If you've been searching for ways to boost your brainpower, you've probably come across the terms "adaptogens" and "nootropics." These two categories of supplements have gained popularity for their potential to enhance cognitive function.
But what's the real difference between adaptogens and nootropics, and which one is the superior choice for cognitive enhancement? In this blog post, we'll dive deep into the world of adaptogens and nootropics, exploring their unique properties, benefits, and how they stack up against each other.
Table of Contents
Adaptogens offer holistic well-being and stress reduction.
Nootropics provide immediate cognitive enhancement.
Some herbal supplements, mushrooms, or other natural formulas may offer both nootropic and adaptogenic benefits.
Understanding Adaptogens and Nootropics
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a class of natural substances, mainly herbs and functional mushrooms, known for their ability to help the body adapt to various stressors.
Adaptogens usually work by impacting neurotransmitter levels, and specifically by altering the way the body uses cortisol, the stress hormone. They've been used for centuries in traditional medicine, particularly in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These incredible compounds can assist your body in maintaining balance, reducing the impact of stress, and promoting overall well-being.
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics, on the other hand, are often referred to as "smart drugs" or "cognitive enhancers." They are synthetic or natural substances that have been formulated to impact neurotransmitter levels in a way that improves cognitive function, including memory, focus, creativity, and more. Nootropics are designed to provide a direct and immediate effect on your brain's performance.
Now that we've defined our terms, trick question:
Are Nootropics and Adaptogens the Same?
It's a reasonable question–both adaptogens and nootropics impact neurotransmitter levels and affect cognitive function. Truly, the comparison is pretty spot on–and while adaptogens and nootropics are not necessarily the same thing, they do overlap in some ways.
To explain this more clearly:
Nootropics specifically impact cognition. Adaptogens impact stress.
Still, some compounds can be both adaptogens and nootropics, meaning the may help to regulate dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, or cortisone in a way that helps improve cognition and helps the body adapt to stress at the same time. Some adaptogens help the body adapt to stress in a way that naturally improves cognitive function.
Now, let's explore the key differences and similarities between adaptogens and nootropics in terms of their potential as cognitive enhancers.
Adaptogens vs Nootropics: The Showdown
Mechanism of Action
Adaptogens: Adaptogens work by regulating the body's stress response. They help maintain a state of balance, allowing your body to adapt to stressors more effectively. Their effects are gradual and tend to be more focused on long-term well-being rather than immediate cognitive enhancement.
- Nootropics: Nootropics primarily focus on boosting cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and mood. They work by influencing neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, resulting in more rapid and noticeable effects.
Adaptogens: The benefits of adaptogens extend beyond cognitive enhancement. They help with stress reduction, immune system support, and overall vitality.
Adaptogens are sometimes used by those looking to improve sleep, calm anxiety, or counteract the stress-inducing effects of high intensity workouts. If you're looking for a holistic approach to well-being, adaptogens might be your best bet.
Nootropics: Nootropics excel in enhancing cognitive performance. They can improve memory, increase mental clarity, and boost motivation.
Many people choose nootropics for enhancing memory, focus, or naturally managing conditions like ADHD. If your goal is to maximize brainpower for tasks like studying or work, nootropics may be the right choice.
Safety and Side Effects
Adaptogens: Generally, adaptogens are well-tolerated and have minimal side effects. They are considered safe for long-term use and are unlikely to lead to addiction or dependency.
Nootropics: The safety of nootropics can vary widely depending on the specific compound. Natural nootropics are generally less risky than some synthetic products on the market.
Some nootropics have minimal side effects when used responsibly, while others may carry risks of addiction or adverse reactions. It's crucial to research and choose high-quality products.
Availability and Cost
Adaptogens: Many adaptogens can be found in the form of herbal supplements or teas, and they are relatively affordable. Availability varies by region, but they are commonly accessible.
- Nootropics: Nootropics are often available in the form of capsules or powders and can vary significantly in cost. Some nootropics, especially synthetic compounds, may be pricey, while others are more budget-friendly. The selection of nootropics is broader but might require more research to find the right one for you.
Long-Term vs. Short-Term Use
Adaptogens: Adaptogens are well-suited for long-term use, as their benefits accumulate over time. They are excellent for maintaining overall health and resilience.
- Nootropics: Nootropics are typically used on a more short-term basis, such as for a specific project or to enhance cognitive performance during exams or work-related tasks. Prolonged use should be carefully considered due to potential side effects. Some natural nootropics, like medicinal mushrooms, may be better suited for long term use.
Personal Goals and Preferences
Ultimately, the choice between adaptogens and nootropics comes down to your personal goals and preferences. Here's a simple way to decide:
If you're seeking overall well-being, stress reduction, and resilience to daily life stressors, adaptogens may be the better choice.
