Below is a list of supplements that have shown in a variation of study types/numbers to enhance cognitive function.
They have great utility if you're someone who relies on mental performance for their work (lawyers, consultants, executives, analysts etc). The concept of cognitive enhancement is rather broad and so I've left it open for translation, but generally this refers to increased learning ability, better memory recall & deeper encoding, increased attention & focus, improved executive function (decision making) and faster processing speeds, increased BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) the list goes on.
The ones I've listed are just ones that I've personally researched, tried & found benefit enough to keep them in my toolbelt.
Please let me know if you have any suggestions or better alternatives that you've found, as I'm always looking to learn & improve.
Links are simply the cheapest/easiest places that I use to buy them online.
Please let me know if you find anywhere better, so I can update the list.
This page contains affiliate links where I may make 1-5% commission, at no extra cost to you.
Able to promote focused relaxed energy. Very effective in conjunction w. coffee, especially if caffeine sensitive (like me).
If you can imagine caffeine being a powerful Ferrari, then L-Theanine would be the Pirelli tires. If caffeine was a machine-gun, L-Theanine would be the laser-targeting system. Normally chaotic/erratic energy, but together, a deadly combo of precision.. [r][r]
Dose: 1x Morning (w coffee)
1x nightly (w/o coffee)
The most thoroughly studied supplement out there. Discovered in 1843. Proven time & time again. >10,000 studies show it can ⬆ strength, muscle volume & energy. ⬇ aging. While improving skin, fertility & hearing. It also increases intelligence and cognitive energy supply. Creatine is the grand-master of supplements. [r][r][r][r][r][r]
Dose: 5g every day, for life.
The chemical in blueberries that gives them their fantastic hue, anthocyanin, has been shown to increase blood to the brain, specifically the pre-frontal cortex (higher thought, executive decision making).
Dose: 1x Morning
A version of choline found to very quickly cross the blood-brain barrier and increase intracortical levels of ACh. Shown to increase memory, attention and aid in the treatment of cognitive impairment. [r]
Dosage: 1x Morning
Green Coffee Extract
An extract from the raw beans of coffee fruit. The chlorogenic and caffic acids in this have been shown to greatly increase levels of BDNF in the brain, leading to increased neurogenesis & neuroplasticity. Also an anti-oxidant and very low in caffeine. [r]
BDNF = Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor
Great for enhanced learning & memory encoding.
Dosage: 1x Morning
The herb we all have in our pantries (somewhere.. who knows how long it's been there). Oddly enough this is actually the most highly researched & cited cognitive enhancing herb on record. I suspect a lack of patents has led to a lack of marketing & promotion.
Sage enhances cognition in many aspects and it's incredibly cheap.
Dosage: 1x Morning, 1x Lunch
N-Acetyl L-Cysteine - NAC
NAC is needed to make your bodies most powerful antioxidant, glutathione, which lowers inflammation and protects from cellular damage (incl. brain cells from oxidative damage, the main drivers of 'brain-fog').
NAC helps regulate glutamate levels within neurons - an excitatory neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory & behaviour - because too high levels can be neurotoxic.
Dose: 0.5-2g (I prefer before bed)
Used in indian medicine for centuries, to improve memory, learning and epilepsy. Studies show this herb improves spatial learning & memory retention, visual processing speed, learning rate and attention.
One study found it improved dendritic length & branching; meaning an increase in novel intraneuronal connections being formed.
Also found to lower anxiety, ADHD symptoms & general stress.
Dose: 1x Morning
95%+ Dark Chocolate
Yes, Dark Chocolate is a brain booster. The polyphenols, flavanols & catechins within can help to boost blood-brain flow, BDNF & improve memory. Cacao also contains low levels of caffeine & theobromine, two chemicals that certainly boost energy levels. [r][r][r][r][r]
Dose: 5-20g (before 12pm)
An abundant conditionally-essential amino-acid, required for muscle, tendons & 100's of other vital processes. Glycine has been found to enhance sleep quality & greatly diminish the negative effects of sleep loss. Sleep is vital for mental performance, but sometimes it's hard to get enough sleep, so glycine helps. It's a mild cognitive enhancer, partially by increasing creatine levels within the brain, thus increasing energy [r][r][r]
Dose: 0.5-1g before bed
I'm sure you don't need reminding of how effective caffeine is in enhancing mental performance. Many of you live on this stuff, especially if you're in the higher-end of the corporate world.
