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An introduction to nootropics—podcast

Examining the growing opportunity for brands in the nootropics space.

‘Nootropics’ is the word on everyone’s lips in the nutraceutical community, but what exactly constitutes nootropics and how can brands capitalise on the growing popularity of this ingredient group? Ahead of his roundtable on COVID-19 and the nootropic opportunity at Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo, David Tomen, founder of, shares the history of nootropics as well as current trends and whitespace in this category.

Tune in to learn about:

  • A definition of nootropics
  • How to engage consumers with nootropics and the need for consumer education in the industry 
  • What ingredients in particular are performing well in this market
  • How brands can stay ahead in this increasingly competitive space
  • How COVID-19 has affected the nootropics market and the opportunity that the pandemic gives to brands

David Tomen will discuss how nootropic brands can introduce nootropic supplements to help consumers struggling with the long-term effects of COVID-19, including brain fog, poor cognition, focus and memory as part of our Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo this May 10.

Learn more and register for free to attend the Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo.




David Tomen
Founder at

Vitafoods Insights Podcast

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Episode transcript:

Vitafoods Insights: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights podcast. Join us as we explore the latest science and innovation, helping the global health and nutrition industry connect, develop and progress. Today's host is Carla Hill, contributing editor.

Carla: [00:00:23] Hello, and welcome to another Vitafoods Insights podcast with me, your host Carla Hill contributing editor at Vitafoods Insights. I'm delighted to be speaking today with David Toman. David is the founder of and has been researching nootropics and brain optimization for over 10 years. He's written two books, secrets of the optimized brain and head first, the complete guide to healing and optimizing your brain with nootropics supplements. And there's no better person to speak with us today about the growing category of nootropics. David will also be chairing a round table on COVID-19 and the Tropic opportunity at Vitafoods Insights virtual expo on the 10th of May. He's kindly agreed today to give us some context for his round table, and I'm excited to discuss the past, present and future I'm nootropics with him today and hear more about the opportunity for brands who want to get ahead in this growing and competitive space. David welcome, and thank you so much for coming on the show today.

David: [00:01:24] Hi, Carla. Thanks for having me.

Carla: [00:01:25] It's a pleasure. Great to have you with us. So, David, I understand you have personal connection to nootropics. It would be great to hear a bit about you in your own words and how you came to become an expert in.

David: [00:01:37] I discovered dietary supplements that affect the human brain about 13 years ago, when I was first diagnosed adult ADD. I have spent my entire adult life having problems with focus. Now, I've traveled the world and I've been to like 45 countries, I spent nine years in the Caribbean. Are you aware of a company called cable and wireless? A British telecom company that I became the group sales and marketing manager for living in Antiga and I helped build the first cellular telephone company in the Caribbean. So it was an executive position. Of course, every year my boss would have given me a performance review and say, David, you're a fantastic manager, a really good executive, you're a great sales person that people love you, but you got to learn how to focus. And so I went out and I bought the books on how to focus and I bought the books on how to go and be a good manager. And I just could not get it for some reason. I couldn't get it. I thought it was a moral failing. And then about 15 years ago, I met this gorgeous blonde girl on North Miami beach and we ended up getting married. And in the first year of our relationship, she saw what was going on and she sent me to psychiatrists that she knew in Palm beach. And he's one of these doctors who's kind of a rock star in his field. Yeah. He sat me down within 10 minutes, he said, David, your adult ADD in PTSD. And for ADD, he prescribed Ritalin. And Carla, the day that I started using Ritalin, which is a stimulant, it was like somebody turned the lights on in my brain. For the first time in my life I could focus. It was like a miracle. And then within a couple of years, I started growing tolerant to Ritalin. And I panicked. I finally find something that works this well, it's going to stop working? I don't think so. So I decided to find out how Ritalin worked and I found it it was a dopamine re-uptake inhibitor. And I said, okay, what does that mean? It means that it works with dopamine in my brain. Okay. Well, if it's not working, maybe I don't have enough dopamine. How do I fix that? And so a little bit of research and I found out that L- tyrasine is a precursor to dopamine. If I take L- tyrasine as a supplement, it will increase dopamine in my brain. And I found out that with ADD, there was a problem with brain cell signaling. And that was due to a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. So maybe I didn't have enough acetylcholine in my brain. How do I fix that? I start using alpha GPC. And so I went to a local vitamin shop and I bought these supplements and I put them together and I started using them and Ritalin started working again. And I never grew tolerant to it. And people often describe when they're using these stimulants, how they have a stimulant crash near the end of the day, because the stimulant wears off. I learned that if I took another dose of these supplements around 3:30 or four o'clock in the afternoon, I never crashed going. This is fantastic. So that went fantastic. And then about eight years ago, I got really, really, really sick. And I ended up in the ER and my wife thought I was having a heart attack, turns out it wasn't having a heart attack. For some reason, I was all of a sudden severely hypothyroid. And if you know about hypothyroidism, there's a, one-page two column list of symptoms. I was so sick that I felt like I wanted to die. And one of those symptoms was I lost my memory. And I went to two different neurologists who tested me for early onset Alzheimer's and they said, no, it's not Alzheimer's, we don't know what it is, we can't help you. So, I found the right thyroid medication, but everything else in my life was failing. Literally. I mean, we were broke. My business was failing. My marriage was falling apart. I knew I had to fix this. So I started doing some research because I didn't want to die. I wanted to survive. And I started doing some research again, trying to figure out what do I have to do to get my memory back. And this was, you know, seven, eight years ago. There weren't any books on this. There were no websites on this. I ended up in places like pubmed and reading hundreds and hundreds of clinical studies to find out how the memory word can the human brain and what supplements were shown in clinical studies proven to help support human memory. And I put together another nootropic stack, this time to support memory and I got my memory back. It took me about two and a half years. But I got my memory back and now my brain is working better than it ever was before. Near the end of that period, I decided to get my marketing business going again and one of the things that dawned on me was if I had such a hard time fixing my brain, because there was no information available, what are other people doing? And that was the impetus for tropics expert. I started it just to help other people learn what I was learning so that we could learn together and how you can fix your brain. And it's kind of more from there it's turned into everything it's attracting, literally, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are coming to nootropics expert or that YouTube channel to, for things like anxiety or depression or ADHD or OCD or early onset Alzheimer's or that's kind of like how it got started.

