Many smart drugs, otherwise known as nootropics, are manufactured in a lab. However, there are several natural nootropics available over the counter at local pharmacies and health food stores. Herbal supplements have been used for centuries to treat just about every medical condition. They have also been used to boost brain power, elevate mood, enhance memory and improve concentration. The following herbs are the most useful for improving cognitive function and helping you feel productive and clear-headed.

1. Panax Ginseng

Also known as true ginseng, Panax ginseng has benefits that go beyond improving cognition. This performance enhancer and immune booster is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Ginseng has been shown to improve mental performance. The herb can enhance learning in a way that’s similar to synthetic nootropic drugs. It also has anti-stress and anti-depressive properties.

Therefore, it can be an all-around benefit for people who are overworked and overstressed. This applies to students, parents, professionals, athletes and just about everyone.

2. Rhodiola Rosea

According to Examine, this herb is the second-most popular after Panax ginseng. It has been traditionally used to counter fatigue that comes from stress and burnout. That benefit makes it useful for improving your well-being when life gets challenging.

Although the herb has not been extensively studied for its ability to enhance cognition, it may improve mental functioning as it combats fatigue. Critics explain that most people naturally experience more clarity as they become more alert. Rhodiola rosea has some stimulatory properties. However, it lacks the crash and jittery side effects that are associated with caffeine use.

Studies have found that the supplement can improve the following:

  • Stress-induced fatigue
  • Maze drawing
  • Processing errors
  • Attention and reaction time during exercise
  • Evidence does suggest that Rhodiola rosea can protect the brain against toxins. It may also increase lifespan.

3. Ashwagandha

herbal supplements

This root is used in Ayurveda medicine as an adaptogen. It fights against the physiological and chemical effects of stress. Therefore, it is most often used to alleviate anxiety. It can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body. This can result in an immunity boost.
The supplement has not been extensively studied for its use in improving cognitive performance. However, some evidence suggests that it may aid in the formation of memories. Therefore, it has potential for treating degenerative brain conditions, like Alzheimer’s.

Certain types of stress can cause neurodegeneration. Ashwagandha has been studied for its ability to counter that destruction. Some research indicates that the herb can help damaged neurons repair themselves. Thus, it may improve memory and help with learning.

4. Gingko Biloba

Examine says that gingko biloba may be the most commonly used herb for cognitive wellness. It works well with Panax ginseng.
Most of the research into this herb has been done on elderly individuals who are already experiencing memory loss or cognitive decline. However, it has potential for maintaining brain function in healthy people.

While some nootropic herbs can help with attention and focus, gingko biloba doesn’t seem to be one of them. Studies demonstrate that the herb doesn’t make multi-tasking any easier. It may improve accuracy in mental processing, though.

Gingko biloba may also have a calming effect. It may be useful in managing stress or balancing out other, more stimulatory nootropics.

5. Huperzine-A

This compound is extracted from the herbs in the Huperziceae family. It is considered to be a natural nootropic.

It works by indirectly increasing acetylcholine production in the brain. It doesn’t introduce acetylcholine into the system. Instead, it counters an enzyme that usually blocks acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is essential to learning and the creation of memories. It can also boost physical performance.
Examine reports that no side effects have been experienced with recommended doses. Researchers are looking into the supplement as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. It lasts longer, acts faster and is absorbed better than many existing Alzheimer’s medications.

Even if you don’t have cognitive dysfunction like that which is associated with Alzheimer’s, you may notice an increase in alertness and energy when taking Huperzine-A, according to WebMD.

6. Bacopa Monnieri

herbal supplements

This herb does double duty. It improves cognition by reducing anxiety. Because of its adaptogenic qualities, Bacopa monnieri may reduce motivation as it relaxes you. Therefore, some people like to pair it with supplements that increase energy.

Many herbs with nootropic benefits have only been studied in people with impaired cognition. Bacopa monnieri has been found to improve learning in healthy people as well as those with degenerative mental conditions.

While it may not improve attention, it has been shown to enhance memory. However, it can take several weeks for these benefits to become notable.

One of the ways in which Bacopa monnieri may enhance brain power is by encouraging the development of dendrites at the end of neurons. More dendrites result in faster and more efficient brain processing. This can also help with learning and memory retention.

7. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane is a mushroom that looks like a pom-pom and has memory-enhancing and mood-boosting qualities. It’s also known as yamabushitake or hedgehog mushroom. You can find it in some gourmet grocery stores or as a dietary supplement. Different strains appear to have different brain-enhancing capabilities.

Studies of this botanical mushroom are limited. However, researchers have discovered that it can help regenerate nerves. The nerve growth factors in the mushrooms can improve the myelination of nerves, which improves communication throughout the nervous system.
Lion’s mane also has minor benefits on symptoms of depression. In one study, participants experienced improved mood and better concentration when taking the supplement.

Key Take-Away

Many botanicals have potent effects on the brain and body. Even though herbal medications come from plants, they aren’t always safe for everyone. Some of them are contraindicated for use if you have particular medical conditions. Others can interfere with certain medications. It’s important to do your research and consult a medical professional before adding an herbal supplement to your health and wellness routine.

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