Cut out of a man's head with brain waves and pills in the brain.

5 Natural Nootropics for Men: Unlock Your Cognitive Potential

Enhanced focus, memory, and cognitive performance, coming right up.

Lately, we can’t scroll social media without seeing a nootropic something or other on our feed, promising to rid us of our anxiety and daily stress. Imagine if you could take a pill, gummy, or supplement and feel instantly calmer, more focused, and in an all-around better mood. Well, it’s not too far-fetched.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics are medicinal substances that work within the body to improve thinking, learning, and memory (1), as well as prevention against age-related diseases, and stress-relieving properties to promote less anxiety, better mood, and more restful sleep. Most are of natural origin, such as those found in herbal remedies. They are generally consumed in pill form as a supplement, and “are often referred to as ‘smart drugs’ or ‘cognitive enhancers,’” says sports performance and wellness expert and registered dietitian, Umo Callins, MS, RD, CSSD, CPT.

Nootropics have even been linked to improvement in cognitive function for those with aging-related diseases of the brain. “Research has suggested some improved outcomes for people with cognitive impairment due to aging, such as from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and some evidence even shows there may be benefits for people of any age, for various reasons, including men’s health,” explains Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist Ginger Hultin MS, RDN, CSO, and author of the e-book, Meal Prep for Weight Loss 101. 

While natural nootropics are a relatively new and trendy topic, which means more research is needed to fully validate all their potential perks, the initial research is hopeful. 


Nootropics and the Unique Cognitive Needs and Challenges Faced by Men

Men’s cognitive challenges may include chronic or elevated levels of stress and aging-related brain function or decline, which may result in a lack of concentration and focus, and worsened memory formation and retention. Plus, in today’s busier-the-better culture, it’s easy to get distracted and lose focus—whether due to boredom, fatigue, burnout, stress, sleep deprivation, poor diet, and more. 

“This evidence-driven focus on cognitive health signifies a shift towards recognizing the broader implications of cognitive health on men’s quality of life,” Hultin explains. What’s more, natural nootropics may also provide more benefits to support and improve health and well-being beyond brain health. Natural nootropics may positively impact “energy levels, muscle development, cardiovascular resilience, and blood sugar management,” Hultin says. 

Lastly, hormonal fluctuations in testosterone and its effects on sexual function and libido are challenges specific to men, which natural nootropics containing adaptogenic properties (aka substances that help your body better adapt to stress, like ashwagandha) may be able to assist with. 

A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health of aging and overweight males lent  support to this theory. “A 16-week trial, focusing on the adaptogenic nootropic ashwagandha, and its effects on men’s health, found that taking an ashwagandha supplement daily for eight weeks increased hormone DHEA and testosterone,” Hultin says. Improvements in fatigue, vigor, and both sexual and psychological well-being were also reported (2).

Are Natural Nootropics Safe?

The safety of nootropics varies by type and individual response, and some common concerns include potential interactions with medications and lack of research on long-term effects,” Callins says, noting that side effects may include, but aren’t limited to, headaches, digestive issues, and overstimulation.

Since nootropics come in various forms, such as medications, supplements, and whole foods, it’s hard to give a definitive answer when levels of safety may differ based on type or form. “When nootropics are consumed in food, there’s less risk and likely isn’t any harm with adding them to your shopping cart,” Hultin says. For optimal safety and to avoid any adverse side effects or interactions with other drugs or medications, it’s best to consume natural nootropics as a food source. However, if under the care of a doctor or psychiatrist, you don’t need to worry. “Doctors and psychiatrists can prescribe medications and supplements within the nootropic category and work with their patients to discuss any potential side effects and drug or nutrient interactions,” Hultin explains.  

Aim for quality, with reputable brands. “Avoid combining stimulants, such as mixing nootropics that have caffeine with other caffeinated sources, which can increase the risk of overstimulation and side effects,” Callins suggests. Certain nootropics can dehydrate you, in which case drinking plenty of water is essential for safety measures, Callins adds. 


