Dr Cliff Harvey
When it comes to brain-boosting power, there is no substitute for a good diet, improved sleep, exercise, and living a life of balance, but some supplements can provide a big boost to your brainpower and offer other, longer-term health and cognitive benefits.
Here’s our team NSO list of top supplements for boosting your brain-power:
Ketones with caffeine
The combo of ketones and caffeine is becoming a very popular ‘brain-hack’ (at Team NSO, we have all noticed massive benefits to focus and energy from this combo)
Caffeine is the king of brain-boosting supplements, and so long as you don’t overdo it, it is also a health-promoting one. Caffeine improves attention, vigilance, reaction times, and problem-solving,1, 2 and interestingly, people who use it regularly have better results than those who use caffeine irregularly3 (great for those of us who enjoy a daily cuppa Joe!)
Exogenous ketone supplements are being studied for their use as treatments for brain injury,4 and Alzheimer’s disease,5 amongst other conditions. They have positive effects on anxiety,5 mental performance and memory,5 while also helping to reduce stress and fatigue in the brain.6
Multivitamin/mineral supplements can help to ‘fill in the gaps’ in your nutrition and they have been shown to improve cognition and memory and reduce depression and anxiety.7, 8
Whole-food based multis like Good Green Vitality that includes other cognitive boosting herbs and foods are likely to perform even better.
The omega 3 fats DHA and EPA from fish oil play an important role in brain development and healthy functioning of the brain and central nervous system. DHA, in particular, is essential to the functioning of the brain and optimising cognition and mood.9
Omega-3 fats found in fish oil are linked to reduced mental fatigue,10 improved memory and cognition and reduced cognitive decline,11, 12 reduced rates of depression and improved structural integrity of the brain.13, 14
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are naturally occurring fats found in small amounts in dairy products and greater amounts in coconut oil. MCT supplemented diets improve mental performance and reduce age-related cognitive decline,15, 16 and even a single dose of ~20 g MCT has been shown to improve cognition.17
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) medicinal mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia. Lion’s Mane has been shown to increase ‘Nerve Growth Factor’,18 which helps nerves and brain cells to grow and repair.19-24 Because of this brain-repair effect, Lion’s Mane is being considered as one of the most promising preventative treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.25, 26
It’s also been demonstrated to significantly reduce depression and anxiety after 4 weeks of treatment,20 and to improve cognitive function.27 Lion’s Mane might also improve physical performance by reducing perceived fatigue.28
Note: Other mushroom types, especially Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), and Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is also suggested as benefiting neural health and cognition.
- Crawford C, Teo L, Lafferty L, Drake A, Bingham JJ, Gallon MD, et al. Caffeine to optimize cognitive function for military mission-readiness: a systematic review and recommendations for the field. Nutrition reviews. 2017;75(suppl_2):17-35.
- Irwin C, Khalesi S, Desbrow B, McCartney D. Effects of acute caffeine consumption following sleep loss on cognitive, physical, occupational and driving performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2020;108:877-88.
- Ruxton CHS. The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008;33(1):15-25.
- White H, Venkatesh B. Clinical review: ketones and brain injury. Critical Care. 2011;15(2):219-.
- Kashiwaya Y, Bergman C, Lee J-H, Wan R, King MT, Mughal MR, et al. A ketone ester diet exhibits anxiolytic and cognition-sparing properties, and lessens amyloid and tau pathologies in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiol Aging. 2013;34(6):1530-9.
- Hertz L, Chen Y, Waagepetersen HS. Effects of ketone bodies in Alzheimer's disease in relation to neural hypometabolism, β-amyloid toxicity, and astrocyte function. Journal Of Neurochemistry. 2015;134(1):7-20.
- Vinod Kumar M, Rajagopalan S. Trial using multiple micronutrient food supplement and its effect on cognition. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 2008;75(7):671-8.
- Macpherson H, Rowsell R, Cox KHM, Scholey A, Pipingas A. Acute mood but not cognitive improvements following administration of a single multivitamin and mineral supplement in healthy women aged 50 and above: a randomised controlled trial. AGE. 2015;37(3):38.
