Note: This isn’t medical advice, and you should always do proper research, be aware of potential side effects, dosage, be skeptical, and read as much as you can before taking anything. Always be aware of how one compound might interact with another.
I take a lot of supplements and switch them up pretty often. Here’s what I’m taking as of October 2017 along with what I’m trying to get out of them, and accompanying cited papers I think are interesting. The compounds I’ve listed have many other benefits (and side effects), I’m only listing the attributes I’m interested in.
I’m looking for nootropics (while ‘nootropics’ is technically a misnomer when referring to the compounds I’ve listed– I’m going to be using ‘nootropics’ and ‘supplements’ interchangably in this post) that have well-studied long-term benefits to attention, calmness and clarity, or supplements that help my memory and capacity to learn. Finding something short-term and majorly psychoactive isn’t the goal. Finding something well studied, that has long-term incremental benefit to my capacity to learn is the goal.
Table of Contents
Here’s a list with roughly what I’m interested in per-compound. I’ll run through in more detail below.
- Rise by HVMN for Memory, Learning, & Attention
- Kado-3 by HVMN for Health & Mood
- L-Theanine for Cognition and Clarity
- KSM-66 for Cognition and Clarity
- Pterostilbene for Health & Mood
- Acetyl L-Carnitine for Health & Mood
- Nigella Sativa for Health & Cognition
- Meditation for Cognition and Clarity
- Running & Aerobic Exercise for Health & Cognition
Note: I originally linked a bunch of interesting papers at the bottom of each compound, but I’ve trimmed it down because it got too long.
Rise by HVMN
For Memory, Learning, & Attention
I’m shouting out HVMN because I really like their product and the work they’re doing in the human enhancement space. I have no affiliation with them. Rise is their first product I used, and I’ve been using it on-and-off since 2015. It contains the following:
- Bacopa Monieri
- Alpha GPC
- Rhodiola Rosea
I primarily take Rise for Bacopa Monieri and Alpha GPC. I’ve also purchased Bacopa and Alpha GPC separately before, but found it convenient to get it all in one serving and like how rigorously they (apparently) quality check.
For Memory, Learning, and Attention
This compound is the main reason I take Rise, and is one of my favorite things on this entire list. Bacopa Monieri is an herb that has been used in traditional Ayuderva medicine for thousands of years. A good body of work shows that Bacopa Monieri improves memory, learning, attention, in humans after 12 weeks of supplementation. It may also increase levels of brain derived neutrophic factor (aka bdnf) which is involved in neuron growth.
Bacopa’s effects seem to take time to work, with best results showing up after 4 to 6 weeks of usage.
These findings suggest that B. monniera may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory.
Alpha GPC (L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine)
Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine which partially mediates learning, memory, intelligence, and mood. Alpha GPC is a choline-containing supplement and it’s found in tiny concentrations in red meat but at levels far lower than supplementation.
Alpha GPC is the second part of why I take Rise– I’m primarily interested in potential attention and memory benefits, however most of the studies are done in rodents and needs more study in healthy humans.
In healthy humans though, some studies show an increase in attention when combined with a few other nootropics and an increase in memory when combined with a few other nootropics. Interestingly, some studies also show alpha-gpc stimulating growth hormone release by acting on the hypothalamus.
I don’t primarily take Rise for Rhodiola Rosea but appreciate it as part of the stack. It’s a flowering plant that has been used in Russia and Scandinavia for centures. It seems to have some effects on decreasing fatigue on a few studies. Here’s one with physicians, 161 military cadets, and 30 general participants. It may also have some effects on attention– one study shows that taking it one hour before physical activity improves attention as measured by the Fepsy Vigilance test.
Kado-3 by HVMN
For Health and Mood
Kado-3 is marketed as a mood and health supplement– I mainly take Kado-3 as a Vitamin D3 and an Omega-3 supplement. Astaxanthin oil and Vitamins K1 & K2 are interesting, but I don’t take Kado-3 specifically for those compounds.
