What do you do to get the most from your nootropics?
While most people don't consider this aspect of nootropic supplementation, there are a number of prerequisites to address in order to create an ideal environment for nootropics to provide the most benefit. After all, you want to get the most from your nootropics - don't you?
Although most of us seek cognitive improvement in one form or another, we realize that many people who experiment with nootropics do so with the aim of addressing another problem they suffer with. These problems can manifest themselves as a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression, low motivation and mood, lack of focus, ADD or insomnia. What needs to be understood is that these symptoms are typically the result of a larger underlying problem, one that can in many cases be resolved with regular supplementation of key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
It's true that nootropics can be very useful for overcoming these issues and improving cognitive function, however, they should be supplemental to a balanced routine. We seem to be very quick to forget the healing power of proper nutrition and sleep. Nootropics can be effectively used alongside a well-planned routine when done so in an intelligent and educated manner. We'll be covering nutrition and nootropics in a later series.
The easiest ways to establish which vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in, as well as the forms that are most effective and suited to you specifically, are a blood panel and a gene test.
A blood panel will provide you with your vitamin and mineral levels, which can be one of the most efficient and simple ways of restoring a balance of neurotransmitters, mood and brain function. Supplementing with a variety of vitamins, such as with a multivitamin, may not always be a worthwhile or even a good idea - especially if you maintain a balanced diet. A blood test will be a good indicator of your nutrition plan. We see little value in a 'full-spectrum' multivitamins, as these will more often than not provide a wide variety of sub par quality vitamins and minerals, and in quantities that aren't sufficient to correct a deficiency. Focus on choosing individual vitamins instead, or ones in a carefully formulated product that is suited to you.
Next, gene testing is a proven way of establishing what gene mutations one carries. This is relevant because, with all the data collected over the years through collaboration and research by various bodies around the world, we are able to attribute individual vitamins and minerals to specific gene types. Nutrition and supplementation can be used as a tool for expressing or depressing genes, which is a form of biohacking. Carriers of certain genes are unable to convert and utilize certain forms of vitamins, which can lead to impairment of normal functions and exhibit physical symptoms. Applying this kind of data to yourself can provide substantial corrective benefits.
All these factors aside, there are a few key aspects to understand before diving into a nootropics protocol or stack.
Nootropics work better with the right minerals and cofactors
Precursors and cofactors are essential catalysts for various chemical processes in the body. They are involved in cellular energy production, detoxification, neurotransmitter synthesis, hormone regulation and antioxidant production. There are hundreds of processes occurring in the body that depend on these elements, and these components all play a role in providing the right environment for nootropics to thrive in - without them, the potential of nootropics is diminished.
Many nootropics depend on an abundance of cofactors and neurotransmitters in order to function optimally. If you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, production of neurotransmitters and antioxidants may be negatively impacted (reduced), and you stand to limit how effective nootropics can be for you if these aren't readily available. It is also a lack of adequate levels of various neurotransmitters that lead to reduced cognitive function, affecting concentration, memory, and mood.
The most common neurotransmitter associated with nootropics is acetylcholine, but there are so many more proteins, amino acids, and other neurotransmitters that should be factored into creating effective nootropic stacks. This is where many stacks fall short.
Other compounds exhibit strong positive effects on cognition and mood and should be considered as essentials as part of a balanced protocol.
While we're all aware of Omega-3s, the importance of these fatty acids cannot be overstated when it comes to healthy brain function. Omega-3 consists of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) DHA and EPA primarily.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is most concentrated in the brain, the highest concentrations of DHA in the body are found in brain tissue. This fatty acid is pivotal for healthy brain development as well as maintaining a healthy mind throughout adulthood. Conversely, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is not significantly stored in the brain. It is however important for cardiovascular health primarily.
There are studies which suggest a daily dose of 2,000mg of EPA and DHA can have a positive impact on people suffering from depression. Another study shows the negative impact on ADHD when following a diet low in Omega-3 fatty acids, and how regular EPA/DHA consumption may help overcome this symptom.
