What are “brain boosters?” Excellent question. For this article, a brain booster is anything – usually in the form of food or a nutritional supplement – that enhances your brainpower. Which begs the question: what is brainpower?

While many people link I.Q. with brainpower, we have a definition that’s a tad different. Brainpower is the ability to generate enough cognitive resources – energy, focus, drive, discipline, and intelligence – to perform daily tasks. Each of the brain boosters we list here enhances at least one – and in many cases more – element of brainpower as listed above.

Now, without further ado, we present what scientists say are the ten best brain boosters!

Here Are the 10 Best Brain Booster Ideas

brain booster

1. Caffeine

People drink more than 400 billion cups of coffee each year. Roughly half of the U.S. population over the age of 18 drinks it every day. The average coffee drinker drinks three and a half cups every day. Okay, you get the point.

Now, coffee can be tasty, but it’s fair to say that most people don’t drink it because it’s delightful on the palate. Just eight ounces (8 oz.) of the stuff contains a whopping 95 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, the real money-maker.

Caffeine is a naturally produced psychoactive drug that stimulates the central nervous system (CNS). It is also arguably the world’s finest nootropic.

Caffeine works by blocking the adenosine receptors in your brain that produce feelings of tiredness. Depending on tolerance, a dose of 40 to 300 mg of caffeine increases both attention and alertness and decreases reaction time.

2. Aerobic exercise

Aerobics may be the best type of exercise for the brain, as it increases blood flow and heart rate. This, in effect, delivers more oxygen to the brain and allows it to perform better. Research shows that aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for verbal memory, learning, motivation, and emotions. 

Per an article published by Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School, “(exercise) helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means.” It explains that exercise effectively reduces inflammation and insulin resistance while expediting the release of chemicals called growth factors.

But you needn’t be a marathon runner or CrossFit guru to reap the cognitive benefits of exercise! Per a 4-part study conducted by researchers at Stanford University, walking at a leisurely pace (especially outdoors) stokes creative insight while possibly increasing associative memory!

3. L-theanine

L-theanine is amino acid found in certain types of mushrooms and in green tea. Chemically, l-theanine resembles the neurotransmitter glutamate but with one key difference. L-theanine is a calming (“inhibitory”) substance whereas glutamate is an excitatory transmitter. In the brain, it is essential to have a proper balance of both excitatory and inhibitory chemicals.

L-theanine essentially inhibits the excitatory glutamate receptors while stimulating the production of GABA, another key brain chemical. Inhibitory neurotransmitters allow the brain and nervous system to maintain a state of equilibrium. In this way, l-theanine and GABA both calm the brain; both are also effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety.

4. Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid found within the body’s muscles and brain. In the body, creatine works by facilitating the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic chemical that provides energy to cells throughout the body. The best food sources of creatine are fish, red meat, pork, and poultry. (Unfortunately, there is no vegan source of creatine except supplements.)

Creatine supplementation helps people perform more complex tasks more easily. Fascinatingly, this effect is much more pronounced in vegetarians (it also turns out that the veggie-eaters test higher in many studies, too!) Creatine may also positively affect working memory and processing speed.

5. Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko Biloba is an herb harvested from the “maidenhair tree” and dates back nearly 270 million (!) years. Ginkgo is a natural treatment for various conditions, such as anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and glaucoma.

Researchers believe that ginkgo provides cognitive benefits through enhanced blood circulation. Ginkgo may also have some neuroprotective properties. In a meta-analysis study of 2,381 patients, a 120mg or higher dose of ginkgo biloba was deemed a safe and possibly effective natural treatment for dementia patients.

Although we can generally consider the herbal supplement safe, some known interaction exists with prescription medications.

6. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea (Rhodiola) is a herb that grows in the arctic mountainous regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. The herb is an adaptogen that effectively reduces anxiety and stress in some people.

