The 8 Best Supplements for Improved Focus According to a Naturopathic Doctor
In this article:
Your ability to focus is affected by many factors that can decrease your attention span and ability to concentrate. Stress, disease, diet, medications, nutrient deficiencies, and age can all have a significant impact on your focus and cognitive ability.
Caring for multiple children or an aging parent, working a stressful job or being unemployed, as well as worrying about world affairs, and dealing with the consequences of a pandemic are all real examples of stressors that could harm your ability to focus.
A diagnosis of any disease that directly affects focus due to treatment and worry represents how many illnesses can affect your concentration and thinking ability. Many medications or treatments can cause side effects of brain fog. Lack of certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can also harm focus and attention. As we age, we tend to see a decline in some cognitive abilities, including focus.
Don’t worry, there is hope. Nature has provided an abundance of resources to help you with focus, attention, and cognitive functions.
Taking a proactive approach will help you optimize your brainpower. These are the best supplements for improved focus, attention, and concentration.
Categorized as nootropics, these supplements positively affect brain function, including memory, alertness, and cognitive ability. They also help to reduce age-related brain function decline.
Resveratrol belongs to a group of compounds called polyphenols. They act as antioxidants, protecting the body from damaging free radicals. Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes, red wine, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, and cranberries.
For added cognitive support, a resveratrol supplement should be considered. A study found that resveratrol helps prevent age-related cognitive decline by supporting the hippocampus, a portion of the brain associated with memory.
Studies have shown that those taking up to 400 mg of phosphatidylserine daily had improved memory and thinking ability. Other studies show improvement in memory function for those who are cognitively impaired after phosphatidylserine supplementation.
Phosphatidylserine is an important component of our cell membranes. In response to stress, the body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. Phosphatidylserine helps regulate these neurotransmitters in the brain, which helps stabilize mood and reduce symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
With improved thinking ability and decreased stress and anxiety, your ability to focus can improve substantially with phosphatidylserine supplements.
3. Ginkgo Biloba
Native to China, ginkgo has been used for millennia to support brain function. Also called the maidenhair tree, ginkgo biloba has been found to increase blood flow to the brain. This, in turn, improves cognitive abilities such as focus and memory.
Studies have found taking ginkgo supplements can improve age-related cognitive decline. Additional studies have found that healthy middle-aged adults saw improved memory and thinking ability with ginkgo supplementation.
4. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is a perennial flowering herb that grows wild in the arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Promising studies have shown rhodiola may improve brain function and mental processing by decreasing fatigue.
As an adaptogen, rhodiola is an herb that helps the body resist and adapt to physical and mental stress. In conjunction with its mild stimulating effects, rhodiola can help improve focus with increased energy while improving your ability to respond and adapt to stress.
One study found that participants with chronic fatigue symptoms showed significant improvement in concentration, quality of life, mood, fatigue, and stress symptoms after only one week of taking 400 mg of rhodiola daily. Improvements continued to increase throughout the 8-week study period.
5. Bacopa Monnieri
A creeping herb native to the wetlands of eastern and southern India, bacopa monnieri is a perennial plant that is also commonly called water hyssop. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, bacopa may increase memory, learning, and thinking ability.
Research has shown that bacopa may also help protect brain cells from chemicals involved in Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies have found bacopa could help reduce symptoms of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study discovered children with ADHD who took bacopa had improved attention, restlessness, and cognition compared to placebo.
Considered an adaptogenic herb, bacopa may help reduce stress and anxiety. By lowering your cortisol levels, bacopa monnieri could improve mood and focus while easing anxiety symptoms.
6. Maca Root
Maca root may help improve focus by supporting two parts of the brain, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus. Maca has also been shown to stimulate brain activity and boost mental energy.
Indigenous to Peru, maca has traditionally been used to boost sex drive, fertility, and energy. Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca grows in the Andes mountains above 13,000 feet. A cruciferous vegetable, maca has a significant history of medicinal use in Peru. The root is most often used and is full of vital nutrients essential to proper brain function and focus.
Rich in polyphenols and vitamin B6, maca has neuroprotective benefits that protect the brain from an injury from exposure to neurotoxins and neuroinflammation. The polyphenols in maca help to promote improved memory, cognitive function, and learning. Vitamin B6 is needed to make certain neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the brain. Vitamin B6 deficiency may be associated with dementia and cognitive decline.
Primarily found in green, black, and white teas, L-theanine has been shown to improve attention and working memory in middle-aged and older individuals. Classified as an amino acid, L-theanine is also found in mushrooms.
