Nootropics:  The Science Behind The Results

Nootropics are gaining popularity every day.  Entrepreneurs, artists, athletes and everyone looking for improved mental performance have found these substances to be effective at enhancing cognitive abilities like attention, creativity, memory, learning, and mood.  The scientific underpinnings explaining the effectiveness of nootropics is still unfolding and current studies already demonstrate the benefits of nootropics.  


One recent study sought to determine if healthy individuals can experience enhanced mental performance through Piracetam supplementation.  The study involved 18 mentally and physically healthy individuals and observed them during four two-week periods of piracetam use and placebo.  In total, the 18 participants performed conventional and computerized perceptual-motor tasks over four weeks while supplementing with Piracetam and four weeks without the nootropic advantage.  The researchers found “the subjects did significantly better when on Piracetam than on placebo, a finding consistent with with ratings completed by two independent observers.”  That last phrase is important as it demonstrates an absence of experimenter bias in the conclusions drawn from the study.  Most of us who are interested in nootropics and their potential are looking for scientifically supported products that can enhance our cognitive abilities and this study concluded “the findings indicate new avenues for the treatment of individuals for with reduced mental performance”.  This study shows the nootropic Piracetam improves attention, learning, and motor-skills.

L-theanine and Caffeine 

L-theanine is one of the most popular and written about nootropics available today.  L-theanine occurs naturally in tea and many people state it provides them with a calm and focused mental state.  A study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition provides scientific weight to their claims.  The authors found that “L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without causing drowsiness”, this sounds very similar to the many personal testimonials describing the benefits of L-theanine supplementation.  During the study, the researchers monitored the participants’ brains using electroencephalograph (EEG) and noted an increase in alpha activity relative to placebo while resting and a second study found the same result when participants performed passive activities.

Many athletes and entrepreneurs say the very popular nootropic stack of L-theanine and Caffeine gives them a mental boost and provides a feeling of calm focus.  Caffeine is well known for its ability to enhance cognitive tasks like attention but we tend to hear very little about the potency of this nootropic combination.  A study published in The Journal of Nutrition gives us the answer.  While both L-theanine and Caffeine improve cognitive abilities by themselves, the two are most definitely synergistic.  They work better together than in isolation.  The participants in the study were given 100g of L-theanine, 50g of Caffeine, a placebo, or the nootropics in tandem and had to perform a mental task related to focus and attention.  The study demonstrated that Caffeine increased a person’s ability to focus relative to placebo.  When L-theanine was added the participants performed the test with even greater accuracy.  Further studies are needed to more fully explain how L-theanine and Caffeine interact with each other to produce these results but for now it’s clear that the two nootropics work together to improve focus and attention.

 Bacopa Monnieri

A lesser known nootropic powerhouse with scientific support is Bacopa Monnieri.  Bacopa Monnieri finds its origins in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine dating back thousands of years.  This effective nootropic is used to balance dopamine and serotonin while lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol to provide individuals with an uplifted mood and calm mental state.  A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was published in The Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine and scientifically demonstrates the effectiveness of this ancient medicine.  The study found followed two groups of 24 people and found that the participants given Bacopa had “enhanced Audio Verbal Learning Tests (AVLT) delayed word recall memory scores relative to placebo.” and found that scores for depression, anxiety, and heart rate improved in the Bacopa group and worsened for the placebo group.  The study provides scientific evidence that Bacopa is an effective nootropic for treating anxiety and depression while seemingly enhancing memory skills at the same time.  In fact, the authors concluded that “this study provides further evidence that Bacopa Monnieri has potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance…”  The Racetam family of nootropics has been lauded for their memory enhancing effects but Bacopa Monnieri is also receiving attention from the scientific community for its ability to enhance memory.  Another study published in Rejuvenation Research states “Unlike the potentially addictive and forceful action of widely used psychostimulants, chronic and moderate administration of BM appears to nourish rather than deplete neurons, an action compatible with 1400 years of Ayurvedic study.”  It’s always fascinating when traditional remedies are vetted by modern science.

The research confirming the benefits of nootropics is ongoing and evolving but enough scientific exists to safely show that these substances have the potential to enhance your cognitive abilities.