Focus Supplements – The 12 Best Supplements and What to Avoid

From data that we’ve collected from nearly 10,000 people, the number one priority for most of our audience is focus and concentration. A disproportionate number of professionals, entrepreneurs, and students are seeking focus supplements to get an edge and perform more effectively.

One of the main reasons we seek concentration supplements is because they are stimulating and often improve our mood and wellbeing. As the French historian Jules Michelet recounted in the 1700s, “Coffee, the sober drink, the mighty nourishment of the brain, which unlike other spirits, heightens purity and lucidity…” [1]

Even hundreds of years ago, the greatest thinkers that changed the world were drinking coffee (their version of focus supplements) and getting to work.

Today we have far better scientific understanding about focus, concentration, and the cornucopia of synthetic and natural compounds that can help us to achieve it.

What Makes Us Focused?

Even though you would probably like to skip right into the best supplements for energy and focus, first let us briefly understand what focus is specifically.

Firstly, our baseline level of focus and concentration is impacted more by our habits and diet than any drug or chemical compound. Even the best focus supplement cannot help someone who sleeps 3 – 5 hours per night. Similarly, no focus aids will counteract poor dietary habits.

With that focus and concentration disclaimer out of the way, let’s come back to a very basic understanding of focus and concentration in the brain.

From an ancestral perspective, the things that made us the most focused were usually either threats (an enemy or wild animal) or sources of food (prey animals). This activated the sympathetic nervous system (also referred to as fight, flight, or freeze response).

The chemicals associated with this response can be manufactured via nootropics to help us focus on our work in a modern setting. These chemicals are:

#1. Dopamine – this is the brain chemical closely associated with motivation, focus, and concentration. As most people find out, dopamine is also related with pleasure and positive moods, which is why so many people crave focus supplements and their side effects.

#2. Adrenaline – another hormone related to our fight, flight, or freeze response, adrenaline will increase heart rate, blood pressure, and aid in your focus and concentration.

#3. Norepinephrine – also known as noradrenaline, this is a hormone that also influences your levels of mental focus and concentration. As you will later see, many smart drugs and nootropics operate via norepinephrine.

There are dozens of other mechanisms, but for our purposes we will focus on these three chemical compounds in our brain and the focus supplements that provide us with more of them.

The Focus Tradeoff

Many people interested in supplements for concentration do not realize there is often a tradeoff when using these types of drugs. Never mind the physical toll it can take on your brain and body over time, focus and concentration are often in opposition to creativity and problem solving.

Often times the more focused you get, the less creative you are. This can be a result of many complex mechanisms, but when I interviewed Smart Drug Smarts host Jesse Lawler, he shared that creativity and focus are on two different sides of the spectrum.

He has a completely different set of nootropics for achieving focus than for achieving creativity. The same is true of bestselling author, Derek Murphy, PhD who explained a similar phenomenon in his writing process.

In my experience (and in Derek Murphy’s) there is only one real exception to this rule and that is explained below.

focus supplements

The 12 Best Focus Supplements and What to Avoid

Adderall – This prescription drug is synonymous with Ritalin or any other high-powered drug used to treat ADD or ADHD. Most of these drugs are primarily comprised of amphetamine salts and increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine [2].

Despite their popularity, Adderall and similar products are not good focus supplements. Over time they lead to negative side effects (including addiction) and most people don’t realize their mental performance is worse with this drug despite feeling better [3]. We suggest an alternative to Adderall or peruse the options below.

Modafinil – Also known as provigil, this is one of the most popular smart drugs currently available. In the United States it is still a prescription drug, but regulated far less than the amphetamines mentioned above and for good reason.

Modafinil increases dopamine and adrenaline similar to other focus enhancing drugs, but it is not strong enough to induce feelings of euphoria or addiction [4] making it less risky. This is one of the few focus supplements that can also aid in creativity. Modafinil research suggests it can increase short-term (working) memory [5], which is a big factor for creativity.

While we are bullish on modafinil (and the sister drug armodafinil), keep in mind that they are currently prescription drugs in the United States. Some vendors still provide the drugs, but you might find adrafinil to be a good alternative as well (structurally similar, but not regulated).

Caffeine – This is a fairly obvious choice as a focus supplement because it increases levels of dopamine and adrenaline. This requires little explanation, but by adding L-theanine to caffeine you may be able to amplify the effects.

Studies suggest L-theanine can reduce the negative side effects of caffeine while at the same time enhancing the positive focus and concentration effects [6][7].

Mucuna Pruriens – Found in Africa and Asia, mucuna pruriens is a plant with one very particular benefit: L-DOPA. The L-DOPA molecule is essentially a precursor for dopamine within the brain, but with the added benefit of easily crossing the blood-brain barrier [8].

The reason this works so well is because mucuna pruriens bypasses an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase so you get more dopamine into the brain. While this is novel, it isn’t always the best idea so we would recommend against this option and instead opt for…

N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine – The amino acid L-tyrosine is the precursor for dopamine in the brain, which is one of the reasons it is an essential amino acid. Supplementing with L-tyrosine is a great way to increase dopamine without bypassing the enzyme we mentioned above.

It turns out that N-acetyl-L-tyrosine works even better for chemical structural reasons that I neither understand nor are important!

Hordenine HCl – This novel alkaloid compound is found in a host of plants and although it is sold as a fat burner, there is little evidence to suggest it works for this purpose. However, hordenine HCl is an adrenaline reuptake inhibitor [9], which means it can act as a focus supplement for many people.

Hordenine HCl isn’t really well studied so we wouldn’t recommend skipping straight to this option as the best focus supplement. It is often combined with other focus aids (such as phenylethylamine in Qualia).

Focus Supplements with Novel Mechanisms

Even though we outlined the three main brain chemicals associated with focus and concentration, many focus supplements work via mechanisms outside of these or currently unknown to us.

Many of these concentration drugs are popular because of anecdotal evidence on popular nootropic communities, such as Reddit [10] and Longecity [11].

Noopept – Developed in the mid-1990s, this synthetic drug is primarily used for improving memory formation and preventing cognitive decline in the elderly [12]. However, scientists formulated a drug that was approximately 1000 times stronger than piracetam, effectively making noopept highly potent.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but a certain percentage of smart drug users find noopept to be highly stimulating. There are the obvious memory enhancing effects of noopept, but the stimulating aspect isn’t really known.

Phenylpiracetam – Similarly to noopept, phenylpiracetam is supposed to be a memory enhancing drug. It is part of the racetam family of drugs and, from a chemical perspective, is piracetam combined with a “phenyl” group. Somehow this creates a highly stimulating effect for many people, though tolerance quickly becomes an issue.

Beta-Hydroxybutyrate – Even though beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is a ketone body that does not seem to influence dopamine, adrenaline, it can help to increase focus and concentration in some people (myself included).

These are often referred to as exogenous ketones, but your body can make these during periods of fasting or other means as well. Some people take a combination of MCT oil, BHB, and caffeine as a form of focus supplement to concentrate on their work.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine – Like the tyrosine amino acid, carnitine is an essential part of our functioning. The more useful form of carnitine for improving focus and attention is called acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR), which has scientific backing for this purpose [13]. One study even showed kids aged 6 – 13 diagnosed with ADHD could reduce their symptoms 20 – 65% with ALCAR [14].

References (Click to Expand)
  1. “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage. Page 133
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