Savy savy.jpg
IFPA award ifpaaward.jpg

Study aids

Study aids PRIME-HEALTH.jpg

Natural help for memory, focus, test anxiety, more

By Jonathan Evans
Herbal Information Specialist for The Herbarium

     It’s back to school time. This year it appears a whole new group of students are matriculating. The over 50 group is increasingly heading back to college, for a variety of reasons.

     Whether you are a freshman in high school or in college, the challenge of being focused is a daunting one. On the one hand older students bring some maturity and experience to the educational challenges. Patience and good work habits will help, but we also bring the baggage of work, family, economics and other factors that can be obstructions, let alone being out of practice of being a student.

     We have worked with many people, young and old, who suffer from ADD (attention deficit disorder) /ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and the sub-categories involved. These supplements help with concentration, memory and focus. The supplements used in products aimed at children are beneficial to adults.

Sharpen up for studying

     Below are some of the vitamins, supplements and herbs that have a proven track record to help improve memory and focus for students of all ages:

  • Ginkgo biloba is probably the granddaddy of cerebral support supplements. Ginkgo significantly improves circulation. Improved circulation means more nutrients and oxygen delivered to the brain, resulting in improved memory and other cognitive functions. Ginkgo also improves venous insufficiency. Some studies showed using ginkgo increased blood vessel growth and strength, restoring blood flow to areas that may have had reduced flow.* A word of advice – don’t buy the stuff at the discount house Larry King used to advertise. It doesn’t work.
  • Gotu kola helps increase blood flow to the brain and helps red cells carry more oxygen thus enhancing alertness, mental function and decreases memory loss.
  • B complex vitamins are stress vitamins along with vitamin C. The whole complex is very important for nerve function. Extra B-6 combines well with ginkgo in fighting anxiety and depression.
  • Phosphatidylserine is an important “good fat,” particularly abundant in the brain. It supports the function of trillions of cells transmitting nerve impulses across the synapses.

Phosphatidylcholine, present in eggs and whole grains, is a neurotransmitter, and is helpful for memory. It also reduces fat deposits and relieves ulcerative colitis symptoms. Fancy that.

  • DHA is an omega-3 long chain fatty acid found in fish oil. A primary building block of the brain and retina.
  • Grape Seed extract and pine bark extract, or OPC’s (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) This category of bioflavonoid has a multiplicity of activities and is one of the few things that will cross the blood/brain barrier. The theory was that flavonoids help with repair and production of micro capillaries in the brain, increasing circulation and nutrients to parts of the brain that may have been affected by capillary insufficiency.

     Studies show that it is the case.                      Though  some sources only suggest pine bark, or a branded product called Pycnogenol – because that was the original research source – it has been found most subsequent research used grape seed. Practically speaking, pine bark has to be removed from the tree, which will kill it. Grapes, on the other hand, grow quickly and organically, bringing down the costs of producing the bioflavinoid and increasing the benefits to the environment.

Combat class jitters

     Now that we have looked at increasing memory and focus, let’s look at nerve tonics to keep you grounded, calm and focused.

     We have all experienced studying for the exam, getting to class and your mind goes blank. Frustration and panic set in, making concentration and memory worse.  

     No worries. Anti-anxiety herbs such as Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), and Wild Oat Seed ( Avena sativa) will help general nervousness, anxiety and depression. If you are calm, it makes it easier to break the cycle and slow things down, allowing you to think.

     There are also essential oil blends to help with concentration, recall and self-confidence.

     For younger students there are liquid formulas. For adults I have found a product called Mindtrac has done a really great job, I have used it for years. It’s the kind of supplement that helps when you get off track or had six things on your mind and forgot the first four.

     Funny story – it used to be called Protrac many years ago, but the makers of Prozac said people might confuse the two, due to its name similarity…. Really.

Buyer beware

     One last thing. I keep seeing a product advertised for memory on the tube. I was familiar with it many years ago when it first came out. We tried it and were disappointed with the results. Now it’s on every station, but if you can, read the fine print under the testimonials. Yes of course they are paid, but it is the other line that gets me. These people were a subgroup of the study that had no cognitive problems or minor problems. So why are they saying it helped so much?


     Send questions on botanical remedies to: Nature’s Rx: Jonathan Evans at; or by regular mail to: The Herbarium, 254 Exchange St., Chicopee MA 01013. If requesting information, please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.