Nootropics are a special class of brain-boosting supplements that provide our brains with powerful performance-enhancing molecules.
When used right, they have tremendous power.
Nootropics can amplify virtually every facet of your brainpower:
But the best nootropic supplements can get quite costly.
And maybe you haven’t felt the pronounced effects that you’re looking for.
Or you’re experiencing a side effect of the nootropic.
To save you time and money, I want to share with you some little-known tips, neurohacks, and synergies you can use to get the strongest and best benefits from your brain supplements.
Any advanced supplement routine begins with the basics of biohacking and health optimization, so our biology is in harmony with our internal and external environments.
After first testing nootropics, I increased my sleep quality and quantity, cleaned up my nutrition, optimized my movement practice, and built resilience against stress.
I had no idea the degree to which these would impact my cognition.
Now, with smaller doses, I enjoy more pronounced effects and fewer side effects. Using lower doses makes the products more economical, and I can tell they are working because I actually perceive the effects.
The more you uplevel your overall lifestyle, the better nootropics will function in your body. In turn, improving your quality of life.
Dehydration has become an unofficial global pandemic.
Research into the link between hydration and cognition shows a theory clear link. A mere 1-3% dehydration dramatically impairs both physical and mental performance.
Likely because dehydration reduces blood flow and nutrient delivery in the brain. Making brain supplements and cognitive health practices far less effective.
Drinking more water may actually worsen dehydration. We require specific micronutrients (electrolytes) to transmit signals via our intricate electromagnetic system. You can effectively waterlog yourself by diluting electrolyte concentrations too much. That’s exactly what happens when people die from overconsuming water.
At the very least, you should sprinkle a pinch of quality salt into your water. Better yet, there are delicious electrolyte supplements suggested in this post designed for optimal hydration.
Mitochondria are organelles within our cells responsible for generating virtually all cellular energy.
The brain is the most energy-intensive organ, and minor energy shortages can cause dramatic disruptions. Plus, the vast majority of free radicals result from energy production within the mitochondria.
We care about two main parameters of mitochondrial health: their quantity and efficiency.
Improving either component of cellular energy generation results in better brain health and function.
That’s why serious neurohackers use these tips and strategies to improve mitochondrial health. Some of the top ways to improve your mitochondria include:
And all kinds of other supplements specifically geared towards mitochondrial health. The better your mitochondria, the better your overall health (and cognition).
Whether you’re taking a single brain-enhancing nootropic ingredient or a pre-made product, you can usually get better results by combining other ingredients on top.
We call this “stacking” nootropics, and it can augment specific effects such as balancing the formula, lengthening the duration, or reducing side effects.
Many substances have synergistic properties. When combined, they exhibit a “1+1=5” effect. Stacking nootropics does require some background and/or research. But it works.
One of the most common nootropic stacks is the combination of caffeine with the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine smooths out the jitters and cardiovascular strain of caffeine while simultaneously increasing alpha brainwaves (associated with the relaxed flow state).
Users of the racetam family of nootropics recommend stacking them with a choline source. This replenishes acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter rapidly depleted while using racetams.
Do your research, and try a nootropic stack that works for you.
D-Ribose is a unique form of sugar naturally produced by the body. Although it tastes sweet, unlike other sugars, D-Ribose has zero impact on blood glucose. Since it acts similarly to sugar and the brain thrives on glucose, D-Ribose likely also improves memory and mood.
Here are some benefits of D-Ribose and its potential to enhance the effects of nootropics:
- Energy Production: A key component in the production of cellular energy (Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP). Certain nootropics (Oxiracetam, Methylene Blue, PQQ, Aniracetam, etc) work by optimizing brain energy metabolism, which D-Ribose enhances
- Cardiovascular Support: Supports cardiovascular health and improves heart function. Indirectly supporting cognitive function, as a healthy cardiovascular system efficiently delivers oxygen and nutrients to the brain
- Adaptogenic Anti-Stress: Adaptogens like Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwagandha helps the body adapt to stress and maintain homeostasis. The energy increase caused by D-Ribose enables them to work better, leading to improved mental clarity and focus
- Enhancing Neuroprotection: A large part of nootropics centers around protecting the brain from damage and aging. D-Ribose’s energy metabolism enhancements help support healthy brain cells
D-Ribose is quite safe and well tolerated. It also has no impact on blood sugar, making it an excellent addition to many stacks.