Vitamin K1 & K2 has some interesting research showing interesting memory performance scores in older adults. In a sample of 320 men and women aged 70–85 years, higher K1 and K2 was associated with better verbal episodic memory performances.
(Note: I erroneously listed the A in KADO-3 as Vitamin A in a recent tweet of my supplement stack.) Astaxanthin is a carotenoid responsible for the bright red color found in seafood. It’s an an antioxidant shown to be protect neurons and is associated with attenuating age-related forgetfulness. I don’t take KADO-3 purposefully for the Astaxanthin Oil, but it’s a nice addition to the stack.
Vitamin D3 is the hormone produced when you’re out in the sun. I’m almost never outside for extended periods and an estimated 75% of americans are deficient in Vitamin D3. Low Vitamin D levels are linked to depressed mood in a study of young adults and is correlated with cognitive impairment in older adults. I primarily take Kado-3 for D3’s potential protective properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids commonly found in some fish and nuts. Studies show increased scores on sustained attention and reaction time tasks, improved executive function in older adults. A deficiency has been correlated with an increased risk of depression. This is the second compound that I primarily take Kado-3 for.
For Cognition and Clarity
L-Theanine is a very well known and widely studied supplement for stress and calmness (Nootrobox also uses it in their Coffee Cubes product and Soylent uses it in their caffenated beverages. Again, no affiliation to either.). It’s an extract found in green tea at around 8mg a cup while a common dosage might be 10–20x that (100–200mg).
It may also be neuroprotective, encourage relaxation, increase alpha-wave activity in the brain, and possibly even help with schizophrenia. Studies on young rodents found an increase in recognition memory and levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is involved in neurogenesis (neuron growth) in the brain.
I take it because it’s a very well studied anxiolytic that works synergystically with caffiene with interesting effects on cognition.
This study found reduction in heart rate in response to acute stress.
The results showed that L-Theanine intake resulted in a reduction in the heart rate (HR) and salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA) responses to an acute stress task relative to the placebo control condition. Moreover, analyses of heart rate variability indicated that the reductions in HR and s-IgA were likely attributable to an attenuation of sympathetic nervous activation.
For Cognition and Clarity
KSM-66 is the name of a specific extract of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) root. It’s fairly well studied as a very effective way of reducing stress and anxiety (an anxiolytic) and some studies suggest it may stimulate the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is involved in neurogenesis (growing neurons).
I take it primarily for the anxiolytic effects and potential cognitive benefits. This is one of my favorite nootropics in my October 2017 stack.
This study found ashwagandha to be very effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012
This study found that ashwagandha caused neurogenesis (neuron growth) in damaged mice neurons.
Withanolide derivatives (withanolide A, withanoside IV, and withanoside VI) isolated from the Indian herbal drug Ashwagandha, also showed neurite extension in normal and damaged cortical neurons.
For Health & Mood
Pterostilbene is similar to Resveratrol (the compound found in red wine associated with life extension and some of the health benefits in wine). Studies suggest it’s a much more potent version of resveratrol. It’s a powerful antioxidant, neuroprotective, and has some interesting memory and learning benefits. Unfortunately, most of the studies around memory and learning seem to be around rodents right now.
I’m taking it for the interesting results around health and mood benefits related to cellular and cognitive stress.
This study in aging rats found a positive effect on cognition.
Results indicated that pterostilbene was effective in reversing cognitive behavioral deficits, as well as dopamine release, and working memory was correlated with pterostilbene levels in the hippocampus.
Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
For Health & Mood
ALCAR is a form of L-Carnitine that can more readily cross the blood brain barrier. L-Carnitine itself is an amino acid found in food in lower doses than supplementation. ALCAR has a number of supposed effects that range from improving insulin sensitivity, and hypertension, to being neuroprotective, alleviating depressive-like symptoms, and increasing alertness. Studies on cognitive benefits in young and healthy people are limited and more research is needed. One study found increased nerve growth factor levels in aged rats, though.
This study found ALCAR may protect against some aging related cognitive defecits by protecting the hippocampus.
chronic ALC administration may ameliorate cerebral ischemia progress after a cerebrovascular disorder as well as spontaneous ageing-related cerebral dysfunction via hippocampal protection.
