Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential OIls: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the newly released Ancient Remedies.
By Dr. Josh Axe
By now you probably know that high stress levels and a generally unhealthy lifestyle can impact your ability to think clearly, sleep well, retain information and to overall perform at your best. On the flip side, taking care of your cognitive health — such as by fostering a more positive outlook — can benefit your physical health, including how well your overall brain and nervous system function.
“Cognitive health supporting supplements” are the types that provide ingredients like herbs, botanical extracts and fatty acids that can help to support healthy cognitive function, cognitive performance and mental clarity. Some, such as the prized herb called ashwagandha as well as functional mushrooms, also support a healthy response to stress, along with a positive mindset.
Who are cognitive health promoting supplements right for? If you’re someone who struggles with getting good restful sleep, focusing, retaining information, or maintaining a positive mindset, these supplements can help to give you a boost in energy and positively impact your outlook.
What Is Healthy Cognitive Function?
Cognitive function refers to “multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention.”
The thousands of functions that a human brain carries out each day are due to activities of approximately one hundred billion neurons located throughout the brain and spinal cord. Information constantly runs between neurons in your brain and spinal cord (which together form your central nervous system) which determines everything you see, think and do.
It takes a lot of focused energy to develop and maintain a healthy human brain. For example, almost immediately following birth, a newborn’s brain forms trillions of connections between neurons, which enable the baby to see, hear, smell, learn and reason while inaugurating learning and memory. Brain development continues long after birth, and parts of some neurons continue to grow well into old age.
Due to effects of the natural aging process, as well as certain lifestyle factors, the human brain begins to lose some of its thinking and memory abilities as well as other cognitive skills, by the late 20s or 30s. Again, this is a natural process. How well someone can maintain normal/healthy cognitive function depends on factors like their genetics, diet, physical activity level, sleep and levels of stress.
So what do researchers consider to be markers of “healthy cognitive function”? Here are some examples:
- The ability to clearly think and learn
- The ability to remember information
- Effective communication skills
- Being able to control movements, including balance
- Being able to interpret and respond to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant)
- Having normal tactile function (responding to sensations of touch, pressure, discomfort, and temperature)
- Having a positive outlook
- Being able to handle stress and setbacks
- Having a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning in life
One important aspect of healthy cognitive function is having an overall positive outlook; this doesn’t mean you aren’t realistic or don’t encounter any difficulties or bad days, it just means that you’re able to maintain a certain level of resilience.
Those who are able to respond to stress in a healthier manner don’t let negativity take control and retain the ability to see “the glass half full” when things aren’t going their way — which are characteristics that can help their physical health, too.
Research shows there’s a link between having a positive outlook and overall bodily health, including areas such as healthy blood pressure, heart health and even overall longevity. Having a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning in life can also bolster one’s outlook and are tied to a positive mindset and overall physical health in similar ways.
Best Cognitive Health Support Supplements
Certain supplements can help your body cope with stress, and foster your ability to maintain a positive outlook, due to how they support homeostasis (or balance within your body). Here are some of the top cognitive health support supplements to try.
(Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.)
Multi Collagen Protein is already known for its body-wide benefits — significant skin, joint and gut benefits courtesy of a proprietary fermented collagen ingredient backed by human clinical studies and bovine collagen.
This new formulation adds a brain boost to the mix, with a superfood blend that combines organic fermented ashwagandha root, ginkgo leaves and bacopa brahmi leaves, plus organic ashwagandha root and leaf extract and organic lion’s mane extract. These powerful botanicals have been used for centuries to support concentration, focus and positivity.
In addition, Multi Collagen Protein Brain Boost can alleviate the effects of stress and tension, plus support healthy energy and more restful sleep. It's also available in capsules.
This unique formula is made with our blend of organic botanicals and mushrooms including organic lion’s mane mushroom, bacopa brahmi, ashwagandha and ginkgo leaf.
Together these ingredients can help support a healthy response to stress, promote a positive mindset and help support healthy cognitive function.
Adults can take two of these capsules once daily with a glass of water or another beverage, either with or without food. (Always read and follow label directions for use.)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that traditionally has been used to help the body adapt to fight the effects of stress, including the stress hormone cortisol. Simultaneously, ashwagandha has been able to help bolster DHEA levels, which is often referred to as a healthy aging hormone and known to have positive effects on overall body health.
Brimming with flavonoids and steroidal lactones called withanolides, ashwagandha can help support a healthy response to stress, can help bolster a positive outlook, and contribute to a boost in energy levels and a positive mindset. It’s also thought to support a healthy nervous system, promote cognitive performance and support healthy cognitive function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known as "essential fatty acids" — meaning your body doesn't naturally produce them, but does need them for overall function. That’s why getting omega-3s from your diet and/or from supplements is crucial for overall health.
Our top of the line omega fatty acid formula is made from a blend of plant- and wild ocean–derived essential fats (sourced from tuna oil, herring roe oil and hoki oil), plus it’s infused with ancient botanicals including organic chia seed oil, lemon peel oil, and black pepper fruit oil for help with absorption.
Our formula purposefully balances omega-3s with omega-6s and omega-9s to help promote healthy cognitive function and also support healthy aging in other ways, such as by promoting cardiovascular health, smooth skin and healthy joints.
Adults can take three softgels daily with 8 ounces of water or juice.
Our superfood matcha green tea powder is made with a blend of dried matcha green tea, plus energizing coconut MCTs and adaptogenic superfoods like ashwagandha, reishi and chaga mushroom.
This combination supports healthy energy levels, reduces fatigue (thanks to inclusion of caffeine from matcha and organic coffee cherry), and contributes to mental clarity and concentration support. It can also support a healthy response to stress and promote a positive mindset.
To make an instant matcha elixir, add one serving to 8 ounces of hot water or your favorite nut milk. It can also be incorporated into a variety of recipes such as smoothies and baked goods.
Our KetoFire capsules feature exogenous ketones, healthy medium chain fats (MCTs) and adaptogens including ashwagandha, ginger and coffee cherry extract — an ideal mix for those following a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
Together these ingredients promote healthy energy levels (each serving contains about 100 mg of caffeine), cognitive performance, as well as a generally healthy body composition.
Adults can take 6 capsules daily with 8 ounces of water or another drink, either with or without food. For the most benefits, KetoFire can be used as part of a “clean keto diet” in order to help you stay in ketosis; however, this product can also be used by people who aren’t following a keto diet.
A major factor that can impact healthy cognitive function for many adults is stress. And unfortunately, for about half of all Americans, levels of stress are getting worse instead of better.
For example, consider these statistics provided by The American Institute of Stress and The Global Organization for Stress:
- 77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical health
- 73 percent of people have stress that impacts their mental outlook
- About one-third (33 percent) of people report feeling extreme stress
- Nearly half (48 percent) of people have trouble sleeping due to stress
- 80 percent of people feel stress at work
In general, the reason that stress is a “brain drainer” is because of how it can affect hormones and the immune system. The brain and the gut/immune system are in continual communication with one another (this is called the “gut-brain connection”), and any stressor (whether physical or emotional) can impact it.
When there’s unrelenting stress, the brain sends “fight or flight” signals to the endocrine system, which, in turn, releases hormones to help us respond to stressful situations. Unfortunately, this process can also affect our immune systems and digestive systems at the same time
Aside from dealing with high stress levels, other “brain drainers” include:
- Dehydration — About 75 percent of the brain is made up of water, which means that dehydration, even in small amounts, can impact brain function
- Poor diet — One that lacks essential nutrients, fiber, probiotics and antioxidants
- Lack of sleep
- Sedentary lifestyle/too little exercise
- Being overweight (obese)