Sufficient Omega-3 intake has also been associated with reducing high blood pressure and slowing the rate of deterioration of telomeres, which are a genetic marker for aging. The positive effects on cell membrane fluidity improve cellular permeability and facilitate the function of neurons and neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine.
Choosing the best forms of Omega-3s will go a long way in providing the most benefits for you. The issue with fish oil is that as that as soon as comes into contact with oxygen, it begins to oxidize, leading to rancid oils. This is what causes the overly fishy smell, and is a telling sign of oxidation when first opening up a bottle of soft-gels or if you get fishy burps.
We recommend buying Omega-3 in smaller amounts to ensure fresh batches, and always keep them stored tightly in their containers in a fridge to minimize oxidation.
We favor Krill Oil and Algal DHA as our sources of Omega-3s. Krill Oil contains an antioxidant known as astaxanthin which has been shown to reduce the oxidative process, prolonging the shelf-life and integrity of these fatty acids. Algal DHA is sourced from microalgae, making it a safe and long-lasting source of DHA.
Are you getting your Omega-3s? We sure hope so.
Betaine / TMG
Betaine (Trimethylglycine) is effective for regulating the levels of homocysteine in the body. Elevated homocysteine levels can lead to inflammation of the blood vessels. TMG is shown to reduce homocysteine between 10% and 40%, between individuals with normal and high levels respectively.
When taken with vitamins B6 and B12, betaine works to support the methylation train. It functions as a methyl donor, contributing a methyl group to chemical processes involved in directly or indirectly reducing homocysteine in the body.
Betaine is a cofactor in neurotransmitter synthesis and the reduction of coenzyme Q10 back into its pre-oxidised form. Stimulating neurotransmitter production, such as dopamine and serotonin, will not only provide nootropic benefits itself but also lend to other compounds that modulate and rely on these neurotransmitters. Many people have reported an improvement in mood and reduced anxiety just by adding betaine to their nootropic stacks.
The lowest active dose of betaine is 500mg, the recommended dosage is 2,000mg daily.
Betaine may not be for you if you are an over-methylator, which can be established with a gene test.
Vitamins - B6 and B12
Not only do these B-vitamins facilitate Betaine's function of modulating homocysteine, they are also crucial for the metabolism of foods, the production of neurotransmitters such as melatonin and serotonin, and maintaining heart health.
B12 specifically is also required for the production of myelin, which insulates your nerves and optimizes their function. A B12 deficiency has also been associated with reduced motor and sensory nerve function.
Ensuring your B6 and B12 intake is adequate will pave the way for getting the most from nootropic compounds.
There is a caveat here. Some people may carry gene mutations that make them unable to process and convert specific vitamins into their active, usable states. For example, the MTHFR gene mutation prevents the conversion of vitamin B9 (Folate) into the active form, known as methyl-folate. People carrying this gene should consider supplementing with an active form of folate if they find that a deficiency is present.
Both B6 and B12 are available in their active and sometimes better-tolerated forms, which is why we believe that it is important to at least consider a gene test to determine if you are one of those people.
As a baseline. we recommend the use of Methylcobalamin primarily as your source of vitamin B12. Avoid anything with Cyanocobalamin as the source of vitamin B12, this form is poor in quality and should be avoided.
Inadequate magnesium intake is common amongst many people, yet it can cause a number of negative symptoms - anxiety, insomnia, muscular cramps, and a lack of focus.
Magnesium as a supplement contributes to stimulating GABA, removing heavy metals, modulating hormones and being involved in healthy digestion, among many other vital processes in the body. Magnesium is also a potent anti-inflammatory. All-in-all, magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical processes in the body.
Magnesium is involved in the production of various neurotransmitters and is an important cofactor for a variety of other minerals. As already mentioned, we need to ensure that adequate neurotransmitters levels are achieved in order for your body to best utilize nootropics.
