Does your mental energy need a boost?

Posted by on Jan 10, 2011 in diet, memory/learning | 10 comments

Mental energy. That elusive construct that is defined by our mood and feelings of fatigue or energy, our motivation, determination and enthusiasms and our ability to sustain focus and attention. I don’t know about you but I find that my mental energy is not always optimum. Moreover, I am not surprised;  between physical, work and life demands, I am often overworked, overextended and overstressed. Personally, I find that downtime, exercise and creative endeavors help to refuel and refresh. However, can foods do the same?,

According to researcher Michael C. Falk from the Life Sciences Research Center in Bethesda, MD, part of the challenge in determining whether or not certain substances can enhance mental energy is the diverse number of methods used to measure effect. So, a lack of proof of the benefit of a particular substance might be partially related to the method. Nevertheless, in a recent study, he and his colleagues identified the most widely studied substances in diet and supplements: Ginko biloba, ginseng, glucose and omega-3 fatty acids and examined how they might be impacting the different facets of mental energy.

The findings:

Ginkgo biloba Ginko has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, mostly for age-related declines in cognition, dementia and for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it hasn’t shown much promise in this regard, but some data suggest that it might have use in improving mood, boosting how quickly individuals process information, and even improve attention. Less clear, however, how much should be taken and in what form (i.e. supplement or extract) or the length of time before results are seen.

Ginseng Like Ginkgo, ginseng is another herb that is common to TCM, either alone or in combination with others. An important challenge when using ginseng for medicinal purposes is that it quality is highly variable, which is why, similar to other herbs, you need to look for standardized formulations. When it comes to mental energy, the verdict is still out and research studies are inconclusive. The question remains, however, whether or not this is due to the fact that claims that it boosts mental prowess are false or that the actual ginseng being studied is too varied in quality and the part of the plant from which study formulations are derived are inconsistent.

Glucose Sugar. Not only is it an essential energy source for the body but it is the brain’s primary energy source. And yet, the studies that have looked at the effects of glucose on brain function, memory or even mood are all over the map and according to researchers, not very well documented. So before you start in on the next sugar buzz, you might want to find another boost for your mood, fatigue or focus.

Omega-3 fatty acids I love fish oils. Researchers continue to study them because their utility is so broad, although the source of omega-3, dosage and ratio of EPA and DHA appear to be important factors in terms of mood (i.e. depression in particular) and mental energy. Overuse of fish oils can also impair the ability of blood to clot and depress overall immune functioning. Still, out of the dietary components that researchers studied, omega-3’s were by far the one most backed by clear data. Most recently, they’ve also been shown to help prevent stroke. In so far as mental energy goes, the researchers note that evidence suggests that fish oils may help delay or reduce cognitive decline in the elderly or improve verbal fluency. Less clear is whether this benefit is stronger if the they are taken earlier in life before cognitive decline. And of course, there is litte agreement on whether or not fish oils supplements convey the same benefits as obtaining the through dietary sources.

The upshot is that the evidence is scattered, inconclusive and downright shoddy in some areas. And mental energy might need more than certain foods to reach its optimum level. Personally, I’m going to stick with my current program to maintain the mental mojo. But I’m open to suggestions. What about you? How are you dealing with the overworked, overextended and overstressed paradigm?


  1. 1-10-2011

    Yes, the only one I’d ever consider is the Omega-3. The problem is, we all want to isolate the “beneficial” stuff and take loads of it. I suspect in the end we’ll discover that these substances are most effective when left in their original form (i.e., not an Omega-3 pill, but a fish). Thanks for this interesting summary.

    • 1-10-2011

      Alexandra. Personally I take flax seed oil since omega-3s don’t agree with me. It’s not always easy to achieve them through fish sources although undoubtedly, that is the best way. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  2. 1-10-2011

    I think its a good idea to achieve and gain too confidence with mental boosting.

    • 1-10-2011

      Any additional ideas as to how?

  3. 1-10-2011

    fish oil – Omega 3 fatty acids help with depression? Wow – is there a vegan variety, certain amount?

    I can feel myself relapsing and am looking for help.

    email may be better??

    • 1-10-2011

      Taking the reply offline.

  4. 1-10-2011

    I deal with my overworked, overextended and overstressed life by getting enough sleep, closing the door to my office at 6pm, and getting re-energized by spending time with my best girlfriends. All this and eating healthy, too. 😉

    • 1-10-2011

      Sounds like the perfect combo Danielle. Can’t overlook the benefits of friendship!

  5. 1-12-2011

    Its sounds like a perfect workout.

  6. 1-16-2011

    do you have any energy vitamins for daily use for now i’ve been searching for that for my daily work in my office and after that i really get so tired for many hours feel so stress …

    Thinkgeek Canada , Geek Shop, Geek Store


  1. Tweets that mention Does your mental energy need a boost? « Flashfree -- - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew S Horbund and others. Matthew S Horbund said: Who cant use…
  2. Does your mental energy need a boost? « Topicco – Find, Read, Share - [...] Link: Does your mental energy need a boost? [...]
  3. Wednesday Bubble: Fish oil. One of these is not like the others... | FlashFree : Not Your Mama's Menopause - [...] Early last year I wrote a post on research that examined if some of the most commonly used ingredients…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *