Do Nootropics Actually Work? (Explained by a Dietician)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: November 28, 2023
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In today’s highly competitive society, nootropics have gained a lot of popularity and are often used, even by healthy people, to improve cognitive functions.

On the other hand, a lot of people think the effects of these smart drugs are overhyped or just a result of the placebo effect.

Curious about this myself, I spent hours looking through various clinical trials, studies, and reviews and discussed my notes with our dietician to fully answer whether nootropics actually work.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances that can boost brain function and mental performance, and they are effective.
  • Like any other supplement, nootropics need to be consumed along with a healthy diet to work properly.
  • Nootropics are considered  dietary supplements by FDA, and are not regulated.

What Are Nootropics?

A person picking up pieces of smart drugs that work

Nootropics (also called smart drugs, brain boosters, or cognitive enhancers) are substances that improve brain function, promote mental health, and enhance cognition.

Nootropics are generally safe for everyone and can be natural and synthetic.

Natural or organic nootropics are types of plants, plant extracts, and foods, while synthetic or prescription nootropics are lab-made substances (usually made of synthetic compounds) that mimic the structure of natural smart drugs and therefore cause similar effects.

The term itself was coined by the Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea in 1972.

During that time, he created the first synthetic smart drug to increase human intelligence - piracetam [1].

Are Nootropics Effective?

Yes, nootropics are effective, but to what degree highly depends on the type, dosage, and some additional factors.

Many nootropic drugs take time to build up in your body before you begin to feel their full effects.

What Makes Nootropics Effective?

A man pointing on his head

The ability to improve memory and cognitive function, as well as manage overall brain health is what makes nootropics effective.

They’re used by both healthy individuals and those with cognitive problems.

In many cases, nootropics are also used to treat and manage (but not cure) brain-related ailments such as bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease (cognitive decline), depression, anxiety, and many others [2].

“Nootropics work on improving cognition, memory, alertness, concentration, creativity and attention. They became known as cognitive enhancers, compounds that amplify how the different cognitive functions in the brain work and how we process information.”

- Dr. Amira Guirguis, Senior Pharmacy Lecturer

Some Commonly Used Ones

Spilled smart drugs or nootropics on floor

Here is a list of some of the most commonly used nootropics as smart drugs and how effective they are.

Common Natural Smart Drugs

Here is a list of commonly used natural nootropics:

  • L-theanine: This naturally-occurring amino acid found in tea is known for restoring damaged nerve cells [3].
  • Bacopa monnieri: This smart drug is known to improve memory, speed up reaction time, and enhance information processing [4].
  • Panax ginseng: This nootropic has a strong anti-inflammatory effect that protects your brain cells from oxidative stress [5].
  • Rhodiola rosea: A popular nootropic that helps your body manage stress and fight mental fatigue [6].
  • Lion’s mane mushroom: This plant may stimulate, grow, heal, and protect nerve cells [7].
  • Ginkgo biloba: One of the oldest living species of trees, its leaves are known to increase blood flow to the brain and improve its functioning [8]. It’s also known to sharpen the attention span of Alzheimer’s disease patients [9]
  • Choline: This nootropic may help you retain memories and achieve deep restorative sleep [10].

Related Article: What Are the Side Effects of Rhodiola Rosea?

Common Prescription Smart Drugs

Here’s a list of commonly used prescription nootropics:

  • Ritalin: This amphetamine derivative is used to treat ADHD [11].
  • Modafinil: This drug is commonly used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders [12].
  • Adderall: A popular brain booster, it changes your brain chemistry to help you stay focused and control behavioral problems [13].
  • Racetam: It’s used to treat cognitive deficits from brain injuries [14].

5 Benefits of Nootropics

Holding a holographic image of a brain

Here’s a list of the most common benefits of smart drugs:

  • Increases blood flow to the brain: Many nootropics increase blood circulation to the brain and increase its overall activity [15].
  • Improved memory: One of the most common benefits of nootropics is improved memory [16]
  • Manages anxiety: Studies show that certain nootropics can help relieve anxiety [17].
  • Improves brain health: Nootropics can help maintain proper brain health and functioning [18].
  • Fights age-related brain diseases: Many nootropics may help you fight age-related mental decline [19].

How To Maximize Nootropics With Food?

You maximize nootropics with food by consuming meals that may significantly boost cognitive domains like attention, concentration, learning, and memory, as well as brain health.

Your brain only accounts for roughly 2% of your overall body weight. However, it uses at least 20% of your everyday energy supply. And that supply is derived from the foods you consume throughout the day.

When everything in your brain is working well, your alertness, attention, energy, memory formation, and mood all function properly. However, many of the foods we consume today don't qualify as "brain food." In fact, some of them can harm brain nerves as well as impair cognition.

Omega-3 fatty acids, like the fatty acid DHA, are essential components of the lipids that constitute the brain cell membranes [20].

Therefore, consuming foods like seeds and nuts can increase blood flow to the brain and may even stimulate the formation and preservation of new brain cells.


What Are Nootropics Used For?

Nootropics are used for improving memory, increasing mental alertness and concentration, and boosting energy levels and wakefulness. These smart drugs can be taken as dietary supplements or prescription drugs, depending on what your physician recommends.

Do Nootropics Clean Brain Fog?

Yes, nootropics can clear brain fog, depending on the cause (exhaustion, chronic illness, or learning disabilities). However, you shouldn’t depend solely on nootropics. To clear brain fog, you should also eat a healthy diet, exercise daily, and take the right supplements.

How To Tell If Nootropics Are Working?

You can tell if nootropics are working by watching out for improvements in mental energy, increased motivation, better focus, and less brain fog. Not all of these signs might happen all at once because a natural nootropic might take a few days to build up.

Are Nootropics Addictive?

Most nootropics, when used as directed and in moderate doses, are not considered addictive. Nootropics are designed to enhance cognitive function and memory without the addictive properties associated with substances like opioids or stimulants.

How Long Do Nootropics Take to Work?

How long nootropics take to work depends on their type and individual factors. Some, like caffeine, can work within minutes, while others, especially those that affect brain health or neurotransmitter levels, may take several weeks to show noticeable effects.

What Are the Best Nootropic Plants?

The best nootropic plants include:

  1. Ginkgo Biloba: Enhances memory and concentration.
  2. Panax Ginseng: Improves mental performance and reduces fatigue.
  3. Bacopa Monnieri: Boosts brain function and memory.
  4. Rhodiola Rosea: Increases mental processing, reduces fatigue.
  5. Ashwagandha: Reduces stress and anxiety, improves brain function.


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