Caffeine works mainly by blocking & exciting adenosine receptors. Thoughts create waste products, these receptors collect the rubbish, the more thoughts you've made through the day the more rubbish they collect & the more they slow you down. Caffeine stops this collection, so they allow you to keep full-speed. [r][2min vid explanation]
I certainly don't condone its use; do your own research. However it is the worlds most widely used stimulant behind caffeine. It has utility when needing a 30min boost of heightened focus & creativity. Many great authors, orators & philosophers could be seen admonishing a cup of coffee & a cigarette. Fortunately, modern times have given us nicotine breath mints.
Dose: 0.5-1mg - 10min prior to task. Use very sparingly & rarely.
Curcumin has been shown in many studies now to improve cognitive function via increased blood flow to the cerebral cortex as well as increasing BDNF levels within the brain, resulting in increased rates of neuroplasticity & neurogenesis.
This one is quite useful during skill acquisition, as the increase in blood flow and BDNF really facilitates with memory consolidation.
Dose: 1-2 daily
A complex carb/fibre - or 'prebiotic' - that isn't effectively broken down by our body. Instead it feeds our gut bacteria which provide us with great mental & physical energy while improving our metabolism & mood. This is the best prebiotic I've found so far, great cost value too. [r][r]
Dose: 1scp morning & 1scp night
Useful for long days, or when it's crunch time and when stress-overload simply isn't an option.
A precursor to the catecholamines: dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Works well to assist prompting the 'Flow' state, when paired with 5-HPT and L-Theanine.
All useful, in moderate amounts, for focus, energy, and motivation.
A version of magnesium that readily crosses the blood-brain-barrier. Shown to effectively increase quality of sleep, and promote lucid dreaming. This will also help improve memory, learning, creativity, and lower your blood-pressure as well as resting heart rate, via lowering cortisol, and increasing BDNF (via increased NMDA receptor signalling) and TNF-alpha.[r][r][r][r][r]
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a precursor to melatonin, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for Flow state, and task enjoyment. Taking 5-HTP can improve mood, and sleep quality.
I find 5-HTP useful as a social lubricant, as it both calms anxiety and improves mood towards happiness. There's also evidence of it resolving binge/stress eating.
Helps lower cortisol, a stress hormone that downregulates fat-loss hormones (thyroid, testosterone, etc) and does a few other unhelpful things when levels are chronically too high (like destroying grey matter!). Studies using the versions registered as 'KSM-95' or Sensoril' found it lowered cortisol effectively by 30% over a few weeks. [r][r]
Dose: 125mg morning & night
Boosts theta activity in the prefrontal cortex, and regulates theta activity during rest, causing improved cognitive performance in nearly all knowledge-work. Potentially used in production of, and likely act similar to, acetylcholine (ACh), which is required for learning & memory.
May cause lucid dreams (useful when leveraged). [r][r][r][r]
Dose: 150mg each morning
Needed to protect brain cells, as well as facilitate neuronal messaging (brain activity).
PS levels naturally decline with age.
PS supplementation decreases cortisol (stress hormone) and anxiety.
Increases, BDNF, neurogenesis and dendritogenesis, which improves learning and memory. [r][r][r]
Dose: 100mg each night
A cheap & effective anxiolytic (lowers anxiety), with mild anti-depressive effects. Cerebral inositol levels unfortunately often naturally decline with age. Also found to lower instances of binge-eating/stress eating. Funnily enough it tastes mildly sweet too. [r][r][r]
Used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine for it's effects on blood circulation & memory. Also incredibly cheap; a years worth is about $30.
Dosage: 1x Morning