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Nootropics to Combat Stress and Enhance Cognition

Some natural nootropics can be classified as adaptogens, often referred to as stress relievers or mood enhancers.

These are substances known for their ability to improve mental and physical responses to stress.

Unlike synthetic nootropics, these natural remedies are derived from herbs and plants and are celebrated for their safety and efficacy in enhancing resilience to stress.

Stress is a pervasive condition that can manifest physically, emotionally, and psychologically, affecting everyday functioning and overall quality of life.

The American Psychological Association reports that stress is a significant concern for American adults, with a 33% experiencing it at levels that exceed what is considered healthy.

Traditional methods for managing stress often include lifestyle changes, therapy, and, in some cases, medication.

Medications, while beneficial for some, can come with undesirable side effects, such as fatigue, weight gain, and changes in mood or appetite. Moreover, the potential for dependency and other long-term consequences raises concerns for many individuals seeking stress management solutions.

Natural adaptogens present a viable alternative, offering stress relief without the harsh side effects associated with pharmaceutical options.

These plant-based substances are known for their gentle approach to enhancing the body's ability to cope with anxiety and stress, promoting mental clarity, physical stamina, and emotional stability.

In this article, we delve into the science of natural adaptogens and stress management, highlight the top natural adaptogens for combating stress, and offer guidance on integrating these natural substances into your daily routine to support a more balanced and stress-resilient lifestyle.

For those interested in integrating nootropics into their wellness routine, we invite you to learn about our Mood & Wellbeing Nootropic Supplement at nooroots. Should you have any questions after reading this post, feel free to access our support resources or contact us through our online form.



  • What is a nootropic?
  • The Neurobiology of Stress
  • Effect of Chronic Stress on the Brain
  • What is an Adaptogen?
  • How Adaptogens work?
  • The Best Natural Nootropics for Stress Management
  • Synergistic Nootropic Combinations for Enhanced Cognition
  • Choosing the Right Nootropic
  • Importance of a Healthy lifestyle


Using Nootropics to Combat Stress and Enhance Cognitive Function



What is a nootropic?

Nootropics, often dubbed "smart drugs," are substances recognized for their capacity to augment various cognitive parameters such as memory, creativity, motivation, or attention.

Their functionality is grounded in their ability to modulate the activities of specific brain pathways. These pathways involve neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, each playing a distinctive role in cognitive processes.

The spectrum of nootropics encompasses both synthetic and natural substances. Synthetic nootropics are created in laboratories and are designed to target specific neural mechanisms to enhance cognitive functions.

They work by influencing neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine and acetylcholine, which play pivotal roles in attention, memory, and learning processes.

On the other hand, natural nootropics are derived from plants and herbs and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

These natural substances support cognitive functions and brain health through various mechanisms, such as improving blood flow to the brain and providing neuroprotective effects.

Natural nootropics, like Ginkgo Biloba and adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola Rosea, are celebrated for their cognitive-enhancing properties and their ability to help the body adapt to stress.

Both synthetic and natural nootropics offer potential benefits for cognitive enhancement and stress management.

However, natural nootropics are particularly appealing for their holistic approach, offering cognitive benefits while promoting overall brain health. This makes them an attractive choice for individuals looking to improve their mental performance and well-being through natural means.



The Neurobiology of Stress

Stress, a ubiquitous aspect of life, elicits complex physiological and psychological responses.

The understanding of stress from a neurobiological perspective has advanced significantly since the foundational work by pioneers like Walter Canon and Hans Selye.

They conceptualized stress as a non-specific biological response to demands placed on an organism, laying the groundwork for a field that bridges basic and clinical neuroscience.

At the heart of the stress response is the stress system, a highly evolved network that integrates a diverse array of brain structures.

These structures collectively detect and interpret events as real or potential threats.

Different stressors—physical and psychological—engage distinct neural networks yet require finely tuned neuroanatomical processing to elicit a response.

The rapid activation of the Sympathetic-Adreno-Medullary (SAM) axis and the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis are central to the body's response to stress.

These two axes, critical components of the stress response system, orchestrate a wide range of physiological and behavioral mechanisms to restore homeostasis and promote adaptation.

The complexity of the stress response extends beyond neuroanatomy and involves temporal dynamics that vary with the nature, timing, and duration of stressor exposure.

The interactions between neural circuits and mediator molecules over time are vital for understanding not only the physiological aspects of stress responses but also their implications for mental health.

Stress has been linked to various brain disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, underscoring the need for a comprehensive understanding of its neurobiology.

The initial perception of stress involves recognizing a threat, leading to the engagement of neuronal circuits designed to maintain physiological integrity under adverse conditions.