- If you need a quick cognitive boost for specific tasks or activities, like studying for exams or a high-pressure work project, nootropics might be the way to go.
Common Adaptogens and Nootropics and Their Benefits
So, now that you understand the general breakdown of adaptogens vs nootropics, let’s look at some real life examples of these compounds and the benefits they bring.
Most Popular Nootropics (+ Research)
Caffeine is a well-known natural nootropic that boosts energy and focus by blocking adenosine production.
Research: Studies have found that caffeine blocks adenosine production and improves focus. Countless studies exist to prove the potential benefits of caffeine for cognitive function. One important study shows that caffeine may pair well with L-theanine to offer enhanced nootropic effects.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Common dosages vary but range from 20-400 mg per day. It's important to avoid excessive consumption to prevent side effects like dependence and adrenal fatigue.
L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves, pairs well with caffeine for a smoother energy boost and reduced anxiety. It may also regulate sleep patterns.
Ginkgo, an ancient nootropic, improves blood flow to the brain, potentially aiding cognitive function and dementia management.
Research: Standardized ginkgo extract (EGb 761) is used for cognitive benefits in dementia patients. In animal animal models and test-tube models, it’s been shown to help promote the growth of neurons. Ginkgo may also have preventative effects that help keep cortisol and blood-pressure levels low and the ability to improve blood flow in the body, increasing brain performance.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Common dosage varies from 100 to 300 milligrams per day and ginkgo is often considered to be safe for long-term use.
Alpha-GPC boosts acetylcholine levels, improving memory and cognitive functions. It's sold as a dietary supplement and prescription medication in some countries.
Research: Alpha-GPC helps to increase acetylcholine and may target verbal memory, visual memory, verbal learning, and executive function. One study comparing the impact of caffeine and alpha-GPC found that alpha GPC supplementation increased mental performance speed in young adults by 18%.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies between 200 and 600 milligrams per day. It is generally considered to be safe for long-term use.
Lion’s Mane stimulates neurogenesis and may improve memory, focus, and mental endurance.
Research: According to the research we have, though, lion’s mane is thought to improve memory, focus, and mental endurance, and may be in the running for new medications designed to treat dementia. One other prolific benefit of lion’s mane is its potential ability to promote neurogenesis, or the production of new nerve cells in the brain.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies between 200 and 800 milligrams of Lion’s Mane extract daily. It is generally considered safe for long-term use by those who are not taking certain medications and do not have a mushroom allergy. Read “Lion’s Mane Drug Interactions” to learn more.
Cordyceps is known for increasing endurance and may have memory-enhancing properties due to antioxidant effects.
Research: Research has found cordyceps to have possible benefits for improving memory and learning in animal models thanks to extraordinary antioxidant properties. It’s also commonly linked to improved blood flow and enhanced physical performance and endurance.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Cordyceps can be taken in doses of 3-6 grams daily for up to one year.
Curcumin, found in turmeric, has potential anti-inflammatory effects and may impact serotonin and dopamine levels.
Research: Curcumin has been shown to have a positive impact on serotonin and dopamine levels, and has been highlighted as a potential treatment for depression and related disorders. Other research has linked curcumin to total body benefits, like prevention against cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies from 0.5 to 2 grams of turmeric per day or around 500 milligrams of concentrate. Curcumin is safe for long-term use.
Bacopa Monnieri is linked to improved processing speed, memory enhancement, and prevention of age-related cognitive decline.
Panax Ginseng is associated with reduced mental fatigue and improved cognitive performance, likely due to increased blood flow and anti-inflammatory effects.
Research: Ginseng is often linked to reduced mental fatigue and improved cognitive performance, especially when doing difficult tasks. Many believe that it works by increasing blood flow to the brain. Others believe that many of its benefits may have to do with its anti-inflammatory effects, which may help to reduce oxidative stress.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies from 200 to 900 milligrams daily usually divided in to 2 or 3 daily doses. It has not been determined unsafe for long term use, but most trails only lasted up to 6 months.
Omega-3 fatty acids support cognitive function, and low levels are associated with cognitive dysfunction.
Research: Omega-3 is known to help improve many facets of cognitive function, from increasing focus to decreasing anxiety and depression. A lack of omega-3 is associated with cognitive dysfunctions.
One study concluded that people with low Omega-3 levels had lower brain volume and scored lower on tests involving visual memory and executive function. Another study found that fruit flies consuming fish oil had an increased ability to learn and remember compared to fruit flies fed a standard diet. More human evidence is necessary.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies depending on need and diet, safe for long-term use.
Rosea Rhodiola is an adaptogen that can improve learning and memory function, reduce mental fatigue, and enhance well-being under stress.
