Wise Up!

Want to improve your memory, sharpen your focus, and clear fogginess for good? We asked 16 of the best minds in neuroscience and holistic health to share their expert advice for enhancing brain power naturally.

Wise Up!
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Be More Visual
To help improve your memory, use a technique I’ve developed called Look, Snap, Connect. To look, focus your attention on what you’re trying to remember. Then snap a mental picture of each piece of information. Finally, connect the mental snapshots so you can recall the information more easily later. For instance, if you have two errands to run—let’s say you need to pick up stamps and buy eggs—visualize an egg with a postage stamp on it. —Gary Small, M.D.

Dose Up on DHA
Consumption of fatty acids affects the brain’s very architecture, which in turn affects emotional, mental, and physical performance. In particular you need an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is concentrated in areas of the brain that require a lot of electrical activity. Coldwater fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring are good sources of DHA; you can also look for omega 3–enriched eggs. Still, it’s hard to get enough DHA through diet alone, so it’s wise to supplement. Fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil are the best sources; take between 400 and 800 milligrams a day. To ensure the proper synthesis of fatty acids, consider adding a B vitamin supplement and 200 to 400 mg of elemental magnesium. —Michael A. Schmidt, Ph.D.

Nix the Toxins
Skip the caffeine. It constricts blood vessels, prevents the sleep you need to think clearly, and dehydrates you—which can affect your brain, since it’s 80 percent water. Limit your intake of alcohol: It’s directly toxic to the cerebellum, which controls processing speed and coordination. Don’t do illegal drugs, and be careful with prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium, which can diminish brain performance when used improperly. —Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Clear Your Mind
In Ayurveda, a classic treatment for mental turbulence is ashwagandha [Withania somnifera], an adaptogenic herb with anti-anxiety and antidepressive properties. Although human studies are limited, one did show that men and women who took ashwagandha for 40 days performed better on problem-solving and logical-thinking tests than a group given ginseng. I recommend taking 1,000 milligrams a day, in two 500 mg doses, about 12 hours apart. If you have trouble turning off your mind, take the entire dose a half hour before sleep. The effect is calming, not sedative. —David Simon, M.D., co-founder and medical director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and author of Vital Energy (Wiley, 2001)

Think Ginkgo
The prettiest brain scans I’ve seen are of people who take ginkgo biloba. It boosts blood flow to the brain, which improves elasticity, supplies nutrients, and takes away toxins. Aim for 60 to 120 milligrams twice a day. —Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Practice Kirtan Kriya
Meditation has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In a 2003 study on a technique called Kirtan Kriya, we found it dramatically improved brain function in only 12 minutes a day by increasing circulation to the brain and activity in the frontal lobe, which is good for attention and focus. It also stimulates the area responsible for positive emotions and spiritual experience; in short, it puts you in touch with your own best self. Here’s how to do it: Sit up straight in a chair or on the floor. Chant the syllables Sa, Ta, Na, Ma—drawing out the a as aaaaaaaaah. As you chant Sa, touch the index finger to the thumb; as you chant Ta, touch the middle finger to the thumb; with Na, use the ring finger; and with Ma, use the pinky finger. Chant out loud for two minutes; chant in a whisper for two minutes; chant silently for four minutes. Then chant in a whisper for two minutes and out loud again for two minutes. Do the finger movements throughout the meditation. You have to do this only once a day. It’s that powerful. —Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.