Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, caffeine… there are a whole range of foods out there that are supposed to help us concentrate more. But do they really do anything? Do these substances really affect how well you can concentrate or how well you can retain information?
In this article I want to take a look at some foods that are commonly thought to help improve concentration and then look at whether they do anything at all.
Foods that help you concentrate and focus at work
1. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is probably the most famous concentration food around. It is actually from the oldest tree species on the planet and is used to treat concentration problems, dementia, etc. The good thing about Ginkgo is that there are quite a few solid scientific studies that show that Ginkgo actually does work as a “brain herb”. The way it does this is by increasing blood flow to the brain and nourishing the cells and so on.
photo credit: Jean-François Chénier
Ginseng is probably the most famous Chinese herb and is derived from a Greek word which means “all healing”. According to ancient literature this herb will work wherever it is needed. If someone has a high temperature it will lower it. If you have a low temperature it will increase it.
Ginseng is also supposed to be good for concentration and memory function. Some studies have shown that the properties in some ginseng strands increased protein synthesis in the brain and thus concluded that it is good for memory and concentration. However, these studies were carried out in the 60’s and many believe they were flawed. Recent studies have shown that ginseng does absolutely nothing for energy, concentration or memory.
Ginseng has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. I have a lot of respect for this discipline and feel that there must be some benefits if these doctors continue to use it. Scientific studies are often very narrow and limited. If you are going to use ginseng I would suggest only doing so on a Chinese doctors recommendation.
Coffee. The most popular drug in the world. Millions of people around the world enjoy a cup of coffee every morning because they believe that it wakes them up and helps them stay alert and awake at work. And they are right. Coffee has caffeine and antioxidants that, when combined, improve alertness and as such concentration and better information retention.
However, recent studies have shown that the more often you drink coffee the less effective it can become. Doctors now say that it is better to have a cup when you feel like you need it and not have it every day just because it is a habit. This will ensure it wakes you up when you need it to.
4. Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri)
Now this is one herb that I personally vouch for. I am not saying it is safe or effective for everyone, but it has worked for me.
Bacopa monneieri is an Indian Ayurvedic medical herb that is used to treat anxiety, stress and as an intelligence booster. It is said to improve concentration as well as nourishing the brain. And scientific studies (although rare) have supported this information. It has been shown to improve brain function.
I have been using it for about two month and have noticed a tangible difference in my stress levels, concentration ability and general wellbeing. Perhaps if you are after some of these benefits you might want to give it a go. Here is the brand I have been using.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish as supposed to help improve your brain function over the long term. Like most of these substances, the effects usually take a long time to build up. Some foods will help you concentrate in the short term (coffee) and others take a long time (fish, brahmi, etc.).
The downside on eating fish is that the omega-3 rich fishes usually are those that live in the deep sea. These fish are nowadays often laced with mercury thanks to the pollution of the sea and are thus not all that healthy. For this and a few other personal reasons I rarely ever eat fish.
The subject of concentration foods is really tricky. Some people swear by them and other people say that it is all nonsense. The hard part is that the science is conflicting – there is no right or wrong answer. In situations like this we often have to turn to experience – testing it for ourselves.
Have you got any experience with these foods? Let us know.
top image: photo credit: Electric Spam
Originally posted on May 12, 2008 @ 3:29 am
The day I switched from decaf to caffeinated I retained almost everything I was taught in school that day. The most amazing part was that I understood math. That’s amazing for me. So besides the headach it gives me caffeine realy works.
actually, i find caffeine problematic when it comes to concentration.
Helps alertness, YES. but as such does NOT improve concentration… rather more distractions
I would like to try these out for myself. Would anyone please be able to tell me where I might find Ginkgo Biloba and Ginseng?
Thank you. Very good post, and very helpful, as always,
Useful insight – I already knew about fish oils, which I give to my son in the form of supplements, but I didn’t know about the other foods you highlight … especially caffeine! Thank you – very interesting.
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