I personally use this in everything from my homemade DIY pre-workout to most nootropic stacks.
Among the most common “nootropic booster” is fish oil, a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids essential for many functions involving brain health and performance.
Especially, products rich in DHA and/or choline.
Fish oil compliments nootropics in a variety of ways:
- Reducing Inflammation: Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing neuroinflammation improves overall brain health and enhances the effectiveness of nootropics
- Enhancing Neuroprotection: Fatty acids within fish oil play a crucial role in maintaining brain cell integrity and function
- Supporting Mood Regulation: Clinical research shows that it improves mood regulation. Therefore, it should enhance the mood-boosting effects of many nootropics
- Cellular Health: Omegas help maintain the fluidity of cell membranes, which is crucial for effective cell signaling. Nootropics that work by improving cell signaling or synaptic plasticity stack nicely with fish oil
- Memory Function: DHA is particularly concentrated in brain regions associated with memory, making fish oil supplementation useful to enhance memory.
Finally, certain nootropics cause side effects like dry mouth or constipation. The lubricating nature of fish oil can help alleviate these symptoms.
I like to use a clean Krill Oil product (which also contains astaxanthin and more bioavailable phospholipid forms of omega-3 fatty acids). Some people swear by Cod Liver Oil for the higher choline and vitamin levels. If you take normal fish oil, you’ll want a higher dose of about 4,000-6,000mg. It is a natural blood thinner, so check with your doctor before using fish oil.
Virtually everyone recognizes the primary macronutrients of carbs, fats, and proteins. Scientists now classify ketones as a fourth fuel. Ketones are natural metabolic fuel the body produces when primarily running off of fat (instead of carbs).
Exogenous ketones (in the form of ketone salts and esters) are supplements that provide the body with an immediate supply of ketones, without the need to be in a state of ketosis. Exogenous ketone salts are ketones bound to a salt, typically sodium, potassium, calcium, or magnesium. Ketone esters are linked to an alcohol molecule and are known to raise blood ketone levels more significantly.
On a whim, I once decided to try combining ketones with brain supplements. I felt some profound effects.
How exogenous ketones impact nootropics:
- Energy Supply: They provide a more efficient energy source for the brain than glucose. Thus, they help the brain meet all its energetic demands
- Enhancing Cognitive Performance: By themselves, exogenous ketones improve cognitive performance. Combined with other ingredients, both substances feel more powerful and longer lasting
- Reducing Oxidative Stress: Exogenous ketones reduce oxidative stress in the brain. This neuroprotective mechanism improves other nootropics
- Neuroinflammation Reduction: Ketones reduce neuroinflammation. In a hard-working brain, this reduces side effects and any potential next-day lulls
- Improving Mood & Focus: People follow the keto diet for markedly improved mood and focus when in a state of ketosis. Exogenous ketones provide similar benefits
Although there’s little to no research on combining nootropics and ketones, theoretically it makes sense. We’re providing a secondary fuel source. When the brain devours all its glucose and wants more, instead of crashing, it can turn to ketones. Which burns cleaner than glucose anyway—resulting in fewer damaging free radicals.
For more information, check out my roundup and review of the best exogenous ketone supplements.
Celastrus paniculatus, known as the intellect tree, is a highly revered plant native to India. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine has been used as a staple remedy for centuries. It’s often consumed as an oil extracted from its seeds and has cognitive-enhancing properties. More recently, it has become a popular ingredient included in a wide range of cutting-edge nootropics.