Carla: [00:07:21] Thank you David so much for sharing that story. It's really emotional and also really inspirational story. And I think it's very fair to say that nootropics as a, as a word is really on everyone's lips at the moment in the nutraceutical community. But sometimes it's not easy to understand exactly what nootropics were first to. What would you say is a valid definition of nootropic?

David: [00:07:43] I'm glad you asked that because there is a lot of misconceptions out there. Nootropics are a class of substances that improve brain function. They're also referred to neuro enhancers, cognitive boosters or memory enhancers, and nootropics can be natural synthetic. But  experienced biohackers, like I make a distinction between nootropics and smart drugs. So nootropics are something that are natural substances or substances that you can get from your local vitamin shop or whole foods or your local health food store without a prescription. Smart drugs, you have to go to your doctor to get a prescription and so that covers things like Adderall and Ritalin and Modafinil and those kinds of things. I do not consider those nootropics. So we use natural nootropics to improve focus, motivation, memory, mood, cognition, and each of these depend on different processes in your brain. And there's different substances that can be used to effect each of these functions. But the idea of altering brain function, this is not new. I mean, we didn't think of this. Our ancestors were using herbs in alcohol to alter brain function for the last few thousand years. So we're just finally starting to get it. But the word nootropic itself was cooked up by a doctor named Dr. Corneliu E Giurgea was a Romanian psychologist and chemist, and he synthesized Piracetam in 1963 in a Russian lab in St. Petersburg. And he coined the term nootropic in 1972 to name this class of substances that he had invented. It was just a derivative GABA. And it's derived from the Greek word, νόος (nóos)  for mind and τροπή (tropḗ) to ban. So to ban the mind, that's the word where the word nootropic came from. And then he went on to give a definition of what a true nootropic should be. And he said, Dr. Pegas said that a true nootropic enhances memory and the ability to learn; it assists brain function under disruptive conditions, such as lack of oxygen or electric ones, convulsive shock; it protects the brain from the chemical and physical toxins, like drugs and barbituratesand increases natural cognitive processes and it must be non-toxic to humans. So that's the classic definition of what a nootropic is, but we've kind of like, taken that term nootropic or cognitive enhancer now to include everything when it comes to dietary supplements that affect brain function. So it's kind of, we've got a, kind of a broader understanding of what an entropic is now, but still within the parameters of something that you don't need a prescription to buy.

