Giving Your Brain a Boost
Do you find yourself feeling scattered, unfocused and experiencing a lack of concentration every time you attempt to accomplish a task? Is your memory not as sharp as it once was? Well, you are not alone. The majority of us are experiencing this on a daily basis. What is the root cause, you may ask? There are a multitude of factors, however the main one is likely due to the fact that we are living in a stimulating world where we are often multi-tasking all day. Our attention spans have become extremely short, which is why many people are turning to cognitive enhancement supplements for an added benefit.
There are many cognitive enhancement supplements or nootropics available on the market today. Nootropics are drugs, supplements and other substances that improve cognitive function in healthy individuals. This article highlights a few supplements that may be worth trying. However, before we get there….let’s make sure you have the basics in place first!
In order for your body and mind to function optimally, it is important that you are eating a healthy diet and that you have proper digestion to help you break down and absorb all the beneficial nutrients from your food. Next, make sure you are getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, as this is critical for good brain function. Furthermore, a regular exercise routine can help you clear brain fog and stimulate brain function. High cognitive function also requires staying hydrated the entire day by drinking adequate amounts of water. Finally, nothing can drain your brain faster than spending continuous periods of time on your cell phone or laptop. Make sure you take breaks away from technology and allow your mind and body to de-stress.
Now with these basics in place, here are three botanicals/nutrients that may help to support your cognitive function on your unfocussed and scattered days:
Panax Ginseng is a highly regarded medicinal plant of Asian origin. It is known for its many health promoting effects and it has now gained popularity in the West. The genus name “Panax” is derived from the greek word meaning “panacea” or “all healing” and the name ginseng means “wonder of the world”1. Among its wide range of effects, Panax is commonly used for cognitive enhancement and improved mental awareness. This botanical plant is known to have 29 different ginsenosides, which are the active components within the plant responsible for its many actions1. With respect to the brain, these ginsenosides are thought to have antioxidant effects, increase blood circulation in the brain and decrease the effects of stress1. A study has shown that Panax Ginseng produced significant improvements in performance on cognitive tasks when compared with a placebo group in a 9 week study in participants greater than 40 years of age2. Although many studies exist that show that use of Panax Ginseng led to improvement in various aspects of cognitive function, more research is warranted to conclusively state its benefits.
Bacopa monnieri is a herb used traditionally in Indian medicine (Ayurvedic medicine) for longevity and cognitive enhancement. It is also commonly known as Brahmi. It is thought that Bacopa exerts its effects on cognitive function by acting on the dopamine and serotonin pathways of the brain by enhancing communication between neurons3. The one thing to note about Bacopa is that it takes time for this botanical herb to take effect. Improvements can generally be seen at 8-12 weeks, rather than 4-6 weeks3. Studies have reported that Bacopa monnieri has improved attention, language, writing and comprehension following 6 months of use in patients with Alzheimer’s disease2. As well, a systematic review has shown that Bacopa monnieri supplementation in healthy people improved learning and free recall of information2.
Supplementation with phosphatidylserine is becoming more common for cognitive support. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid typically derived from soy. It is a key component of neuronal membranes and plays a significant role in signal transduction, cell to cell communication and cell growth regulation4. As we age, the lipid composition of our brains changes that is why it is thought that supplementation with phospholipids may be an effective therapy for preventing cognitive decline. Studies have shown that phophatidylserine can improve memory and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder5. In another randomized trial, supplementation with phosphatidylserine and omega 3’s was associated with better cognitive performance compared with placebo in older adults with memory complaints6. The evidence for the use of phosphatidylserine are to date, based on small, short-term trials. Therefore larger trials are needed to better confirm these findings.
It is best to consult with a naturopathic physician to determine the appropriate cognitive enhancement supplement for you. They will help you find the right dosage for your needs and let you know whether any interactions exist with your current medication and supplement regime. As well, be sure to consume supplements of the highest quality, to ensure the efficacy and purity of the ingredients in each supplement has been established, so that therapeutic levels can be achieved in the body.
Furthermore, if your cognitive function has been troubling you for some time, neurotransmitter testing is also available. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that influence mental performance, emotions, pain response, energy levels and communication throughout the entire body. Imbalances in neurotransmitter levels are associated a variety of issues including mood disorders, adrenal dysfunction, loss of mental focus and hormonal imbalances. Your naturopathic physician can order this test for you to further personalize your treatment and help to balance your neurotransmitters for optimal cognitive function.
Finally, while supplements for cognitive support are helpful for short term use, it’s important to recognize that it’s the combination of mental, social and physical activities that support cognitive function as we age. The “use it or lose it” philosophy is highly applicable here. Activities such as reading, problem solving and mental challenges such as crossword puzzles are great for keeping your cognitive function in check.
To your best health…
Dr Jyoti Mistry
- Website: Herb Wisdom- https://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-ginseng-asian.html
- Sarris J, Wardle J. Clinical Naturopathy 2e: An Evidence-based Guide to practice. Elsevier Australia. 2014.
- Website: Examine – https://examine.com/supplements/bacopa-monnieri/
- Gestuvo M, Hung W. Common dietary supplements for cognitive health. Aging Health. 2012;8(1):89-97. doi:10.2217/ahe.11.92.
- Hirayama S, Terasawa K, Rabeler R et al. The effect of phosphatidylserine administration on memory and symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;27:284-291. doi:10.1111/jhn.12090.
- Korczyn A, Vakhapova V. Phosphatidylserine containing Omega-3 fatty acids may improve memory abilities in nondemented elderly with memory complaints: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2010;6(4):S585. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2010.05.1991.