5 Science-Backed Nootropics for Improved Focus

Based on 527 placebo-controlled studies, here are 5 supplements for focus.

Posted Sep 11, 2020

Photo copyrights owned by Nootralize
Source: Photo copyrights owned by Nootralize

A nootropic is a substance that, if used properly and safely, enhances the cognitive functions of the user.

As public interest in cognitive enhancers escalates, the demand for high-quality evidence on the safety and efficacy of nootropics seems to outgrow the supply of that information. Although new placebo-controlled studies are published frequently, they can be hard to read and misrepresentative of the entire body of knowledge the scientific community has provided on the effects of nootropics.

These are some of the reasons why we systematically went through 527 placebo-controlled studies [1] on the effects of 127 nootropics and put together a list with the 5 most science-backed ones for improving focus. If a nootropic was not included in this list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ineffective for boosting focus. It likely means there is less research on the effects of that compound in healthy humans than there is for each nootropic that made it on to the list.

Out of the 527 studies, 69 included measures of focus. A total of 5634 participants had their focus tested, and 22 nootropics were assessed for safety and efficacy for improving focus. Based on this body of evidence, these are the 5 most science-backed nootropics for improving focus in healthy humans:

1.  Bacopa Monnieri

In the 10 studies we reviewed which examined the effects of Bacopa monnieri on measures of focus, 419 participants were included. [2-5][7-12] Overall, these studies found a small positive effect on focus with the use of Bacopa monnieri.

The evidence we reviewed also suggests that Bacopa monnieri can improve:

  • Mood (small effect)
  • Nervousness (small effect)
  • Memory (small effect)
  • Energy (minute effect)
  • Cognitive processing (small effect)
  • Learning (small effect)
  • Mindfulness (large effect)

Side effects

Less than 50% experience:

  • Increased stool frequency (pooping more than usual)

Less than 30% experience:

  • Gastrointestinal cramps
  • Nausea

Less than 10% experience:

Less than 1% experience:

  • Drowsiness
  • Cold/flu symptoms
  • Allergies
  • Skin rash
  • Skin itching
  • Headache
  • Tinnitus
  • Vertigo
  • Strange taste in mouth
  • Dry mouth
  • Palpitations
  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite increase
  • Excessive thirst
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Increased regularity of bowel movements
  • Increased frequency of urine
  • Muscular fatigue
  • Muscular pain
  • Cramps
  • Increase in felt stress
  • Worsened mood

Legality: Bacopa monnieri is legal to buy, possess, and use in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. [13-31]

Conclusion: A relatively large amount of evidence suggests Bacopa monnieri has a small positive impact on focus. Moreover, Bacopa monnieri is generally safe and legal.

How to Use

It is probably safer and more effective to use nootropics as they have been used in studies on humans. In the studies we’ve reviewed, Bacopa monnieri was used in the following ways:

  • 450 mg dosages daily for 12 weeks [2]
  • 320 mg doses for acute effects [3]
  • 640 mg doses for acute effects [3]
  • 640 mg doses for acute effects [4]
  • 320 mg doses for acute effects [4]
  • 300 mg doses for acute effects [5]
  • 300 mg dosages daily for 12 weeks [6]
  • 600 mg doses for acute effects [7]
  • 300 mg doses for acute effects [7]
  • 300 mg dosages daily for 12 weeks [8]
  • 300 mg dosages daily for 6 weeks [9]
  • 300 mg doses for acute effects [10]
  • 250 mg dosages daily for 16 weeks [11]
  • 300 mg dosages daily for 12 weeks [12]

2. Sage

In the four studies we reviewed which examined the effects of sage on measures of focus, 110 participants were included. [32-35]

Overall, these studies found a minute positive effect on focus with the use of sage.

The evidence we reviewed also suggests that Sage can improve:

  • Mood (minute effect)
  • Nervousness (small effect)
  • Memory (minute effect)
  • Energy (minute effect)
  • Sociality (small effect)
  • Stress (minute effect)
  • Cognitive processing (minute effect)
  • Learning (small effect)
  • Mindfulness (minute effect)

Side effects

No negative side effects were seen in any of the studies we reviewed.

Legality: Sage is legal to buy, possess, and use in the United States and Canada. [14-16][23-26][36][37]

Conclusion: Preliminary evidence suggests sage has a minute positive impact on focus. Moreover, sage is generally safe and legal.