Carla: [00:10:53] That makes a lot of sense. Thanks, David. And incidentally, while we're talking about definitions and terms, do you think that nootropic is a term that consumers understand? And do you think that brands should be using the word nootropic on their labeling or their branding? Is that something that's going to resonate with consumers or is that something that's going to confuse them?

David: [00:11:15] I think it's starting to, but this is a very recent development. This has only happened in the last year, year and a half or so I've noticed. Nootropics expert, I founded this in about five years ago and nobody knew what an entropic was except for, you know, dedicated biohackers in people that you would find in the forums on Reddit. But over the last couple of years, um, ordinary people are starting to learn the word nootropic accidentally. They're stumbling onto nootropics expert, for example, when they're searching for supplements that will help anxiety or supplements that will help depression or a replacement for prescription antidepressants that they're using or anti-anxiety drugs that they're using. And so they'll end up on nootropics expert researching something like AlphaNine or saffron or acetyl L-carnitine or L tyrasine. And that's where they will learn that these things are called nootropics. And this has gained enough traction over the last year or a year and a half or so that companies, mainstream supplement companies, who've been around for decades, like nowfoods and Gaia herbs in Jaro companies like that, who never used to use the word nootropic are now incorporating the word nootropic in some of the names of their supplements to identify them as something that works for the brain.

Vitafoods Insights: [00:12:53] Since this podcast is related to the Vitafoods virtual expo, it's the perfect time to interrupt and remind you that you can find all the information you need about the event at

Carla: [00:13:12] Why have nootropics grown in visibility over recent years would you say?

David: [00:13:16] I think because people are discovering with, I discovered that when you think about your own health, You think about how you feel and you think about how your arm is a work or your fingers are working okay. Or your feet hurt or your gut hurts or it's upset. And one of the last things we ever think about is your brain. I mean, it's just kind of there, right? It's this two or three pound mass of jail between our ears that just works fantastic until it stops working well. And only then we start thinking about it and people are realizing they are a certain substances that they can consume orally, typically like swallowing a capsule or an, a changed juror or tea and it affects how the brain works, that either puts them in a better mood or they can think faster, or they can improve short-term memory or working memory, or they can improve their mood, or they can reduce different types of anxiety, like regular anxiety or social anxiety just by taking a supplement. So we're learning this as we go along as a human race, that what our ancestors knew just instinctively to do with things like, like a ginkgo biloba and bacopa monnieri, and more recently pine bark extract starting in 1945, that you can just go to a supplement store and you can buy something that will help your brain and you can actually feel.

Carla: [00:14:46] While we're on the subject to, for specific ingredients, could you sort of spotlight a couple of really interesting ingredients that are kind of gaining traction at the moment and the brands who are considering entering the space might be keen to hear more about?

David: [00:14:58] There are certain supplements that are showing up that kind of like, it never crossed your mind. Like one of them that's popped up in the last year has asked, is astaxanthin. Astaxanthin has, has been sold or viewed primarily as something that will help your eyes. It's a natural pink xanthophyll that belongs to a group of chemicals called carotenoids and it's the reason why flamingos are pink, and when you cook. Shrimp or you cook lobster, they turn pink- it's because of as present then. And it turns out that not all looking  astaxanthin help your eyes, but it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. And they've been finding that as an extremely potent antioxidant anti-inflammatory that can protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and it also works as a really potent antioxidant. So it protects against free radical damage. It increases blood flow in your brain, which results in better memory and just overall better cognitive performance. So that's one example Astaxanthin.  Another one that has really received a lot of attention in the last year is quercitin. And it's not something that people thought about much until COVID-19 came along, but quercitin is a very strong anti-inflammatory and it's antiviral and clinical studies show that it helps reduce the symptoms of COVID-19 if you get the virus. There's actually clinical studies backing this up and shortens the time that people suffer from the symptoms of COVID-19 if they just use two or three grams of quercitin per day. And this is something you can buy at your local vitamin shop. Another one that's started out in our brand, black seed oil. Black seed oil was something that not many people in the West had heard about. But it's chemically known as Magella sativa or black Kuvan and they've been using it in the middle East for literally thousands of years, but black seed oil acts as an inhibitor. So it works the same as drugs used to treat things like dementia and Alzheimer's and schizophrenia. It also increases, uh, tryptofan and serotonin levels in your brain, so it acts as an antidepressant. And studies have shown that using black seed oil, along with raw honey can reduce the symptoms of COVID-19. So those are some very recent examples.

