Brain fog can put a serious damper on motivation when it’s time to get things done–and today’s busy world doesn’t leave a lot of room for foggy brains. Unfortunately, brain fog can be the result of many lifestyle and health factors, from poor diet to certain mental health conditions to excess stress, which can make it difficult to cut brain fog at its source.
Luckily, there’s another option, and it starts with asking what supplements help with brain fog? Supplements like caffeine, ginkgo biloba, various medicinal mushrooms, and others may have the potential to help cut through the fog to promote focus, learning, improved memory, and more.
These supplements usually fall into one of two categories: nootropics, supplements that positively impact neurotransmitter production in a way that can boost all areas of cognitive health, and adaptogens, which can help the body deal with stress.
If you’re suffering from poor concentration and want to get back on track with brain-fog-fighting supplements, here’s what you should know:
Table of Contents
- Supplements for brain fog may include nootropics and adaptogens, which are respectively known for improving cognitive health and improving the stress response.
- Different nootropics and adaptogens have different mechanisms, similar to how prescription medications may work by increasing and decreasing different neurotransmitters.
- You can stack different nootropics and adaptogens to create a unique, personalized dosing regimen.
What Causes Brain Fog?
Brain fog syndrome is characterized by confusion, forgetfulness, and a lack of focus and mental clarity. It can be caused by various factors such as overworking, lack of sleep, stress, and excessive screen time.
On a cellular level, brain fog is believed to be caused by high levels of inflammation and hormonal imbalances that affect mood, energy levels, and cognitive function. These imbalances can impact overall health and potentially lead to other conditions such as obesity, abnormal menstruation, and diabetes mellitus.
Factors such as lack of sleep, overworking, and stress can exacerbate brain fog, making it even more frustrating to deal with. However, it's important to address these symptoms as they can impact the quality of your life, and potentially lead to other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease if left untreated. Many experts are beginning to point to the importance of gut health in conditions like these and in situations that cause brain fog and other cognitive issues.
So, managing brain fog in the long term may require dietary and lifestyle changes that can take some time to work out. In the short term, though, you may be able to use some supplements to help manage brain fog symptoms.
What Kind of Supplements Work for Brain Fog?
We mentioned that there are two primary classes of supplements used to target brain fog. They include:
Many of the supplements recommended for brain fog are classified as nootropics, or “smart drugs” that interact with the brain to enhance its functions, usually by altering the way that neurotransmitters are created and used within the nervous system.
People take nootropics for many reasons, like to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and yes, to enhance focus and limit brain fog. Although research is limited, especially concerning the use of nootropics for ADHD and related conditions, we do know a bit about how nootropics may help support cognitive functions to help you maintain focus.
Nootropics interact with neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, the same mechanisms by which ADHD medications work. Of course, all nootropics are different and will have different results, and each person’s experience with using nootropics for focus will be unique. Still, there are plenty to choose from and they can even be stacked to create a more personalized dosing routine.
Adaptogens are plant-based compounds that are known to impact the way that the body deals with stress and related functions, like anxiety and fatigue. Stress is a primary factor in brain fog and poor concentration, so using adaptogens to treat brain fog is sort of like cutting out brain fog at the source.
Adaptogens work by helping your body return back to a state of balance (homeostasis) more quickly after stressful stimuli. Adaptogens do this by either increasing or decreasing chemical reactions within your body surrounding the stress response to help regulate cortisol levels. More specifically, adaptogens will help decrease cortisol when you’re feeling stressed, and will help to increase cortisol when you’re feeling extremely fatigued.
This balance is usually out of whack for those who experience brain fog, and pairing adaptogens with nootropics is the best way to counter the effects of poor concentration.
Best Brain Fog Supplements for Enhancing Focus
Disclaimer: We focused on supplemental, natural nootropics and adaptogens for this list, which means these substances have not been clinically evaluated for their ability to treat any mental or physical conditions, nor are they approved as a treatment for ADHD or related conditions. Always talk to your doctor before making changes to your wellness routine.
