You’re probably familiar with the dreaded afternoon slump, when your brain zones out and focusing on the task at hand feels pretty much impossible. Sometimes this feeling extends beyond the afternoon — your brain feels exhausted and your attention span is nonexistent for much of the day. The non-scientific term for this dilemma is brain fog, used to describe a general feeling of mental apathy and an inability to focus and think clearly.
There’s a lot you can do to rev up your thinking and sweep away those mental cobwebs. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to banish brain fog is to incorporate certain herbal supplements into your routine.
Here are the best herbs proven to improve brain fog and supercharge your brain.
6 Best Herbs to Beat Brain Fog
Lion’s Mane is a type of edible mushroom known for its powerful cognitive-enhancing properties.
If you’ve been on Instagram lately or visited your local Whole Foods, then you’ve probably noticed that mushrooms are everywhere — in coffee, chocolate, creamers, gummies, and more. Most of these products use lion’s mane as a base, promising to increase mental clarity, banish brain fog, and protect against neurodegeneration.
Lion’s mane, which also goes by other names like bearded tooth and Japanese yamabushitake, grows on hardwood trees in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Animal studies show this potent Funghi may improve mental function by generating new brain cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in learning, memory, and emotion. Lion’s mane stimulates the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein that supports the development of brain cells and protects them from dying https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24266378/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18758067/ How does it do this? Scientists think two active compounds called hericenones and erinacines, found in the fruiting body and fungal threads, pass through the blood-brain barrier to increase NGF.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987239/
You can take lion’s mane supplements as a capsule, powder, or extract. It’s common to add the powder or extract to coffee or other hot beverages, but be warned: It’s known for its slightly fishy flavor.
In studies looking at how lion’s mane affects cognitive function, dosages of up to 1000 mg a day are used. Start with less and slowly increase the dosage depending on how you feel.
Look for a supplement that contains a blend of lion’s mane and other nootropics to maximize effects. Go to the Thesis quiz to find your personalized nootropics formula.
Ginkgo Biloba, also known as maidenhair tree, is a tree native to China. Ginkgo biloba extract, derived from the fan-shaped leaves, is a powerful nootropic (aka smart drug) that can supercharge the brain and boost mental performance.
In a 2016 meta-analysis, people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease showed improved cognitive function after taking ginkgo for 24 weeks.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26268332/
Gingko contains flavonoids and terpenoids, active compounds that vacuum up free radicals and reduce inflammation.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166615/ Chronic inflammation throughout the body damages brain tissue and is linked to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390758/
Animal studies also show that ginkgo extract increases acetyl-choline, a neurotransmitter important for learning, in the hippocampus.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8997551/
Gingko is available as a capsule, tablet, extract, or tea. The typical dosage is between 60 mg and 240 mg a day. Gingko can negatively interact with certain medications, including SSRIs (antidepressants) and blood thinners. Speak to your doctor before taking ginkgo.
Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi and water hyssop, is a creeping plant found in wet, tropical environments throughout the world, particularly in India.
Bacopa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years to improve memory, lower anxiety, and soothe the nervous system.
Bacopa boosts mental performance by increasing and lengthening dendrites – branches on neurons that receive electrical signals from other brain cells.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093798/
In a study of 54 elderly people, 300 mg of bacopa a day for a period of 12 weeks significantly eased depression, decreased anxiety, and boosted memory.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3153866/
When you’re stressed for a prolonged period, your cognitive performance and mental energy take a hit. Treading on that hamster wheel day in and day out can lead to intense mental fatigue, making it difficult to focus and get things done. Bacopa may help — research shows it lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, and increases your brain’s ability to handle stress.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23788517/
Bacopa can be taken as a capsule or powder, or you can eat the leaves. The standard dosage is 300 mg a day. Make sure you take it with a meal – bacopa is fat-soluble, which means it needs fats to transport it through the body.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Bacopa is combined with ghee, a clarified butter. You can find various brands of “Brahmi ghee” online. Mix 1 teaspoon with warm water once or twice a day.
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Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine typically used as a tonic to lower stress and anxiety.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/
This shrub, commonly known as winter cherry, has also been shown to improve cognition and memory. In one small study, 250 mg of ashwagandha taken twice daily significantly improved reaction time during various psychometric tests.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24497737/
Ashwagandha may also increase attention span. A 2017 study of people with mild cognitive impairment found that ashwagandha significantly improved both immediate and general memory and lengthened attention span.
Preliminary research also shows that plant compounds in ashwagandha might have neuroprotective properties in those with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874119339182
In studies looking at how ashwagandha sharpens focus and memory, participants were given 250 – 500 mg a day. Ashwagandha is typically taken as a capsule or powder, often at night for its sleep-promoting benefits.
Gotu kola is a herbal plant used extensively in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to improve memory and brain health.
In one study, participants with cognitive impairment following a stroke were given either gotu kola or folic acid. Those who took gotu kola showed better memory recall than the folic acid group.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908235/
Gotu kola has also been shown to decrease oxidative stress (when you have too many cell-damaging free radicals) and strengthen dendrites on brain cells, improving communication between neurons.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19048607/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28279707/
It can be tough to concentrate when you’re feeling mentally stressed, and gotu kola can help with that too. Studies show it can lower stress and improve mood.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975583/ In a 2010 study, people with generalized anxiety disorder were taken off their antidepressants and instead given 500 mg of gotu kola a day for 60 days. They showed improved scores for stress, anxiety, depression, and attention, without the negative effects often associated with antidepressants such as vertigo, dizziness, and nausea.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20677602/
Gotu kola should only be taken for up to 6 weeks at a time. To improve cognitive function, typical dosage is 750 – 1000 mg a day for up to 2 weeks.
Ginseng is a herb native to Asia that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Panax ginseng is one of the most commonly used types of ginseng for medicinal purposes.
Research shows panax ginseng can have an energizing effect, improving mood, clearing out brain fog, and mental performance.
In one study, 200 mg of panax ginseng increased cognitive performance and lowered mental fatigue, particularly during periods of sustained mental activity.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15982990/
Panax ginseng may boost motivation and mood by releasing dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that influence mood and motivation.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2813579/
You can eat the ginseng root raw or steamed, or use it to make tea. The extract can be taken in pill, powder, capsule, or oil forms. Typical dosage is 200-400 mg a day.
Panax ginseng can be part of supplement blends that are formulated at an appropriate dose alongside ingredients that work together to enhance its effects, like Thesis nootropics.