Natural Brain Boosters
Several supplements are available that claim to boost your brain power. Do they work?
Herbs for Thought continued...
It's believed that ginkgo works by thinning the blood and
thereby improving oxygen flow to the brain. The brain is a glutton for oxygen,
so it's possible that even a slight lack of circulation can affect its
As a brain booster for people with normal mental abilities, it
For example, a study published in the journal
Psychopharmacology in 2000 found that ginkgo improved attention. A 2001
study in the journal Human Psychopharmacology suggested that it improves
memory. Nevertheless, in a review of studies on ginkgo in healthy people,
researchers found no good evidence that it improved mental abilities, according
to a 2002 report in Psychopharmacology Bulletin.
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.