The brain's ability to differentiate between types of stressors is crucial, with psychological and physical stressors activating unique networks.

This differentiation allows for an adaptive response tailored to the nature of the stressor, ensuring an appropriate and efficient reaction.



Deep Dive into the SAM and HPA Axes in Stress Response

The body's response to stress is a sophisticated process orchestrated by the Sympathetic-Adreno-Medullary (SAM) axis and the Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.

These two systems play pivotal roles in managing acute and chronic stress responses, respectively, through a finely tuned coordination of physiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms.

The SAM Axis

The SAM axis mediates the body's rapid, short-term response to stress, often referred to as the "fight-or-flight" reaction.

This response is characterized by the immediate release of catecholamines—epinephrine (E) and norepinephrine (NE)—from the adrenal medulla and sympathetic nerves.

These neurotransmitters act swiftly to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels, providing the body with a sudden burst of energy and alertness necessary for immediate physical action.

In the central nervous system, NE plays a critical role in adjusting to stress by modulating attention, arousal, and vigilance. The locus coeruleus (LC), a key node in the brain's stress response circuitry, is heavily involved in this process.

When activated by stress, the LC increases the firing rate, leading to elevated NE release in various brain regions. This, in turn, coordinates and modulates autonomic, endocrine, and neuroendocrine responses, enabling the organism to react quickly to stressors.

The HPA Axis

In contrast to the SAM axis, the HPA axis is responsible for the body's prolonged response to stress. Initiation of the HPA axis begins in the hypothalamus, where corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is produced and released in response to stress signals.

CRH then stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn prompts the adrenal cortex to secrete glucocorticoids, such as cortisol in humans and corticosterone in rodents.

Glucocorticoids have wide-reaching effects on the body, including influencing metabolism, immune responses, and brain function. In the brain, these hormones exert their effects by binding to glucocorticoid receptors (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptors (MR), leading to alterations in gene expression, neuronal excitability, and neurotransmitter release.

This process is crucial for the body to maintain homeostasis and adapt to prolonged stressors. However, dysregulation of the HPA axis and prolonged exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids can lead to a variety of health issues, including depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments.

Interaction Between SAM and HPA Axes

The SAM and HPA axes do not operate in isolation but are interconnected and influence each other's activities. For example, CRH released during stress not only activates the HPA axis but also stimulates the LC-NE system, enhancing the organism's ability to respond to stress.

This cross-talk ensures a coordinated response to stress, balancing immediate actions with long-term adaptations.



Effect of Chronic Stress on the Brain

Chronic stress exerts a profound impact on the brain, altering both its structure and function.

The mechanisms through which chronic stress affects the brain are complex, involving various neural circuits, neurotransmitters, and hormones, particularly those associated with the stress response system, such as glucocorticoids.

Structural Changes

Chronic stress leads to significant structural changes within the brain, particularly in areas associated with memory, emotional regulation, and decision-making.

The hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory, is particularly vulnerable. Chronic exposure to stress hormones, notably glucocorticoids, can cause dendritic shrinkage and loss of spines in the hippocampus, reducing the complexity of neuronal connections.

This structural remodeling has been linked to impaired cognitive functions, such as memory and learning.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC), involved in executive functions and decision-making, also undergoes structural changes in response to chronic stress.

Studies have shown that chronic stress can cause dendritic retraction and debranching in the medial PFC, potentially leading to difficulties in attention, impulse control, and flexibility in thought and behavior.

Conversely, the amygdala, a key region in the processing of emotions and fear, exhibits increased dendritic growth and spine density under chronic stress, potentially heightening anxiety and stress responsiveness. These alterations in the amygdala's structure may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders and PTSD.

Functional Implications

The structural changes induced by chronic stress are accompanied by functional alterations that can impact an individual's behavior and emotional state.

The hippocampal atrophy and reduced synaptic connectivity associated with chronic stress can lead to memory impairments and a decreased ability to learn new information.

Similarly, alterations in the PFC may impair executive functions, leading to increased impulsivity, difficulty in concentrating, and making decisions.

The amygdala's heightened reactivity to stress further exacerbates anxiety and fear responses, making individuals more susceptible to anxiety disorders.

The brain's reward circuits are also affected, contributing to changes in motivation and pleasure, which can lead to depression.

Neurobiological Mechanisms

The effects of chronic stress on the brain are mediated by a complex interplay of neurobiological mechanisms.

Glucocorticoids, released in response to stress, play a crucial role by interacting with their receptors in the brain.

While short-term glucocorticoid actions are essential for coping with stress, prolonged exposure can lead to receptor dysregulation and contribute to the observed structural and functional brain changes.

