Drawbacks of One-Size-Fits-All Nootropic Stacks

Several companies that sell nootropic supplements will pitch the convenience of one-size-fits-all nootropic stacks. They will tell you that the stacks are pre-tested, pre-approved, and convenient, so you don’t need to spend the time researching each nootropic to decide which are the right ones for you.

However, while one-size-fits-all nootropic stacks may seem practical, there are several reasons why getting your nootropics in standardized formulas might not allow you to take full advantage of the nootropic benefits

In this article, we will review 5 reasons why you should avoid standardized nootropic stacks.

1. Doses Can Be Too Small to Feel a Difference

Most standardized nootropic stacks are developed by lab professionals who aim to include only the minimum doses of active ingredients to avoid causing any side effects (and frankly, also to save on costs to make the product more attractive).

This might seem logical, but certain people need higher doses for the active ingredient to have an effect on cognition, just as it is required that certain nootropics need to be consumed at higher doses to have an impact [1].

What ends up happening with a lot of the one-size-fits-all nootropic stacks is that they will contain several great-sounding ingredients, often all with an equal or standard minimum amount of each active substance.

In total, the amount you are consuming may seem pretty high, but we have to remember that each nootropic, even if it has a similar benefit (like improving memory or learning or reducing stress), has a different mode of action [2].

In other words, some will act on brain receptors while others will fight off free radicals, but higher, steadier amounts are needed to really see an effect.

Let’s take a look at an example. An anxiety-fighting nootropic formula might include 4 or 5 different adaptogenic herbs and nootropic supplements at low doses. A user might experience some relief from the combination of different substances, but they would more likely experience even greater improvement were they to use just one of the substances included at a higher, better-studied dose.

Furthermore, the minimum therapeutic dosage is just that – the minimum. Just as some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others (caffeine is the most widely used nootropic), many people don’t see any improvement after taking the minimum dose of the substance [3][4][5].

Finally, it is not uncommon for companies to conceal doses of different nootropics that they are using in their supplement by presenting them as proprietary formulas. Proprietary formulas or blends contain a patented mix of ingredients, in some cases nootropics. Often companies will only report the amount of the blend in itself, not of each of the ingredients, thus hiding the dose of each nootropic.

2. Limited Research About the Effectiveness of Certain Stacks

For most therapeutic or cognitive-enhancing uses, there are limited studies on the benefits of one-size-fits-all “stacking” of nootropics [6]. In many cases, nootropic companies will overdo it – offering stacks with up to a dozen different nootropics. In reality, studies carried out to determine the effectiveness of nootropics focus on subjects taking fewer nootropics at once [7][8][9].

Simply put, science really doesn’t know enough about the effectiveness (or even the safety) of combined nootropics, but it has revealed a good deal about the effectiveness of single or fewer nootropics at one time, for example, how caffeine can enhance the effect of nootropic duloxetine for depression [10].

3. Counteracting Ingredients

In an ideal world, all nootropic formulas would be developed by qualified nutritionists who work together with food, psychiatric, and chemical scientists to ensure that the formulas don’t have substances that work against each other. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

It is also true that most people take supplements without consulting their doctor first, even though all supplements state that it is important to consult with a physician before taking any supplements.

Consulting with a physician is important. Some nootropic supplements may counteract or interact with other medications you are taking or cause negative effects on medical conditions you have.

Just like with medications, nootropic stacks which contain multiple nootropics may contain substances that may counteract each other once they are ingested.

To avoid this, it is best to build personalized nootropic stacks that take into account drug interactions, medical conditions, and dosage. Even so, you should always consult with your doctor before taking on a new supplement regimen.

4. Poor Bio-availability

Bioavailability is a term used to describe how much of a substance is absorbed into the human body. It’s become a bit of a buzzword lately – some companies are claiming to offer different formulas and recipes that make their nootropics more bioavailable.

There are studies on more bioavailable forms of certain nootropics. For example, the vitamin B6 has forms which have major differences in how they are absorbed and more importantly pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) which is an active form of this vitamin can be inhibited by pyridoxine HCL which is a more common version of this vitamin [2].

There are more studies about how to enhance the bioavailability of nootropic herbs and spices. Curcumin, for example – the active ingredient found in the herb turmeric, is a nootropic spice that can enhance cognition, improve synaptic plasticity, and counteract oxidative stress after traumatic brain injuries [11]. Curcumin becomes significantly more bioavailable when mixed with pepper [12].

