Focus better this Fall
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
September is here and our minds are likely still in summer mode as we shift to “back to school and work” commitments. As the to-do lists pile up, we may be feeling a lack of energy and focus.
Do you want to improve your focus and energy? These are common desires I encounter when collaborating with my clients. You may notice your caffeine and sugar intake increase for instance, to give you that boost. It’s often followed by a crash. Caffeine gives short term focus but if a dependency or overuse occurs, we can feel more fatigued and less able to focus leading to less productivity long term. Working with a naturopathic doctor can help you discover the root causes of your “lack of focus” and help you amp up your mental performance so that you can check off all of those ‘to-do’s’ on your list.
There are a number of ways to boost your brain energy and focus, such as healthy diet, a good sleep routine, incorporating physical movement, and using specific supplements and herbs when needed. Here are some factors that can affect focus contributing to brain fog:
Low iron (Iron deficiency anemia)
Thyroid disorder (Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism)
Mental health condition (Anxiety, Depression, ADHD)
It’s important to address both physiological and lifestyle factors. When corrected, they can help clear brain fog and improve focus.
Having a deficiency in a particular vitamin (commonly B12 and iron) can cause affect focus due to lack of oxygenated blood flow to the brain. Imbalances in the thyroid, an endocrine gland located at the front of your throat, can cause both mental and cognitive effects (1). In hypothyroidism, an under functioning cannot keep up with the physiological demands of stress. Quite often, thyroid levels appear in the normal range but might still create symptoms, as seen in subclinical Hypothyroidism. A naturopathic doctor can do more extensive thyroid testing to determine this. Similar to thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue can lead to brain fog symptoms from low estrogen and impaired cortisol (stress hormone). These levels can be evaluated by your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor through a blood or saliva test.
In addition to the above factors, mental health conditions and poor lifestyle habits can also contribute to trouble focusing. One of the symptom criteria for generalized anxiety disorder consists of symptoms such as "mind going blank" and trouble focusing (2). If you are noticing repetitive thoughts and restlessness as well, then underlying anxiety could be the culprit. ADHD is another common cause of trouble focusing, with its name "attention deficit disorder". Stay tuned for a future blog post on ADHD. Having poor sleep hygiene, impaired sleep, a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet are basic factors that can have an affect.
Correcting any of the above issues can naturally lead to better focus and mental functioning.Additional supports may be required to give you an additional boost. Listed below are some natural supports that can improve your focus and cognition, and may be prescribed when working with me.
Natural Supports for Better Focus and Cognition
Fish Oils (DHA) - Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements and fish products, is well researched in improving cognition. DHA in particular (versus EPA), is the fatty acid that is most researched for brain function. A study in young-middle aged adults found that consuming a supplement containing 1 gram of DHA improved working and episodic memory (3).
B12 and other B vitamins - Neurotransmitters in the brain require vitamins like B12, B6 and folate to ensure proper signalling. Supplementing with both B12 and B6 can enhance cognitive performance in adults, even if not deficient in either (4). Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for insulating the myelin sheath (white matter) of neurons and can slow down brain atrophy in aging as well.
Ashwaganda - This Ayruvedic herb has been researched for its ability to protect neurons (brain cells) and improve cognition long term (5). Research also shows the benefit of Ashwaganda in subclinical (mild) hypothyroidism and anxiety.
Lion's Mane - Similar to Ashwaganda, Lion's Mane is a mushroom that has brain rewiring capabilities - encouraging regrowth of brain myelin. This is helpful in preventing cognitive-decline related to aging, as seen in improved activity-of-daily living scores in adults. (6)
Ginseng- Both varieties of ginseng, panax and siberian, were shown to help the body adapt to added mental and physical demands and improve resilience to stress (7). Siberian ginseng is less stimulating than panax, and is a better option when anxiety is involved.
Eat the MIND diet and exercise
Try organizational and time management strategies - This involves breaking up larger tasks into smaller tasks, prioritizing which tasks are the most important, and not spending longer than needed on unnecessary tasks. Schedule in needed rest and break times for your brain to recharge!
Using Nootropics (Brain Tonics)
To further target focus and brain function, nootropic compounds are used in naturopathic practice. This group of compounds act on the brain differently. They can increase nerve growth, increase the amount of a neurotransmitter available in the brain and improve nerve cell signalling (8). Examples are: ginsengs, ashwaganda (mentioned previously), bacopa, gingko and rhodiola (6). A naturopathic doctor or other healthcare practitioner should closely supervise the selection and use of nootropics and other focus-supporting supplements to ensure that no interactions or cautions are present.
Nootropic herbs and supplements can also be a helpful addition to your daily regiment, especially if you are a student or your job requires higher mental stamina.
My hope is that this article has given you some insight on “focus”, and how I can help you from a physiological perspective to correct it. If you would like to learn more on how a Naturopathic doctor such as myself can help with your focus and brain function, click below to book a Virtual Consultation online or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a Complementary 15 minute Discovery Call.
Dr. Kaitlyn Zorn ND