12 Herbs To Boost Your Brain Performance
Your brain needs energy just like your body does. Most of this energy comes from foods, but many people choose to supplement energy intake with brain-boosting supplements. The problem with brain supplements is that some are synthetically produced and your body may not recognize the synthetic compounds in the same way it recognizes natural ingredients.
If you’re looking for more natural alternatives, here are eight herbs that may boost your brainpower:
Ginseng (Siberian Ginseng, Oriental Ginseng, or Asian Ginseng) is an adaptogenic herb used to boost energy, help reduce stress, support better mood, and improve concentration – without the adverse effects found in stimulants like caffeine.
Ginseng can ease anxiety, lengthen mental and physical endurance, and improve memory and attention. Some brain supplements include Ginseng as a natural alternative to synthetic ADD and ADHD medications, with fewer adverse effects.
“Vinca” or Madagascar Periwinkle is a herbal ingredient used in brain supplements. The extract contains over 400 active alkaloids, and it is believed to improve blood supply to the brain which increases the glucose and oxygen available for your brain to perform well.
The alkaloids in Madagascar Periwinkle have been shown to raise levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Vincristine, a compound found in Periwinkle, is believed to counter the decline in academic and intellectual abilities due to cancer-causing agents in children.
Popular Herbs Reviews
3) Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola has been used for decades to improve mental performance, concentration, and memory. Gotu Kola is another known adaptogen, which means it can reduce stress. Stress can have a massive impact on your brain’s ability to think clearly and process information.
Responses to physical stress, such as frowning or shallow breathing, can cause the brain to release cortisol, which may be damaging to the brain. Gotu Kola can help minimize your stress response and boost mental performance.
4) Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is arguably the most popular extract in herbal brain supplements. The plant has gained much attention after several studies showed Ginkgo Biloba to be beneficial for improving concentration and memory. Ginkgo extract can also help regenerate brain cells.
Ginkgo Biloba is believed to improve cognitive function, primarily when used alongside another herbal ingredient – Ginseng. In a study by David Kennedy at Northumbria University, a team of researchers has observed marked improvement in completing tasks and overall mental performance.
However, Ginkgo Biloba is one of the herbal ingredients you should pay attention to from a side effects standpoint, especially if you’re taking blood-thinning medications. Mixing Ginkgo Biloba with blood-thinning medication can cause brain bleeding. Please check with your doctor before taking any Ginkgo-based supplement.
Popular Herbs Reviews
Commonly known as the “herb of remembrance,” Rosemary is used in aromatherapy for mental clarity, improving concentration, and memory. While not a common occurrence in brain supplements, rosemary owes its many beneficial effects to 1,8-cineole, a chemical component available in this plant. 1,8-cineole is even more effective when concentrated and produced in essential oils.
The pleasant scent produced by rosemary has been confirmed to improve accuracy and speed in mental tasks. In one study, the more 1,8-cineole was absorbed by participants through smelling rosemary the higher they scored on tests.
6) Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate is a shrub that can be used to ease depressive moods, increase concentration, and stimulate the mind. A study led by Rui D. Prediger found positive effects on memory and learning from drinking Yerba Mate tea.
Reserpine, one constituent of the tea, demonstrated some abilities to improve short-term memory, but additional research is needed for a definitive conclusion.
7) Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri)
Bacopa monnieri, also known as Brahmi or water hyssop, is an Ayurvedic herb native to the wetlands of six continents. The plant has been used by Indians for thousands of years to reduce stress, anxiety, boost memory, strengthen the immune system, and provide relief from arthritis, gout and other inflammatory conditions.
Brahmi is most popular as an integral part of an Ayurvedic therapy known as Rasayanas, where the plant acts as a “micronutrient,” and was shown in studies to “producing an anti-stress, adaptogenic and memory-enhancing effect” while also “delay brain aging and help in regeneration of neural tissues.”
In brain supplementation, Bacopa monnieri is commonly used to offset the effects of stress by regulating hormones involved with the stress response.
8) St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is another popular addition in herbal dietary supplements and regularly used as a supplementary treatment for mild to moderate depression. St. John’s Wort is believed to relieve tension headaches and support relaxation – which in turn helps you to focus.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is extensively cultivated in the Middle East and India for its medicinal properties, and it is also found in parts of Africa.
This adaptogen herb has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for anxiety because it helps to stabilize the body’s response to stress. In a systematic study that assessed data on the effectiveness of Ashwagandha as a treatment for anxiety, scientists discovered that most studies concluded with significant improvement in anxiety symptoms with Ashwagandha use.
However, Ashwagandha is not only a stress reliever. It also shields the brain from degeneration, and it works to improve anxiety symptoms by destroying free radicals that cause damage to the brain and body. Research shows that Ashwagandha helps to fight anxiety, reduce fatigue, and enhance focus without the adverse effects of most anti-anxiety medications.
10) Kava Root
Recent research shows that Kava Root can be used to treat anxiety because it’s a non-addictive and non-hypnotic anxiolytic. Kava Root is commonly used to ease anxiety, improve mood, and boost sociability. It works by stimulating dopamine receptors and inducing euphoria. In fact, a randomized controlled trial conducted in Australia found that Kava Root can be considered a first-line therapy for generalized anxiety disorder and it’s shown to be safe for people undergoing treatment. And a meta-analysis reported by Cochrane, which involved seven trials, suggests that there are significant effects from kava treatment for anxiety with few side effects, all of which were considered mild.
As a downside, taking Kava Root is only recommended under the guidance of your health care provider, as it can interact with certain prescription medications. Also, do not consume alcohol if you are using Kava Root and be aware of the most common side effects, including diarrhea, headache, and drowsiness.
11) Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola Rosea (commonly known as Golden Root) is a plant native to the arctic regions of Europe and Asia. The plant has a long history of medical usage dating all the way back to 77 C.E.
Rhodiola Rosea is used to improve mood, for energy enhancement, and most critically, to reduce stress. In a 2009, double-blind study, Rhodiola Rosea was shown to increase alertness and reduce stress in doctors on night shifts. Working the night shift is notoriously stressful, so anything that can help those folks should be able to help others, as well.
The most extensively studied property of Rhodiola Rosea is its ability to help people deal with fatigue. Since exhaustion often contributes to stress, anything that reduces fatigue can help in the battle against stress.
Vinpocetine, an herb which is derived from the periwinkle plant (also known as Vinca Minor), is believed to produce powerful memory improvements in patients of any age. It does this by increasing the blood circulation and metabolism in the brain. Vinpocetine delivers a steady oxygen and nutrient-rich flow of blood to brain cells. This produces a thriving environment of new neuron and synapse growth where brain cells are protected from damage and allowed to function at their best level.
This derivative also stimulates the release of more Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which can improve overall brain metabolism, resulting in higher mental vigilance, clearer thoughts, and improved sharpness. All of these factors lead to increased attentiveness, which is another key factor in memory formation.
Like many herbal extracts believed to support memory, Vinpocetine adds to a sense of “fluid intelligence” by activating receptors for dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine, without creating unmanageable hormonal spikes.
The Many Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a potent and widely used natural extract obtained from the leaf of the Chinese ginkgo tree.
Ginkgo has been studied for decades in China (this plant is one of the “building blocks” of the Traditional Chinese Medicine), Germany, and France. While Traditional Chinese Medicine has used dried ginkgo biloba leaves and seeds, today the focus in clinical studies is on the benefits of standardized ginkgo biloba liquid extract obtained from the plant’s dried green leaves.
According to recent clinical studies and Traditional Chinese Medicine, ginkgo biloba is effective, safe, and benefits the body in many ways because it improves the body’s defense effects against oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.
For over 2000 years Traditional Chinese Medicine has used ginkgo biloba to treat several medical conditions, primarily related to declining memory and circulatory problems.
Several clinical studies concluded that ginkgo biloba can improve cognitive performance and help protect against cognitive decline, particularly for patients with vascular problems induced by cerebral infarction (loss of blood flow to vessels in the brain), dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
A research paper published by J. Kleijnen and P. Knipschild concluded that ginkgo biloba might be used to treat cerebral insufficiency – a condition characterized by mood changes, chronically low concentration, headaches, confusion, fatigue, and decreased physical performance.
As stated above, ginkgo biloba is widely used in brain supplementation because of its many brain-boosting properties. Most of these properties rest on the fact that it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory that lowers oxidative stress, increases antioxidant activity, and improves blood circulation to the brain – all the essential factors for maintaining cognitive health.
In 2017, a team of researchers led by Shanshan Li conducted a clinical trial on the benefits of ginkgo biloba. The clinical trial took place within seven hospitals in the Jiangsu Province in China, and it was conducted with 348 patients. The test group received 450 mg of GBE with the aspirin, and the control group received 100 mg of aspirin daily. The analyses indicated that the test group scored significantly higher on cognitive assessment scores and there was an overall increase in their cognitive controls.
How Can St. John’s Wort Improve Your Brain Health
St. John’s Wort is a plant that’s native to Western Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa. In Europe, St. John’s Wort is commonly recommended as a way to treat depressive disorders, but the FDA hasn’t approved the use of St. John’s Wort as a treatment for depression in the United States.
St. John’s Wort has been linked to many health benefits. The most important advantage – when it comes to mood disorders – is its ability to increase serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical in the brain that people with depressive disorders are often low in. Several powerful antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, and St. John’s Wort is believed to be one of these antidepressants.
A 2008 review of 29 studies on St. John’s wort discovered that the plant was just as useful for treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressants, yet resulted in less adverse effects. On the other hand, the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health sponsored two separate clinical trials that determined that St. John’s Wort wasn’t better than a placebo for treating different forms of depression. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), St. John’s Wort may be efficient in milder forms of depression, although its benefits haven’t been conclusively determined either way.
The major downside of St. John’s Wort is its many negative interactions with most prescription medications, many other herbal extracts, and even most mineral, vitamin, and amino acid based dietary supplements. Regarding prescription medication, St. John’s Wort can negatively interact with birth control pills, blood thinners, and chemotherapy medications. Always discuss with your doctor before taking any St. John’s Wort based medication.
Why Adaptogen Herbs Are A Great Way To Balance Hormones Naturally
Adaptogen herbs are an unusual class of healing plants that improve hormone balance and protect the body from a wide assortment of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. In addition to combating stress and boosting immune function research shows that some adaptogen herbs – such as medicinal mushrooms, ashwagandha, holy basil, and rhodiola rosea – benefit health in many other ways.
Some of these benefits include:
- Improving thyroid function;
- Lowering cholesterol naturally;
- Reducing anxiety and depression;
- Supporting adrenal gland functions;
- Reducing brain cell degeneration;
- Stabilizing blood sugar and insulin levels.
Holy basil (commonly known as tulsi) helps to regulate cortisol levels, thereby working as a natural remedy for emotional stress and anxiety. Clinical research shows that holy basil can also defend your tissues and organs against chemical stress from heavy metals and pollutants, which are additional factors that can lead to hormone disorders.
Ashwagandha can be extremely efficient at balancing hormones. It benefits thyroid function because it promotes the scavenging of free radicals that cause cellular damage. Ashwagandha can be used to overcome adrenal fatigue, it can also help to support an overactive or sluggish thyroid. Your adrenals can become overtaxed when you experience too much mental, physical, or emotional stress, leading to the disruption of hormones like progesterone, cortisol, and adrenaline.
1) “Adaptogens” – medicinehunter.com. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
2) “20+ Harmful Effects of Caffeine” – caffeineinformer.com. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
3) Baumgaertel A – “Alternative and controversial treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Published October 1999.
4) W. A. Creasey – “The Vinca Alkaloids.” Published in 1979, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
5) Roger P. Croll and Raymond Y. S. – “Distribution of Serotonin-Like Immunoreactivity in the Central Nervous System of the Periwinkle, Littorina littorea (Gastropoda, Prosobranchia, Mesogastropoda).” Published October 1986.
6) “Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version” – National Cancer Institute. Updated September 28, 2018, Retrieved March 11, 2019.
7) Provino Robert – “The Role of Adaptogens in Stress Management.” Published in 2010 in Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism.
8) John E Lewis, Angelica B Melillo, Eduard Tiozzo, Lawrence Chen, Susanna Leonard, Mark Howell, Janelle Diaz, Kathy Gonzalez, Judi M Woolger, Janet Konefal, Elaine Paterson, and David Barnes – “A double-blind, randomized clinical trial of dietary supplementation on cognitive and immune functioning in healthy older adults.” Published online February 4, 2014.
9) Kanowski S, Herrmann WM, Stephan K, Wierich W, Hörr R. – “Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia.” Published March 1996.
10) Le Bars PL, Katz MM, Berman N, Itil TM, Freedman AM, Schatzberg AF. – “A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group.” Published October 1997.
11) Wei-ling Huang, Yu-xin Ma, Yu-bao Fan, Sheng-min Lai, Hong-qing Liu, Jing Liu, Li Luo, Guo-ying Li, and Su-min Tian – “Extract of Ginkgo biloba promotes neuronal regeneration in the hippocampus after exposure to acrylamide.” Published August, 2017.
12) David Kennedy – “The cognitive effects of acute administration of herbal remedies to healthy volunteers.” Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University. Published April 19, 2010.
13) “What does rosemary do to your brain?” – BBC News Magazine. Published July 15, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
14) Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver – “Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma.” Published June 2012.
15) Prediger RD, Fernandes MS, Rial D, Wopereis S, Pereira VS, Bosse TS, Da Silva CB, Carradore RS, Machado MS, Cechinel-Filho V, Costa-Campos L. – “Effects of acute administration of the hydroalcoholic extract of mate tea leaves (Ilex paraguariensis) in animal models of learning and memory.” Published December 8, 2008.
16) Rui D. Prediger, C Da Cunha, and Reinaldo Takahashi – “Antagonistic interaction between adenosine A2A and dopamine D2 receptors modulates the social recognition memory in reserpine-treated rats.” Published August 2005.
17) Sarika Rana – “8 Impressive Benefits of Brahmi: The Medicinal Ayurvedic Herb.” Updated October 8, 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
18) Singh RH, Narasimha Murthy K, Singh G. – “Neuronutrient impact of Ayurvedic Rasayana therapy in brain aging.” Published December 2008.
19) “St. John’s Wort and Depression: In Depth” – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Updated December 2017. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
20) Morgan A. Pratte, BS, Kaushal B. Nanavati, MD, Virginia Young, MLS, and Christopher P. Morley, PhD – “An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).” Published December 1, 2014.
21) Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc – “Ashwagandha for Anxiety” Published January 8, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
22) “Ashwagandha” – examine.com. Published April 12, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
23) James Lake, MD – “Kava Is an Effective and Safe Treatment of Anxiety.” Published March 15, 2017. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
24) Karen M. Savage,corresponding author Con K. Stough, Gerard J. Byrne, Andrew Scholey, Chad Bousman, Jennifer Murphy, Patricia Macdonald, Chao Suo, Matthew Hughes, Stuart Thomas, Rolf Teschke, Chengguo Xing, and Jerome Sarris – “Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial.” Published November 2015.
25) Sarris J, Stough C, Bousman CA, Wahid ZT, Murray G, Teschke R, Savage KM, Dowell A, Ng C, Schweitzer I. – “Kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.” Published October 2013.
26) Pittler MH and Ernst E. – “Kava extract for treating anxiety.” Published January 20, 2003.
27) 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.” Published October 2000.
28) “Self-help tips to fight tiredness.” – nhs.uk. Updated August 3, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
29) AO Ogunrin – “Effect of Vinpocetine (Cognitol™) on Cognitive Performances of a Nigerian Population.” Published August 2014.
30) “Vinpocetine: By promoting improved blood flow, vinpocetine benefits brain health.” – lifeextension.com. Published February 2006. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
31) Lauren Owen and Sandra I. Sunram-Lea – “Metabolic Agents that Enhance ATP can Improve Cognitive Functioning: A Review of the Evidence for Glucose, Oxygen, Pyruvate, Creatine, and L-Carnitine.” Published August 2011.
32) Ferrante RJ, Klein AM, Dedeoglu A, Beal MF. – “Therapeutic efficacy of EGb761 (Ginkgo biloba extract) in a transgenic mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.” Published August 2001.
33) “Ginkgo” – webmd.com. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
34) Zhang SJ and Xue ZY. – “Effect of Western medicine therapy assisted by Ginkgo biloba tablet on vascular cognitive impairment of none dementia.” Published August 2012.
35) K. Wesnes BSc, PhD D. Simmons MRCog, MRCGP M. Rook SRN, NDN P. Simpson BSc – “A double‐blind placebo‐controlled trial of tanakan in the treatment of idiopathic cognitive impairment in the elderly.” Published September 1987.
36) J Kleijnen and P Knipschild – “Ginkgo biloba for cerebral insufficiency.” Published October 1992.
37) Shanshan Li, Xinjiang Zhang, Qi Fang, Junshan Zhou, Meijuan Zhang, Hui Wang, Yan Chen, Biyun Xu, Yanfeng Wu, Lai Qian, Yun Xu – “Ginkgo biloba extract improved cognitive and neurological functions of acute ischaemic stroke: a randomised controlled trial.” Published September 2018.
38) “St. John’s Wort and Depression: In Depth.” – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Updated December 2017. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
39) Eric A. Apaydin, Alicia R. Maher, Roberta Shanman, Marika S. Booth, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Melony E. Sorbero, and Susanne Hempel – “A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder.” Published September 2, 2016.
40) “Questions and Answers: A Trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) for the Treatment of Major Depression.” – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Updated October 25, 2018. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
41) “St. John’s Wort” – webmd.com. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
42) Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN – “Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits.” Updated June 28, 2017. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
43) Alexander Panossian and Georg Wikman – “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress – Protective Activity.” Published January 19, 2010.
44) Negar Jamshidi and Marc M. Cohen – “The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Published March 16, 2017.
45) “Ashwagandha” – webmd.com. Retrieved March 12, 2019.