin for migraine prophylaxis in children: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
- Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups influence the therapeutic response to riboflavin in migraineurs.
- Medium-dose riboflavin as a prophylactic agent in children with migraine: a preliminary placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind, cross-over trial.
Because it can be tedious and expensive to find, purchase, and swallow all of these nootropics separately, I'm working with a chemist to combine some of them. Assuming that works out, I may also open an online store to sell a combined nootropic, in one place at a price significantly below that of purchasing components separately. If you're interested in trying it out for yourself, add your name and email to my list. [Update on 4/6/2016: Good news! The combined nootropic, Thrivous Clarity, is now available for purchase.]
Finally, please remember to consult a medical professional before and during your use of these or any other nootropics or supplements. And do your own research to verify advice you receive from them, from me, or from anyone else.
[Thanks for reading! You might also like the updated and maintained version of this article, "These 12 Nootropics Are the Real Smart Drugs", at the Thrivous website.]