In the rush of modern life, we’re all looking for better ways to get a boost of energy or help us be more productive. Many of us only make it through our days with the help of endless cups of coffee or sugary snacks. We end up exhausted at night and struggle to relieve the stress of the day.
While our modern stressors may not be going anywhere soon, the good news is that there are healthier ways to get the energy, focus, and balanced moods we deserve. Let’s discover some of the best herbs, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to nurture our brain health the natural way.
Elderberry is best known for its immune-boosting properties and usefulness when it comes to fighting colds and cases of flu. But elderberry can offer us more than just illness-prevention.
Studies show that elderberry may also have a powerful mood-enhancing quality and be a potential natural defense against mood issues like depression. In one study, scientists found that elderberry extract effectively lowered the stress response in mice and had antidepressant effects1.
Because of its high Vitamin C and antioxidant content, elderberry is also suspected to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation near the brain2, helping reduce the risk of dementia while improving memory and focus3.
Astragalus is considered a “qi” or energy tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been used to boost mood, energy, and focus for thousands of years. In more modern times, astragalus has been the intriguing subject of much research centered around vitality and immunity. Research has pinpointed specific antioxidants like astragalosides, flavonoids, polysaccharides, and other compounds in the astragalus plant that may be responsible for its claim to fame as a longevity tonic4.
One of the world’s most bitter herbal medicinals, Andrographis is known for its ability to cool and calm inflammation, reduce oxidative damage, and protect against viruses and pathogens5. When it comes to mental health, energy, and focus, Andrographis (and its characteristic healing compound, andrographolide) gives us a strong foundation for mental health and clear energy by keeping inflammation at bay6.
When the body suffers from systemic inflammation or is struggling with a weak immune system, there is little energy to spare. We may feel lethargic, worn-out, or have brain fog. The anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects of Andrographis allow the body to retain its energy sources while staying healthy.
Vitamin C is a popular vitamin, mostly known for helping the immune system stay strong and fight disease. But vitamin C also plays an important role in memory and cognitive health. Studies show a correlation between low levels of vitamin C and poor cognitive health and memory loss7. Other studies suggest that vitamin C supplementation may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, likely due to its high antioxidant content, which heals oxidative stress on the brain and nervous system8.
As more research is done and our understanding of vitamin D grows, we are learning just how important this vitamin is for our entire wellbeing. As it turns out, vitamin D is incredibly important for mood balance, mental health, energy, and cognitive health. Many studies have shown a link between low levels of vitamin D and depression, as well as several chronic illnesses9.
While we are still learning just how vitamin D affects the brain and our mental health, some research suggests that vitamin D may regulate chemical pathways in the brain that determine behavior or impact our endorphins and serotonin levels10.
Zinc is an essential nutrient for our bodies that we must get regularly through our food. Zinc is required for healthy immunity, wound healing, and general growth and development. Studies show that zinc may also have an important role in promoting a healthy mood balance and emotional health, helping to alleviate issues like anger and depression11. Much of this stems from zinc’s ability to calm inflammation and protect the nervous system12. More studies on how and why zinc improves our brain health are underway.
While we only need trace amounts of copper to stay healthy, this mineral is essential to our wellbeing. Issues related to copper deficiency include fatigue, weakness, brittle bones, frequent illness, immobility, memory loss, trouble focusing, and signs of premature aging.
Copper is indirectly related to our energy levels through another mineral: iron. Copper is needed for the gut to absorb iron. Iron, in turn, is required to carry oxygen in the blood for use by the body’s tissues. Without enough copper, the body cannot use iron and becomes anemic and fatigued13. Additionally, cells use copper to make energy (or ATP)14.
Along with energy, cognitive health is also dependent upon an adequate amount of copper. Studies show that copper modulates neuronal pathways in the brain that can prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Copper deficiencies are often seen in those suffering from Alheizmer’s15.
Spirulina, a blue-green alga, is a popular superfood – and for good reason. Even in small amounts, it contains many of the body’s essential nutrients. While spirulina is often used as a health tonic or immune-booster16, it is also used to improve energy and vitality in both active and elderly individuals.
Research suggests that supplementing with spirulina can improve energy and endurance. One study shows that spirulina increases the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, allowing those with anemia to regain their strength and energy17. Others showed that athletes who used spirulina experienced longer endurance and less fatigue when exercising18.
Garlic is a beloved culinary herb as well as a helpful natural medicinal. It has been used since ancient times to help treat and manage a variety of health issues such as coughs, infections, and digestive disorders. Interestingly, research now shows that garlic may also have neuroprotective abilities to help us sharp and happy throughout our lives.
