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Feeling foggy? Need a boost in brain power? You’re not alone. Many people are looking to take their health and performance to the next level, and with the promise of improved focus, memory and learning, “brain” supplements seem like, well, a no-brainer.
“You can’t band-aid poor lifestyle habits with supplements,” says Laura DeCesaris, IFMCP, DC, MSACN.“That being said, there is a time and place for high-quality, personalized supplementation.” Here are some of the best brain-benefiting supplements, as backed by research:
A bevy of research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have a positive impact on brain health: According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, omega-3s had a positive impact on memory and reaction time, and other research indicates that people at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s may benefit from their anti-inflammatory effects.
“Omega-3s appear to be particularly [effective] for those who already have some form of mild cognitive impairment,” says Farshad Fani Marvasti, M.D., MPH, director of public health, prevention and health promotion at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix.
Rx: Take a supplement containing 1,000 milligrams each of EPA and DHA daily. (Or eat three to four servings of fatty fish weekly.)
2. Rhodiola Root
This adaptogenic herb may help combat mental fatigue and exhaustion and improve cognitive health. “Think of rhodiola as a booster to keep your performance up during times of high stress,” DeCesaris says. “It also can improve your mood by affecting your serotonin levels.”
Rx: Take 200 to 400 milligrams daily.
WARNING: Rhodiola may have a stimulant effect, so take it earlier in the day.
3. Medicinal Mushrooms
Several varieties of mushrooms have been shown to benefit the brain.
Lion’s mane: According to the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, lion’s mane may promote brain cell growth and help prevent cognitive dysfunction.
Rx: Take 1 to 2 grams daily.
Cordyceps: “Cordyceps may increase maximum oxygen intake and help fuel the brain and body,” says Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., neuroscientist, mental health expert and host of the podcast Cleaning Up the Mental Mess.
Reishi: “Reishi mushrooms help negate the effects of stress by supporting the [central stress response] and endocrine systems,” Leaf says.
Rx: Take 500 milligrams daily.
This amino acid supports the neurotransmitters that positively impact your mood, emotions and stress levels. When combined with caffeine, it also improves memory, reaction time and brain resilience — without any jittery side effects. “L-theanine is unique because while it increases alertness, it also exerts a calming effect,” DeCesaris says.
5. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone
PQQ can reduce mental stress and brain fog by protecting cells from oxidative damage. “It helps the brain operate by offsetting inflammation [caused by] everyday metabolism,” DeCesaris says. According to the journal Prion, PQQ also helps prevent the formation of amyloid plaque, an indication of the onset of dementia.
Rx: Take 10 to 40 milligrams daily.
6. Cannabidiol (CBD)
“Cognitive dysfunction has been associated with excess iron in the brain, a common feature of both normal aging and neurodegenerative disease,” says Melanie Keller, ND. “CBD, a non-psychotropic component of Cannabis sativa, is neuroprotective [and may] reverse these effects.” Rx: Take 200-plus milligrams daily.
WARNING: CBD interacts with certain medications, and common side effects are drowsiness, decreased appetite and gastrointestinal issues. Check with your physician before trying.