Herbs are nature’s medicine, helping people to enhance their health and treat many health concerns. But have you heard of nootropics in particular?

What are Nootropics?

Derived from the Greek word, ‘nous’ translating to ‘mind’ and ‘treipin’ translating to ‘to turn’. Nootropics are compounds that enhance cognitive function of the human brain. Some are naturally occurring and some are man-made.

Nootropics are similar to adaptogens in that they help the body adapt to stress and restore normal physiological function.

They work to enhance memory, cognition, alertness, and recall and can also reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression. They do this by influencing brain waves, cellular energy, neurotransmitters, neuroplasticity, or hormones.

Each nootropic falls under a different category that affects the brain, each one involving a different neural pathway, mechanism of action or part of the brain. These include brain repair, brain fatigue, brain cell health and longevity, brain signalling, brain energy, brain waves and brain blood supply.

By understanding the different ways each one can affect the brain, you can choose which one you think you might personally benefit from the most.

Who Would Benefit from a Nootropic?

Anyone looking to boost their brain power, fight fatigue, or reduce depression/anxiety symptoms may benefit from a nootropic. This includes improving mental performance, focus, alertness or memory.

It’s important to find the right nootropic for you and your individual health needs and concerns. What works for one person, may not work for you.

Here are 6 Natural Nootropics:

1. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba, one of the oldest tree species on the planet, is considered a living fossil, living through 270 million years. Ginkgo Biloba has been used in Chinese medicine for many years, dating back to the Chinese Materia Medica from 2800 BC.

Ginkgo Biloba is often recommended for reducing anxiety because it can increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells. It controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centres and helps regulate movement and emotional responses. Dopamine is also involved in motivation, memory and attention.

Cerebral blood flow is increased by ginkgo biloba, which improves oxygen and glucose availability to neurons. This is essential for neuronal health and may improve memory, cognition, learning and recall.

2. Bacopa (Brahmi)

Bacopa Monnieri, also nicknamed Brahmi, is a perennial herb named after the Hindu creator God, Brahma and native to India’s wetlands and other southeastern Asian countries. It can be dated back to ancient ayurvedic texts where it was recommended for memorising long passages and enhancing cognition.

Bacopa affects brain levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential for memory and cognition. The antioxidant effects of bacopa improve cognitive function and prevent arterial plaque, and in turn prevent neurodegenerative diseases, heart attack and stroke.

It has also been recommended for reducing the effects of anxiety and stress with its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect.

Bacopa may also help to regulate mood, as it modulates brain levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, sleep, memory, sexual desire, function, social behaviour, appetite and digestion.

3. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic herb and nootropic, often used in Russia as a remedy for poor concentration, decreased memory and fatigue. It can help to reduce stress and fatigue and increase alertness and stamina. If suffering from chronic stress, it can also boost mental performance.

By influencing serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, rhodiola boosts mood along with opioids such as beta-endorphins. Rhodiola Rosea may also contribute towards neuronal regeneration, repairing and growing new neurons.

Rhodiola Rosea has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression. A study done by Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment assessed a fixed combination of rhodiola and saffron in mild-moderate depression.

The study concluded that ‘there was a rapid improvement in both depressive and anxiety symptoms’ and called for a further double-blind placebo-controlled study to confirm these benefits.


4. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a healing ayurvedic remedy that is believed to impart of the strength of a stallion. This powerful herb is revered as one of the top herbs in ayurvedic medicine, supporting health in a variety of areas.

As it mimics GABA in the brain, it inhibits nerve transmission and calms nervous activity. With sedative-like qualities, ashwagandha is often recommended for sleep, stress, and anxiety. By boosting GABA receptors and serotonin in the brain, it works on neuron receptors so that the connectivity of GABA can increase. This stops the signals in the brain that occur under a stress response, which reduces anxiety.

As an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, ashwagandha repairs and protects the brain. It also increases connectivity in the brain by promoting dendrite formation. These are the branching neuronal extensions that convey and propagate electromechanical stimulation from cell to cell.

By helping to regulate sleep and the physical and mental effects of stress on the body, ashwagandha may allow your brain and body to work more efficiently in a calm state.

5. Gotu Kola

This ancient ayurvedic herb improves memory and concentration. By forming dendrite branches, it promotes new channels of communication in the brain. It also prevents acetylcholine from breaking down, a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator that is involved in memory, motivation, attention and arousal.

Gotu Kola is believed to improve memory and cognition, aid in repair and reversal to brain cell damage, and eliminate free radicals from within brain cells.

A 2016 study researched the effectiveness of gotu kola in improving cognitive function in patients with vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), concluding that ‘a gotu kola extract therapy of 1000 mg/day and 750 mg/day is effective in improving cognitive impairment after stroke infarction’. It also concluded that the gotu kola treatment used ‘showed better improvement in delayed memory recall compared with folic acid treatment.’

Written by Jess Burman

Wellbeing writer

BA (Honours) in Writing