5 Natural Nootropics to Try

Rhodiola Rosea: Boosting Mental Stamina and Focus

Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic plant and herb that’s used in traditional medicine to boost energy levels and stamina, increase strength, and help the body better resist and handle physical and emotional stress. It’s also known for having potential cognitive and stress-related benefits, which is why this natural nootropic may positively impact men’s health and well-being in the following ways.

Rhodiola Rosea’s Adaptogenic Properties and Stress-Relieving Effects

Due to its adaptogenic properties, Rhodiola rosea is a great natural nootropic for men who suffer from anxiety, bad mood, stress, or depression, as well as difficulty with falling or staying asleep. A 2018 study and clinical review published in the journal International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice found the use of Rhodiola rosea to be an effective treatment for stress management and alleviation of stress-related symptoms (3). “It also may help in the prevention of chronic stress,” Callins notes.

Enhancing Mental Stamina, Concentration, and Cognitive Function

Rhodiola Rosea helps improve mental focus, energy, concentration, and stamina, explains Hultin. “There is even some interesting research on how it can also improve learning and memory function, which includes a collection of studies that found there to be an improvement in learning ability with the use of Rhodiola,” Hultin says. For instance, a 2018 meta-analysis and study published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology found a positive correlation and association between enhanced learning and memory function, as a result of taking Rhodiola (4). 

Plus, mental “burnout” or exhaustion may also be alleviated by supplementing with Rhodiola rosea. Callins points to a double-blind randomized trial and 2022 study published in the journal Molecules, which analyzed 330 individuals with burnout indicator symptoms (exhaustion, depression, insomnia, fatigue, or drop in performance) who reported alleviation of these complaints after taking Rhodiola rosea over eight weeks, along with good tolerance (5).

Recommended Dosage and Considerations

The recommended dosage of standardized extract containing rosavin and salidroside (the active components in Rhodiola rosea) is typically between 200 and 600 mg per day, Callins says. “Try starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing to assess your tolerance and response,” Callins says. And, take it in the morning to avoid potential issues with insomnia, Callins adds. 

Hultin suggests taking 300 mg twice a day, for a total of 600 mg daily, as a sweet spot. “There is no standard dosing for Rhodiola, but in studies, taking up to 300 mg twice daily for up to 12 weeks hasn’t shown any adverse effects,” Hultin says. However, keep in mind that some studies have reported incidences where Rhodiola rosea can cause dizziness in specific individuals. If you feel dizzy or experience any adverse effects, quit use.

Momentous Rhodiola Rosea

Thorne Rhodiola

Moon Juice Rhodiola

Bacopa Monnieri: Enhancing Memory and Cognitive Performance

Bacopa monnieri, also known as Brahmi, is commonly used in traditional medicine for its ability to increase mental focus and clarity, and support and boost memory function and retention. “It’s an Ayurvedic herb used to improve intelligence,” Hutlin says.

Bacopa Monnieri’s Positive Impact on Memory Formation and Retention

According to a 2021 study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, bacopa monnieri may provide benefits for supporting and enhancing memory function, with regards to formation, retention, and learning ability or required skills needed to create and retain memories with sharpened cognition in older men and adults (6).

Improving Mental Performance, Focus, and Mental Clarity

Some research supports bacopa monnieri’s positive impact on cognition, by improving concentration and focus, as well as other cognitive attributes (7). “There are studies that often focus on bacopa monnieri in extract form for its ability to improve cognitive function, but keep in mind that these studies are also mixed,” Hultins explains. However, it’s important to realize that most of these studies don’t isolate bacopa monnieri to truly validate its benefits. “Some show potential improvements in better reactivity time, but many studies are done on this natural nootropic along with the inclusion of other herbs, so it’s unclear exactly where the benefit comes from and if it’s from bacopa monnieri, itself, and alone,” Hultin explains.

