Do you remember the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? In case you missed that one, in the movie Bradley starts taking this drug called NZT to help him access the abilities of his entire brain. This allows him to learn an entire language in an hour and outsmart everyone around him. This ends up being extremely beneficial for Brad, but NZT does have some really bad side effects in the end. I think everyone wished it was real during the first part of the movie because it was incredible what he was able to do.

Although there isn’t anything like NZT available in real life, there are many natural and synthetic substances that can help improve brain function, attention, and working memory. These are referred to as nootropics or smart drugs.

Nootropics: Smart Drugs

Nootropics can range from prescription medications, such as Adderall, to common nutrients, such as caffeine and ginkgo biloba. These substances can enhance brain function in several ways, including:

● Increasing learning ability
● Improving working memory
● Speeding up processing of information
● Helping the brain function better under stress
● Improving concentration
● Protecting the brain from damage
● Encouraging the production of helpful neurotransmitters
● Improving communication between neurons
● Triggering certain “brain waves” that boost creativity

Basically, nootropics can help you boost the power of your brain in many different ways.

Nootropic Substances

As I mentioned, nootropics can vary from synthetic to natural and some require a prescription. You obviously don’t want to take prescription medications without needing them, but there are many common substances that are easy to find and safe that have brain-boosting properties.

One of the most common of these is caffeine. Caffeine increases alertness by blocking a chemical in the brain that makes you feel tired. Up to 300 mg of caffeine a day (about 2 cups of coffee) is considered safe and can help increase alertness and reaction time. Of course, people are impacted by caffeine differently, so if it makes you feel jittery or anxious, back off a bit.1

If you don’t like coffee, tea is an incredible brain-boosting choice. Tea not only has caffeine, but it also contains another substance called L-theanine. Just 50mg of L-theanine, or the equivalent of two cups of tea, can increase brain waves that promote a feeling of “relaxed alertness” and increase creativity.2 The best part? The caffeine in tea actually enhances the effect of L-theanine, helping you feel creative and alert.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) a fat-like substance has been found to help increase brain function, memory, and focus. A 2010 study evaluated the effect of PS supplements in 78 adults with mild cognitive impairment. The subjects were given 300 mg a day of PS or a placebo for 6 months. Those who were given the PS had significantly improved memory scores, greater concentration, and better verbal recall.3

Huperzine, a plant extract, inhibits the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This increases levels of acetylcholine in the brain, improving learning ability and memory. Huperzine also helps neutralize many compounds in the brain that may be toxic and can cause age-related cognitive decline.4

If you are struggling with memory, focus, or just want to be super smart like Brad in Limitless, nootropics can definitely give you a boost. IVL’s Memory Saver is one option as it has both phosphatidylserine and huperzine as well as several powerful anti-inflammatory compounds to help protect the brain. But, remember, unlike NZT nootropics aren’t magic, but they may help you be able to stay focused to finish a big project faster or simply remember your anniversary this year.

Yours in health-

Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL Community Registered Dietitian


  1. McLellan T M, Caldwell JA, Lieberman HR. A review of caffeine's effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016;71:294-312.
  2. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8.
  3. Kato-Kataoka A, Sakai M, Ebina R, et al. Soybean-Derived Phosphatidylserine Improves Memory Function of the Elderly Japanese Subjects with Memory Complaints. 2010; 47(3): 246.
  4. Ved HS, Koenig ML, Dave JR, Doctor BP. Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for dementia, reduces neuronal cell death caused by glutamate. Neuroreport. 1997; 3;8(4):963-8.