Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nootropic Battle Conclusion: Acetyl-L-Carnitine vs. Ginkgo Biloba vs. Taurine

The search for ways to improve cognition and mood continues.
The search for ways to improve cognition and mood continues. (Photo by mtungate)

For the past several months, I've been experimenting with these three supplements to see if they have an effect on cognitition and mood. Many people report good effects, and there is some scientific evidence to support these claims.

However, because of the nature of the medicine business, most of the studies have been done either on animals or on people suffering from a disease such as Alzheimer's. The use of these supplements as nootropics in healthy people is therefore something of a grey area.

The idea of the experiment was to find out if they might increase mood, energy or cognitive performance using myself as the test subject. Below is a description of my experiences with each of the supplements along with a quick summary of the science behind their use.


Taurine is added into many energy drinks, but the evidence behind its effectiveness is very limited. In mice, fairly low doses of taurine have been shown to either increase or decrease social interaction and anxiety, whereas in humans data is virtually non-existent except as a treatment for alcoholism.

In my own experiments, I did not see any effect from taking taurine. The recommended amount on the label is 675 mg between meals or at bedtime; my own intake varied between about 200 and 2400 mg. I tried taking it before meals, with meals, and after meals. The only time I thought I noticed something was when I took it before going to bed and had more vivid dreams than usual, but I was unable to reproduce the effect later on.

The potential benefit for preventing hangovers still intrigues me, so I may continue to take taurine in the future. However, I actually did take some taurine once after drinking, and unlike I usually do, did not drink much water before going to sleep. I woke up with a headache, so if it is effective, it's not a miracle drug.


Carnitine in its various forms has quite a bit of scientific evidence behind it for use as a nootropic. Both L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine help rodents perform better in maze tests and protect them from age-related cognitive decline. Elderly people seem to benefit from carnitine too, especially with higher doses. One study reported a nootropic effect even in young, healthy people.

This was the supplement I was expecting the best results from, but alas, it didn't have any effect on me. The doses used in human studies usually range from 1 to 3 grams; my own intake varied between 500 mg and 3,000 mg. Like in the case of taurine, I tried it during various times of the day. Most people suggest it should be taken away from meals, which is what I did towards the end of the experiment.

There was one time when it seemed that a higher dose resulted in suppression of hunger, but as I was unable to reproduce the effect, I concluded that it was due to something else. Indeed, one of the potential side effects of carnitine is an increase, not a decrease in appetite.

Another time when I thought I noticed an effect was when I took about a half an hour before going for a run. This was towards the end of a fast, and I felt more energetic than usual while running. There is some evidence that L-carnitine may increase aerobic performance, but since later attempts didn't produce similar results, I assume that the increased energy I felt was simply due to variations in the hunger cycle of intermittent fasting.

Although I feel that carnitine may have some long-term benefits for preventing cognitive decline, I find the price too high for me to keep supplementing with it. If I were to take it, however, I would go for bulk powder instead of capsules to save some cash.

Ginkgo biloba

Even though ginkgo biloba has been studied quite a bit, the results are inconclusive. It seems that gingko biloba does have a neuroprotective effect. In addition, it may reduce anxiety and prevent cognitive decline in elderly people.

The standard dose used in many studies is 120 mg, but doses two or three times as large are not unheard of. Comparing doses and ginkgo biloba supplements is difficult, because the extracts can be standardized differently. In my own experiments, I took between 60 mg and 360 mg at various times of the day.

This was perhaps the one supplement that had me wondering the most whether I was experiencing placebo or an actual effect from the pills. I often took 2-4 capsules (with 60 mg each) of ginkgo before going out, and sometimes it seemed like it gave me an energy boost. On the other hand, it may well have been due to other things, such as the caffeine from coffee or yerba mate. Indeed, taking only ginkgo biloba produced very inconsistent results: sometimes I thought I felt more energetic, other times I definitely didn't notice anything.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some brands of ginkgo may be more effective than others, probably because of differences in the extraction methods. The price of ginkgo biloba is generally not terribly high, so I may experiment with other brands in the future.


In my own experience, none of the three supplements mentioned above produced significant and consistent results in terms of mood, energy or cognitive enhancement. As I mentioned at the beginning of the experiment, I also tried various combinations of the three, but this did not change the fact that for me, they were ineffective. This is based on both my own subjective evaluation and my scores in a memory game that I use to rate my concentration.

For the record, the supplements used in the nootropic battle were: Nu Health Ginkgo Biloba, Source Naturals Taurine, and Doctor's Best Acetyl-L-Carnitine.

