History of Nootropics

History of Nootropics

Nootropics are a group of supplements and medications that have effects on the brain. Nootropics can improve cognitive function, memory, and creativity. Some nootropics are being investigated as potential medications for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Nootropics have become popular as dietary supplements in recent years. However, people have been using natural products that contain nootropics for much longer. Many plants and herbs that were used as ancient remedies contain nootropics that are of interest to people today.

Let’s take a look at several popular nootropic supplements and their natural sources. We’ll explore how ancient people used these in their naturally occurring forms and what we know about them today.


Fisetin is a common substance found in many plants. It is a flavonoid with antioxidant properties. It can also help eliminate reactive substances in the body that can be harmful. Many nootropic supplements contain fisetin or plant extracts that contain fisetin. As a nootropic, it may impact neural signaling and promote anti-inflammatory and antioxidant function, providing cognitive benefits.

Fisetin has many other chemical properties that can be useful. In traditional Eastern Asian medicine, fisetin-containing plants have been used for centuries. For example, Rhus verniciflua is a tree cultivated in China, Korea, and Japan that is high in fisetin. People in these countries have historically used Rhus verniciflua, though not for nootropic effect. Its antioxidant properties were especially helpful for liver detoxification. It was also used to treat digestive problems and relieve pain.


Caffeine is perhaps the mostly widely used nootropic in the world. Many people drink coffee or tea daily for its stimulant properties. It can help relive fatigue and drowsiness as well as improve mental focus. It can improve performance on a variety of tasks.

Caffeine is also used medicinally. It can help treat some breathing problems in infants as well as low blood pressure that can occur when some people sit or stand. Caffeine has also been used in some pain medications to improve their effectiveness. Some people find it especially helpful in helping to treat pain from migraines.

Historically tea and coffee were not as plentiful as they are today. Initially, both coffee and tea were reserved for use by the upper classes. In addition, coffee and tea were likely used more frequently for their medicinal properties. As the beverages became more available, both had a history of being used in religious ceremonies to help monks and priests stay awake throughout the night.


Curcumin is a common dietary supplement. It is also used in cosmetics and as a food coloring and flavoring. Curcumin is found naturally in turmeric and has been widely used as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is also used as a nootropic with cognitive benefits for healthy adults in middle age and beyond.

Curcumin has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. Even today, many people use turmeric for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is a popular additive to many health foods owing to its Ayurvedic roots. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric was used as a pain reliever and antimicrobial substance in addition to an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Interestingly, there is renewed interest in evaluating the medicinal value of curcumin. Scientists have noticed that curcumin may have anti-cancer benefits. More research is needed, but initial results are promising.

Omega-3 DHA

Omega-3 fatty acids are widely popular supplements found naturally in seafood. DHA is one particular omega-3 fatty acid that has been linked to many healthy benefits. It has been shown to improve cardiovascular health and act as a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

DHA is also a primary component in the brain and the eye. It aids in neural signaling and has an important role in the eye where it helps translate light waves into brain signals. It can also help regulate mood and improve cognitive performance.

Humans have eaten fish for centuries. Fish are an important source of protein and other nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Because of its key role in neurodevelopment, DHA is of special interest. Some researchers hypothesize that the rapid expansion of fishing and consumption of seafood had a direct impact on brain development of early humans. There is evidence to suggest human evolution is closely tied to fishing practices.  

Omega-3 EPA

EPA is another omega-3 fatty acid found naturally is seafood. Like DHA, EPA has been linked to some health benefits, including cardiovascular and brain health. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. It may improve cognition and mood. It has even been implicated in treating or preventing depression.

Because EPA is found in high concentrations in fish, its historical use and benefits are inextricable from those of DHA. Likely, EPA also played a key role in neural development in early humans. Again, the expansion of fishing practices and the inclusion of DHA and EPA in our diets is likely related to early human evolution.  


L-theanine is an important component in tea and tea extracts. It was first discovered as a substance in tea in 1949. L-theanine may potentiate the effects of caffeine. In addition, it has been shown to have a calming effect and can lower anxiety. Other benefits include improved sleep, memory, and learning. L-Theanine may increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, improving mood and helping reduce feelings of depression.

The history of L-theanine use is closely related to that of tea. L-theanine is found in other plant and fungus species as well, but its primary use was from brewed tea leaves. Tea was not as widely available in the past as it is today. In China, it was primarily used by members of the upper class. Eventually, it became more common and was used to help people relax and to reduce drowsiness. Monks used tea to simultaneously improve concentration, increase wakefulness, and maintain a clam attitude during meditation. L-theanine, combined with caffeine, can promote all three states.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa monnieri is an herb found commonly throughout the world. Bacopa monnieri has been used as a dietary supplement and powerful nootropic. There are many active substances in this herb that may have neuroprotective and antioxidant properties. It may increase blood flow in some regions of the brain and regulate the quantity of some neurotransmitters. Some research has even suggested it may alleviate dementia, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, though more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Bacopa monnieri has been in use since ancient times. The herb is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat some diseases as well as to improve cognitive performance. Historically, it may have also been used to improve memory. It was also revered by Hindus, who named the herb after a beloved deity. Some religious groups even used the herb in rituals to bless newborn babies.


Ginseng is a common plant in Asia and America. It is traditionally used in tonics but has become increasingly popular in dietary supplements and energy drinks. Researchers have suggested it can improve memory and reduce fatigue. It may improve brain performance. Like many other nootropic substances, at least some of this benefit may be derived from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Traditional uses of ginseng in Chinese medicine were as an herbal tonic and remedy. It was used for its ability to reduce fatigue and also as a medicine for many ailments. Traditionally, it was used to treat anorexia, insomnia, bleeding, and diabetes, among other conditions. In Korea, it was (and still is) used in food and beverage. It is often incorporated into soups, side dishes, and teas.


Ginkgo is a species of tree that has widely been used as a dietary supplement. The leaves contain beneficial substances that are often used as extracts. Ginkgo supplements may improve memory and reduce stress. Ginkgo might also help reduce blood pressure when taken before a stressful event. Ginkgo may even be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though research is ongoing.

Ginkgo leaves have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. Herbal medications made from ginkgo were used to treat some blood disorders and infections. In addition, ancient Chinese people used ginkgo to improve memory and concentration. Ginkgo seeds have also been widely used in both Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

Rhodiola Rosea  

Rhodiola rosea is an herb found in Asia, North America, and Europe. It is used in supplements and is the subject of new research to determine if it is a suitable medicine for a variety of diseases. Rhodiola rosea has powerful anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Its many constituent chemicals may eventually be used to treat diabetes, cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. It can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and improve mental performance.

Traditionally, Rhodiola rosea has seen use in Scandinavia, Russia, and China. It has been used in colder climates to help people reduce stress, particularly stress related to the cold. People also used Rhodiola rosea to help with altitude sickness and reduce fatigue. Some cultures have used the leaves in food preparation.