Neurohackers enjoy the effects of the primary active compounds, celastrine and paniculatine. These constituents enhance the brain’s production and release of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory processes. Since most nootropics increase the body’s need for acetylcholine, Celastrus complements many stacks. It also makes the effects of cholinergic like Citicholine, Uridine, and Alpha GPC more pronounced.
Additionally, Celastrus Paniculatus acts as a natural antioxidant, helping shield neurons from brain-damaging oxidative stress. Neutralizing free radicals in the brain helps maintain the integrity of neurons, allowing other nootropics to function more effectively.
Plus, it’s a neuro anti-inflammatory that promotes neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.
Finally, Celastrus Paniculatus has adaptogenic properties. It improves the body’s ability to resist and recover from stress and anxiety. So, when used with stimulating nootropics that can cause restlessness or jitteriness, it moderates these side effects.
This is one of the natural nootropic supplements that seems to combine nicely with just about everything.
Polygala Tenuifolia (Yuan Zhi)
Polygala tenuifolia, also called Yuan Zhi, is a cognitive-enhancing Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb. Traditional Chinese Medicine typically uses this remedy to clear the mind, reduce anxiety and improve memory.
Polygala tenuifolia facilitates brain plasticity, the growth of neurons, and synaptic strength. Increasing levels of the proteins increase nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) [R]. Thus, enhancing the effects of other nootropics.
Another unique mechanism of Yuan Zhi is its dual-inhibitory function on the enzymes acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE). These enzymes break down acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory. By inhibiting these enzymes, Polygala Tenuifolia increases acetylcholine levels in the brain, thereby fueling most nootropics (those that work on the cholinergic system).
Polygala Tenuifolia has potent antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects due to its interaction with the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems [R]. It’s an NMDA receptor blocker. When combined with other mood-influencing nootropics, it amplifies their effects and lifts overall mood.
Like Celastrus Paniculatus, Polygala Tenuifolia has has adaptogenic properties. Improving the body’s resilience against stress and offsetting some of the side effects of stimulating nootropics.
Sabroxy, scientifically called Oroxylin A, is a relatively new nootropic derived from the Oroxylum indicum plant. It’s gaining traction for its cognitive enhancing benefits, primarily improving focus, and memory, and supporting overall brain health.
Sabroxy is one of few natural nootropics (plants) that act as both a dopamine reuptake inhibitor and a neuroplasticity enhancer.
Most stimulants profoundly increase energy, they come at the expense of causing “tunnel vision”, likely due to the concurrently increased levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine. Sabroxy does not.
This nootropic inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which increases the levels of acetylcholine available in the brain. Making it a nice addition to stacks that deplete the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (most).
It’s great for gently yet very noticeably enhancing mental energy.
This ingredient also activates the NRF2 antioxidant pathway, helping protect against oxidative damage, injury, and inflammation. Overall, these neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory mechanisms improve brain metabolism and neurogenesis.
I greatly enjoy the synergy of adding Sabroxy to my other stacks. It works well to add a bit of mental stimulation without disrupting sleep or interfering with creativity.
Red Light Therapy
Few things impact more parameters of human health than light therapy.
Many folks classify photobiomodulation as a nootropic in itself. We know that it changes electrical activity in key brain regions associated with cognition. Transcranial red light therapy appears to support brain function and mental health and it seems likely to boost neuroplasticity (how the brain adapts itself) [R].
Red or infrared light works both directly and indirectly on the brain. First, it increases mitochondria function and health. Leading to greater cellular energy production. Light therapy even helps shift workers stay awake and concentrate [R].
Where it shines, however, is in conjunction with nootropics. That’s because certain spectrums of light increase blood flow and oxygenation to the brain [R]. Helping deliver these compounds further into the brain where they exert stronger effects.