Based on these results, I'm beginning to think that my susceptability to the placebo effect is fairly low. I don't necessarily mean that's a good thing, either – an imagined increase in mood or energy levels is just as good as an objectively measured increase, right? On the other hand, it probably does help me weed out the things that have a measurable effect on most people. Caffeine taken on an empty stomach still remains the unbeatable nootropic in my books.

If you have tried taurine, carnitine or ginkgo biloba (or any other nootropic), feel free to drop a comment and share your experience. Meanwhile, for more information on cognition, see these posts:

Green Tea Protects from the Psychological Effects of Stress in Rats
Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in the Elderly
Moderate and Severe Caloric Restriction Alter Behavior Differently in Rats
Anti-Aging in the Media: Rolling Stone on Ray Kurzweil

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17 kommenttia:

Kismet December 10, 2009 at 12:47 AM  

Considering how much you're testing, I think you should really work on a single or double blind, randomised experimental design.

Yes, I'm serious (I'd love to do it myself). You could have someone give you similar looking pills and write down the choice (cremes, gels, whatever form of drug you're taking) to minimise teh placebo effect.

je December 10, 2009 at 1:19 AM  

I tried Ginkgo Biloba for a couple of days until I read that it should not be taken with ibuprofen (which I take a lot of for osteo-arthritis) and maybe not fish oil - too much blood thinning.
I thought it might be helping with mental alertness, but obviously did not take it long enough to tell.
The effect also may have been due to the vitamin D that I started taking around the same time.

yodasmith December 10, 2009 at 1:34 AM  

Fyi, yerba mate probably has mateine, not caffeine, which is a xanthine like caffeine, but without any of the adverse effects of caffeine. For more inforamtion go to

MCT December 10, 2009 at 5:00 AM  

This is why I subscribe to the blog. Lovely post. My experiences exactly with caffeine. The only other amphetamine-like drug that has produced a similar (stronger) effect for me is Adderall. Nicotine, clen, and eph produce most of the expected physical symptoms yet not the nootropic effect.

I've tried piracetam before but the effect, if any, does not justify the price.

I don't see the need for substances that can be produced endogenously unless there's a dietary deficiency.

Anonymous December 12, 2009 at 2:17 PM  

I had the same effect with Taurine (via Redbull, sans alcohol). The first time I had a Redbull, I had a series of very vivid dreams that night, but did not have that effect again.

Anonymous December 15, 2009 at 4:49 AM  

I'm into Life extension;supplements
and exercise,existential attitude, and fortunately belief in humanity.
I like to take RNA powder, based on
the work of Dr. Benjamin Frank. I don't notice any discernible boost in energy, but over many months feel better. Of course, any of the many things I take may be an expensive placebo.
However, my co-experimenter is my
15 year old dog, who hikes, a bit stiffly, up and down mountainsides.
I attribute her energy to the l-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid ,Vit C
and l-carnosine she got in doses half of mine. I made sure they were
safe by first checking clinical studies with dogs, and conclude that since dogs don't respond to the placebo effect, my dog is responding to the supplements, and exercise, of course. Dr. Frank gave
RNA to several dogs in his research that made it into their 20's.

Anonymous December 16, 2009 at 7:20 AM  


Anonymous December 20, 2009 at 8:44 PM  

I've tried Ginkgo too for a couple of months with no noticeable effect. Instead, I would really recommend piracetam as an effective nootropic. I've been taking 2.4 g daily for almost a year, with a pause of one month, during each my results in the brain exercises i'm doing were considerably lower. Moreover, on a busy day I higher the dose up to 6 g that increases the focus and energy for several hours.
And also, it's one of the cheapest nootropics available. maybe you can consider tossing piracetam in the next nootropic battle

Superfoodist January 3, 2010 at 8:22 AM  

Try Cordyceps instead. You will notice something then. Here's a drink that is actually healthy, and doesn't contain any coffee, but could blow your coffee as the top nootropic out of the water.


Actually there's a version with coffee too, but the cocoa version should be preferred if you want a coffe substitute. Cordyceps rock..

JLL February 14, 2010 at 12:30 PM  


Once I notice any positive effect -- placebo or real -- from something, I'll consider a more scientific design ;)


Thanks for the heads-up. My blood has always been a little too thick, though, so I'm not overly worried about blood thinning. In any case, I've cut back on my fish oil intake because of the peroxidation issue.


Yeah I know that's what they say, but what exactly are the adverse effects of caffeine? Caffeine also has many benefits, and coffee definitely gives me a better boost than yerba mate (which I do like also). Yerba mate is also carcinogenic, so more than one cup per day is IMO riskier than a few cups of coffee per day.