Excitatory amino acids, such as glutamate, are also implicated in the stress response, mediating synaptic plasticity and neuronal communication.

Chronic stress can lead to glutamate dysregulation, contributing to neuronal damage and altered brain function.



What is an Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are a unique class of herbal remedies known for their ability to help the body resist physical, chemical, biological, and psychological stressors.

The concept of adaptogens dates back thousands of years, with its roots in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, where certain herbs were valued for their ability to balance, restore, and protect the body.

The term "adaptogen" was first coined by Soviet scientist Nikolai Lazarev in 1947, who described adaptogens as substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress.

Adaptogens work by modulating the production and impact of stress hormones from the adrenal glands, helping to balance the body's response to stress.

They are believed to target the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, which are central to the body's stress response.

Mechanism of Action

Adaptogens have a broad, non-specific action that increases the body's resistance to stress, helping to enhance overall stamina and vitality.

They work in a variety of ways to:

  • Balance Neurotransmitters: Adaptogens can help to regulate the levels of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, thereby improving mood and reducing anxiety.
  • Enhance Neuroplasticity: They promote neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to form new neural connections, which is crucial for learning and memory.
  • Protect Against Neurological Damage: Adaptogens have neuroprotective properties that can shield the brain from stress-related damage.
  • Improve Cognitive Functions: By reducing the detrimental effects of stress on the brain, adaptogens can enhance cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.

Examples of Adaptogens

Several plants are recognized for their adaptogenic properties, including but not limited to:

  • Panax Ginseng: Often called "the king of herbs," Panax Ginseng enhances mental performance and physical endurance, reduces cortisol levels, and boosts immune function.
  • Rhodiola Rosea: Known for its fatigue-reducing and anti-depressive effects, Rhodiola Rosea improves mental performance and physical stamina.
  • Ashwagandha: This herb is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to reduce anxiety, combat stress, and improve sleep quality.


How Adaptogens work?

The effectiveness of adaptogens lies in their multifaceted mechanisms of action, which encompass several physiological processes to promote balance and homeostasis in the face of stress.

Modulating Stress Response Systems

One of the primary ways adaptogens exert their effects is by regulating the activity of the HPA axis.

They help in normalizing the levels of cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone, thus mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress.

By influencing cortisol production and release, adaptogens can reduce the physiological and psychological impacts of stress, including anxiety and fatigue.

Enhancing Neuroprotection and Cognitive Function

Adaptogens also have neuroprotective properties, safeguarding the brain against stress-induced damage.

This protection extends to enhancing cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and learning.

For example, adaptogens like Rhodiola rosea have been shown to improve attention and cognitive functions, particularly under conditions of stress and fatigue.

These effects are partly attributed to the adaptogens' ability to upregulate the expression of neuroprotective proteins and enhance neuronal resilience to stressors.

Promoting Protein Synthesis and Cellular Defense

The stress-protective effect of adaptogens is also linked to their ability to stimulate the production of molecular chaperones, such as heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70), which play a crucial role in protein synthesis and cellular defense mechanisms.

These proteins help in repairing damaged proteins and protecting cells against stress-induced apoptotic death, contributing to the adaptogens' anti-fatigue and anti-depressive effects.

Acting as Stress Vaccines

Adaptogens can be thought of as low molecular weight "stress vaccines" or stress-mimetics that induce a mild activation of the stress response systems.

This activation primes the body to cope with more severe stress by enhancing its tolerance and resilience.

Such a mechanism allows the body to adapt more effectively to various stressors, reducing the likelihood of stress-induced disorders.


The Best Natural Nootropics for Stress Management

In the quest for natural strategies to manage stress and enhance cognitive performance, the exploration of nootropics presents a compelling avenue.

Here's a comprehensive look at some of the best natural nootropics for stress management:


  • Origin: A revered herb in Ayurvedic medicine, native to India and North Africa.
  • Mechanism of Action: Ashwagandha is known for its ability to modulate the stress response by attenuating the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to reduced cortisol levels.
  • Benefits to Stress: It significantly reduces stress and anxiety levels, as demonstrated in a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Participants experienced a 41% reduction in anxiety levels after 60 days of ashwagandha intake​​.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

  • Origin: Indigenous to the Indian continent, holy basil is highly esteemed in Ayurvedic and Siddha medical systems.
  • Mechanism of Action: Exhibits adaptogenic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and immunomodulatory effects.
  • Benefits to Stress: The therapeutic actions of holy basil contribute to stress management and overall mental well-being​​.


