Natural Brain Boosters

Sharpen memory and focus
an artist's drawing model hugging a model of a brain

Everyone wants a sharp mind—from college students who want better focus to older adults concerned about age-related memory problems.

It’s not uncommon to experience a little brain fog now and again. The culprit is often elevated levels of cortisol. This stress hormone can, over time, damage the brain’s memory center, called the hippocampus, said Holly Lucille, ND, nutritionist and author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman's Guide to Safe Natural Hormone Health.

Nutrients to Support Your Brain

  • Vitamin C for Endurance

    Since stress is such a brain drainer, supporting your adrenal glands—the source of stress hormones—can indirectly clear up your thinking. The key nutrient is vitamin C.

    “During stress, the adrenal glands stockpile this antioxidant to protect against free-radical damage. However, ongoing stress depletes this vital nutrient from the adrenal glands,” Dr. Lucille says.

    She recommends at least 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) per day of vitamin C for anyone concerned with managing stress and preserving clear thinking.

  • L-tyrosine to Respond to Stress

    Another of Dr. Lucille’s favorite ways to perk up the mind is supplementing with L-tyrosine. This amino acid helps both mind and body respond to stressful situations.

    While it is found in cheese and yogurt, she recommends supplementing with 450 mg of L-tyrosine twice a day.

  • Chocolate for Cognition

    Chocolate offers a tasty way to keep your brain sharp. Cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, is packed with brain-healthy antioxidants called flavonoids. Dark chocolate contains the highest levels of these brain-boosters.

    Studies show that people who regularly eat dark chocolate or drink cocoa rich in flavanol have more blood flowing through their brains in both the short term and long term. Researchers believe that this could benefit overall cognition.

  • Omega 3 for Improved Memory & More

    It turns out that “fathead” should be considered a compliment, not an insult. The human brain is made up of a significant amount of fat, which it needs to run properly. Supplementing with the right fats helps make sure everything keeps humming along.

    Omega-3 fatty acids contribute a lot to the brain, such as providing nutrients critical for the structure and function of brain cells. Research indicates that regular consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA results in improved cognition and better memory.

    If you don’t eat fish several times a week, consider taking 500 to 1,000 mg of an omega-3 supplement each day.

Click to See Our Sources

"Cerebral Blood Flow Response to Flavanol-Rich Cocoa in Healthy Elderly Humans" by F. A. Sorond et al., Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment

"Consumption of Cocoa Flavanols Results in an Acute Improvement in Visual and Cognitive Functions" by D. T. Field et al., Physiology & Behavior

"Could Hot Cocoa Improve Brainpower in Seniors?" by F. Sorond et al.; “Red Blood Cell Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels and Markers of Accelerated Brain Aging” by Z. S. Tan et al., Neurology

“Docosahexaenoic Acid–Rich Rish Oil Modulates the Cerebral Hemodynamic Response to Cognitive Tasks in Healthy Young Adults” by P. A. Jackson et al., Biological Psychology

Personal communication: Holly Lucille, ND, RN


Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH

Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is an evidence-based, integrative medicine journalist with more than 20 years of research and writing expertise, She received her Master of Public Health from OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

She is the author or co-author of numerous books, including Life After Baby (2012), The Green Tea Book, 2nd edition (Penguin, 2008). User’s Guide to Healthy Digestion (Basic Health Publications, 2004), The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002), User’s Guide to Glucosamine and Chondroitin (Basic Health Publications, 2002), The Common Cold Cure (Avery, 1999), and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).

Her work was recognized for excellence as a 2001 finalist for the Maggie Awards (Western Publications Association award honoring editorial excellence in magazines west of the Mississippi River).