At the same time, photobiomodulation has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In fact, multiple studies have shown that it has a neuroprotective effect and reduces the symptoms of cognitive decline [R].
Best of all, spot treatment impacts full-body health & performance [R]. So you don’t need a super pricey red light therapy panel designed specifically for the brain in order to capitalize on this therapeutic.
There are lots of products available. Many are expensive scams. If you’re interested in this, I tested and reviewed the best light therapy panels to help you choose the right one for your budget and lifestyle.
Whenever I use nootropics, I make a special point to do dedicated brain training.
Nootropics put the brain into an elevated state. Priming it to rewire, adapt, and grow in response to new stimuli.
Whether HRV heart coherence biofeedback, neurofeedback, or light stimulation, these modalities all help you get far more out of your session.
Personally, I prefer neurofeedback. This at-home therapy teaches my brain to enter and sustain peak brain states—on-command. Special sensors measure brainwaves and then produce visual or audio cues that reward your brain every time it generates the right brainwaves. Like going to the gym, with practice, your brain adapts and becomes better at entering those states. Better at maintaining those states. Better at bouncing back after distractions.
Combining neurofeedback with nootropics creates more profound changes, much faster. So far, I’ve noticed that combo improves my:
- Focus and attention
- Task switching
- Emotional reactivity
- Creativity and logical thinking
- Verbal fluency
This is the perfect marriage of two incredible technologies. To learn more, check out my post on the science & benefits of neurofeedback therapy. Or my guide to the best pro neurofeedback systems for at-home brain training.
Nootropics work best when adequately recovered.
Consistent high-performers over the long-term share one common realization…
Optimizing downtime optimizes performance.
The best, most powerful nootropics will only take you so far. And they’ll accelerate burnout if you don’t manage the other side of the equation—recovery.
The body has natural, built-in regenerative capabilities. Yet the more we accelerate our minds, the more recovery we require. The processes of repair, rejuvenation, and growth mostly occur during periods of rest and recovery. Here’s how:
Recovering properly helps:
- Rebalance Neurotransmitters: Nootropics work by altering levels of these neurochemicals. Focusing on recovery helps bring them back into balance
- Brain Plasticity: During periods of rest and recovery, especially sleep, the brain undergoes processes like synaptic pruning and memory consolidation, which improve learning and memory. Nootropics work more effectively when the brain is well-rested and primed for plasticity
- Cellular Energy: Energy reserves restore during periods of recovery. Improving the effects of agents that affect brain metabolism or energy
- Oxidative Stress: During recovery and sleep, the body’s natural antioxidant defenses repair the damage caused by oxidative stress in the brain. This reduction in oxidative stress improves brain efficiency
- Brain Health: During recovery, the brain clears metabolic waste products and increases neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) which enhances overall brain health and function.
So how do we do this?
Prioritizing sleep, forest bathing, Earthing, meditation, quiet time, gentle “working in” movements, and stress management all help rebalance performance and recovery.
Certain recovery-enhancing substances can also help:
- Full-spectrum hemp
- Fish oil
- Dietary protein or essential amino acids
- B vitamins
And many others.
I interviewed one of the world’s greatest supplement formulators, Shawn Wells, and he told me about a concept he coined called “Echo Dosing”.
This is slightly more advanced than some of the other strategies in this list.
Echo Dosing refers to combining an ingredient with its metabolite to force certain pathways to activate in a different way than taking either substance by themselves.
The example we discussed is caffeine. You’ve surely tried caffeine. If you take some time off it, you’ll reverse your caffeine tolerance and feel the effects again. Both the good and bad.
Well, caffeine has several metabolites. When we consume caffeine, we break the molecule into paraxanthine, theobromine, and theophylline. Paraxanthine is an incredible caffeine alternative with all the benefits and none of the side effects.
In this case, we can combine coffee/caffeine with paraxanthine and get a unique effect not obtainable any other way. In my experience, a very pleasant effect.