Magnesium is available in many forms, so you should pay close attention to the type you choose. We recommend any of the following as they are generally well tolerated and easily absorbed:
- Magnesium Glycinate (or bisglycinate)
- Magnesium Threonate
- Magnesium Orotate
- Magnesium Chelate
If you don't see the form of magnesium that you supplement with above, then check with us below to find out if it's any good. A dosage of 200 - 400mg a day is sufficient for most people.
Magnesium deficiencies are largely overlooked, making this one of the most essential and beneficial supplements around - especially for improving the effectiveness of nootropics.
Zinc is an essential element that assists with balancing hormones and sleep quality. It is synergistic with magnesium and vitamin B6. We recommend Zinc Picolinate as a reliable form of zinc, as it is readily absorbed and well tolerated - especially compared with gluconate and citrate¹.
If you prefer not to supplement with any of these individually, Betaine, Magnesium Glycinate, Zinc Picolinate, and vitamins B6 and B12 all form part of our Neuroprime formula. Neuroprime is specifically designed to be used as a foundational supplement to fuel the production of antioxidants and neurotransmitters, assisting in the function of nootropic compounds.
Less is more for sustaining results
Less is more doesn't necessarily mean going below the recommended dosages, even if that is sometimes the case. However, supplementing above the recommended dosages may lead to reduced effects in the long-term.
People have a tendency to increase the doses of compounds past the normal range because they don't 'feel' enough, or anything at all. This is quite common in the nootropics space.
Increasing the dosage past the normal range or increasing the number of compounds you supplement with because you aren't 'feeling an effect' can be entirely counterproductive to achieving your goals since most nootropics are not meant to be used in this manner.
There are countless reasons why a nootropic compound (or stack) may not work as expected, here are the most common ones:
- Your nervous system is overworked
Regular use of certain stimulants can lead to elevated cortisol and an overtaxed nervous system, creating the potential for a blunted response to compounds. The parasympathetic nervous system relies almost entirely on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine for signaling. This reliance on acetylcholine makes it a lot easier to over tax the nervous system than people realize, increasing the potential for brain fog from too much choline.
- You may not be self-aware enough to notice a perceptible difference
This is more common than you think, especially since many nootropics are quite subtle in effect.
- You received a product that doesn't contain what you think
The vast number extract variants, vitamins, and compounds available make it very easy to be misled when making a choice. Certain forms are shown to be significantly inferior, ineffective or unsuitable, yet they still form the basis of many products in the hopes that people don't know any better.
We review customer stacks regularly. We've spent years doing so, providing us with the experience needed to understand which protocols work best, and those that don't work at all.
What we've found to be the common denominator is the average person's supplement and nootropic stack contains too many ingredients. This is exacerbated by single-product start-ups that sell nootropic stacks which contain 20, 30 or even 40 (!) ingredients, all while suggesting their formulations are carefully researched. In reality, these companies rarely research, design or manufacture their own products - otherwise, they would have taken a more logical approach instead of throwing everything they can at a single one.
Dressed up with pseudoscience and deceptive marketing, over-formulated nootropic stacks go a long way in misleading people by promising all the benefits from just a few capsules, giving users the wrong impression of what nootropics can achieve when actually used in an intelligent and focused manner. Combining too many nootropics and minerals, more than most have even heard of, into a single stack will not only produce suboptimal results, it's also a sure way to waste your time and money.
It is well established that the most popular, effective foundational stacks consist of far fewer ingredients. Nootropic stacks such as caffeine and l-theanine, racetams and choline, and sulbutiamine and caffeine, to name a few, are popular because they are simple yet effective.
Using this approach, identifying negative interactions becomes significantly more realistic if they occur. By combining fewer ingredients, you will have a much easier time discovering what works for you. Ensuring you get adequate cofactors and precursors may help with potentiation, allowing for more noticeable results at similar or even lower doses.
