You can’t concentrate, you feel fuzzy and disorganized, you have trouble coming up with the right words and phrases. That vague inability to think clearly is known as brain fog, and it can keep you feeling disconnected from your work and your life.
Brain fog can be caused by health conditions including multiple sclerosis, lupus, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome; it can be a side effect of chemotherapy or medication; it can come on during pregnancy or menopause; it may simply be due to stress, a chronic lack of sleep, or too many distractions. If you’ve been feeling the fog, check in with your healthcare practitioner and then consider trying one or more of these supplements that have been found to help improve mental acuity.
Supplements for Mental Focus
Essential to brain and nerve function, vitamin B12 is taken for memory loss, concentration, mental function, mood lifting, energy boosting, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions. A study found a connection between B12 deficiency and both brain shrinkage and memory loss in older adults.
Found in meat and fish and made in the human liver and kidneys, the amino acid creatine is a popular supplement for athletes. It works to increase the performance of the brain as well as the muscles. Two recent studies suggest that in vegetarians and vegans, who don’t get the benefit of the creatine in meat, creatine supplementation boosts memory and complex thinking.
The active ingredient of the spice turmeric, curcumin can increase the levels of BDNF—brain-derived neurotrophic fac-tor—in the brain. A deficiency of BDNF, a growth hormone that works in the brain, has been linked to conditions including depression and Alzheimer’s.
L-theanine & Caffeine
L-theanine is a chemical found in tea leaves, which are also a source of caffeine, a well-known stimulant. What’s interesting is the way the two work in concert. Caffeine keeps you awake, but it can also make you jittery and get your mind racing. L-theanine is used to decrease anxiety and promote relaxation. Put them together, and you get the boost of caffeine without the edge. Research indicates that L-theanine plus caffeine improves accuracy, attention, and reaction time, and makes it easier to avoid distractions.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function—and because the body can’t manufacture them, you have to get them through diet or supplements. Our brains are packed with omega 3s, which we need not just for cognition but also for behavioral functions. A lack of omega 3s can lead to fatigue, poor memory and circulation, mood swings, and/or depression. Among the brain-related conditions for which they have shown promise are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and cognitive decline.
Deficiencies in iron are linked to such significant cognitive impairments as intelligence, attention span, and sensory perception, and also to behavioral and emotional issues. It’s particularly important that children and adolescents get enough iron, as iron intake in youth has been shown to correlate to better brain function as an adult. More studies are needed on the effect of supplementation, but a recent overview of iron research found some evidence that cognitive function can be improved through iron supplementation.
A Reminder About Supplements
Remember, before incorporating new supplements into your diet, talk with your healthcare practitioner about side effects, drug interactions, and possible causes for your brain fog.
“8 Brain Supplements to Boost Memory” by Ken Swearengen, www.MyHealthwire.com, 1/27/14
“10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin,” www.Healthline.com
“Creatine,” Mayo Clinic, www.MayoClinic.org
“Iron Builds a Better Brain” by Ruth Williams, www.The-Scientist.com, 1/9/12
“Iron Deficiency and Cognitive Functions” by I. Jáuregui-Lobera, Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 11/10/14
“Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu
“Your Brain on Creatine” by Emily Deans, Psychology Today, 2/10/12