The most common brain fog supplements include:
Caffeine is the most common nootropic used to enhance focus–and the most common nootropic consumed across the world. Most people don’t realize that caffeine counts as a nootropic, but it has undeniable benefits for “waking the brain up” and enhancing cognitive function.
How? Caffeine promotes alertness and energy by blocking adenosine, the hormone that makes us feel tired. Of course, daily use of caffeine can result in dependence, and the wide effects of caffeine withdrawal can be uncomfortable. Moreover, the side effects of over-consumption may be equally undesirable and include increased anxiety, jitteriness, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure.
So, caffeine is a powerful option for enhancing focus, but you need to control how much you consume. To make small doses more effective, you may pair caffeine with other nootropics (like L-theanine).
L-theanine is one of the primary amino acids found in tea leaves. It’s thought to have a few therapeutic benefits, acting both as a nootropic (cognition enhancing) and adaptogenic (stress regulating) compound.
Theanine is thought to act like glutamine in the body, an amino acid that impacts the production of three essential neurotransmitters–GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. By helping to regulate neurotransmitter production, L-theanine may change the way that the brain responds to stress.
In fact, theanine’s signature benefit is promoting a sense of calm, which is why it pairs nicely with caffeine. Some evidence suggests that it may negate any negative side effects related to caffeine, like anxiety or increased blood pressure. If you’re wondering “How will feeling more calm help me focus?”, let us explain:
By calming the brain and improving the response to stress, L-theanine may help to streamline your focus and prevent you from getting distracted. A reactive nervous system, essentially the opposite of feeling calm, makes you more susceptible to outside distractions.
There’s some research to help us understand L-theanine’s focus-enhancing potential. A small 2011 study found that L-theanine had a pronounced effect on attention and reaction time response in healthy adults who are prone to anxiety.
Another 2019 randomized controlled trial involving 30 healthy adults concluded that L-theanine was safe and well-tolerated as a “nutraceutical ingredient for improving mental conditions in a healthy population.” Specifically, L-theanine supplementation was found to decrease stress-related symptoms (involving depression, anxiety, and sleep) and increase cognition scores (involving verbal fluency and executive function).
Lion’s Mane is a medicinal mushroom chock full of beta-glucans, or prebiotics that help to alter the gut’s microbiome in a positive way. Although it’s not always been well understood how the gut microbiome impacts mental health, researchers now understand that many neurotransmitters are made in the gut, which communicates with the brain via the gut-brain axis.
In other words, healthy gut flora is the key to good mental health, and to preventing other cognitive disturbances, like brain fog.
Lion’s mane may help to enhance focus in a number of ways, but most significantly by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps to promote the growth of new neurons, improving the communication pathways in the brain, and possibly increasing processing speed.
Aside from the potential benefits of lion’s mane for healthy brains, the mushroom is also associated with several advantages for older adults with mild cognitive impairments. One study found a trend of significant improvement in cognitive function for these adults when taking lion’s mane daily, though the benefits stopped after they quit taking lion’s mane.
Turkey tail is another mushroom, but this one is classified as an adaptogen thanks to its potential ability to reduce stress. It’s one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms in the world.
In fact, one of its bioactive components, polysaccharide-K (PSK), is even approved as a cancer treatment in Japan. Alongside its potential ability to help regulate the stress response to reduce cortisol, which may help to lower brain inflammation levels to reduce brain fog, Turkey Tail is also known to have a positive impact on the immune system and may protect cells against free radicals.
Alpha-GPC (also known as L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine or choline alphoscerate) is a cholinergic, or a compound that improves choline levels in the body. Choline is a necessary neurochemical used to build cells and produce neurotransmitters.
Alpha-GPC is approved as a treatment for dementia in some countries, but evidence suggests that increased choline levels may also be linked to improved cognitive performance in healthy adults. In this particular study, researchers saw improvement in four areas in dementia-free adults: verbal memory, visual memory, verbal learning, and executive function.
Another study comparing the impact of caffeine and alpha-GPC found that alpha GPC supplementation was associated with an 18% overall increase in the performance speed of young adults carrying out various physical and mental tasks.
In some cases, alpha-GPC has been suggested as an alternative to common ADHD medications, though more research is needed to understand this possible connection.
