There are tons of nootropics on the market right now. Each one works differently. Some nootropics – such as vitamin C – enhance your cognitive function by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
Other nootropics cross the blood-brain barrier and exert their effects in the brain. These nootropics can influence everything from neurotransmitter production to myelin sheath synthesis to nerve communication.
Here we’ll talk about nootropics that cross the blood-brain barrier specifically. We’ll explain how they work and whether you should consider looking into them.
1. Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom has been used by monks with white flowing robes since ancient times. This mushroom – which is the only known mushroom with brain boosting properties – has been suggested to increase BDNF in the human brain.
If you already aren’t aware, BDNF is a brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and it governs your brain cell growth in the hippocampus area of the brain. Which regulates everything from your mood to memory.
- In addition to boosting BDNF, Lion’s Mane also enhances your NGF. Guess what that one means? It’s Nerve Growth Factor, and it plays a very important role in keeping your brain healthy as you age.
But here’s the thing: Nerve Growth Factors have a large molecular weight. As a result, they can’t cross your blood-brain barrier.
However, Lion’s Mane’s active compounds – hericenones and erinacines – have a low molecular weight. Allowing them to pass your blood-brain barrier without any problem. As a result, they can stimulate NGF production directly in your brain.
L-Theanine is another nootropic that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, it has the ability to modulate inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin. This makes you feel calmer and at ease.
However, L-Theanine doesn’t sedate you. Its positive effect on alpha brain waves, which are associated with deep focus, means L-Theanine can relax you and deepen your concentration at the same time.
This makes it a very powerful nootropic that can give a boost to studying, work success, and general life quality.
- TIP: L-Theanine goes very, very well with caffeine. The combo is even studied for their combined benefits – it’s called ‘smart caffeine’ or ‘caffeine 2.0.’ Essentially, L-Theanine cancels out caffeine’s jitters and other negative side effects, while enhancing its focus-boosting effects.
3. Pine Bark Extract
Pine Bark Extract – ever heard of this nootropic? You’d be forgiven if you haven’t, it’s not that often that nootropic supplements include it in their formulas. The ineffective ones don’t, at least.
Some of the best nootropic supplements, such as Mind Lab Pro, take full advantage of pine Bark extract’s profound benefits.
Being full of proanthocyanidins, which are among nature’s strongest antioxidants, Pine Bark Extract can protect your brain cells from damage and boost dopamine production directly in the brain.
Yes, you’ve read that right: Pine Bark Extract’s antioxidants cross the blood-brain barrier without any issue.
In a 2018 meta-analysis paper, researchers found evidence that a branded form of Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol) can reduce inflammation on a cellular level. In their own words;
“Pycnogenol consumption can decrease the level of CRP [C-Reactive Protein] and have an anti-inflammatory effect.”
4. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa is a herbal adaptogen. Meaning, it helps the body adapt to stress.
Its main active compound, Bacoside A, crosses the blood-brain barrier and exerts numerous effects on the brain.
The most powerful effect of Bacopa is improving memory. It’s been shown, in multiple clinical studies, to enhance the structures of our brain that regulate deep thinking and information processing.
What’s more, Bacopa can boost your mood. A study found it can regulate 5-HT serotonin receptors in the brain, which helps alleviate depression, OCD and negative thinking. Which is why Bacopa is one of the best natural supplements for rumination.
5. Acetyl L-Carnitine
Acetyl L-Carnitine ALCAR may sound familiar. L-Carnitine is commonly used in the fitness world to help with fat burning. It’s been shown to enter our cells and shuttle fatty acids into mitochondria, which in turn produce energy from this fat.
However, L-Carnitine has poor bioavailability in the brain. Adding an acetyl group to the L-Carnitine molecule solves this issue – turning it into Acetyl L-Carnitine that can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
ALCAR is an antioxidant. In addition to protecting your brain from inflammation, it makes your brain cells more efficient at producing and utilizing energy. The result? You feel less brain foggy, and more focused and energetic mentally.
6. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a compound consisting of multiple molecules, including tocopherols and tocotrienols, alpha-tocopherol being the most used one in supplements.
As a lipid-soluble antioxidant, it passes the blood-brain barrier and exerts its effects directly on your neuron’s membranes (the outer part of the brain cell).
Many people don’t even know that vitamin E is a nootropic. Taking it can relieve brain fog completely, due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
7. Citicoline (CDP-Choline)
Citicoline is a form of choline, a dietary molecule similar to B vitamins. It feeds your brain with building blocks to make acetylcholine – a learning and memory neurotransmitter.
Citicoline is one of the few forms of choline that can pass the blood-brain barrier. Other forms – such as choline bitartrate – are less bioavailable and as such can’t do the same.
8. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola Rosea is a type of herb that can alleviate fatigue and stress. It’s been used since Viking times. More recently, Russian soldiers and farmers have used it to survive tough living conditions in Siberia.
Rhodiola’s effects stem from its nootropic compounds – rosavins and salidrosides. You’ve guessed it, they pass the blood-brain barrier and act on the 5-HT receptors among others. Studies show this results in profound effects on mood and cognitive function during stress – allowing you to excel in high pressure situations.
Phosphatidylserine is a natural molecule found in the outer layer of your cells. It’s most concentrated in the brain.
Taking it as a supplement feeds the brain with building blocks to keep your neurons stable, fluid and permeable – allowing them to communicate more efficiently.
Many nootropic users know that PS can boost memory. But not everyone is aware that PS is also shown to be a very effective mood booster and stress reliever. Athletes from everywhere use it to boost their physical performance under demanding conditions.
L-Tyrosine is an incredible molecule that many people don’t get enough of through their diet. As it competes with other amino acids for absorption, it can become hard to achieve optimal levels of this amino acid in the brain.
This is bad news for your dopamine – L-Tyrosine is needed to create this neurotransmitter. If you’re under stress often, sleep deprived or work a mentally demanding job, your dopamine levels can get depleted. This leads to a lack of focus, irritability, and procrastination.
L-Tyrosine has been shown to recharge dopamine and other brain chemicals that are crucial for maintaining cognitive performance during stress. This makes it one of the best nootropics that cross the blood-brain barrier.