- Ghasemi Fard S, Wang F, Sinclair AJ, Elliott G, Turchini GM. How does high DHA fish oil affect health? A systematic review of evidence. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2018:1-44.
- Jackson PA, Deary ME, Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. No effect of 12 weeks' supplementation with 1 g DHA-rich or EPA-rich fish oil on cognitive function or mood in healthy young adults aged 18–35 years. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;107(8):1232-43.
- Lee LK, Shahar S, Chin A-V, Yusoff NAM. Docosahexaenoic acid-concentrated fish oil supplementation in subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI): a 12-month randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology. 2013;225(3):605-12.
- Daiello LA, Wellenius G, Ott BR, Buka SL. Role of supplemental docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for cognition in Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. 2015;11(7):P611.
- O'Connor EM, Power SE, Fitzgerald GF, O'Toole PW. Fish-oil consumption is inversely correlated with depression and cognition decline in healthy Irish elderly adults. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2012;71(OCE2):E151.
- Daiello LA, Gongvatana A, Dunsiger S, Cohen RA, Ott BR. Association of fish oil supplement use with preservation of brain volume and cognitive function. Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2015;11(2):226-35.
- Reger MA, Henderson ST, Hale C, Cholerton B, Baker LD, Watson GS, et al. Effects of β-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiology of Aging. 2004;25(3):311-4.
- Cunnane SC, Courchesne-Loyer A, St-Pierre V, Vandenberghe C, Pierotti T, Fortier M, et al. Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016;1367(1):12-20.
- Matsuo J, Ashida K, Hattori K, Kunugi H, Ota M, Takahashi T, et al. PT599. Effect of single ketogenic diet containing medium chain triglycerides on cognitive functions in elderly adults. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016;19(Suppl 1):20-.
- Lai P-L, Naidu M, Sabaratnam V, Wong K-H, David RP, Kuppusamy UR, et al. Neurotrophic Properties of the Lion's Mane Medicinal Mushroom, <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. 2013;15(6):539-54.
- Park YS, Lee HS, Won MH, Lee JH, Lee SY, Lee HY. Effect of an exo-polysaccharide from the culture broth of Hericium erinaceus on enhancement of growth and differentiation of rat adrenal nerve cells. Cytotechnology. 2002;39(3):155.
- Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks <I>Hericium erinaceus</I> intake. Biomedical Research. 2010;31(4):231-7.
- Wong K-H, Vikineswary S, Naidu M, Keynes R. Activity of Aqueous Extracts of Lion's Mane Mushroom <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) on the Neural Cell Line NG108-15. 2007;9(1):57-65.
- Wong K-H, Naidu M, David P, Abdulla MA, Abdullah N, Kuppusamy UR, et al. Peripheral Nerve Regeneration Following Crush Injury to Rat Peroneal Nerve by Aqueous Extract of Medicinal Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011;2011:10.
- Wong K-H, Naidu M, David RP, Abdulla MA, Kuppusamy UR. Functional Recovery Enhancement Following Injury to Rodent Peroneal Nerve by Lion's Mane Mushroom, <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). 2009;11(3):225-36.
- Moldavan M, Grygansky AP, Kolotushkina OV, Kirchhoff B, Skibo GG, Pedarzani P. Neurotropic and Trophic Action of Lion's Mane Mushroom <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Extracts on Nerve Cells <i>in Vitro</i>. 2007;9(1):15-28.
- Mizuno T. Bioactive Substances in <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Yamabushitake), and Its Medicinal Utilization. 1999;1(2):105-19.
- Mori K, Obara Y, Moriya T, Inatomi S, Nakahata N. Effects of <I>Hericium erinaceus</I> on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice. Biomedical Research. 2011;32(1):67-72.
- 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. Phytotherapy Research. 2009;23(3):367-72.
- Liu J, Du C, Wang Y, Yu Z. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Experimental and therapeutic medicine. 2015;9(2):483-7.