5. Quality May Not Be Assured

Quality is essential when you are going to put anything in your body to ensure its safety, purity, and efficacy.

If you are sensitive to any ingredients, it is important to check the “other ingredients” list. Here you will find dyes and artificial colourants or flavours, fillers, and flavour enhancers, among others.

Whenever you purchase nootropics, check for:

  • Purity. Look at the label to make sure each nootropic extract is “pure” and doesn’t contain unnecessary fillers. Nootropics with fillers can be misleading because it looks like the full weight or volume of the supplement is made up of the active ingredient when in reality, it is only a small part.
  • Certificate of analysis. Certificate of analyses ensures that the nootropic is safe and that the claims on the bottle are true. In some cases, you can find independent test results online, like LabDoor and ConsumerLab.
  • Recalls. There have been cases in which users have found traces of heavy metals in health products [13].
Bottom Line: Do Your Research

One of the most important things that you should do before purchasing a nootropic (or any supplement you take) is to look past the attractive labels and impressive claims and do your own research.

Remember, these products are being promoted by marketers with one goal in mind: to sell the product. Product descriptions will sound enticing, and the ingredients will look good, but it’s still important to do your own research. As discussed above, some ingredients may not work well when dosed with other ingredients, and others may need to be taken at different times.

In the end, you are taking nootropics to improve your health and wellbeing. Since the market can be misleading and the supplement industry is not closely regulated, it is up to you to do your research on the companies, especially those that promote one-size-fits-all nootropic stacks.


You can find external sources referenced in the article below:

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[2] Vrolijk MF, Opperhuizen A, Jansen EHJM, Hageman GJ, Bast A, Haenen GRMM. The vitamin B6 paradox: Supplementation with high concentrations of pyridoxine leads to decreased vitamin B6 function. Toxicol In Vitro. 2017;44:206-212.

[3] Cladenhove, S.; Sambeth, A.; Sharma, S.; Woo, G.; Blokland, A. (2018). A combination of nootropic ingredients is not better than caffeine in improving cognitive functions. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. Vol. 2, is. 1., pp 106-113. Doi: 10.1007/s41465-017-0061-0

[4] Bouleger, J.; Uhde, T.; Wolff, E. et al. (1984). Increased Sensitivity to Caffeine in Patients with Panic Disorders: Preliminary Evidence. Archives of General Phychiatry. Vol 41, is. 11, pp 1067-1071. Doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1983.01790220057009.

[5] Nicholson, C. (1990). Pharmacology of nootropics and metabolically active compounds in relation to their use in dementia. Psychopharmacology. Vol 101, is. 2, pp 147-159. Doi: 10.1007/BF02244119

[6] Petkov, V.; Konstantinova, E.; Petkov, V.; Lazarova, M.; Petkova B. (1991). Modulation of the effects on learning and memory of nootropic drugs and central stimulants when applied together. Acta Physiologica et Pharmacologica Bulgarica. Vol 17. Is. 4, Pgs 17-26. PMID: 1688150.

[7] Haar G, A.; Senning, A. (1994). Piracetam and other structurally related nootropics. Brain Research Reviews. Vol 19. Is. 4. Pgs 180-222. Doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(94)90011-6.

[8] Nicolaus, B. (1982). Chemistry and pharmacology of nootropics. Drug Development Research. Vol. 2. Is. 5. Doi: 10.1002/ddr.430020507.

[9] Nicholson, C. Pharmacology of nootropics and metabolically active compounds in relation to their use in dementia. Physchopharmachology. Vol. 101 Is. 2, pp 147-159. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02244119

[10] Kale, P.; Addepalli, V. (2015). Enhancement of nootropic effect of duloxetine and bupropion by caffeine in mice. Indian Journal of Pharmachology. Vol. 47, issue, 2. Doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.153430

[11] Wu, A.; Ying, Z.; Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2006). Dietary curcumin counteracts the outcome of traumatic brain injury on sxidative stress, synaptic plasticity, and cognition. Experimental Neurology, vol. 197, is. 2, pp 309-3017. Doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2005.09.004.

[12] Shoba, G.; Joy, D.; Joseph, T.; Majeed, M.; Rajendran, R.; Sriniva, P. Influence of Piperine on the Phamacokinetics of Curcumin on Animals and Human Volunteers. Planta Médica, vol 64, i. 4, pp 353-356. Doi: 10.1055/s-2006-957450

[13] Consumer Reports. (2018). Arsenic, Lead Found in Popular Protein Supplements. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/dietary-supplements/heavy-metals-in-protein-supplements