FX Medicine

Home of integrative and complementary medicine

A 'working' memory

esther_parker's picture

You have a big day planned today. Maybe it’s an important meeting with your team, maybe an exam, maybe several tasks that all require attention to detail. Can you rely on your brain to get you through this day so that you’re performing at your best? 

What we need in these situations is an effective ‘working memory’, which is essentially having the brain manage different tasks at once. When we are hearing or seeing new information whilst simultaneously using older knowledge to decipher and make use of it, we are using our working memory.[1]

With normal life comes stress, pressures on our time and often never-ending lists of important tasks. Wouldn’t it be good if we could ensure that we are performing at our best, whilst supporting our brain health? Herbal medicine may be the answer.

Some herbal medicines have been shown to help with memory and overall mental performance. In fact, some are adept at improving the features of working memory, such as learning rate, speed of visual information process and memory consolidation. Of particular note are the herbs brahmi, ginkgo and Korean ginseng. 

Brahmi is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that can support cognition, memory, attention and learning.[2] It has had a rejuvenation in recent times as the number one ‘go to’ tonic for memory. Traditionally a nervine herb, its role is to tonify the central nervous system with research showing that brahmi can be effective for anxiety, concentration and speed of information processing.[3,4

In older people, a standardised extract of brahmi has been shown to support cognitive function, including verbal memory, memory acquisition and retention.[5,6

One effective way to improve attention and focus is to increase blood-flow to the brain. Ginkgo is widely prescribed for this very purpose and the side effect of this increased blood flow is an increased speed of attention performance. Ginkgo has also been shown to help remedy memory loss and impaired concentration.[7]

Improved mental performance, like physical performance, takes energy. Korean (Panax) ginseng is one of the most used herbs for energy and endurance. Studies show that when combined with ginkgo, Korean ginseng may improve working memory as well as memory quality.[8,9]

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant which means that its potential as a free-radical scavenger can help to reduce inflammatory damage caused by all these mental processes of attention, memory and stress.[10,11] ALA is also involved in the production of ATP,[10] which is the building block for cellular energy. 

Improving our working memory can help us as we’re make plans, do more than one thing at a time, meaningfully contribute to discussions, evaluate ideas and, perhaps most importantly, change our minds as we come across new information. We need our brains to be healthy so we stay motivated and focused. Don’t we all need a little help with that sometimes?


  1. Gathercole SE, Packiam Alloway T. Understanding Working Memory - A Classroom Guide. Working Memory and learning 2007. Viewed 24 September 2015, https://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/WM-classroom-guide.pdf
  2. Williamson, EM. Major herbs of ayurveda. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2002.
  3. Bone, K. A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2003.
  4. Stough C, Downey LA, Lloyd J, et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res 2008;22(12):1629-1634. [Abstract]
  5. Barbhaiya HC, Desai RP, Saxena VS, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of BacoMind™ on memory improvement in elderly participants - a double blind placebo controlled study. J Pharmacol Toxicol 2008;3:425-434. [Full text]
  6. Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med 2010;16(7):753-759. [Abstract]
  7. Gingko monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database 2015. [Full text]
  8. Kennedy D, Scholey A, Wesnes K. Modulation of cognition and mood following administration of single doses of Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and a ginkgo/ginseng combination to healthy young adults. Physiol Behav. 2002;75(5):739-751. [Abstract]
  9. Kennedy DO, Scholey AB.Ginseng: potential for the enhancement of cognitive performance and mood. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2003;75(3):687-700. [Abstract]
  10. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced nutrition and human metabolism, 4th ed. Belmont:Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
  11. Stipanuk, M. Biochemical, physiological and molecular aspects of human nutrition, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2006.


The information provided on FX Medicine is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health. 

Share / Print: 
esther_parker's picture
Esther Parker
Having worked in Natural Therapies for almost 10 years, Esther remains wildly passionate about nutritional and herbal medicine. As a qualified Naturopath, she has been involved in all areas of this wonderful industry; health food, marketing, practitioner, writer and more recently, as a lecturer. Her core belief is in the body's innate healing abilities, provided it is given the right tools to do so. She is excited by the continual, beneficial changes to the Natural Therapies industry and hopes to be a strong part of the industry for many years to come.