Real-life doctors reveal the products that boost their mental clarity and increase productivity.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics, also called “smart drugs,” are supplements that can improve memory, boost your attention span, and enhance overall cognitive function. Although medical professionals have given these nootropics their personal seal of approval, talk with your own doc before taking any brain supplements to see if they’re right for you.
Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil
Most people drink coffee in the morning for one reason only: the caffeinated boost of energy. But for Relief Jones, III, MD, founder and director of Neurosportz Applied Neuroscience, that caffeine also makes him jittery. Now, he starts his day with a cup of decaf coffee with an added teaspoon of Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil. This nootropic is clear coconut oil extract that metabolizes into ketones and gives you an instant boost of energy. “I still get a lot of energy that pretty much lasts the whole day from that coffee,” Dr. Jones says. “Since I started taking this, I don’t only have more energy, but I have more mental clarity.”
As a doctor of physical therapy and founder of Rehab 2 Perform, Dr. Josh Funk needs the brain power to tackle appointments with patients and the tedious tasks that come with running a business. His solution: taking Alpha BRAIN, a product from the Onnit Academy. This brain supplement contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that helps with reaction time and memory; Alpha-GPC, a compound that supports brain function and learning processes; and AC-11, a plant extract with antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. Dr. Funk has taken it every morning, usually after a workout, for 18 months. He says it’s boosted his productivity to power through paperwork and emails. “It’s almost like your body goes into tunnel vision,” he says. “Your brain is able to allocate more executive function on the task at hand as opposed to multi-tasking.”
Some brain supplements are actually plants, like ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, which Dr. Jones takes every morning. “When I started taking this supplement, I can definitively tell you it made a huge difference in my mental clarity, my ability to think quickly,” he says. That’s because ashwagandha can directly impact neurotransmitters to boost brain function. What’s more, it decreases cortisol levels to reduce your stress.
Dr. Charlie Seltzer, MD, is usually skeptical of what brain supplements claim to do, but he takes 500 mg of rhodiola rosea (the Vitamin Shoppe brand) twice a day. Studies show that this herb can be highly effective in reducing fatigue and stress. While there’s not enough evidence to support a direct effect on cognition, Dr. Seltzer has experienced “significant increases” in his mental clarity, in addition to the herb’s calming effects. However, the effects of this supplement differ for everyone. After recommending rhodiola rosea to hundreds of patients, he has found that “if you don’t feel something significant within the first few weeks or so, it is unlikely to help.”
This fairly new supplement is a form of vitamin B3. While it hasn’t been studied extensively yet, Dr. Jones says research shows that it can stop neuron death. When neuron cells die, the enzyme NAD+ is depleted. But nicotinamide riboside increases NAD+ levels, keeping neurons alive. This not only improves cognitive function, but it has the potential to help athletes with concussions and brain injuries and even treat degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Dr. Jones, also an ophthalmologist, recommends nicotinamide riboside to patients with glaucoma and personally takes the supplement every morning.
Both Dr. Funk and Dr. Jones take fish oil supplements daily and recommend them for overall health, not just cognitive function. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have neuroprotective properties that can improve memory and learning abilities. “I take fish oil even though I eat fish itself multiple times a week,” says Dr. Jones, who is a pescetarian. “I think it’s probably just one of the best all-around supplements.” In addition to its brain health benefits, fish oil can also improve cardiovascular health, reduce joint pain, and ease skin conditions. However, Dr. Jones suggests avoiding the cheapest fish oil options to ensure there are minimal contaminants, like mercury, present.