How to Use

It is probably safer and more effective to use nootropics as they have been used in studies on humans. In the studies we’ve reviewed, sage was used in the following ways:

  • 300 mg extract doses for acute effects [32]
  • 600 mg doses for acute effects [32]
  • 50 µl essential oil doses for acute effects [33]
  • 100 µl essential oil doses for acute effects [33]
  • 150 µl essential oil doses for acute effects [33]
  • 25 µl essential oil doses for acute effects [33]
  • 50 µl essential oil doses for acute effects [33]
  • 50 mg extract doses for acute effects [34]
  • 167 mg extract doses for acute effects [35]
  • 333 mg extract doses for acute effects [35]
  • 666 mg extract doses for acute effects [35]
  • 1332 mg extract doses for acute effects [35]

3. American Ginseng

In the one study we reviewed which examined the effects of American ginseng on measures of focus, 52 participants were included. [38]

This study found a minute positive effect on focus with the use of American ginseng.

The evidence we reviewed also suggests that American ginseng can improve:

  • Mood (minute effect)
  • Memory (minute effect)
  • Energy (minute effect)
  • Stress (minute effect)
  • Learning (minute effect)
  • Mindfulness (minute effect)

Side effects

No negative side effects were seen in the study we reviewed.

Legality: American ginseng is legal to buy, possess, and use in the United States and Canada. [14-16][23-26][39][40]

Conclusion: Preliminary evidence suggests American ginseng has a minute positive impact on focus. Moreover, American ginseng is generally safe and legal.

How to Use

It is probably safer and more effective to use nootropics as they have been used in studies on humans. In the study we reviewed, American ginseng was used in 200 mg doses for acute effects [38].

4. Caffeine

In the five studies we reviewed which examined the effects of caffeine on measures of focus, 370 participants were included. [41-43][45][46]

Overall, these studies found a minute positive effect on focus with the use of caffeine.

The evidence we reviewed also suggests that caffeine can improve:

  • Memory (minute effect)
  • Physical performance (small effect)
  • Energy (minute effect)
  • Cognitive processing (minute effect)

Side effects

Less than 10% experience:

  • Hand tremor (involuntary rhythmic muscle contractions)
  • Nausea
  • Somnolence (Sleepiness)
  • Hypervigilance
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Agitation
  • Disturbance in attention
  • Dry eyes
  • Abnormal vision
  • Feeling hot

Legality: Caffeine is legal to buy, possess, and use in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. [14-16][18-20][23-26][28][29][31][48–55]

Conclusion: A relatively large amount of evidence suggests caffeine has a minute positive impact on focus. Moreover, caffeine is generally safe and legal.

How to Use

It is probably safer and more effective to use nootropics as they have been used in studies on humans. In the studies we’ve reviewed, caffeine was used in the following ways:

  • 600 mg dosages for acute effects[41]
  • 150 mg doses for acute effects [42]
  • 30 mg doses for acute effects [43]
  • 75 mg doses for acute effects [44]
  • 170 mg doses for acute effects [45]
  • 231 mg doses for acute effects [46]
  • 200 mg doses for acute effects [47]

5. Panax Ginseng

In the six studies we reviewed which examined the effects of Panax ginseng on measures of focus, 170 participants were included. [56-61]

Overall, these studies found a minute positive effect on focus with the use of Panax ginseng.

The evidence we reviewed also suggests that Panax ginseng can improve:

  • Mood (small effect)
  • Nervousness (small effect)
  • Energy (minute effect)
  • Sociality (small effect)
  • Stress (small effect)
  • Cognitive processing (minute effect)
  • Mindfulness (small effect)

Side effects: No negative side effects were seen in any of the studies we reviewed.

Legality: Panax ginseng is legal to buy, possess, and use in the United States and Canada. [14-16][23-26][62][63]

Conclusion: A relatively large amount of evidence suggests Panax ginseng has a minute positive impact on focus. Moreover, Panax ginseng is generally safe and legal.

How to Use: It is probably safer and more effective to use nootropics as they have been used in studies on humans. In the studies we’ve reviewed, Panax ginseng was used in the following ways:

  • 4500 mg non-extract powder dosages daily for 2 weeks [56]
  • 200 mg extract doses for acute effects [57]
  • 200 mg extract doses for acute effects [58]
  • 200 mg extract doses for acute effects [59]
  • 400 mg extract doses for acute effects [59]
  • 200 mg extract dosages daily for 1 week [60]
  • 400 mg extract dosages daily for 1 week [60]
  • 400 mg extract doses for acute effects [61]

There’s a need for more research on each of the nootropics in this list. Specifically, there’s a great degree of individual variance in how people respond to nootropics. This means that if you use a nootropic that has a small effect in a study with dozens of participants, you may get no effect or a large effect. Currently, while we wait for science to elucidate who is likely to respond to which nootropics, patient self-experimentation is the best method for nootropic use success.

This blog post was originally published at blog.nootralize.com. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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