You can take this further by building yourself a few different types of stacks that provide similar benefits and cycling between them in order to reduce any potential for building up a tolerance to their effects.
What you should look out for when making or buying nootropic stacks:
- Start with a basic, foundational stack before adding anything else.
- Avoid stacks that use too many ingredients and/or don't list their quantities.
- Always verify the researched dosages are established.
- Opt for superior forms of extracts and ingredients.
- Avoid high doses of stimulants that mask nootropic effects, especially those hidden in formulas.
- Avoid vitamins that contribute little-to-nothing in terms of overall effect or as precursors.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nootropics and supplements. There is no single product that does it all. Combining too many ingredients will not provide better or faster results. If this was an effective approach to making stacks, wouldn't everyone be designing them this way?
Achieving long-term effectiveness
The most benefit one can get from nootropics is to research their individual properties and apply that information when planning a stack. That means reviewing results one can expect during different stages of supplementation - short-term, mid-term, and long-term.
Let's take the Caffeine and L-Theanine stack (Ultra Caffeine) for example. This stack should be considered one with short-term improvements in mood and concentration primarily, making it a situational nootropic stack for most. It's not something you would be taking in the evenings under normal circumstances, and it should be cycled every few weeks to maintain effectiveness. However, Theanine taken on its own can be used for long periods without a reduction in benefits (and indeed, with the potential for added long-term benefits).
Nootropics like Bacopa Monnieri provide benefits that vary in effect depending on the length of supplementation, along with the form and dosage used. It can provide short-term benefits such as improvements in mood, long-term benefits on cognition and memory formation, or sedative effects depending on the extract used. These factors need to be considered when including Bacopa in a stack, as they will play a deciding role in what type of benefits you can expect from a stack, or what other compounds should be included to achieve the intended results. Here are some examples of how you can alter the end result of a simple stack using Bacopa as the base ingredient:
- A combination of Bacopa extract alongside Ashwagandha can strengthen the anxiolytic benefits of both these compounds, however, the extract type of both these compounds will dictate how you feel and when they are best taken. The wrong forms taken at the wrong time of day may make you sleepy during the day, or more focused and alert in the evenings.
- Bacopa Leaf extract's sedating effects can be countered with a mild stimulant in a dose-dependent manner. This stack may be beneficial to someone who doesn't respond well to a whole plant extract, but wants some of the benefits Bacopa provides for day use - even though the opposite is usually true here.
Other nootropics can have an effect on neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in the long-term while providing benefits in the short and mid-term - racetams for example.
These are some of the factors that we recommend are considered when planning your own nootropic stack, or shopping for a commercial one.
- Too many ingredients may cause unpredictable results during all stages of supplementation.
- Inaccurate or high doses may cause a tolerance build-up and unpredictable results.
- Not cycling your nootropics can blunt their effects.
- Consider the interactions between compounds at varying durations - how they interact from the first dose until however long you plan to supplement with them for.
- If minerals and vitamins are factored in, are they the best forms for you specifically?
Bioavailability and Absorption
Research suggests that fat and water soluble compounds should be taken with and without food respectively. However, in practice, this isn't always the case.
We've heard from many customers and read about countless situations where people experience the opposite effect, such as stronger effects from a fat-soluble compound when taken on an empty stomach. There can be a few reasons for this.
Although something like Bacopa is largely regarded as fat-soluble, it does possess the properties of both water and fat soluble compounds, which means it can provide benefits when taken with or without food.
Another factor is to consider gut-health and inflammation. If your gut is inflamed, the absorption of compounds can be hampered. One of the ways this may be caused is by eating foods that you are unknowingly allergic to, resulting in an adverse reaction in the gut. If this is the case, consuming just about any compound with food may cause it to have a reduced effect due to the inflammation.
The important thing to remember is that self-experimentation is key in identifying what works best for you specifically, due to the number of differentiating factors that can alter one's response to every compound.