Bacopa monnieri, commonly known as water hyssop, is a traditional Ayurvedic herb used to improve memory and enhance brain focus, among other uses like mood enhancement and treating seizures. According to research , it may also help to regulate the production of important neurochemicals necessary for all aspects of cognitive function.
Research on bacopa monnieri is still limited, but researchers believe its benefits to be significant. In fact, bacopa was found to be superior to two other nootropic supplements–ginseng, an herbal supplement known for increasing energy and modafinil, a medication designed to promote alertness in people with narcolepsy.
Ginkgo biloba is another traditional medicinal herb associated with cognitive improvements. Most commonly, this herbal remedy is associated with increased blood flow, which may be linked to multiple physical and mental benefits.
According to a 1996 study Ginkgo may be effective in treating Alzheimer’s Disease. Another trial the following year offered a similar conclusion–the same Ginkgo extract was shown to be effective in stabilizing and improving cognitive function in dementia patients.
More research is needed to fully understand its potential impact, but ginkgo is usually well-tolerated and can be found in many nootropic stacks designed to enhance concentration.
MCT oil, or medium chain triglycerides, is associated with an 8 to 9% increase in brain energy, which may help prevent cognitive fatigue and promote focus. Further, it may even have a positive impact on gut health, which has an undeniable impact on brain health.
MCT oil is safe and accessible, and it helps to support the absorption of other fat-soluble supplements, so it’s always a good one to add to your supplemental routine.
Brain Fog Supplement Side Effects
In general, most nootropic supplements used to manage brain fog are thought to be safe when used in moderate doses. Of course, all supplements have some potential to cause unwanted side effects.
The most common potential side effects associated with the supplements listed above include:
- Increased anxiety
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Insomnia or decreased sorry quality
- Increased heart rate
You may be at a greater risk for nootropic side effects and should talk to your doctor before taking new supplements if:
- You take certain medications, including blood thinners or antidepressants
- Have a history of substance abuse
- Have had a stroke
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Like all supplements, nootropic and adaptogenic supplements are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals in the U.S., so you should pay close attention to the quality of supplements before you buy. Poor quality formulations are much more likely to cause side effects, some of which may be severe.
When looking for nootropic supplements, check to make sure they are:
- Made in a cGMP-compliant facility
- Lab tested and free of contaminants
- Accurately labeled, including dosage information
How to Choose the Best Supplements for Brain Fog
Choosing nootropics and adaptogens for managing brain fog can feel very hit or miss, but the beauty of these natural supplements is that you don’t have to choose just one. In fact, pairing two or more nootropics and adaptogens, a method called “supplement stacking” can help create a more well-rounded, personalized supplement routine.
If you have ADHD or a similar disorder, you should talk to your doctor before changing or altering your medication. You may also want to discuss natural remedies for focus with your doctor, like many of the nootropics for focus we listed above.
If you’re looking to take advantage of the nootropics and adaptogens from this list (and enjoy the convenience of a pre-made, full-coverage nootropic stack) check out our Lucid nootropic stack, which contains:
- Lion’s Mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
Want to learn more? Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients? What’s in a Lucid Stack?” Or, check out one of our three flavor varieties:
- “Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464611000351
- “Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6836118/
- “Lion's Mane, Hericium erinaceus and Tiger Milk, Lignosus rhinocerotis (Higher Basidiomycetes) Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate Neurite Outgrowth in Dissociated Cells of Brain, Spinal Cord, and Retina: An In Vitro Study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26853959/
- “Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18844328/
- “The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort 1,2,3,4” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252552/
- “Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: an overview” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15898709/
- “Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3746283/
- “Cognitive effects of two nutraceuticals ginseng and bacopa benchmarked against modafinil: a review and comparison of effect sizes” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK127192/
- “Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8741021/
- “A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9343463/
- “Stimulation of mild, sustained ketonemia by medium-chain triacylglycerols in healthy humans: Estimated potential contribution to brain energy metabolism” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900712003656
- “Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Health: The Potential Beneficial Effects of a Medium Chain Triglyceride Diet in Obese Individuals” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882694/