Mental energy: plausible neurological mechanisms and emerging research on the effects of natural dietary compounds

Patrick J. O’Connor*, David Kennedy, Stephen Stahl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: Lack of mental energy is one of the leading reasons adults turn to dietary supplements, with three out of ten supplement users hoping to improve their energy level; even more consume caffeine-containing products for the same reason. Despite this interest from consumers, there is no consensus scientific definition of mental energy or sole validated instrument for measuring it. We performed this review to summarize main findings from research regarding the influence of natural dietary compounds on three aspects of mental energy: cognition (vigilance), motivation (to do mental work), and mood (feelings of energy and/or absence of feelings of fatigue). Methods: A narrative review of key papers. Results: In addition to caffeine, a number of other compounds, including the polyphenols, which are found in all plant-derived products, and the phytochemicals in culinary herbs and herbal products such as Panax ginseng and Ginkgo biloba, have been shown in animal models to modulate neurotransmitter activity potentially relevant to mental energy. Inadequate intake of B vitamins could also potentially have a negative effect on mental energy due to their role in overall energy production, as precursors of key cofactors in the citric acid cycle, as well as their role in brain function and neurotransmitter synthesis. Consumption of some of these products may have direct or indirect effects on one or more elements of mental energy. Conclusion: Large, prospective clinical trials of these products using appropriate, validated instruments designed to measure mental energy may be worthwhile if sufficient evidence exists to justify such trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)850-864
Number of pages15
JournalNutritional Neuroscience
Issue number11
Early online date31 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2021


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