Incorporating Bacopa Monnieri into a Daily Nootropic Regimen

Callins suggests following a recommended daily dosage of between 350 and 450 mg of standardized bacopa monnieri extract containing around 55 percent bacosides. Be patient and don’t bump up your dosage prematurely. “The effects may take several weeks to become noticeable, so consistent use is important,” Callins says. If you have a sensitive stomach, there’s a chance of experiencing mild digestive discomfort, Callins notes. However, taking it with food can help alleviate it. 

“Be wary of several moderate drug-nutrient interactions, which may occur between bacopa monnieri and cytochrome P450 medications, including haloperidol (Haldol), clozapine (Clozaril), celecoxib (Celebrex), warfarin (Coumadin), some antifungals, and some chemotherapeutic agents,” Hultin says.

Pure Encapsulations Bacopa Monnieri

Gaia Herbs Bacopa

Lion’s Mane Mushroom: Supporting Cognitive Health and Function

Lion’s mane mushrooms are a great example of a natural nootropic for men and adults that comes in food form. “They grow on dead trunks of hardwood trees and have a white ‘shaggy’ appearance, which is why they are named lion’s mane,” Hultin explains. 

In addition to offering benefits for cognitive thinking, mental focus, and memory function, Hultin notes a potential benefit of lion’s mane mushroom for lowering the risk of age-related disease relative to brain health, such as Alzheimer’s disease. “An analysis of studies previously done found lion’s mane to be helpful in reducing depressive symptoms and may even be beneficial for both Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury (8),” Hultin says.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom’s Potential Role in Nerve Growth and Brain Plasticity

New research supports lion’s mane mushroom’s benefits in improving and boosting nerve growth, as well as the health and functioning of brain cells. Researchers at The University of Queensland in February 2023 identified new active compounds in lion’s mane mushroom, and found them to have a significant impact on brain cells and growth, memory function, nerve growth, and other neurological functions to promote brain health and help prevent decline due to age.

Enhancing Cognitive Performance, Memory, and Mental Sharpness

Most studies to back up the cognitive benefits of taking lion’s mane mushroom are conducted on animals, such as mice, rather than humans. However, researchers from The University of Queensland found improvements in memory and brain sharpness, which provides evidence in human cases, too.

Recommended Dosage and Considerations for Brain Health

Lion’s mane mushroom supplements come in various forms, such as capsules or powders. Suggested dosage can vary, but it’s generally within a range of around 500 to 1000 mg of lion’s mane extract per day. Quality matters, so look for reputable brands that offer standardized extracts, Callins suggests, and stay consistent with a regular, daily intake for noticeable results. 

“When consumed in food and supplements, lion’s mane tends to be well-tolerated, and only has potential interactions with drugs such as anticoagulants (blood thinning) or anti-diabetes drugs when used in supplement or concentrated form,” Hultin says. If this is a concern, discuss it with your doctor. There’s no standard for supplement dosing, but Hultin notes that there seems to be a pattern among studies, with dosages of 1000 mg consumed daily in a safe manner for 16 weeks.

Solaray Organic Fermented Lion’s Mane

Gaia Herbs Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Nourishing the Brain for Optimal Performance

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats that are critical for supporting and benefiting health, brain function, and overall well-being. “They come in three forms, including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid),” Callins says, adding omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most popular supplements to take.

The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Brain Health and Function

“Omega-3 supplementation, particularly DHA, is associated with enhanced cognitive function, and higher blood levels of DHA have been shown to be positively correlated with better working memory performance,” Callins says. What’s more, research conducted in October 2022 suggests that a higher intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acid consumption may also lead to better brain structure and function in middle-aged adults in particular.

Supporting Memory, Focus, and Mood

Research has found a link between enhanced memory and concentration in men taking natural nootropics in the form of omega-3s. For instance, a 2022 study in the journal Cureus concluded that greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids improved learning, memory and cognitive function, health and well-being, and healthy blood flow to and in the brain (9). 