Said to help foster attentive wakefulness and a state of calm, L-theanine has positive benefits on both mental and physical health. It may lower heart rate and blood pressure associated with stress, as well as symptoms of anxiety.
Matcha green tea powder is another great source of L-theanine. Matcha is known to have stress-relieving properties and is the best source of L-theanine when compared to other types of green tea.
MCT, or medium-chain triglycerides, have been widely studied for their brain-boosting benefits. MCTs are fatty acids that have a chain length of 6-12 carbon atoms. MCTs are broken down quickly and sent to the liver, where they may be converted to ketones. Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide another source of energy for the brain if carbohydrates, the brain's preferred fuel source, are not readily available.
One such study showed that MCT supplements could provide energy to dying neurons, helping to keep brain cells alive. This is especially important for Alzheimer's patients.
Another study demonstrated a 9 percent energy increase in the brain with MCT supplementation. Antioxidant and anti-stress are additional labels said to apply to MCTs.
Taking two tablespoons or 30 ml of coconut oil can provide a sufficient dose of MCTs along with simply taking an MCT supplement.
With the numerous distractions that are a part of your everyday life, it can be difficult to focus and pay attention to the task at hand. It can be especially challenging if an illness or nutrient deficiency is added to the equation.
Luckily you can choose from several options to help boost brain power and focus ability. With each supplement having its mechanism of action, it's important to select the one you feel will help your lifestyle and mental support needs.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, taking other medications, or undergoing any type of medical treatment.
- Dias GP, Cocks G, do Nascimento Bevilaqua MC, Nardi AE, Thuret S. Resveratrol: A Potential Hippocampal Plasticity Enhancer. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:9651236. doi:10.1155/2016/9651236
- Kodali M, Parihar VK, Hattiangady B, Mishra V, Shuai B, Shetty AK. Resveratrol prevents age-related memory and mood dysfunction with increased hippocampal neurogenesis and microvasculature, and reduced glial activation. Sci Rep. 2015;5:8075. Published 2015 Jan 28. doi:10.1038/srep08075
- Glade MJ, Smith K. Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. Nutrition. 2015;31(6):781-786. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.10.014
- Kato-Kataoka A, Sakai M, Ebina R, Nonaka C, Asano T, Miyamori T. Soybean-derived phosphatidylserine improves memory function of the elderly Japanese subjects with memory complaints. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010;47(3):246-255. doi:10.3164/jcbn.10-62
- Mashayekh A, Pham DL, Yousem DM, Dizon M, Barker PB, Lin DD. Effects of Ginkgo biloba on cerebral blood flow assessed by quantitative MR perfusion imaging: a pilot study. Neuroradiology. 2011;53(3):185-191. doi:10.1007/s00234-010-0790-6
- Santos RF, Galduróz JC, Barbieri A, Castiglioni ML, Ytaya LY, Bueno OF. Cognitive performance, SPECT, and blood viscosity in elderly non-demented people using Ginkgo biloba. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2003;36(4):127-133. doi:10.1055/s-2003-41197
- Kaschel R. Specific memory effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in middle-aged healthy volunteers. Phytomedicine. 2011;18(14):1202-1207. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2011.06.021
- Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(5):365-371. doi:10.1016/S0944-7113(00)80055-0
- Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A. Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study. Phytother Res. 2012;26(8):1220-1225. doi:10.1002/ptr.3712
- Lekomtseva Y, Zhukova I, Wacker A. Rhodiola rosea in Subjects with Prolonged or Chronic Fatigue Symptoms: Results of an Open-Label Clinical Trial. Complement Med Res. 2017;24(1):46-52. doi:10.1159/000457918
- Katz M, Levine AA, Kol-Degani H, Kav-Venaki L. A compound herbal preparation (CHP) in the treatment of children with ADHD: a randomized controlled trial. J Atten Disord. 2010;14(3):281-291. doi:10.1177/1087054709356388
- Benson S, Downey LA, Stough C, Wetherell M, Zangara A, Scholey A. An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. Phytother Res. 2014;28(4):551-559. doi:10.1002/ptr.5029
- Gonzales GF. Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:193496. doi:10.1155/2012/193496
- Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Reich-Bilinska H, et al. Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. Int J Biomed Sci. 2006;2(4):375-394.
- Baba Y, Inagaki S, Nakagawa S, Kaneko T, Kobayashi M, Takihara T. Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. J Med Food. 2021;24(4):333-341. doi:10.1089/jmf.2020.4803
- Cunnane SC, Courchesne-Loyer A, St-Pierre V, et al. Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016;1367(1):12-20. doi:10.1111/nyas.12999