Nothing dampens motivation and heightens frustration more than brain fog when you need to get something done. In today’s busy world there’s no arguing that being able to focus is paramount.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy, leaving many people in search of a supplemental routine that can help rid them of brain fog and enhance their cognitive function. Nootropics for focus are a great place to start.
So, if you’re here to find out what nootropics really are and how they can help you focus, you’re in the right place. Let’s dig into the basics, and then we’ll cover the most popular nootropics used for improving focus down below:
Table of Contents
Nootropics may improve focus by altering neurotransmitter levels.
Different nootropics have different mechanisms, similar to how prescription medications may work by increasing and decreasing different neurotransmitters.
You can stack different nootropics to create a unique, personalized dosing regimen.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics, sometimes called “smart drugs,” are substances that interact with the brain to enhance its functions, usually by altering the way that neurotransmitters are created and used within the nervous system.
People take nootropics for many reasons, like to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and yes, to enhance focus. Although research is limited, especially concerning the use of nootropics for ADHD and related conditions, we do know a bit about how nootropics may help support cognitive functions to help you maintain focus.
Nootropics interact with neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, the same mechanisms by which ADHD medications work. Of course, all nootropics are different and will have different results, and each person’s experience with using nootropics for focus will be unique. Still, there are plenty to choose from and they can even be stacked to create a more personalized dosing routine.
Let’s cover some of the nootropic supplements that are most commonly used for enhancing docs and the mechanisms by which they may work:
Best Nootropics for Enhancing Focus (& Research)
Disclaimer: We focused on supplemental, natural nootropics for this list, which means these substances have not been clinically evaluated for their ability to treat any mental or physical conditions, nor are they approved as a treatment for ADHD or related conditions. Always talk to your doctor before making changes to your wellness routine.
Which Nootropics Help You Focus?
The most common nootropic focus enhancer supplements include:
Caffeine is the most common nootropic used to enhance focus–and the most common nootropic consumed across the world. Most people don’t realize that caffeine counts as a nootropic, but it has undeniable benefits for “waking the brain up” and enhancing cognitive function.
How? Caffeine promotes alertness and energy by blocking adenosine, the hormone that makes us feel tired. Of course, daily use of caffeine can result in dependence, and the wide effects of caffeine withdrawal can be uncomfortable. Moreover, the side effects of over-consumption may be equally undesirable and include increased anxiety, jitteriness, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure.
So, caffeine is a powerful option for enhancing focus, but you need to control how much you consume. To make small doses more effective, you may pair caffeine with other nootropics (like L-theanine).
L-theanine is one of the primary amino acids found in tea leaves. It’s thought to have a few therapeutic benefits, acting both as a nootropic (cognition enhancing) and adaptogenic (stress regulating) compound.
Theanine is thought to act like glutamine in the body, an amino acid that impacts the production of three essential neurotransmitters–GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. By helping to regulate neurotransmitter production, L-theanine may change the way that the brain responds to stress.
In fact, theanine’s signature benefit is promoting a sense of calm, which is why it pairs nicely with caffeine. Some evidence suggests that it may negate any negative side effects related to caffeine, like anxiety or increased blood pressure. If you’re wondering “How will feeling more calm help me focus?”, let us explain:
By calming the brain and improving the response to stress, L-theanine may help to streamline your focus and prevent you from getting distracted. A reactive nervous system, essentially the opposite of feeling calm, makes you more susceptible to outside distractions.
There’s some research to help us understand L-theanine’s focus-enhancing potential. A small 2011 study found that L-theanine had a pronounced effect on attention and reaction time response in healthy adults who are prone to anxiety.
Another 2019 randomized controlled trial involving 30 healthy adults concluded that L-theanine was safe and well-tolerated as a “nutraceutical ingredient for improving mental conditions in a healthy population.” Specifically, L-theanine supplementation was found to decrease stress-related symptoms (involving depression, anxiety, and sleep) and increase cognition scores (involving verbal fluency and executive function).
Read "How Much L-Theanine to Take With Coffee" to learn more.
Lion’s Mane is a medicinal mushroom chock full of beta-glucans, or prebiotics that help to alter the gut’s microbiome in a positive way. Although it’s not always been well understood how the gut microbiome impacts mental health, researchers now understand that many neurotransmitters are made in the gut, which communicates with the brain via the gut-brain axis.
In other words, healthy gut flora is the key to good mental health, and to preventing other cognitive disturbances, like brain fog.
Lion’s mane may help to enhance focus in a number of ways, but most significantly by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps to promote the growth of new neurons, improving the communication pathways in the brain, and possibly increasing processing speed.