For Health & Cognition
Nigella Sativa is also known as ‘black cumin’ not to be confused with the more common ‘brown’ cumin. It’s also used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. Most of the studies around the attention and memory benefits are in rodents or older adults right now, though one study found increased subjective-well being and benefits to cognition in adolescent males. Nigella Sativa is also possibly regenerative for gastric ailments, protective against oxidative-stress, has an anti-fatigue effect (in mice), and may have certain anti-inflammatory effects.
This study found significant differences in a battery of memory tests in elderly volunteers that took Nigella Sativa for 9 weeks.
There was significant difference (p<0.05) in the score of logical memory test-I and II, total score of digit span, 30 min delayed-recall, percent score in Rey-Osterrieth complex figure test, time taken to complete letter cancellation test, time taken in trail making test-A and test-B, score in part C of stroop test due to ingestion of NS for nine weeks.
This study found increased subjective well-being, reduced anxiety, and benefits to cognition in healthy adolescent males.
Over the 4 weeks study period, the use of NS as a nutritional supplement been observed to- stabilize mood, decrease anxiety and modulate cognition positively. However, long term study is suggested before using NS extensively.
For Cognition and Clarity
Meditation is getting a lot more scientific attention lately as a way to increase attention, memory, stress tolerance, and clarity. Long term practice may also cause neuron growth in the hippocampus which is involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.
I do it for 10 minutes a day and subjectively feel like it’s helping and a very important part of my daily routine.
A review describing the current state of the empirical basis for mindfulness training in ADHD patients.
Overall, current empirical studies support the rationale for application of mindfulness to ADHD, show that mindfulness is a feasible and well-accepted intervention in ADHD samples, and provide promising preliminary support for its efficacy. However, more methodologically rigorous trials are needed...
A Harvard study found all kinds of benefits to ‘relaxation response’ whether invoked through meditation, yoga, or tantric prayer.
RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging…
This study found long-term meditators had larger hippocampi and frontal volumes of gray matter.
Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior.
Running & Aerobic Exercise
For Health & Cognition
Aerobic exercise is very well studied and has a pretty amazing list of cognitive benefits from lifting people out of depression, improving learning ability, improving processing speed, improving executive function, improving memory, to developing stress tolerance. Studies have also found that aerobic exercise increases brain derived nootrophic factor levels which are involved in neuron growth (neurogenesis). These are just some of the benefits– there are far too many to list from increasing insulin sensitivity, to just flat out living longer.
It’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself on this entire list.
I run for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and subjectively feel like the impact this has on my life and wellbeing is undeniable. On days that I can’t run I do this Buzzfeed Four Minute Workout (yes, serious) five times in a row with 2 minute rests in between each set. I primarily do this to reap the cognitive benefits, as well as to build my stress tolerance and endurance.
Research on high impact running and cognitive benefits:
“We found that vocabulary learning was 20 percent faster after intense physical exercise as compared to the other two conditions. This condition also elicited the strongest increases in BDNF and catecholamine levels.”
A meta-analysis on cognitive benefits of aerobic exercise:
“Aerobic exercise training is associated with modest improvements in attention and processing speed, executive function, and memory, although the effects of exercise on working memory are less consistent.”
Research on exercise for treatment of depression and anxiety:
Physical activity has been shown to be associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety…While effective, exercise has not been shown to reduce anxiety to the level achieved by psychopharmaceuticals.
Here are a few resources I use for research.
- Reddit is a great resource for talking about nootropics and supplements. Filter and search depending on the outcomes you’re looking for, but take everything posted with a grain of salt; a lot of the reports are anecdotal and not a replacement for research, just a starting point for discovery and discussion.
- Pubmed is a scientific journal search engine maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine. It’s a great way to find the scientific research done on a particular compound. Keep in mind that one result confirming something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true– also keep in mind that results in rodents are not the same as in people.
- Examine.com compiles papers and information around specific compounds into a more human readable form. Really great resource for getting a high level overview of a particular compound with citations.