Other potential benefits of Rhodiola include:

  • Anti-fatigue properties
  • Enhances exercise and athletic performance
  • It may help control diabetes
  • It may have anticancer properties
  • Reduces depressive symptoms (a double-blind study showed that two 340 mg tablets of Rhodiola rosea extract “has potent anti-depressant properties in those with mild to moderate depression.”)

7. Ginseng

Ginseng is an herb that is mainly used for medicinal reasons. Long known for having medicinal properties in Asian regions, ginseng is also relatively popular in the Western hemisphere.

Multiple studies demonstrate that the antioxidant compounds in ginseng, called ginsenosides, have multiple potent pharmacological effects. There are multiple references to ginseng’s positive effects on memory. The active components of ginsenosides can promote the following:

  • Neurogenesis: the development of new neurons
  • Neuronal growth: the growth of neurons
  • Neurotransmission: the signaling of molecules (neurotransmitters) in the brain
  • Synaptogenesis: the development of new synapses

Besides having brain benefits, ginseng may help with cell damage, immune diseases, inflammation, metabolic diseases, and stress resistance.

8. Curcumin

While curcumin has typically been associated with improving gut health and inflammation, it turns out that the ingredient may also sharpen our brains. (By the way, curcumin is not the same as turmeric. It is an extract of the spice, which is commonly used as a spice in foods like Indian curry.)

In an 8-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, subjects who received 360 mg/day of nano curcumin showed “increased BDNF levels over the treatment period” compared to a placebo.

BDNF is important for the survival and growth of nerve cells (neurons). Nano-curcumin is a form of curcumin that is converted into nanoparticles to allow for easier and more effective absorption in the body. Nanocurcumin is more bioavailable than traditional curcumin supplements and sources.

9. Omega-3

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids abundantly found in fatty fish, chia seeds, and some vegetables. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in high concentrations in salmon, performs three critical actions in the brain. DHA enhances learning and memory, improves synaptic plasticity, and reduces oxidative stress. Evidence also exists showing that omega-3s counteract mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia.

Insufficient levels of omega-3 are associated with several mental disorders, including ADD, bipolar disorder, dementia, depression, dyslexia, and schizophrenia. Low levels of omega-3 may also contribute to impaired learning and poor memory.

10. Magnesium

This mineral is one of the most overlooked, underrated ones out there – and it’s absolutely critical for cognitive health. Magnesium plays a role in ATP production, which is essential to learning, energy, and neurogenesis.

You can find this mineral in multiple foods, including bananas, beans, green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), beef, dark chocolate, edamame, nuts, seeds, beef, and salmon. It can be challenging to get enough magnesium from food, but plenty of quality supplements on the market are quite reasonable.

Magnesium l-threonate is a newer form of magnesium capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. It is highly absorbable and serves as an excellent anxiety remedy.

Final Thoughts: Things to remember about brain health

There is certainly no shortage of hucksters in the health and wellness industry. Mostly, cognitive enhancement falls under the umbrella of the “health and wellness” community. Here are a few things to remember before going on a brain-boosting splurge.

#1 – Do your research!

Do your research before purchasing any product that claims to benefit your brainpower, brain health, or something to that effect.

#2 – Don’t depend (entirely) on nootropics or supplements

While these products may help you gain an edge, they work best with a healthy diet and regular exercise. While we list no pharmaceutical drugs here, ensure you are aware of the risks if you decide to go that route.

#3 – Check for drug interactions

If you take any supplement or prescription medication, ensure you will not experience harmful interactions between the products. RxList’s “Drug interaction checker” is the best.

#4 – Correct any unhealthy lifestyle habits

In keeping with the holistic health thing, do your best to eliminate – or at least cut down on – habits that you know will harm your health. Excess alcohol use, smoking, drug use, and sleep deficiencies are big.

#5 – Watch your wallet!

Most things listed here are widely available and cheap (even free!) But that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous companies from jacking up the price (usually by claiming some “added benefit.”) Watch your money and consistently revert to Rule #1: Do Your Research!