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Scientifically-supported Nootropics: An Evidence-based Guide

Nootropics, or cognitive enhancers, have garnered significant attention for their potential to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation in healthy individuals. This article reviews the scientific literature on several popular nootropics, including Ashwagandha, Lion’s Mane, Rhodiola Rosea, Red Panax Ginseng, Bacopa Monnieri, L-Tyrosine, L-Taurine, and others, to provide an evidence-based guide to their cognitive benefits.

The quest for enhanced cognitive abilities has led to increased interest in nootropics. Unlike pharmaceutical cognitive enhancers, nootropics are often natural or synthetic compounds with lower risk profiles. This review focuses on nootropics with scientific backing, examining their efficacy, mechanisms of action, and safety.

  1. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Efficacy: Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve memory, and cognitive function. A systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that Ashwagandha significantly benefits stress reduction and anxiety alleviation (Pratte et al., 2014).
Mechanism: It is believed to reduce cortisol levels and modulate neurotransmitter pathways involved in stress response.
Safety: Generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses, though it may interact with certain medications.

  1. Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Efficacy: Lion’s Mane mushroom has been reported to support nerve growth factor and enhance cognitive function. A study in Food & Function highlighted its potential in improving mild cognitive impairment (Mori et al., 2009).
Mechanism: Promotes neurogenesis and supports neuroprotective activities.
Safety: Well-tolerated with few reported side effects.

  1. Rhodiola Rosea

Efficacy: Known for its adaptogenic properties, Rhodiola Rosea has been studied for its ability to enhance mental performance under stress. Research in Phytomedicine showed improvements in fatigue levels and cognitive function after Rhodiola administration (Olsson et al., 2009).
Mechanism: Enhances neurotransmitter synthesis and boosts energy metabolism in the brain.
Safety: Generally safe, though it can cause dizziness and dry mouth in some individuals.

  1. Red Panax Ginseng

Efficacy: This traditional Chinese medicine has been shown to improve cognitive function, mood, and immunity. A systematic review in PLOS One confirmed its benefits in cognitive performance, especially in cognitive decline (Geng et al., 2010).
Mechanism: Antioxidant properties and modulation of neurotransmitter activity.
Safety: Possible side effects include insomnia and headaches.

  1. Bacopa Monnieri

Efficacy: Bacopa Monnieri is renowned for its memory-enhancing effects. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology demonstrated its efficacy in improving memory recall (Roodenrys et al., 2002).
Mechanism: Antioxidant activity and modulation of cholinergic and dopaminergic systems.
Safety: Generally safe, with potential gastrointestinal side effects.

  1. L-Tyrosine

Efficacy: L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that can enhance cognitive function, particularly in stressful situations. Research in Neuropsychologia showed improved cognitive flexibility following L-Tyrosine supplementation (Colzato et al., 2014).
Mechanism: Precursor to neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
Safety: Considered safe for short-term use; long-term effects are not well-documented.

  1. L-Taurine

Efficacy: L-Taurine, another amino acid, has shown potential in supporting neurotransmission and protecting against neurodegenerative diseases. Studies suggest a role in cognitive function, though evidence is less direct compared to other nootropics.
Mechanism: Modulates GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission, offers neuroprotective benefits.
Safety: Generally well-tolerated in recommended doses.

  1. Alpha GPC (L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine)

Efficacy: Alpha GPC is known for its cognitive enhancing properties and ability to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Studies, such as those published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, have demonstrated its potential to improve cognitive function and physical performance (Hoffman et al., 2010).
Mechanism: Acts as a precursor to acetylcholine, a crucial neurotransmitter for cognitive functions.
Safety: Generally well-tolerated, with side effects being rare and mild.

  1. Citicoline (CDP-Choline)

Efficacy: Citicoline has been shown to improve memory function and cognitive impairment in several studies, including a review in CNS Drugs that highlighted its neuroprotective properties and potential to enhance memory and cognitive function (Secades & Lorenzo, 2006).
Mechanism: Increases phosphatidylcholine synthesis, improves brain energy metabolism, and enhances neurotransmitter levels.
Safety: Well-tolerated with a low risk of side effects.

  1. Phosphatidylserine

Efficacy: Essential for cognitive function, phosphatidylserine supplementation has been linked to improved cognitive abilities, especially in the elderly. A review in Nutrition noted its benefits in enhancing memory and cognitive capacity (Glade & Smith, 2015).
Mechanism: Key component of cell membranes, supporting brain cell communication and membrane integrity.
Safety: Considered safe, though it can cause stomach upset and insomnia at high doses.

  1. Pterostilbene

Efficacy: Pterostilbene, a compound similar to resveratrol, has been studied for its antioxidant properties and potential cognitive benefits. Research is more limited compared to other nootropics, but it shows promise in supporting brain health.
Mechanism: Antioxidant that may also modulate genes involved in brain aging and neuroprotection.
Safety: Appears to be safe in moderate doses, though long-term effects are not well-documented.

  1. Caffeine Anhydrous

Efficacy: A well-known stimulant, caffeine anhydrous enhances alertness, attention, and energy. Studies, including those in Psychopharmacology, confirm its ability to improve cognitive performance and mood (Smith et al., 2014).
Mechanism: Blocks adenosine receptors, increasing neurotransmitter release and neuronal firing.
Safety: Generally safe in controlled doses, though it can cause jitteriness, insomnia, and dependence.

  1. Yerba Mate

Efficacy: Yerba Mate contains caffeine and other compounds that may offer mild stimulant and cognitive-enhancing effects. Limited studies suggest improvements in mood and cognitive functions.
Mechanism: Contains caffeine, theobromine, and antioxidants that contribute to its cognitive effects.
Safety: Generally safe, though high consumption can lead to caffeine-related side effects.

  1. R-Alpha Lipoic Acid

Efficacy: Acts as an antioxidant and may have neuroprotective effects. Studies suggest it can improve cognitive function, particularly in the context of degenerative diseases.
Mechanism: Helps to neutralize free radicals and may improve mitochondrial function.
Safety: Well-tolerated, with potential for mild side effects like nausea and rash.

  1. Acetyl L-Carnitine

Efficacy: Acetyl L-Carnitine has been associated with improved cognitive function, memory, and mood in various studies, including those targeting elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment.
Mechanism: Enhances acetylcholine production and mitochondrial energy metabolism.
Safety: Generally safe, with gastrointestinal upset being the most common side effect.

The scientific literature supports the efficacy of several nootropics in enhancing cognitive function. While the evidence varies in strength, compounds such as Ashwagandha, Lion’s Mane, Rhodiola Rosea, Red Panax Ginseng, and Bacopa Monnieri have shown promising results in clinical studies. As with any supplement, it’s important to consider potential interactions and side effects. Further research is warranted to explore their long-term safety and effectiveness.


This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or the use of nootropics.

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