  • Origin: A unique amino acid found in green tea (Camellia sinensis).
  • Mechanism of Action: May act through glutamate receptors, showing a partial co-agonistic effect on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, influencing monoamine and glutamate neurotransmissions.
  • Benefits to Stress: Demonstrates antidepressant, anxiolytic, sleep aid, and cognitive-enhancing effects. A study highlighted the anti-stress effects of L-theanine administration over four weeks, showing significant improvement in sleep quality, cognitive function, and reduced anxiety-trait and depression scores​​​​.

Rhodiola Rosea

  • Origin: A plant native to the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska.
  • Mechanism of Action: Rhodiola Rosea acts as an adaptogen, enhancing the body's non-specific resilience to stress and normalizing body functions.
  • Benefits to Stress: Well-documented for decreasing symptoms of fatigue and depression, and increasing work productivity, alongside providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects​​.

Organic Cacao

  • Origin: Derived from the cacao bean, the basis for chocolate production.
  • Mechanism of Action: Rich in phenolic antioxidants like flavonoids (catechin, epicatechin) that offer various health benefits through antioxidant activities, including upregulation of nitric oxide production for vascular health.
  • Benefits to Stress: While direct stress-reducing benefits are well studied, cocoa's contribution to overall brain health, mood improvement, and cognitive function can indirectly influence stress management​​.

Vitamins B Complex

  • Origin: A group of essential vitamins found in various foods.
  • Mechanism of Action: Involved in one-carbon metabolism, acting as cofactors in the synthesis and regulation of neurotransmitters.
  • Benefits to Stress: Supplementation has shown a significant benefit for stress management in both healthy and 'at-risk' populations, though effects on depressive symptoms or anxiety were not significant​​.

Each of these natural nootropics offers a unique mechanism of action targeting stress reduction and cognitive enhancement.

Integrating these into daily routines can provide a holistic approach to managing stress while supporting overall mental health.



Synergistic Nootropic Combinations for Enhanced Cognition

While individual nootropics offer substantial benefits, combining certain substances can lead to synergistic effects, amplifying their cognitive benefits.

A notable combination involves Ginkgo Biloba and N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, which together can significantly enhance cognitive function:

Ginkgo Biloba

  • Origin: Derived from the leaves and ripe fruit of the Ginkgo Biloba tree.
  • Mechanism of Action: Includes antioxidant activity through free radical scavenging, antagonistic effects on platelet-activating factor, vasodilation, and an overall reduction in blood viscosity. Its neuroprotective effects may be useful in treating chronic cerebral hypoperfusion by modulating inflammatory mediators and the cholinergic system.
  • Benefits to Cognition: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial showed significant improvement in working memory and information processing speed after Ginkgo Biloba extract treatment. Ginkgo Biloba extracts are widely prescribed for cerebral dysfunction and neurological disorders​​.

N-Acetyl L-tyrosine

  • Origin and Nutritional Sources: Tyrosine is an amino acid that serves as a precursor to dopamine, a neurotransmitter integral to cognitive processes. Dietary sources rich in tyrosine include cheese, soybeans, meats, fish, nuts, eggs, dairy, beans, and whole grains.
  • Mechanism of Action: Tyrosine is converted into L-Dopa, which then becomes dopamine. This process is crucial for neurotransmitter synthesis, affecting working memory, executive functions, and cognitive flexibility.
  • Benefits to Cognition: Studies indicate a significant association between habitual tyrosine intake and improvements in cognitive performance domains such as fluid intelligence, working memory, and episodic memory. The benefits of tyrosine intake on cognitive performance appear consistent across different age groups, suggesting its generalizability as a cognitive enhancer​​.

Through their unique mechanisms of action and synergistic effects when combined, these substances can support mental health in our modern, high-stress world.


Choosing the Right Nootropic

Embarking on a journey with nootropics involves more than just taking a pill; it's about crafting a personalized approach that aligns with your unique cognitive goals and the specific characteristics of each nootropic.

Here’s how to optimize your nootropic regimen effectively:

Understanding Nootropic Varieties

  • Nootropics come in two main categories: synthetic and natural. Synthetic nootropics, including compounds like racetams and specific stimulants, are celebrated for their targeted cognitive benefits but may pose a greater risk of side effects. On the other hand, natural nootropics, such as Ginkgo Biloba and Bacopa Monnieri, offer a spectrum of benefits thanks to their complex natural compositions, usually with a lower risk of adverse effects.

Dosage and Consistency

  • One common oversight is underdosing, which can lead to suboptimal results. The effectiveness of nootropics is closely tied to the appropriate dosage, making it crucial to find the correct amount for your needs. For noticeable cognitive enhancements, a commitment of at least 2–3 weeks is typically required, with long-term usage necessary for sustained cognitive benefits.

