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.
Probiotic 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.
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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Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC is a functional-medicine expert, who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems.
Dr. Cole graduated from Southern California University of Health Sciences in Los Angeles, California. He has his post doctorate education and training in Functional Medicine and Clinical Nutrition through The Institute for Functional Medicine and Functional Medicine University. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is a health expert and course instructor for the world’s largest wellness brands such as mindbodygreen and goop. Cole is also the bestselling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.