“Omega 3s are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that’s known to lower inflammation in the body and possibly support brain health, and studies have found omega-3 status to benefit brain health by reducing inflammation, which may be the mechanism behind reducing depression in certain people,” Hultin says. A 2015 study published in the journal Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience found a link between omega-3 intake and less depression or improved mood (10).

Natural Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Supplementation Options

Callins recommends a daily dosage between 250 and 500 mg of EPA and DHA combined. Needs can vary based on the individual, and requirements may be higher based on the scenario. When choosing fish oil supplements, look for those that are purified, meaning contaminants have been removed, Callins suggests, and consider taking them with food to increase absorption since they’re a type of fat. If you take blood thinners, make sure to get a doctor’s approval. 

“Best sources include fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout, which you should add in your diet 2 to 3 times per week, with each serving providing around 1,000 mg EPA and DHA, combined,” Callins says. If you’re plant-based, you can munch on meatless options such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, which are rich in another form, ALA (conversion to EPA and DHA isn’t as effective, though). “Aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or an ounce of walnuts daily for plant-based options,” Callins recommends.

Nordic Naturals Omega-3

NOW Supplements Omega-3

Thorne Super EPA

Green Tea & L-Theanine

Green tea is derived from the plant Camellia sinensis and is known for several benefits, including improved immune function, relaxation, overall health and well-being, enhanced recovery, and reduced inflammation. “L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves that contributes to its calming effects,” Callins says. 

How Does Green Tea Impact Health & Mental Function?

“L-theanine can [positively] affect mood, thus improving health and well-being as well as mental function,” says Hultin. A 2020 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition supports the benefits of green tea and L-theanine on mood and mental health, as well as easing anxiety and reducing stress levels (11). 

Increase Attention Performance, Improve Sleep, Boost Reaction Time, and Promote Relaxation

Green tea’s properties lower inflammation, which can promote drowsiness before bedtime and induce relaxation by minimizing anxiety and stress. A 2019 study published in Nutrients examined 30 individuals (both men and women) over a four-week period to evaluate and look for improvements in sleep quality and relaxation, stress-related symptoms, and other cognitive functions (12). And that’s just what they found. 

Recommended Dosage

Drinking green tea is the most popular method, but you may also consume green tea in supplement form. “Green tea has caffeine, which can be limiting for certain people who are sensitive and may do better with decaffeinated forms,” Hultin says. “Drinking between three and five cups of green tea a day is a reasonable range to aim for,” Callins says. If supplementing, Callins advises a dosage of standalone L-theanine somewhere between 100 and 200 mg per day.

Bigelow Tea Classic Green Tea

Stash Tea Premium Green Tea

Yogi Tea Green Tea Super Antioxidant

  1. Malík, M., & Tlustoš, P. et al (2022) Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs.
  2. Lopresti, A. L., et al. (2019) A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha ( Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males.
  3. Anghelescu, Ion-George et al. (2018) Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review.
  4. Ma, Gou-Ping et al. (2018) Rhodiola rosea L. Improves Learning and Memory Function: Preclinical Evidence and Possible Mechanisms.
  5. Ivanova Stojcheva, E., & Quintela, J. C. (2022) The Effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea L. Preparations in Alleviating Various Aspects of Life-Stress Symptoms and Stress-Induced Conditions-Encouraging Clinical Evidence.
  6. Downey, Luke A. et al. (2021) The Neurocognitive Effects of Bacopa monnieri and Cognitive Training on Markers of Brain Microstructure in Healthy Older Adults.
  7. Nutraceuticals (Second Edition). (2021) Bacopa monnieri.
  8. Budzyńska, J. et al. (2022) Therapeutic potential of Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) in neurological and cognitive disorders – a review of the literature.
  9. Dighriri, Ibrahim M. et al. (2022) Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review.
  10. Su, Kuan-Pin et al. (2015) Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders.
  11. Williams, Jackson L. et al. (2020) The Effects of Green Tea Amino Acid L-Theanine Consumption on the Ability to Manage Stress and Anxiety Levels: a Systematic Review.
  12. Hidese, Shinsuke et al. (2019) Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.