Check it out here:
Use exclusive DrinkUpdate code URBAN for 10% off
Note that he also discussed how advanced neurohackers use this with psychedelic therapy.
Micro Dosing Carbs
Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and is ubiquitous throughout the brain and body.
No matter your diet, the brain consumes tons of glucose. Your muscles run on glucose too. The higher your performance demands, the more your biology craves glucose. Physical or mental.
I generally backload my carbohydrates, meaning I eat high-protein and high-fat until dinner. When I’m using nootropics and working hard, however, I will consume a small carbohydrate micro-dose to give my body and mind energy. Although I don’t technically need to consume these carbs, they make everything work better.
The brain noticeably benefits from a small but steady supply of this primary energy source. I notice that my energy stays stable for longer. Theoretically, I should have greater neurotransmitter production and neurogenic activity while adequately fueled.
Similarly, micro-dosing glucose helps prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), a common side effect of certain nootropics. Often, hypoglycemia results in an overcompensatory response and feelings of anxiety or nervousness.
Synthesis of the learning and memory neurotransmitter acetylcholine does involve glucose. So consuming a tiny quantity of glucose helps ensure levels stay elevated.
I feel a difference from consuming just 10-20 grams of low-glycemic carbohydrates.
Tips to Boost the Effects of Your Nootropics & Stacks
Nootropics aren’t cheap.
You can skip this entire section, but these tips will help ensure that you get the most out of your experience.
Caffeine-free. If you’re new to nootropics, start with the non-caffeinated versions. I drink coffee most days. Sometimes two cups. But I always get my nootropics caffeine-free. For several reasons. First, nootropics potentiate caffeine. One coffee can feel like 3. If you’re not used to the combo, going caff-free gives you more control. Caff-free also means that I can take nootropics later in the day. Also, the health benefits of coffee don’t come from caffeine but from the polyphenols, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. Plus, I just like the taste of coffee.
DNA decoded. Every human has profound uniquenesses. Even more so, in the brain. My favorite ingredients might give you migraines, and vice-versa. By taking a ~$50 once-in-a-lifetime test and running it through the powerful SelfDecode genetic software, you can easily understand your neurodiversity. To figure out what will work for your brain specifically. Without wasting time, energy, and money on ineffective (or even harmful) nootropics.
Optimal fuel. Nootropics love dietary fat. Certain fats, like a special extract of coconut called C8 MCT Oil, deliver some compounds into the brain more effectively. It also slows their absorption and metabolism. Resulting in a smoother and stronger nootropic experience (with even less crash).
Avoid kryptonite. If fat is a nootropic’s best friend, protein is the enemy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for consuming protein and aminos (especially essential amino acids). These aminos, however, compete with nootropics for absorption. If taken too close together, protein can reduce the effects you feel. A rule of thumb is to take nootropics at least 1 hour before eating or wait one hour after.
Optimize recovery. Nootropics are like the gas pedal for your brain. If you don’t recover (while sleeping), eventually you’ll burn out and they’ll lose their charm. There are many ways to improve your recovery. First, increase your sleep time and quality. Your brain needs some extra downtime to compensate for working so hard. Next, feed it the right nutrients. I feel a pronounced difference when I take Shilajit and Magnesium with my nootropics. I’m able to cut back my dose and still feel stronger effects.
If you like this kind of thing, join my FREE nootropics mini-course where you’ll learn:
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Summary: How to Maximize Nootropic Benefits & Reduce Side Effects
The right nootropic products profoundly and noticeably improve your brain function.
They also support long-term mental health.
High-quality brain supplements can get expensive quickly.
After thousands of personal tests and countless hours of research, I’ve discovered certain things that augment nootropics:
- Increasing benefits
- Strengthening felt effects
- Minimizing side effects
- Modulating duration
Once you nail the basics of living a Biohamonized Lifestyle, look into these.
If you create your own nootropic stacks or combine them with specific protocols, drop a comment below and let me know your experience!