Research: Rhodiola contains rosavin and salidroside, two compounds that are also known to be potent adaptogens. One review of 36 animal studies stated that “R. rosea L. can improve learning and memory function” possibly due it’s “antioxidant properties, cholinergic regulation, anti-apoptosis activities, anti-inflammatory, improving coronary blood flow, and cerebral metabolism.”
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage varies, safe for long-term use.
Ashwagandha is a well-known Ayurvedic herb often used to manage anxiety. Ashwagandha is most often used for reducing stress and anxiety levels, with one study suggesting it can improve sleep quality.
Research: 2014 and 2019 studies confirm its potential benefits for managing stress and anxiety. Another study suggests it may improve sleep quality.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Ashwagandha dosage varies from 300-500 mg per day. It is best taken with meals and is generally considered safe for long-term use.
Panax Ginseng, also known as American Ginseng, is a root known for its relaxing effects and its potential to restore physiological balance during stressful situations. Research shows it may improve the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and cortisol production, reducing fatigue and enhancing motivation.
Research: A 2017 study shows its potential to restore homeostasis. Another study found that it may help to reduce fatigue and support mental alertness.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Ginseng doses range from 200-400 mg per day taken in 1-3 separate doses. Ginseng is best taken in the morning and is generally safe for long-term use.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is an immune-boosting adaptogenic mushroom. It's used to stimulate the immune system and improve mood. Research highlights its benefits in reducing pain and mood changes caused by chronic exhaustion and lowering depression and anxiety rates in those who consume mushrooms regularly. Plus, reishi is often considered one of the best mushrooms for gut health.
Research: A 2014 study confirms immune-stimulating effects. One study found that Resihi supplementation improved the pain and mood changes surrounding a condition caused by chronic exhaustion. A survey concluded that those who regularly consumed mushrooms reported significantly lower rates of depression. Various smaller trials have verified similar results.
- Suggested Use and Safety: The most common common dosage ranges from 1-2 grams per day. It’s best taken in the morning and generally safe for long-term use as long as you aren’t taking medications that may interact with Reishi.
Although Cordyceps is often marketed as a nootropic, it is also a mushroom with adaptogenic properties that can help reduce stress markers and improve stress-related fatigue. Research suggests its effectiveness in combination with other adaptogens, like rhodiola and reishi, for combating physical stress in athletes.
Research: One animal trial suggests that cordyceps can help reduce stress markers while increasing the ability to handle stress-related activities. Another similar study confirmed these results, stating that cordyceps may be useful for combating stress-related fatigue.
A 2014 human trial examined the use of cordyceps in combination with another herbal remedy said to have adaptogenic effects–rhodiola crenulata. This study also confirmed stress-relieving effects and an improvement in fatigue levels after only 2 weeks of dosing. Another study combined cordyceps with reishi mushroom and found the pair to help reduce the effects of physical stress on athletes caused by overtraining.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosages range from 500-1000 mg per day. Generally safe for long-term use, but more research is needed. Avoid if you have mushroom allergies.
Maitake may have brain-boosting and antidepressant effects, especially when combined with ashwagandha. It decreases cortisol production in animal models, potentially reducing stress responses. However, further research is needed to confirm its adaptogenic potential.
Research: Some evidence suggests that maitake may have significant brain-boosting and antidepressant effects. One trial found that when maitake was combined with ashwagandha, it could significantly decrease the cortisol production (or the stress response) in animal models.
- Suggested Use and Safety: Dosage can range from 500-1000 mg per day. Maitake is best taken in the morning. It is generally considered to be safe for those without a mushroom allergy, but more research is needed.
In the world of cognitive enhancement, adaptogens and nootropics both offer unique benefits. Adaptogens provide a holistic approach to well-being and stress reduction, while nootropics deliver immediate cognitive enhancement. Your choice should align with your specific goals and preferences.
Remember, always consult with a healthcare professional or a knowledgeable practitioner before adding any new supplement to your routine. It's essential to understand how each option may affect your unique physiology.
- Adaptogens are the go-to choice for those looking for long-term well-being and stress reduction.
- Nootropics are ideal for short-term cognitive enhancement and boosting brainpower for specific tasks.
Make your decision wisely, and you'll be on your way to a sharper, more resilient mind.
Lucid: Adaptogens, Nootropics, Medicinal Mushrooms All In One
Lucid instant beverages are known for their medicinal mushroom and nootropic power, but many of the unique ingredients double as adaptogens. That’s why Lucid is so good at making you feel level, coherent, and strong–the exact balance you need to feel lucid and motivated to take on your day.
Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients: What’s in a Lucid Stack?” to learn more about the Lucid formula, which includes a handful of nootropics and adaptogens, including:
- Lion’s mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
Or, check out one of our three flavor options: