The Top 6 Brain Health Supplements To Overcome Brain Fog + Improve Cognitive Function
If you’re a health-conscious person, I’d bet my savings that you spend a good portion of your time thinking about your physical health. You probably drink smoothies, hydrate, exercise, and moisturize all with the goal of optimizing your physical health.
But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting our normal routines in so many ways, there’s another aspect of our health that’s caught our attention — brain health.
Over the last 12 months, so many of my patients have been experiencing brain fog, mood swings, and trouble focusing on work, parenting, and even things as simple as ordering groceries. And it makes sense. We’ve all gone through a collective trauma and it’s normal to feel distracted, anxious, or a bit “up and down.”
But the next question is: Is there anything you can do to support your brain health, especially during times of chronic stress when it suffers? I coach my patients all the time on optimizing brain health through a combination of diet and lifestyle changes. In my book Intuitive Fasting, I have a whole section on why time-restricted feeding can help optimize brain health and may even prevent brain-related diseases from cropping up in your future.
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But there are also a group of supplements that can make a BIG difference. So while I believe that our diet is foundational, sometimes we need a little extra help. These are the supplements I turn to the most often to help optimize brain health and function.
Lion’s Mane for mental clarity
Lion’s mane is an adaptogenic mushroom that has demonstrated potent neuroprotective properties. I often suggest this mushroom to patients that would like to enhance mental clarity and boost cognitive function. Lion’s mane contains nerve growth factors that work to protect and regenerate brain tissue with studies finding that those who supplemented with lion’s mane had higher cognitive function compared to those who didn’t. (1)
How to take Lion’s Mane: Ideal dosage is 750mg per day.
Omega-3s for general brain health
If there’s one super-ingredient for your brain, it’s fat. Why? Because your brain is 60 percent fat! It only makes sense that not getting enough fat in your diet can contribute to brain problems and that healthy fats — like those found in fatty fish, avocado, and olive oil — can support your brain health. I recommend fish oil supplements derived from krill, salmon, or sardines to almost all my patients for general brain health support.
How to take omega-3s: The ideal dosage is 2250mg EPA / 750 mg DHA per day.
Vitamin D for memory
Did you know that low levels of vitamin D have been linked to poor memory and brain fog. (2) What’s even crazier is that a LOT of people are deficient in this important vitamin. This is because vitamin D isn’t found in that many foods — in fact, sunshine is the most bioavailable source of this nutrient. As you can guess, it’s not always easy to spend time in the sun, especially in the winter, which is why I often recommend a vitamin D supplement.
How to take vitamin D: Ideal dosage varies based on vitamin D levels but generally, I recommend at least 2000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day.
St. John’s Wort for mood
If you’re dealing with mood ups and downs, St. John’s Wort might be worth a try. This herb is recommended by doctors more often in Germany than antidepressants like Prozac! And while long-term studies have shown its ability to stabilize mood, more research needs to be done to better determine just how effective it is. (3)
How to take St. John’s Wort: Ideal dosage is 300 mg three times a day.
CoQ10 for brain fog
CoQ10 stands for coenzyme Q10, which is an enzyme found in every cell in the body but especially in the mitochondria, which are the energy centers of the cells. If your brain’s cells are lacking this nutrient, chances are it isn’t going to function optimally. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that in 18 people with depression, taking CoQ10 for a month decreased the severity of depression symptoms and significantly improved symptoms of fatigue, sadness, and brain fog. (4)
How to take CoQ10: Ideal dosage based on the study mentioned above is 400 to 800 mg/day.
Probiotics for the gut-brain axis
If I’ve learned anything through my years in functional medicine, it’s that the gut is at the center of our health. Brain health is no exception to this rule, either. The gut-brain axis has been well-established; for example, occludin and zonulin are two proteins that govern gut permeability as well as the permeability of your blood-brain barrier. (5) It’s not uncommon at all for someone to come into my clinic looking for help with depression or brain fog and have further diagnostic testing reveal that they also have a leaky gut syndrome. It just goes to show that digestive problems can still be a factor even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms. That's why I always recommend a probiotic for all of my patients.
How to take probiotics: I recommend taking a probiotic with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and at least 50 billion CFUs once a day.
If you’re feeling a little more sluggish and foggy-brained this year, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are plenty of lifestyle practices — including the supplements above! – that can help you feel sharper, more positive, and clear-headed.
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- Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. PMID: 18844328.
- Wilkins CH, Sheline YI, Roe CM, Birge SJ, Morris JC. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;14(12):1032-40. doi: 10.1097/01.JGP.0000240986.74642.7c. PMID: 17138809.
- Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John's wort for major depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;2008(4):CD000448. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000448.pub3. PMID: 18843608; PMCID: PMC7032678.
- Forester BP, Harper DG, Georgakas J, Ravichandran C, Madurai N, Cohen BM. Antidepressant effects of open label treatment with coenzyme Q10 in geriatric bipolar depression. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015;35(3):338-340. doi:10.1097/JCP.0000000000000326
- Martin CR, Osadchiy V, Kalani A, Mayer EA. The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;6(2):133-148. Published 2018 Apr 12. doi:10.1016/j.jcmgh.2018.04.003
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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