Thanks; I just posted a comment on the nootropic battle thread, asking about your experience with ephedrine. The "most of the expected physical symptoms yet not the nootropic effect" doesn't sound too good... that's like me drinking caffeine after a big meal -- all jitters, no mood lift.


Thanks for sharing your (and you'r dog's) experience, interesting stuff.


I'm planning on trying piracetam once I get my hands on some. I'm a little worried about the customs getting their hands on it first, though... and the price seems pretty high to me. Too bad iHerb doesn't have piracetam, at least they have cheap shipping.


I've tried the coffee version, I thought it tasted like crap and didn't give me the same kind of boost as coffee. Besides, I get plenty of cocoa from dark chocolate anyway.

DB February 14, 2010 at 10:14 PM  

I haven't tried Taurine.
Ginkgo does nothing for me.
Carnitine sometimes gives me more energy in the gym but not always.
If I have fasted beforehand and go to the gym, carnitine makes me worse.
I have no mental effects from any of them.

But these are all anecdotal and I haven't done any kind of double blind.

Something I have noticed from another supplement: R+ Alpha Lipoic Acid.
If I had a cold or virus, oftentimes I had a kind of brain fog.
R+ Alpha Lipoic Acid keeps my head clear during a cold now.

dancilhoney September 24, 2010 at 3:45 AM  

It gave me energy without any side effects. I am consuming less calories because I don’t feel as hungry when I take this in the morning and then again in the afternoon. I am pleased with the results so far.

Honey from l-carnitine weight

Anonymous March 3, 2011 at 11:25 AM  

Look up the JNK gene. The most information you will get on the subject is at Read his newsletter, it's quite interesting. I've tried many supplements over the years looking for something to give me energy without luck and I finally found it with the JNK Booster. First thing that ever gave me energy. I also lost 10lbs without even trying. Didn't follow the diet that was suppose to go with the supplement either. I think what the problem is, is that you are trying to use one supplement rather than a combination of ingredients that may work better together. Kinda like calcium, magnesium should always be taken in combination. Look at the ingredients in the JNK Supplement packets vs the diet. I also gave the JNK packet to my 8 year old overweight grandson and it has given him energy that has helped his behavior problem that usually begins later in the day as his energy runs out. His energy level is much better and I think it is helping his mood and behavior. When he is tired, he is a real stinker and becomes hyper. There is no ginkgo in the product, but there is Acety-L-Carnitine and L-Taurine. My take on Ginkgo is if your memory or cognitive problem is due to poor circulation the Ginko will help, for any other reason, probably not.

lulla June 16, 2011 at 4:46 AM  

I am having my review for a certain exam which will be given 5 months from now. I started on my review 2 months ago without any supplement except that i drink a cup of coffee a day. but my concentration and memory didn't cooperate with me and I can really say that i have a shattered memory and a freaking study problem. But just last month I went to a store which sells vitamin supplements and other stuffs for well being. The woman there recommended acetyl l-carnitine together with lecithin and B complex supplement. So I googled those stuffs and had a thorough
Now I am taking them.. Acetyl l-carnitine, lecithin, B vitamins, with fish oil and vit. C everyday. I noticed a huge change in my overall performance. And what surprised me more is that I can now concentrate well on my readings. My memory seems to be so good.I can easily picture out in my mind things which i had trouble understanding. I can even correlate and interrelate things easily in my mind. And I can easily memorize definitions and enumerations and other stuffs. My mood is even always good (even when I have my period!).
But.. But my appetite seemed to be at stake. I tend to eat too much now. Sigh! So I increased my treadmill session everyday to neutralize everything.. lol.
Anyway, overall, I still love the results of those supplements. weight won't matter much to me this time.. Wish me luck guys!

Anonymous March 31, 2012 at 4:59 PM  

I have been taking l taurine, for almost twenty years. I take it with MSM and NAC. Not only do I have more energy but have absolutely no joint pain as long as I continue taking them. I am 66 and still run 2 miles and do vigorous YOGA. When I stop taking them my knee and hip begin to hurt. I have recently started taking L-Carnitine with Alpha Lipoic Acid. The results are amazing to me. I feel huge amounts of energy. Since taking the L-Carnitine I have more muscle tone. I am also a Vegetarian and eat lots of raw food. Perhaps your diet needs improvement. Often our diets are so bad we cannot feel the results of supplements August 29, 2013 at 1:59 AM  

Great info - of the three ALCAR is my favorite.

Dan Thomas August 20, 2015 at 4:41 AM  

Well, Ginkgo Biloba is certainly the best of the three.

Ginkgo Biloba is simply the best supplement and the best herb there is.

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