When talking to nootropic newcomers I often come across people, who understandably, wish to roll their sleeves up and dive right in with a 7 part stack and activate Bradley Cooper overdrive mode.

I’ve seen limitless! Hand me the NZT-48

While I certainly don’t disagree that nootropics can be a powerful ally in the fight for enhanced cognition, it’s important to ensure that the body’s basic needs are met before testing out more advanced nootropic and cognitive enhancement protocols.  This article, by no means complete, is there to bring to light some of the key areas to improve before trialing nootropics.

I think I’m ready.

Proper Sleep

Regular and proper sleep should be the foundation of any cognitive enhancement program. The negative effects of sleep deprivation far outweigh the benefits that nootropics can provide. While stimulants such as caffeine and modafinil can overcome sleep deprivation in the short term (and are wonderful at doing so) you’re merely delaying the inevitable.  You need regular, high quality sleep.

A solid 6-8 hours a night is a must.  Try to keep a regular schedule by going to bed and waking at roughly the same time per day.  Melatonin is a hormone tied to circadian rhythm that governs our sleep /wake cycle. Known as the “hormone of darkness” melatonin is only produced when light levels are sufficiently low.  For optimum melatonin production, consider keeping light levels low around 30-60 minutes before bed time.

Blue wavelength light is particularly effective at suppressing melatonin and subsequently diminishing sleep quality. One application I’ve used to great effect is F.Lux. It’s a free, simple to use program that reduces the amount of blue light your computer monitor emits. Consider twilight for android devices.

Essential Nutrients

Getting proper levels of vitamins, minerals and essential fats is critical to ensuring optimum cognitive performance. Given the thousands of biochemical reactions reliant on vitamins and minerals it’s not a stretch to think that undernourishment can prevent peak cognitive performance. Some particular nutrients to ensure you get optimum amounts of:

Omega 3 – EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids that are required for prostaglandin synthesis and structural support in neural tissues . Most of the benefits associated with EPA/DHA supplements tend to be related to inflammation, cognitive performance, mood and proper glucose management.  Though EPA and DHA can be synthesised from a short chain omega 3 fat ALA, the conversion rate is poor and shouldn’t be relied on for optimum omega 3 levels. EPA and DHA supplementation has been  implicated in:

Dosage:  Maintaining a balance of 2:1 or 1:1 omega 6:3. Consider a 3 grams of fish oil per day yielding 1 gram of EPA + DHA.

Cholecalciferol – Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 – Our skin naturally produces D3 (cholecalciferol) when exposed to sunlight, we also obtain small amounts from food such as eggs and fish. Optimal blood levels are debatable, however 75-80 nmol/l (30ng/nl) seems to be a good amount to aim for. Deficiency is common with one study finding around 79% of people had sub 80 nmol and 29% below 50 nmol.  Vitamin D3 is essential for calcium absorption, bone health and plays a role in autoimmune disease prevention and even supporting testosterone levels.

Dosage: 2000-4000IU per day should meet most peoples needs.  Opt for D3 rather than D2.

Magnesium – A crucially important mineral that plays a role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. Notable areas that benefit from optimal magnesium levels are glucose tolerance, sleep and blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency is thought to be common, though difficult to measure as only 1% of magnesium is in serum.  Large portions of magnesium are stored in bones and muscle tissue. As an NMDA antagonist, magnesium could be classed as calmative but not sedative and helps to prevent excess neuronal excitation.

Dosage: Consider assessing diet and attempting to obtain a minimum of 400-600mg from food and supplements. Good supplemental forms include citrate, aspartate, glycinate, gluconate and threonate.

Non-Essential Nutrients 

This I would see as the third tier of the foundation and the last order of business before moving onto true nootropics. I’m classifying non-essential nutrients as those that the body would either produce or come into contact with naturally, but that supplementation would provide benefit. The most obvious one is creatine.

Creatine – A nutrient which we either eat (via meat) or the liver produces from amino acids arginine, methionine and glycine. Creatine’s role is to help cells produce ATP (energy) via the phosphocreatine system. Creatine is stored in tissues which have a high energy demand with around 90-95% of creatine stores being in muscle tissue and a proportion of the remainder in brain tissue.  See our entire creatine writeup.

It’s estimated the liver produces around 1 gram of creatine per day and that meat eaters get a subsequent gram or two from food.By supplementing creatine you maximise the brains potential to produce energy under load. Vegetarians will see more benefit from supplementing creatine than meat eaters, though both populations should benefit to some degree.

Dosage: Supplementing 3g-5g of creatine per day will ensure body stores are optimum and  fully loaded after a period of around 5-6 weeks. Those wishing to skip the “load phase” can taken 20g per day (4 X 5g divided doses) for a period of one week, then 3 grams / day after for maintenance. Creatine monohydrate is a good supplement form to choose as it is inexpensive and effective.

Where Next?

Consider reading starting stacks for newcomers. It covers simple and effective stacks that won’t break the bank.