Natural Brain Boosters
Several supplements are available that claim to boost your brain power. Do they work?
Herbs for Thought continued...
You should not take ginkgo biloba with any nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen because they also
thin the blood. Combining the two may cause excessive bleeding. The same goes
for blood thinners such as warfarin.
Huperzine-A, derived from the Chinese moss Huperzia
seratta, is another herb that has been studied as a potential Alzheimer's
therapy. It may also work as a brain booster in healthy people, but few studies
have looked at that.
One study out of China showed that it improved memory and
learning in a small group of students. "It has been used in China much more
than it has in the U.S.," Sahelian says.
Huperzine-A appears to block an enzyme in the brain that breaks
down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine carries information
across synapses, the space between brain cells. "More acetylcholine stays
in the brain, and that's how it can be helpful in memory," Sahelian
Beyond herbs, a number of nutrients may work as brain
An omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils, docosahexaenoic acid
(DHA) is thought to be important to an infant's developing brain. DHA may also
work as a brain booster by helping brain cells communicate, according to
"Interestingly, the lining of our brain cells is very
highly concentrated with fatty acids, particularly DHA," he says.
One 1999 review of studies on DHA, published in the journal
Pharmacological Research, found that the nutrient is essential to normal
brain function, and that a diet rich in DHA improves learning, while a lack of
DHA causes learning ability to suffer.
"Another one that I really like is aceytl-L-carnatine.
That's becoming quite popular," Sahelian says.
Acetyl-L-carnitine may work as a brain booster by helping
maintain brain cells. Not much is known about its effects in healthy people,
but one study found that people with early Alzheimer's and mild memory
impairment benefited from taking it.
Despite the lack of evidence, Sahelian says he thinks it
improves mental focus and alertness. "I noticed the effect within two
hours," he says. "It also makes one more motivated, and you can
concentrate better and get things done faster."
DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol), also thought to alter levels of
acetylcholine in the brain, is another one that Sahelian says he can get behind
based on anecdotal evidence alone. There is little in the way of scientific
data to support claims that it boosts brainpower.
Nevertheless, "Most people will notice within an hour or
two of taking it that they're thinking faster and sharper and that they have
better focus," he says.
He says that taking too much can cause side effects such as
restlessness, irritability, and tension in the neck muscles.