Aside from the potential benefits of lion’s mane for healthy brains, the mushroom is also associated with several advantages for older adults with mild cognitive impairments. One study found a trend of significant improvement in cognitive function for these adults when taking lion’s mane daily, though the benefits stopped after they quit taking lion’s mane.
Alpha-GPC (also known as L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine or choline alphoscerate) is a cholinergic, or a compound that improves choline levels in the body. Choline is a necessary neurochemical used to build cells and produce neurotransmitters.
Alpha-GPC is approved as a treatment for dementia in some countries, but evidence suggests that increased choline levels may also be linked to improved cognitive performance in healthy adults. In this particular study, researchers saw improvement in four areas in dementia-free adults: verbal memory, visual memory, verbal learning, and executive function.
Another study comparing the impact of caffeine and alpha-GPC found that alpha GPC supplementation was associated with an 18% overall increase in the performance speed of young adults carrying out various physical and mental tasks.
Bacopa monnieri, commonly known as water hyssop, is a traditional Ayurvedic herb used to improve memory and enhance brain focus, among other uses like mood enhancement and treating seizures. According to research , it may also help to regulate the production of important neurochemicals necessary for all aspects of cognitive function.
Research on bacopa monnieri is still limited, but researchers believe its benefits to be significant. In fact, bacopa was found to be superior to two other nootropic supplements–ginseng, an herbal supplement known for increasing energy and modafinil, a medication designed to promote alertness in people with narcolepsy.
Ginkgo biloba is another traditional medicinal herb associated with cognitive improvements. Most commonly, this herbal remedy is associated with increased blood flow, which may be linked to multiple physical and mental benefits.
According to a 1996 study Ginkgo may be effective in treating Alzheimer’s Disease. Another trial the following year offered a similar conclusion–the same Ginkgo extract was shown to be effective in stabilizing and improving cognitive function in dementia patients.
More research is needed to fully understand its potential impact, but ginkgo is usually well-tolerated and can be found in many nootropic stacks designed to enhance concentration.
MCT oil, or medium chain triglycerides, is associated with an 8 to 9% increase in brain energy, which may help prevent cognitive fatigue and promote focus. Further, it may even have a positive impact on gut health, which has an undeniable impact on brain health.
MCT oil is safe and accessible, and it helps to support the absorption of other fat-soluble supplements, so it’s always a good one to add to your supplemental routine.
Nootropic Side Effects
In general, most nootropics are thought to be safe when used in moderate doses. Of course, all supplements have some potential to cause unwanted side effects. The most common potential side effects associated with nootropic supplements include:
- Increased anxiety
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Insomnia or decreased sorry quality
- Increased heart rate
You may be at a greater risk for nootropic side effects and should talk to your doctor before taking new supplements if:
- You take certain medications, including blood thinners or antidepressants
- Have a history of substance abuse
- Have had a stroke
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Like all supplements, nootropic supplements are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals in the U.S., so you should pay close attention to the quality of supplements before you buy. Poor quality formulations are much more likely to cause side effects, some of which may be severe.
When looking for nootropic supplements, check to make sure they are:
- Made in a cGMP-compliant facility
- Lab tested and free of contaminants
- Accurately labeled, including dosage information
How to Choose the Best Nootropics for Focus
Choosing nootropics or building a nootropic stack can feel like a shot in the dark, but the good news is that you can pair two or more to create a more well-rounded, personalized nootropic routine–you don’t have to narrow it down to just one.
If you have ADHD or a similar disorder, you should talk to your doctor before changing or altering your medication. You may also want to discuss natural remedies for focus with your doctor, like many of the nootropics for focus we listed above.
If you’re looking to take advantage of the nootropics from this list (and enjoy the convenience of a pre-made, full-coverage nootropic stack) check out our Lucid nootropic stack, which contains:
- Lion’s Mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
Want to learn more? Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients? What’s in a Lucid Stack?” Or, check out one of our three flavor varieties:
- “Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464611000351
- “Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6836118/
- “Lion's Mane, Hericium erinaceus and Tiger Milk, Lignosus rhinocerotis (Higher Basidiomycetes) Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate Neurite Outgrowth in Dissociated Cells of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Retina: An In Vitro Study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26853959/
- “Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18844328/
- “The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort 1,2,3,4” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252552/
- “Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: an overview” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15898709/
- “Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746283/
- “Cognitive effects of two nutraceuticals ginseng and bacopa benchmarked against modafinil: a review and comparison of effect sizes” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK127192/
- “Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8741021/
- “A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9343463/
- “Stimulation of mild, sustained ketonemia by medium-chain triacylglycerols in healthy humans: Estimated potential contribution to brain energy metabolism” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900712003656
- “Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Health: The Potential Beneficial Effects of a Medium Chain Triglyceride Diet in Obese Individuals” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882694/