From the time we wake up, until the time we fall asleep, we may face countless responsibilities and endless items on our to-do lists.
From emptying our inboxes, leading the afternoon board meeting, and picking up the kids from school, to throwing dinner together, and editing tomorrow morning’s conference presentation, many of us are often busy and stressed out.
As a result, anxiety can strike anytime and anywhere.
Those who suffer from its clutches may be all too familiar with the many symptoms it can bring: headaches, migraines, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, chest pains, feelings of worry or panic, and even forgetfulness and a lack of productivity, to name a few.
And with so many nootropics or dietary supplements on the market promising stress-reducing effects and improved cognitive functioning, it can be difficult to know which products are the best fit for your lifestyle.
This comprehensive guide aims to demystify that process for you, so you can make an informed decision to support your mood and cognitive functioning.
Nootropics vs supplements – what’s the difference?
What is a nootropic?
Nootropics, often referred to as “cognitive enhancers” or “smart drugs” are natural or synthetic substances that can boost our memory, focus, and overall brain power. Not to be mistaken for a miracle mental enhancement substance, a nootropic is any substance that has a positive, enhancing impact on our mental abilities.
Most of us start our day with a common nootropic–caffeine–a substance that has a clear, positive effect on mental alertness and focus. Nootropics can fall into three categories: synthetic compounds, prescription drugs, and dietary supplements.
What is the difference between a nootropic and a dietary supplement?
There are a few key differences between a nootropic and a dietary supplement.
First, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “a dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to supplement the diet. The "dietary ingredients" in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites.”
A key difference between a nootropic and a dietary supplement is the level of research and regulation. For example, an all-natural nootropic is often not as well researched/understood, nor regulated by regulatory bodies like the FDA.
Whilst there’s evidence of positive cognitive benefits from taking a nootropic, ingredient combinations and long-term effects are areas that may benefit from future research to confirm their efficacy.
The third category–prescription nootropics–includes stimulants that are commonly used to treat ADD or ADHD.
Here’s where dietary supplements and nootropics overlap:
What are the benefits of nootropics?
Far from a futuristic substance, nootropics are simply substances that have a positive effect on our mental health and overall cognitive functioning.
They aren’t a magical elixir–even if our morning cup of coffee or tea can sometimes feel that way!
Nootropics can have both short-term and long-term benefits on our mood, sleep, executive function and attention, stress, ability to learn, creativity, and motivation. In the next section, we’ll explore the best nootropics to target anxiety and stress specifically.
The best nootropics for anxiety and stress
Maybe part of your daily routine involves popping the kettle on the stove to make a cup of green tea. Its mild bitterness is both soothing and stimulating, allowing you to begin the day on a relaxed yet alert note.
This may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s anything but that. Green tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) are loaded with L-theanine, an amino acid that studies show can combat symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Benefits: L-theanine can boost the effects of caffeine, potentially optimizing your ability to focus and stay focused longer. It’s also been shown to improve your ability to multitask. Also, wave bye-bye to the caffeine jitters you may get after your third cup of tea–L-theanine has been shown to counteract them.
Dosage: Often consumed in tea form–either after steeping a bag or in loose-leaf form.
Precautions: It’s possible to develop a tolerance to L-theanine, meaning we may feel we need more of this substance over time to feel the same effect.
Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, Ashwagandha is an evergreen plant indigenous to India, several parts of Africa, and the Middle East.
It comes in pill, liquid, and powder form, so it can be easily swallowed or incorporated into smoothies, soups, etc. It has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, and it’s known for its ability to reduce anxiety and boost energy levels.
Benefits: Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory and calming effects that can be used to treat arthritis, anxiety, fatigue, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and it may help stop the growth of cancer cells. It can also help to give you an increased sense of calm.
Dosage: A typical capsule contains 250-1500 mg of ashwagandha, but the higher the dosage, the more likely the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
Precautions: High levels can cause nausea, vomiting, sour stomach, and diarrhoea. Also, women who are pregnant should avoid this substance, as it has been linked to premature birth in animal studies.
Indigenous to the Arctic region and parts of Europe, Rhodiola Rosea is a perennial plant, and its roots are adaptogenic. Its extract comes in both tablets and capsules, but it’s also sold as a tea and can be used to fight stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.
Benefits: As an adaptogen, it can help your body fight stress and even the state of burnout that can often occur with chronic stress. It can also help to elevate your mood, increase concentration, and combat fatigue. For those who exercise, it can also improve your performance and endurance.
Dosage: Take on an empty stomach. The most typical dosage is a 100 to 200 mg capsule, however, if you take 400 to 600 mg daily, you may help alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression more effectively.
Precautions: Avoid taking this substance before bed because it can have a stimulant effect.
Sometimes called Waterhyssop, Bacopa Monnieri is a perennial herb found in Europe, Australia, India, Asia, and North and South America.
It’s most known for its use in traditional Indian medicine. For those looking for a cognitive boost, Bacopa may improve your memory, attention span, and thinking process.
Benefits: Research studies are not agreed on the effect Bacopa may have on cognitive functioning, but some evidence supports its positive effect on memory and thinking processes.
Dosage: It may be safe to take 300 to 600 mg orally for up to 12 weeks.
Precautions: Common gastrointestinal side effects may include cramping, nausea, vomiting, and increased bowel movements. There is also evidence that Bacopa may cause ulcers in the GI tract and stomach. Also, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, there isn’t enough evidence to determine if consumption is safe.
Also called, Centella Asiatica, Gotu Kola is a potent medicinal adaptogenic herb in the parsley family, commonly used in Eastern medicine in Indonesia, China, and India.
It’s often used to quell the symptoms of anxiety, and also to treat skin conditions, burns, lesions, stretch marks, and poor circulation.
Benefits: Used to treat sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep disruption, this nootropic can help you fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer. It can also have a positive effect on your mood–instilling a calming feeling and helping you feel better rested and focused. It can also be used to treat eczema, indigestion, and urinary tract infections.
Dosage: It’s likely safe if taken orally for up to one year. Also, when applied topically, it’s recommended to use for up to 10 weeks.
Precautions: Stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting may occur. Liver problems may occur, but this is extremely rare.
Panax Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb, also called Korean ginseng, that grows in Siberia, China, and Korea.
Benefits: Used to improve memory and thinking processes, especially among Alzheimer’s patients, this herb can also help to alleviate fatigue, improve erectile dysfunction, and even increase sexual arousal.
Dosage: It’s most frequently taken in doses from 200 mg to up to 3 grams for a period of up to three months.
Precautions: Avoid confusing Panax ginseng with general ginseng or other varieties, such as Eleuthero or American ginseng (which have different uses, benefits, and side effects. The most common side effect is difficulty sleeping. Other, rare side effects include rash, liver damage, and allergic reaction. If applied to the skin, it may cause irritation or a burning sensation.
Need a hand getting your stress under control?
Even when we do everything in our power to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle, stress and anxiety can still interrupt our daily lives. Adding a nootropic like Earths Secret’s Calm complex to your daily regimen may just be the boost you need to feel present in the moment as you take on the day.
Calm is a vegan-friendly, powerful blend of natural nootropics and adaptogens that may help you improve your focus, balance your mood, increase your creativity, and stave off the stress and anxiety that are keeping you from living your best life.