In today’s fast-paced, screen-based society, it seems more common than ever for us to feel a lack of focus in life. Adults and children alike seem to suffer from an inability to stay on task. We can’t focus at work. We can’t focus on homework. Our eyes and attention flit from one source of stimulation to the next and we struggle to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
Nutrients for Mental Focus, Concentration and Brain Power
Just about everyone would love to have an edge when it comes to boosting brain power and knowing how to stay focused. And with an aging population, the US has seen greater interest in brain-boosting nutrients than there was just two or three decades ago.
Truth is that certain vitamins, herbs and nutrients may help provide natural and powerful support for the nervous system under fire. Whether you seek greater focus and concentration, a memory boost, or just want to feel like you’re thinking at max capacity, it may pay to try “brain pills” or brain supplements.
The 15 Best Supplements for Mental Health
Which brain supplements and natural therapies really help with memory, concentration and focus? These 15 nutrients aren’t magical, but they may help you answer the question, How can I stay focused?
- Ginkgo Biloba. The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest plant species alive, and its unique leaf is well-known worldwide for its fan shape and its health benefits. Several studies have examined ginkgo in conjunction with age-related mental decline, and it does help. Ginkgo appears to help thin the blood and may improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain, offering a brain boost. Studies have found that ginkgo can help with attention and memory. Note: Don’t take ginkgo if you use aspirin or prescription blood thinners.
- Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb traditionally used to help improve stamina and reduce fatigue. It may also help with stress, and improve mental clarity and performance. As such is it highly regarded as a supplement for energy and focus. One study showed that rhodiola may help lower the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
- Bacopa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for several health issues. Studies show that bacopa helps enhance memory and may boost mood. This herbal extract may also help support cognitive function and help lower depression and anxiety in older adults. It may even help protect the body against cognitive decline associated with age.
- Huperzine A has been studied for potential use with memory and has been shown to improve cognitive function. It is popular in China, where its mother plant, a moss, grows. Studies there show its effectiveness in improving memory and learning. Huperzine A appears to slow the breakdown of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. This brain chemical carries messages across spaces between nerve cells. When you can keep more acetylcholine in the brain, memory may improve.
- DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol) is thought to alter acetylcholine levels in the brain. Dr Ray Sahelian supports the use of this nutrient.“Most people will notice within an hour or two of taking it that they’re thinking faster and sharper and that they have better focus,” he says.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids provide the body with DHA and EPA, vital building blocks of brain cells. Studies show that consuming plenty of DHA improves learning. Additionally, a 2013 study showed that omega-3s may help fight age-related impairments in brain function, and a 2015 study showed that these fatty acids help with inattention in children.
- L-theanine is a natural compound in tea that helps with attention, alertness, concentration and the ability to stay calm. It boosts levels of dopamine, serotonin and GABA—neurotransmitters that support memory, mood and learning. It works synergistically with caffeine to foster accuracy and speed on mental tasks and helps people overcome distractions. L-theanine may be one of the best focus supplements.
- Tryptophan– an amino acid found naturally in turkey and other foods – helps in the formation of serotonin, a brain chemical that supports mood. Low levels of tryptophan have been linked to lower mood and memory levels. Studies show that larger levels of tryptophan can help with memory and concentration. It may also help as a natural remedy for ADHD and help support a person dealing with occasional depression and anxiety.
- Vinpocetine is commonly used by Europeans as a brain booster. It may help build circulation and balance neurotransmitter levels. This substance supports memory (short-and long-term), concentration and attention levels and may support cognition. Ask your primary care physician before you take this brain pill.
- Acetyl-l-carnitine is a variant of the amino acid carnitine found in many protein-rich foods. It helps produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which means it can help with things like focus, memory, alertness and mental clarity. Author and M.D. Ray Sahelian says that with this nutrient, “You can concentrate better and get things done faster.” A study found that it helped those with mild memory impairment perform mental tasks. Put this one on your list of supplements for energy and focus.
- Lion’s Mane is a type of mushroom used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It appears to increase levels of nerve growth factor (NGF), which is needed for the health and survival of neurons. Limited studies show that this nutrient may help support mood and quell depression.
