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3 Herbs to Help Improve your Memory and Focus

Whether you need some extra brain power to study for a test, focus on tasks at work, or just to remember where you placed your keys, we can all benefit from improved brain health.

It’s important to discover why you’re unable to concentrate or focus in the first place, as decreased cognitive function could arise from inadequate sleep, high stress levels, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, or certain nutrient deficiencies, but if you’re looking for a little extra support while working on your overall health, herbs can be really helpful in this area.

Gingko Biloba:

With more than 40 years of clinical research on the effects of Gingko on memory and concentration, it is one of the most well known and widely used herbs for brain health. As a circulatory herb, it works by increasing blood flow to the brain and vasodilation in the cerebral region. Regular use of ginkgo (suggested over a 2-4 month period for best results) can improve mental stability, memory function and mental vitality.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)

Rosemary acts as a circulatory and nervine stimulant, often used when psychological tension is present which can potentially show up as headaches or depression. It makes a great tea or tincture especially when combined with gingko, peppermint, and gotu kola. We also love it as a pure essential oil when used in a diffuser near your study or work area, or you can even dab a small drop directly under your nose or on your temples to help boost alertness and focus throughout the day. It never hurts to use rosemary as a culinary herb either! The more ways you incorporate it into your life, the more your brain (and taste buds) will love you!

Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieris)

Bacopa is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for neurological and cognitive improvement. Indian texts dating back to the 6th century describe bacopa as sharpening intellect and reducing mental deficits. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted in 2001 found that subjects who took bacopa had significant improvement in memory, particularly in new information retention. Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2013 found study participants who ingested an extract of bacopa exhibited improved cognition and mood, as well as lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

*Always consult your doctor or healthcare Practitioner if you want to make sure any given herb is right for you.

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Herbs For Anxiety

Everybody experiences stress and worry sometimes. That’s normal and can be healthy. But when it gets out of hand and starts negatively impacting your daily life, that’s not helpful! We’ll discuss several individual herbs used in the treatment of anxiety and the research behind them, and we’ll offer a few example formulas. Always seek the services of a qualified health practitioner.

Ginkgo influences several chemical messengers or neurotransmitters involved in mood, including dopamine and serotonin. Placebo controlled clinical trials demonstrate that ginkgo extract significantly reduces symptoms of anxiety in those who have been clinically diagnosed, and it can also improve mood.

One study concluded that Rhodiola has antianxiety effects and can have a significant impact on people’s mental status. Rhodiola is already known to benefit memory and male sexual dysfunction, but besides these properties, the herb can be used to protect against stressful situations and can help the body adapt to new obstacles. For this reason, Rhodiola is often called an adaptogen or an adaptogenic herb. Studies have shown that after being treated with Rhodiola for a period of time, people report lower levels of anxiety, as measured by clinical questionnaires.

Research also suggests that St. John’s Wort may lower levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, while enhancing the activity of GABA, a naturally occurring tranquilizer in the brain.

The herb Valerian, through its constituent Valerenic acid also helps with increasing levels of GABA, which as we’ve identified is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Valerian achieves this effect by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for breaking down GABA in the central nervous system of the body, which in turn leads to calming effects and the lowering of anxiety symptoms.

Kava is considered an effective short-term treatment for anxiety. A review of randomized controlled trials indicated statistically significant anxiolytic activity of kava compared to placebo.

Certain herbs work well in combination with others, based on specific case presentations. Here are just a couple of examples.

An example formula (with extracts classified as 1:5) for chronic anxiety then might be:

Angelica sinensis 30mL

Astragalus 20mL

Rehmannia 15mL

Rhodiola 15mL

Angelica archangelica 10mL

Glycyrrhiza glabra 10mL

2-3 tablespoons per day – for 3-6 weeks

An acute formula could also be considered, where anxiety is experienced in bursts or more intensely at specific times.

Lobelia 40mL

Passiflora 40mL

Artemisia absinthium 20mL

2-4mL at the first onset of rising anxiety

These are only examples that are used for specific case presentations. This is not appropriate or necessarily safe for you as an individual. We always recommend you seek a qualified health practitioner.

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Stress and Anxiety

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. Actually, stress is supposed to be an adaptive mechanism, something that is good for us! It alerts us when action needs to be taken. However, in modern life, stress seems to cause more harm. It causes our bodies to worry as if there were a tiger in front of us, even though it’s just a malfunctioning printer.

Over time, these ongoing little stressors (or big ones!) can lead to anxiety. We don’t necessarily need to put a label on it and call it “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” or GAD, but let’s just say it’s enough of a bother that it can impact daily life. It can make us less happy than we would be otherwise.

So what can we do about it?

In herbal medicine, there are are herbs called adaptogens and there are herbs called anxiolytics.

The adaptogens are herbs that help us cope with stress, allow us to deal with regular stressors rather than to get exhausted. They give us a little bit more energy for a little longer. Examples include the herbs astragalus, rhodiola, and licorice.

The anxiolytics are more specific to helping with anxiety. This class of herbs help the body and mind relax, and sometimes help with insomnia. Examples of these herbs include valerian, lemonbalm, or skullcap.

Although you should certainly check with your health practitioner, these herbs are generally safe to use. Many can even be used in conjunction with regular medication, but you must have your practitioner do an interaction check for you just to be on the safe side. We offer all of these herbs individually or as part of herbal combinations, both as tinctures and as teas.

Acupuncture and acupressure are other alternative therapies that you can use along with herbal medicine to help alleviate stress and anxiety.