Part of work life is being pulled in too many directions. Rather than let distractions rule your day, you have to learn how to focus.
What happens when streamlining your schedule and donning noise-canceling headphones doesn’t cut it? Executive function coaching and cognitive behavior therapy may be great ADHD treatment options. Unfortunately, they’re unnecessary for garden-variety focus issues.
So what can you do if you’re struggling to find the focus you need at work? Try the following supplements:
Caffeine is one of the best ways to boost your cognition. A Syracuse University study found that caffeinated participants performed better at a task that required them to focus on flashing numbers. When three odd or even numbers appeared consecutively, caffeinated participants pressed the button faster and more accurately than their peers.
Be careful not to overdo it. The Syracuse study found attention-boosting effects at the one-cup threshold, or about 95 milligrams. At higher amounts, caffeine can worsen anxiety and cardiac problems. It can also be addictive, causing withdrawal symptoms including irritability and poor concentration. If you use caffeine to focus, limit your consumption to two or three cups per day.
There’s a reason zinc supplementation is popular among the ADHD community. Although researchers don’t actually understand the mechanism of action, zinc is thought to increase levels of dopamine. Zinc can reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in ADHD sufferers, but research shows it improves memory and attention for others as well.
Unlike caffeine, however, zinc isn’t an in-the-moment solution. To determine whether it might work for you, monitor your zinc consumption for 10 to 12 weeks. Eat zinc-rich foods like beef, fish, pumpkin seeds, and spinach. If you’re struggling to consume your recommended daily value, supplement your dietary intake with a multivitamin.
3. Folic acid
A synthetic formulation of folate, folic acid is often added to processed foods like boxed cereal and flour. Like zinc, it’s not a here-and-now solution to focus issues, but it shows promise with continued supplementation. A study published in Scientific Reports discovered that daily folic acid consumption can improve attention and memory in adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Your focus issues might not rise to the level of cognitive impairment, but you still might benefit. The Scientific Reports researchers observed a decrease in inflammatory cytokines, which are often released during stressful situations. If your attention issues are related to brain inflammation, you might find long-term relief from folic acid.
4. Bacopa monnieri
Also known as brahmi, bacopa is a plant that’s been used for centuries by Ayurvedic doctors for neurological and behavioral issues. In recent years, Western medical experts have started to experiment with it as a brain-boosting herb. A meta study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed bacopa increases speed of attention in healthy subjects.
Although the Journal of Ethnopharmacology survey found supplementing for 12 weeks could improve cognition, other researchers say acute consumption may help with focus for another reason: Bacopa has anti-anxiety properties, similar to those of benzodiazepines. But unlike benzodiazepines, which require a doctor’s prescription, bacopa doesn’t impair motor function or decision-making abilities.
Another brainpower-building herb with anti-anxiety properties is ashwagandha, a Sanskrit term that translates to “scent of the horse.” Used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic medicine to relieve stress, and improve concentration, ashwagandha’s benefits may trace back to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Like most of the other anti-inflammatory herbs in this list, ashwagandha must be taken over time to strengthen attention. In a study of adults over age 35 published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, those who supplemented with ashwagandha twice daily for eight weeks outperformed their peers in memory, executive function, attention, and information-processing speed.
6. Ginkgo biloba
If you’ve ever smelled vomit in a pristine park, it might have been due to butyric acid released by a ginkgo tree. Despite gingko berries’ smell, some professionals have started taking an extract of gingko leaves to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance. In a study of 48 cognitively healthy adults, researchers found that six weeks of gingko supplementation improved mental processing speed and working memory.
Although gingko remains one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the country, beware that some research links it to liver and thyroid cancers. When government toxicologists tested it on mice and rats, they found the increased cancer risk remained consistent across species and sexes. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous to humans, especially at the dose researchers used, but it does call for further research.
Your attention issues might not rise to the level of a disorder, but that’s no reason to let them stress you out. Do what you can to eliminate distractions and protect your time. If you still can’t seem to corral your attention, give these acute and long-term supplements a try. Find what works, and watch your productivity soar.