Carla: [00:17:50] Thanks, David, and it's great to know kind of the ingredients that are out there and I'm sure many brand owners listening will be really keen to take up that knowledge. Can you tell us a bit about any advice that you'd give to brands who are trying to stay ahead in the space? As we're hearing today is obviously an increasingly competitive space and there are many consumers who are gaining interest in gaining education, how would you advise brands who are wanting to stay ahead of the competition?

David: [00:18:15] There's a couple of ways that you can differentiate yourself. One is have a pure supplement and don't use other ingredients, avoid using things like magnesium stearate and Silicon dioxide and silica, and the other types of other ingredients that you often find below the supplements facts label, because they're not necessary. And I've discovered that they're not necessary because there are companies like opt-in Nutra that produces performance lab and mind lab pro who don't have any other ingredients in their supplements. So when you buy a supplement from them is just the pure supplement and the capsule. There's nothing else in there. And I've noticed that some of the larger mainstream companies that have been around for decades, there's, just beginning to introduce select supplements that when you check the label, there's nothing else in that capsule, but the powder of what it says that's supposed to be in there on the label. And there's no extra ingredients, and companies use things like Silicon dioxide, they use it for color and as, um, As a preservative and magnesium stearate, they use it to improve flow, to prevent powder from clumping and machines. Now, I don't know enough about the manufacturing process of supplements, but I know that it's possible to produce these supplements and encapsulate them without needing to resort to using these things. So people are looking for purity. The other thing that people are looking for is, they want to, they want proof that what you say is on the label is actually in the supplement, which means that they need some proof that you have a testing program either in-house or you use third parties, people outside the company to test the raw materials that are coming into the plant, test the materials during encapsulation, and then test the finished product before it actually is shipped out to the customer. So customers, they want the comfort of knowing that you are doing that and they want proof of it. So, if you can provide a certificate of analysis for the batch of supplement that they purchased, that's even better. If you can put a QR code on the label that they bought so that he can just scan it with their phone and download a certificate of analysis, showing that what is in that capsule is genuinely again what they bought, that's what people are starting to look for now. They want the real thing because there's too much shenanigans going on in this industry. And the dietary supplement industry is growing by billions of dollars a year because people are finding out that they have to supplement because they're not getting these nutrients from food and manufacturers are catching on to this and finding out that it's a very, very lucrative way to make money and that some of them, the unsavory characters are putting anything in those capsules other than what is on the label. And so customers are either getting a bad reaction to it or getting no reaction at all. So we want to avoid that. If you want to get ahead in this industry, especially in this space where people expect quality, those are the types of things you have to do.

Carla: [00:22:02] It's really interesting that consumers are not only well educated now about nootropics, but then also as you say, having expectations and having demands about the kind of nootropics that they want to be consuming and the ways in which they're manufactured. I wonder if we get finished with a bit of a teaser of your round table session, as I said, you're going to be presenting at Vitafoods Insights virtual expo on the 10th of May, and you're going to be talking about COVID 19 and the nootropic opportunity. So could you tell us a little bit about how the pandemic has affected the nootropics market and what opportunity does COVID-19 give to brands in this industry?

David: [00:22:44] Well, I'm sure that we've all seen the headlines in the health news saying that more people are experiencing anxiety or depression in the last year than ever have before. And it's because of this pandemic, and people that have come down with the virus and are trying to recover from it, the long haulers are talking about ongoing symptoms that is destroying their life. And they're looking for answers too, they want something that will help them just finally get rid of the symptoms of COVID-19 so that they don't have to keep on experiencing the thing over and over again for the next year or two and destroying their relationships and, and, and hurting their ability to make a living. And so manufacturers need to look at the clinical studies that have come up in the last year and there's more and more and more available, showing what happens to the human body and especially the human brain after you can track the virus, and we need to figure out what we can do to help reverse some of that damage.

Carla: [00:24:03] Thanks, David. I think that wraps us up really nicely for today. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been absolute pleasure to have you, and I'd like to remind us in this. If they want to hear further insights from David and hear more about COVID-19 and the shopping opportunity register for Vitafoods Insights virtual expo. That's all for now. Thank you, David so much for coming on the show and see you all very soon.

David: [00:24:29] Thank you Carla.

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