Natural health: Remedies to help improve concentration without affecting sleep

Megan Sheppard  recommends yerba mate to improve concentration and has advice on recovering from a cracked rib
Natural health: Remedies to help improve concentration without affecting sleep

The key ingredient in yerba mate is a xanthine alkaloid called mateine, which acts to stimulate the brain — much like caffeine, but without impacting the nervous system or interfering with sleep. Picture: iStock 

Q1. I'm working from home and finding it difficult to concentrate, particularly during the afternoons. Is there a natural remedy I could take?

A. One of my favourite natural remedies to help improve concentration is the South American tea, yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Yerba mate contains a number of nutrients, but the key ingredient is a xanthine alkaloid called mateine, which acts to stimulate the brain — much like caffeine, but without impacting the nervous system or interfering with sleep.

This is popular with students not only to help improve concentration, but also to aid with understanding, recall, and clear thinking, support immune health, and ease depressive moods. Bodybuilders also use yerba mate to help with tone and stamina, since this tea supports the delivery of oxygen to the heart and muscles.

You can also try another South American superfood to help boost your afternoon energy levels. Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a cruciferous root vegetable found in the Peruvian Central Andes and has been used nutritionally and medicinally since Incan times.

It is important that you use gelatinised maca, which doesn’t have anything to do with gelatine, rather it means that it has been pre-cooked in the traditional way to trigger the release of the active metabolites.
Maca root contains approximately 100 times the levels of antioxidants found in other cruciferous crops. It is a complete protein, rich in vitamins and minerals — including zinc and calcium, and is also used to help balance hormones, enhance sex drive in both males and females, and improve fertility.

Make your own energy balls by combining maca with your choice of dates, vanilla, tahini, cacao butter, carob, and warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and/or ginger in a food processor or blender. Roll the mixture into balls, dividing so that you average 10g of maca powder across the number of energy balls you plan to eat daily.


Q2. I fell recently and cracked a rib. I'm making a slow recovery — it still hurts when I breathe deeply. What would you recommend?

A. Cracked ribs are very frustrating and slow in terms of recovery because there is no way of truly resting up.  The best you can do is to ensure you are getting the nutrients that you need for bone healing along with strengthening the supportive ligaments and muscles.
The number one herbal remedy for healing any fracture is comfrey (Symphytum officinale), also known as ‘knitbone’. Comfrey is no longer widely recommended for internal use as a herbal remedy, but you can take it in homeopathic form instead. Weleda has formulated a remedy combining Arnica montana (great for bruising and tissue trauma) with Symphytum officinale. You can still use a comfrey salve or lotion topically to help with the healing process. 

Cracked ribs are very frustrating and slow in terms of recovery because there is no way of truly resting up. Picture: iStock 
Cracked ribs are very frustrating and slow in terms of recovery because there is no way of truly resting up. Picture: iStock 

Comfrey will also assist in the reduction of pain and inflammation. It is thought the anti-inflammatory protein allantoin, found in the leaves and roots of comfrey, works by stimulating the cells and triggering rapid healing.

Along with the bone supportive measures, it is important to consider factors that can inhibit bone healing. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), fizzy drinks, alcohol, and smoking are the worst offenders. These can delay the healing process and inhibit mineral absorption.

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