Garlic is high in antioxidants which help protect against oxidative damage that leads to chronic disease and neural decline19. Some studies show that supplementing with garlic can significantly reduce this oxidative damage in the brain and central nervous system. Therefore, garlic may play an important role in helping us focus now, while preventing age-related disease (like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) in the future20.
Cool, Calm Clarity Ahead
Trudging through the haze of fatigue, mood swings, and brain fog has become the modern norm, but it’s no way to live. The toll that stress and inflammation take on our health impacts us both now (making us feel tired and moody) and in the future (with the onset of chronic illness). Thankfully, these natural medicinals can help you restore your health and live a more vibrant, joyful life.
- Mahmoudi M, et al. Antidepressant activities of Sambucus ebulus and Sambucus nigra. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014 Nov;18(22):3350-3. PMID: 25491608.
- Bennett S, et al. Oxidative stress in vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: a common pathology. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;17(2):245-57. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2009-1041. PMID: 19221412.
- Ho, Giang Thanh Thi et al. Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells . International journal of molecular sciences vol. 18,3 584. 8 Mar. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms18030584
- Liu, Ping et al. Anti-Aging Implications of Astragalus Membranaceus (Huangqi): A Well-Known Chinese Tonic. Aging and disease vol. 8,6 868-886. 1 Dec. 2017, doi:10.14336/AD.2017.0816
- Churiyah,O. et al. Antiviral and Immunostimulant Activities of Andrographis paniculate. HAYATI Journal of Biosciences. Elsevier, April 2015.
- Okhuarobo, Agbonlahor et al. Harnessing the medicinal properties of Andrographis paniculata for diseases and beyond: a review of its phytochemistry and pharmacology . Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease vol. 4,3 (2014): 213–222. doi:10.1016/S2222-1808(14)60509-0
- Gale CR, et al. Cognitive impairment and mortality in a cohort of elderly people. 1996 Mar 9;312(7031):608-11. doi: 10.1136/bmj.312.7031.608. PMID: 8595334; PMCID: PMC2350374.
- Zandi PP, et al. Reduced risk of Alzheimer disease in users of antioxidant vitamin supplements: the Cache County Study . Arch Neurol. 2004 Jan;61(1):82-8. doi: 10.1001/archneur.61.1.82. PMID: 14732624.
- Penckofer, Sue et al. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?. Issues in mental health nursing vol. 31,6 (2010): 385-93. doi:10.3109/01612840903437657
- Anjum, Ibrar et al. The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review . Cureus vol. 10,7 e2960. 10 Jul. 2018, doi:10.7759/cureus.2960
- Sawada T, Yokoi K. Effect of zinc supplementation on mood states in young women: a pilot study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;64(3):331-3. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.158. Epub 2010 Jan 20. PMID: 20087376.
- Szewczyk B, et al. The role of zinc in neurodegenerative inflammatory pathways in depression . Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Apr 29;35(3):693-701. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.02.010. Epub 2010 Feb 13. PMID: 20156515.
- Reeves PG, et al. Copper deficiency reduces iron absorption and biological half-life in male rats . J Nutr. 2004 Aug;134(8):1953-7. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.8.1953. PMID: 15284382.
- Medeiros DM, et al. Role of copper in mitochondrial biogenesis via interaction with ATP synthase and cytochrome c oxidase . J Bioenerg Biomembr. 2002 Oct;34(5):389-95. doi: 10.1023/a:1021206220851. PMID: 12539966.
- Opazo CM, Greenough MA, Bush AI. Copper: from neurotransmission to neuroproteostasis. Front Aging Neurosci. 2014 Jul 3;6:143. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00143. PMID: 25071552; PMCID: PMC4080678.
- Akao Y, et al. Enhancement of antitumor natural killer cell activation by orally administered Spirulina extract in mice . Cancer Sci. 2009 Aug;100(8):1494-501. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2009.01188.x. Epub 2009 May 6. PMID: 19432881.
- Selmi, Carlo et al. The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Cellular & molecular immunology vol. 8,3 (2011): 248-54. doi:10.1038/cmi.2010.76
- Kalafati M, et al. Ergogenic and antioxidant effects of spirulina supplementation in humans . Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan;42(1):142-51. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ac7a45. PMID: 20010119.
- Amagase H, et al. Intake of garlic and its bioactive components . J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3s):955S-62S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.3.955S. PMID: 11238796.
- Borek C. Garlic reduces dementia and heart-disease risk . J Nutr. 2006 Mar;136(3 Suppl):810S-812S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.3.810S. PMID: 16484570.