‘Smart’ vitamins


The entire shelf of the Vitamin Shoppe is designated for enhancing brain vitamins. (Photo Credit: Clarisa Russenberger)

With the start of a new school year, many students are focused on achieving high academic goals. The most goal-oriented students take advantage of study groups, tutoring, study guides, and summer enrichment classes. With little time and much stress, today’s high schooler may suffer from insufficient sleep and poor diet. Both of these can negatively affect the brain’s ability to function optimally. Luckily, the world of brain enhancing vitamins has come a long way. According to both the manager of Vitamin Shoppe and a LLMSW neurofeedback specialist, the following vitamins are well-known in their ability to improve cognitive functions.

Huperzine A: Improves memory
Huperzine A is a compound found in Huperzia (a type of Chinese moss). Huperzine A increases the level of cholinergic activity, and the user’s brain can experience greater neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life). This means that your brain is able to adapt and learn new information more quickly. A clinical trial found that adolescent students who took 100 micrograms of huperzine A two times per day for four weeks had improved memory and learning performance.

Ginkgo: Increases concentration, fights anxiety and depression
Ginkgo biloba is an ancient plant extract that comes from the world’s oldest living species of tree and has documented medicinal use dating back to 2600 BC. Because ginkgo is an effective anti-inflammatory that increases antioxidant activity, lowers oxidative stress and improves circulation, ginkgo can help combat poor concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headaches and mood changes. Ginkgo can also counter the effects of high levels of stress hormones, which benefits the body’s ability to handle stressors. Ginkgo can also reduce PMS symptoms, such as mood swings, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, and muscle pain.

Vitamin B12: Increases energy and overall alertness, improves memory and concentration
Vitamin B12 is critical for mental and physical health, and it is estimated that over 40 percent of adults have a B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, and dairy products, and it is needed to convert carbohydrates into glucose in the body, which leads to a decrease in fatigue. Vitamin B12 helps protect against cancers including breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer.

Fish Oil (DHA): Improves mood, memory, and mental health
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids, which have gained attention in health research over the last few years, and has earned it’s reputation as a “brain food.” Seventy percent of the brain is made of water. The rest is coated in a layer of fat. Similar to electrical wires coated in plastic, the fats insulates you nerves and improves the connections between the nerve endings. Fish oil is know for treating depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), migraine headache, epilepsy, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mental impairment.

Though these vitamins have been proven to improve certain cognitive functions, it is important to remember that these should be taken in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet. These vitamins are meant to fill the gaps in one’s diet. Also, keep in mind that each person reacts to vitamins and metabolizes differently. What works for one person may not work for another.