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nootropics: the new smart drug

Every year a new health trend takes the market by storm. Some offer fantastic health benefits with sound science backing their claims, while others are just a passing fad. 2018 promises to be no different and some new health agents are dominating the scene. Enter NOOTROPICS.

For many of you, this is likely a new word. Honestly I had only heard the term recently as well. While the word itself may be new, I guarantee you are familiar with at least some of these types of compounds.

Nootropics, are a class of agents that enhance brain function and cognitive potential. The term nootropic is pretty broad and includes a wide range of substances such as the prescription medications Adderall and Modafinil (often called “smart drugs”) to more well-known, every day substances such as caffeine and nicotine.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, why is a dietitian writing about drugs and stimulants? Isn’t this a health blog? Well, the dietary supplement industry is hopping on board the nootropics game. Additionally, compelling research is demonstrating a direct link between the foods you eat and brain health. So I see nootropic supplements as well within my wheelhouse.

Additionally, compellin research is demonstrating a direct link between the foods you eat and brain health.

When it comes to the dietary supplements nootropics, there is emerging data that indicate they improve attention, memory, concentration, cognition, mood and motivation. They are thought to work by increasing the levels of hormones, enzymes, and/or neurotransmitters throughout the body, ultimately increasing oxygen to the brain. They also appear to stimulate brain activity. WOW! Where do I sign up for some?

Well… while this all sounds fantastic in theory, the research on nootropic supplements is limited and preliminary. When things sound too good to be true, I think they often are. While these benefits certainly sound promising, there can be some side effects that are less than desirable. Side effects can range from issues with sleep or anxiety to increased heart rate and headaches. So while their claims sound tempting, please use care when starting them.

The following are 3 of my favorite nootropics because the research out thus far is promising and they all have a good safety profile. However, if you’re considering trying nootropics talk with your healthcare practitioner first as they could interact with a number of medications.




Gingko Biloba – one of the more well known herbs for mental health, ginkgo has been used for years to treat dementia, memory loss and lack of concentration. There is ample evidence suggesting that doses of ginkgo ranging from 120-240 mg per day can modestly improve memory and cognitive processing. Take gingko with meals, 1 to 4 hours before your performance. Older adults may find some relief from age related cognitive decline by taking 40-120mg, three times a day.




L-theanine – found in tea, this nonprotein amino acid has been used as a dietary supplement to treat stress, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and to improve cognitive performance and attention. Research on L-theanine is still fairly preliminary, but early research shows promise for its ability to raise testing scores when taken at doses of 100 mg prior an exam. L-theanine in combination with caffeine is being studied to see if there is an enhanced nootropic effect, but thus far the results are inconclusive. Want to add more L-theanine to your diet. Drink more tea! A small cup of black tea has about 24 mg, and matcha has about 46mg.




Rhodiola rosea – Rhodiola may already be familiar to you for it’s wonderful adaptogenic properties, helping support your adrenal glands and quell your response to stress. Preliminary data is also showing that Rhodiola supports the brain during times of stress and fatigue. Rhodiola’s brain boosting power may be attributed to its energizing effects, which reduce feelings of fatigue. 100-600mg of Rhodiola are generally considered to be clinically effective and safe for use.

So there you have it, an introductory crash course into the hot nutrition topic of 2018. I suspect as the year continues to see more and more nootropic supplements appearing in health food stores. Hopefully we’ll also continue to collect good research to help guide our decisions on which may be worth our investment and which we should steer clear of.

Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G., & Willis, B. (2017a, April 29). Nootropic Research Analysis. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from

Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G., & Willis, B. (2017b, April 29). Theanine Research Analysis. Retrieved January 26, 2018, from

Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G., & Willis, B. (2017c, May 9). Rhodiola Rosea Research Analysis. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from

Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G., & Willis, B. (2017d, September 5). Ginkgo biloba Research Analysis. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from

Keenan, E., D. A. Finnie, M., S. Jones, P., J. Rogers, P., & Priestley, C. (2011). How much theanine in a cup of tea? Effects of tea type and method of preparation. Food Chemistry – FOOD CHEM, 125, 588–594.

Theanine. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2018, from,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1053


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