Supplements such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and caffeine may improve focus. However, current evidence is limited and typically reports inconsistent effects of these supplements on cognitive function and concentration levels.

Various supplements contain ingredients that may influence cognitive health to improve focus and concentration. However, the research primarily focuses on how these ingredients function in food as part of a diet and not as supplements.

More research is necessary to determine how these ingredients function in supplement form rather than as bioactive substances in food.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements as food, not drugs. For this reason, the FDA cannot regulate supplements for safety and effectiveness. A person should always speak with a qualified healthcare professional before taking supplements.

This article will look at some supplements that may improve focus, how effective they are, how to take them safely, and when to speak with a healthcare professional about difficulty concentrating.

The leaves of a ginkgo biloba tree against a cloudy sky.-1Share on Pinterest
Vicente Méndez/Getty Images

A 2020 systematic review highlights claims that ginkgo biloba, a herbal supplement from the leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree, may improve memory, learning ability, and reaction time.

These claims suggest this supplement can influence cognition due to properties such as:

  • improving blood circulation
  • protecting against hypoxia, which is an absence of oxygen in the body’s tissues
  • inhibiting free radicals, which are unstable atoms or molecules that can damage cells
  • increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain
  • decreasing inflammation
  • reducing the death of brain cells

However, research in this review offers mixed and inconclusive results about whether ginkgo biloba could improve memory, attention, and other cognitive factors.

Research in a 2022 article looking at the effects of ginkgo biloba on cognitive function in people with dementia produced similarly mixed results.

According to a 2018 research article, ginseng may have properties that can improve focus and overall ability to think.

It suggests ginseng may benefit cognitive function in late life after at least 5 years of cumulative intake, though it does not influence cognitive function in the short term.

Research in a 2020 systematic review suggests that ginseng may enhance working memory and cognitive function related to attention. However, it notes that evidence is limited and further research is necessary.

A 2017 literature review suggests that caffeine in low doses can improve cognitive function, including alertness and attention.

However, the review notes mixed evidence on the beneficial effects of habitual caffeine use and suggests that habitual use may lessen the potential improvements to cognitive function.

It also points out that caffeine intake may have adverse side effects in some people, such as:

Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in important brain functions, especially attention and memory. They are present in fatty fish, such as sardines, tuna, and salmon.

The 2020 review suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may benefit brain functions in childhood. However, results from later studies produce mixed results.

Further research is necessary to learn the benefits of omega-3 supplements on cognitive function.

B vitamins play an important role in various brain functions, although researchers are uncertain of the mechanisms vitamins use to affect cognitive functions.

There is a lack of high quality research and evidence to support the use of B vitamins as a supplement to improve focus and attention.

Polyphenols are micronutrients that are naturally present in plants. People can include them in their diet through fruits, vegetables, spices, and teas.

Studies in a 2022 review show mixed results on whether polyphenol supplements could preserve or enhance memory.

About half of the 66 studies in the review found that polyphenol supplements improved performance. However, three studies found that people’s performance was worse after polyphenol supplements, and the remaining studies found no significant effects.

There is a lack of reliable evidence to support using supplements to improve focus. Aside from caffeine, research on the efficacy of supplements as cognitive enhancements provides mixed and inconclusive results.

Supplements may not be necessary for people who are already achieving a balanced diet. Consuming supplements on top of a balanced diet may put people at risk of adverse side effects and overdose.

Where possible, a person should try to include a variety of nutrients and vitamins as part of a balanced diet rather than in supplement form.

Learn more about the benefits of supplements versus a balanced diet.

Safety when taking supplements

The FDA does not approve supplements for effectiveness, safety, or labeling before sale. The companies that produce dietary supplements are responsible for ensuring their products are safe and labeled accurately.

Because the FDA does not regulate supplements for safety or efficacy, there may be no guarantee that a supplement product is effective or safe for the individual who takes it.

Supplements may contain ingredients that can have serious effects on a person’s health or body. They may interact with medications or cause interference in laboratory tests or during surgery.

People should discuss taking supplements with their doctor or a healthcare professional, such as a nurse or registered dietitian, to ensure they are not endangering themselves.

People may be at higher risk of side effects if they are:

  • combining supplements
  • taking high doses of supplements
  • replacing medication with supplements
  • mixing supplements with medication

Vitamin deficiency may lead to difficulty focusing and impairment of other cognitive abilities.

Researchers in a 2020 article associate vitamin B12 deficiency with impaired memory and cognition.

Similarly, evidence in a 2020 systematic review suggests that vitamin C deficiency could be related to cognitive impairment and depression.

A 2021 mini-review associates a variety of other nutritional deficiencies with cognitive impairment, poor mental health, and other functional impairments.

If a person is concerned about a nutritional deficiency, they may choose to speak with a healthcare professional.

Other causes of poor concentration

A variety of factors could affect a person’s ability to concentrate. These may include:

If a person’s inability to focus is worsening, affecting their daily life, such as their performance at work or school, or if they regularly feel unfocused, they should contact a qualified healthcare professional.

If someone experiences certain symptoms in addition to difficulty concentrating, they should contact a healthcare professional as a matter of urgency. These symptoms include:

There is currently not enough reliable evidence to support the use of many supplements to improve focus and concentration.

While the ingredients in a variety of supplements have properties that researchers link to better cognitive function, the evidence of their efficacy in supplement form is often inconclusive.

The FDA does not regulate the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements, and people should discuss any supplements they intend to take with a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or registered dietitian.

Where possible, a person should try to include a variety of nutrients and vitamins through food in their diet.