Whether harried students or professionals working long hours, many people these days are interested in so-called focus pills: medications that can help them increase their concentration and mental faculties for those demanding projects or study sessions. The media has been quick to sensationalize the trend of healthy people using prescription medications to focus on work or study, even to the point of calling them memory enhancer pills! Despite their popularity as focus pills, the risks of using attention deficit medications like Ritalin or Provigil off-label as concentration aids are becoming well known. Healthier ways to improve your concentration include eating a diet rich in anti-oxidants and brain-preserving constituents, getting proper amounts of sleep and exercise, and of course, utilizing safe and effective herbal supplements to aid focus and concentration.
While ADD/ADHD medication can deliver significant benefits to those diagnosed with these conditions, their usefulness to healthy people is questionable given the side effects and risks of their use. Such side effects include irritability, dry mouth, constipation, weight loss, even skin rashes and heart palpitations. After all, we are talking about powerful stimulants that alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, producing higher amounts of serotonin and dopamine as they metabolize through the body. A related risk of using amphetamine stimulants is that they can be addictive: when the medication wears off, the reduction in these neurotransmitters can cause a dulling of mental faculties and “hangover-like” effects that cause a person to crave more. No one is sure yet what these medications’ long-term effects might be, and for healthier people there are plenty of effective natural alternatives to focus pills.
You’ve probably heard the old adage about eating a balanced diet to improve your brain function, and it’s true that consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and animal products will help you maintain both a healthy brain and body. Furthermore, a few common supplements really stand out when it comes to improving your focus and cognition. First of all, consider taking a fish oil supplement that contains all three types of Omega fatty acids (Omega 3-6-9). Our brains need the Omega 3-6-9 complex to repair brain structures, including the myelin sheath that surrounds our nerves and greatly increases their speed of transmission. According to one study, fish oils have also been shown to be just as effective at calming children as Ritalin!
The B complex of vitamins is also coming into their own in the area of cognition support, especially vitamin B6 (Pyroxidine), an antioxidant that preserves brain structures. B vitamins also help the body’s cells convert sugars into energy, making the B vitamin complex a cornerstone of efficient metabolism.
Other widely available supplements that can reduce stress and improve your energy levels include magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D, which is also crucial in preserving the immune system and facilitating the body’s absorption of calcium to build strong bones. Insufficient vitamin D levels can lead to bodily weakness, a weakened immune system, and depression. For people living in northern regions such as Canada and Scandinavia, who often suffer from chronic low vitamin D levels as a result of insufficient exposure to sunlight, taking a vitamin D supplement is a vital component of good health and stable mood.
If you want an extra boost to your concentration and memory, or need a little help with stress reduction, the natural world of herbal supplements can also provide. There is no greater enemy of focus than stress and anxiety: calming herbs like Rhodiola can do wonders to reduce these two conditions and help you focus on the things you want to get done.
The gently stimulant herb gotu kola has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to cure everything from cold and flu to fevers and liver disease. In Indian Ayurvedic traditions, gotu kola has a reputation as a brain food and longevity aid; the former claim has recently received some confirmation in Western medicine, in the form of a study that showed using a gotu kola supplement over the span of 2-6 weeks can improve attention span and concentration in children with learning difficulties. Researchers have suggested that gotu kola may derive its positive effects by raising low blood sugar in its users: chronic low blood sugar has been linked to depression, irritability, inability to concentrate, mood swings, and even schizophrenic tendencies.
The Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia in general offers many herbs that could be considered brain tonics. Two more that really stand out with statistically significant improvements to cognition are Bacopa monnieri (brahmi) and Celastrus paniculatus. Both of these brain-supporting herbs are typically taken as a tonic, that is, over a few weeks or longer to allow their effects to build over time. As well as benefiting your overall health as an anti-oxidant with cell-protecting properties, brahmi may enable the brain to better retain newly acquired information, and to slow the pace of forgetting. It may also support the immune system as a tonic.
Celastrus paniculatus, commonly known as celastrus seed, is a brain tonic of high renown in South Asia, where people usually steep the seeds into a tea and drink it throughout the day to support their attention span and cognition. Although its exact mechanism of action is still unclear, celastrus may work to increase or preserve the brain’s levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that facilitates learning and recall of acquired information (i.e. remembering). It seems to do this by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine in the body.
Especially when taken together in a special formulation like Cognihance, brahmi and celastrus seed can have a powerful improving effect on your memory and attention span. These supplement herbs can help you focus and tackle your projects with greater confidence and productivity, and thus better results, whether you’re revving up for a test, essay or longer term project. Combined with a healthy diet and a balanced lifestyle of activity and rest, these natural routes to focus beat out a pill every time!