- Citicoline is found naturally in the brain. As a supplement it can be used by people with memory loss, ADHD and head injuries. It has been studied for its effectiveness in improving cognitive impairment and for memory and recall in healthy elderly persons. This nutrient seems to improve circulation to the brain and may help the brain recover. It has also been found to improve attention in adolescents, making it a “natural focus pill.”
- Tyrosine is an amino acid used in the production of vital brain chemicals that help control mood, including dopamine and norepinephrine. A lack of dopamine is linked to higher levels of apathy, depression and an inability to concentrate. Tyrosine may also help prevent cognitive decline during stress. High-tyrosine foods include things like eggs, beef, turkey and Swiss cheese.
- B Vitamins are the best brain vitamins. They work in harmony to support the nervous system and offer help to the brain. Vitamin B12 is vital to the building and maintenance of protective nerve sheaths. Count B12 among your vitamins for focus.
- Other Natural Remedies for Concentration. Try the following nutrients for focus: flaxseed, turmeric, green tea and rosemary.
Essential Oils for Focus
In addition to brain supplements, many essential oils can support improved concentration or focus, including Lavender, Peppermint, Lemon, Cypress, Cedarwood, Rosemary and Patchouli. Find the aroma that works for you.
Nature’s Sunshine Products for Focus, Brain Health and Energy
- Mind-Max®contains magnesium l-threonate (supports neural synapses and easily crosses the blood–brain barrier) plus gotu kola, Bacopa monnieraand ginkgo. These herbs are well-known to benefit circulation and brain health. Mind-Max supports brain function, memory and concentration.
- Brain-Protex with Huperzine A features ginkgo, lecithin complex and huperzine A to support brain health and facilitate circulation to and within the brain. It may also help slow the breakdown of acetylcholine.
- Focus Attention provides powerful nutrients for quiet, balanced mental activity, including:
- l-glutamine (supports healthy brain activity and mental ability)
- DMAE (for memory and learning)
- ginkgo (known for its support of brain and circulatory health)
- lemon balm leaves (soothe nervous system)
- grape seed extract (helps neutralize brain-damaging free radicals)
- This focus supplement is available in bulk powder (also includes bacopa, eleuthero and B vitamins) or in capsules.
- AnxiousLess™ combines Sceletium tortuosum with l-theanine, thiamin, magnesium and zinc to help ease occasional anxiousness without drowsiness and promote confidence, mood and energy levels.
- Super Omega-3 EPA provides DHA and EPA, two essential fatty acids that support brain and cardiovascular health.
- REFUGE Calming Essential Oil blend. Find your quiet place with this blend of lavender, orange, cedar, ylang ylang, blue tansy and vanilla.Diffuse REFUGE and create your personal calming effect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why can’t I focus?
If you find it difficult to concentrate and feel easily distracted, you may have a dopamine deficiency. The brain chemical dopamine affects our drive and focus. It steers motivation, attention span and the ability to feel pleasure. People with lower dopamine levels tend to experience apathy, moodiness, fatigue, low motivation, lack of focus/concentration and insomnia. Stimulants like caffeine and sugar temporarily increase dopamine levels but they disrupt the natural processes and result in lower levels of dopamine over time.
How can I increase dopamine levels?
Do these three things and change your life:
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Add certain foods to the diet, including almonds, bananas, eggs, fish, chicken and avocados.
What are other natural ways to increase focus?
Slow things down. Learn to meditate, practicemindfulness or take uptai chi. A 20-minute meditation session can help improve attention and lower anxiety, anger and depression!
What’s a nootropic?
Nootropics are “smart drugs” marketed to enhance mood and offer a smarter, faster brain. Ritalin and Adderall are common examples of pharmaceutical nootropics. Natural nootropics may do the same thing on a smaller scale and at a much lower risk. Ginkgo, l-theanine, bacopa and rhodiola may be among the best nootropics (natural).
What else helps with memory and clear thinking?
Perhaps the number one key to maintaining memory and clarity of thought is sleep. Dr. Sahelian believes that people who suffer sleep deprivation won’t benefit from brain-boosting supplements.