Expert-backed solutions to help you stay sharp and function at your best—naturally.

By Virginia Sole-Smith
Updated June 15, 2015
Magnesium and zinc
Credit: Jamie Chung

Fuzzy headed, unfocused, or otherwise not operating at 100 percent? Minerals, plant-based medicines, and many of the foods you already have in your kitchen have the potential to help. Real Simple asked top natural health experts* for their brain-boosting picks. Here are five supplements they recommend:

Important: some supplements can interfere with prescription and OTC medications or may not be safe if you’re pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking them.


People who supplemented with this herb reduced migraine frequency by 48 percent in four months, found a 2004 Neurology study. No surprise, the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society gave butterbur a Level A rating—the highest for migraine prevention. Scientists think it may reduce headache-triggering inflammation.

Dose: 50 to 75 milligrams twice a day.

Check The Label: Choose an extract containing 7.5 percent petasin that’s free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can harm your liver.


This mineral, which plays a role in hundreds of bodily functions, may help prevent migraines and relieve insomnia by relaxing blood vessels and muscles. It’s also helpful if you’re prone to sleep-disturbing leg cramps.

Dose: 200 to 400 milligrams of magnesium citrate daily.

Check The Label: Choose magnesium citrate. Avoid supplements labeled “magnesium oxide,” which can cause diarrhea.


Insomnia? Research shows that a nightly dose of melatonin can help reset your body’s circadian rhythms (your internal clock) and improve your slumber. Melatonin, which is a hormone that your body also makes on its own, works by suppressing cortisol, the “stay awake” stress hormone.

Dose: Take 0.3 to 1 milligram an hour and a half before bed. If you don’t see an improvement, gradually increase to 3 milligrams over the course of several weeks. Stop using it once your sleep improves.

Check The Label: Time-release formulas work best.


This may be the most useful herb you’ve never heard of. Native to Eurasia, it reduces stress and fatigue, improves mental focus, and fights depression, according to at least a dozen studies. It appears to work by reducing stress hormones, such as cortisol.

Dose: Rhodiola can be stimulating, so start with 150 to 250 milligrams each morning for five days, then increase gradually to 300 to 500 milligrams a day.

Check The Label: Choose extracts that contain 3 to 5 percent rosavin and 0.8 to 1.0 percent salidroside.


Studies show this common herb, in supplement form, improves mood and memory. Sage seems to have a positive impact on the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Dose: 400 milligrams daily.

*Real Simple’s Natural Health Expert Panel:

Suzy Cohen, R.PH., licensed pharmacist, functional-medicine practitioner, and author of Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients—and Natural Ways to Restore Them. (

Tod Cooperman, M.D., founder of, which provides independent test results on nutritional supplements.

Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter, Inc., and author of Tales From the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis and Other Healers. (

Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., chair of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention Dietary Supplements Admissions Committee, author of Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions, and former member of the White House Commission on Complementary & Alternative Medicine Policy. (