Choosing the Right Form

  • Nootropics are available in various formats, including capsules, tablets, powders, and teas. Selecting the right form for you can depend on personal preferences, convenience, and the bioavailability of the nootropic in each format.

Exploring Combinations and Stacking

  • Many individuals explore combining nootropics or "stacking" to amplify their cognitive benefits. Before venturing into stacking, it’s essential to thoroughly research and understand the interactions between different nootropics to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Monitoring and Adjusting

  • Although nootropics are generally safe, they can cause side effects in some cases, ranging from unwanted increases in activity to sleep disturbances or changes in libido. Monitoring your body's reaction and adjusting the dosage—or discontinuing use if necessary—is crucial for a positive experience.

Professional Guidance

  • Particularly when considering synthetic nootropics or if you have existing health conditions, seeking advice from a healthcare professional is recommended. This step is vital to avoid potential drug interactions or exacerbating health issues.

Embracing a Holistic Approach

  • For the best results, integrate nootropics into a comprehensive lifestyle strategy that includes a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep. Nootropics work best when they complement a foundation of healthy living.

Legal and Quality Assurance

  • Ensure the legality of your chosen nootropics in your jurisdiction and source them from reputable suppliers. This due diligence is necessary to avoid legal issues and guarantee the purity and efficacy of your nootropics.

By following these guidelines, you can navigate the world of nootropics safely and effectively, tailoring your approach to meet your cognitive enhancement goals while minimizing risks.


Importance of a Healthy lifestyle

In the evolving dialogue around mental enhancement and stress management, nootropics have taken centre stage as powerful tools for improving cognitive function and resilience.

However, it's essential to recognize that the foundation of true cognitive enhancement and stress resilience lies in a holistic approach to wellness.

The Integral Role of Lifestyle

Our lifestyle, encompassing our daily habits, dietary choices, and physical activity levels, plays a pivotal role in our overall health and mental well-being.

According to research, lifestyle factors contribute significantly to individual health and quality of life, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that 60% of health-related quality of life aspects are linked to lifestyle choices.

Key Lifestyle Components for Holistic Health

  • Diet and Nutrition: The cornerstone of health, a balanced diet rich in nutrients, directly impacts cognitive function and stress management. Incorporating whole foods, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, supports brain health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity is not just beneficial for the body but also for the mind. It enhances mood, improves sleep, and boosts cognitive function. Exercise also plays a critical role in managing stress, making it a vital component of a holistic health strategy.
  • Quality Sleep: Adequate and quality sleep is essential for cognitive function, mood regulation, and stress management. Disrupted sleep patterns can significantly impair mental health and resilience, highlighting the need for good sleep hygiene practices.
  • Mindful Technology Use: In our digital age, excessive use of technology can lead to stress, sleep disturbances, and mental health issues. Being mindful of our screen time and engaging in digital detoxes can help mitigate these effects, contributing to better mental wellness.
  • Mental Stimulation and Continuous Learning: Engaging in activities that challenge and stimulate the brain, such as reading, learning new skills, and creative pursuits, supports cognitive health and reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
  • Stress Management Practices: Incorporating stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can significantly enhance mental well-being and resilience.

Integrating Nootropics with a Healthy Lifestyle

While nootropics offer promising benefits for cognitive enhancement and stress relief, their effectiveness is maximized when combined with a healthy lifestyle. Nootropics should be viewed as supplements to, rather than substitutes for, foundational health practices.

Prioritizing overall wellness through balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, adequate rest, and mindfulness practices ensures a strong base upon which nootropics can build more effectively.


Stylized brain on a mushroom with various herbs and supplements around.



Nootropics, by targeting specific areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety, have the potential to not only alleviate the detrimental effects of stress on cognitive performance but also to boost overall mental wellness.

Through a detailed analysis of the neurobiology of stress, the role of adaptogens, and the efficacy of specific natural nootropics, we have show light on a pathway towards achieving greater cognitive resilience and performance.

However, it is imperative to acknowledge that the utilization of nootropics reaches its maximum potential only when integrated within a holistic approach to wellness.

Adherence to a lifestyle that promotes balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, and adequate rest is indispensable for the realization of the full benefits associated with nootropic supplementation.

Whether you're looking to manage stress, enhance focus, or boost memory, there's likely a nootropic option that can be tailored to your needs. As you consider incorporating nootropics into your routine, we encourage you to explore our Mood & Wellbeing Nootropic Supplement at nooroots. 


Learn more about the vitamins, minerals and natural nootropic plant extracts we use to give your brain a daily boost 



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