Supplements for Memory and Sharper Mind
Choline helps people perform better on memory tests and be less likely to show brain changes associated with dementia. The study can only point to a correlation between memory and dietary choline — a nutrient found in foods like saltwater fish, eggs, liver, chicken, milk and certain legumes, including soy and kidney beans.
The findings, researchers say, don’t prove that choline is the way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but the findings do add to evidence that your lifetime diet may make a difference in how your brain ages.
A number of studies, though not all, have found links between diet and Alzheimer’s risk. Some suggest that Mediterranean-style eating, for instance, might be protective; that typically means a diet high in fish, vegetables and fruit, whole grains and unsaturated fats like those in olive oil.
Because of these broad associations don’t look to any one nutrient as a magic bullet against dementia. a healthy, balanced diet in mid-life is important, experts say.
In one study 1,400 adults ages 36 to 83 answered dietary questionnaires between 1991 and 1995. Then, between 1998 and 2001, they underwent tests of memory and other cognitive abilities, and had MRI brain scans.
In general, the study found, men and women in the top quarter for choline intake performed better on the memory tests than those in the bottom quarter.
The differences suggest that people with lower choline intakes were more likely to be on a “pathway” toward mental decline than their counterparts with higher intakes.
The researchers were able to account for some other factors — such as education, and people’s intake of calories, fat and certain vitamins, like B6 and B12.
In addition, people with higher choline intake at the outset were less likely to show areas of “white-matter hyperintensity” in their MRI brain scans. Those areas are thought to be a sign of blood vessel disease in the brain, which may signal a heightened risk of stroke or, eventually, dementia.
None of that proves that choline, per se, protects memory or wards off unhealthy brain changes. But there’s also reason to believe that choline matters. The nutrient is a precursor to the brain chemical acetylcholine, which plays a key role in memory and other cognitive functions; low acetylcholine levels are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Experts generally recommend that men get 550 milligrams of choline per day, while women should get 425 milligrams. Research in rats has found that choline supplements tend to improve memory, but more studies in humans are needed to back up the current findings.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC) –
healthy people who take phosphatidylserine supplements of up to 400 mg per day have been shown to have improved thinking skills and memory. Phosphatidylserine supplements could improve your thinking skills and memory. They could also help combat the decline in brain function as you age. However, further study is needed.
Used in traditional medicine practices like Ayurveda for improving brain function. Its use as a nerve and brain tonic for improving memory, learning, and concentration dates back at least 3,000 years. According to legend, it was used by ancient scholars to help them memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.
It increases cerebral blood flow, delivering more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose to the brain. (46)
When tested against two very different kinds of cognitive enhancers — the ancient herbal remedy ginseng and the popular smart drug Modafinil — bacopa came out on top.
acopa is among the handful of herbs considered adaptogenic.
Adaptogens have the ability to lower stress and increase energy without being either sedating or stimulating.
In this way, adaptogens act like a thermostat that keeps you in an emotional comfort zone.
Bacopa works, in part, by balancing the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, while reducing the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s this ability to restore balance that makes bacopa an excellent choice if you are looking for a natural cognitive-enhancing supplement that also alleviates stress, anxiety, or depression. (48)
So far, about a dozen bioactive compounds have been found in bacopa, the most important being bacopaside A and bacopaside B. (49)
Look for a supplement with a standardized content of 55% bacopasides.
It’s been shown to improve thinking skills and memory, both in healthy people and in elderly people suffering from a decline in brain function. Only repeated use of Bacopa monnieri has been shown to have this effect. People generally take about 300 mg per day and it may take around four to six weeks for you to notice any results.
It may occasionally cause diarrhea and an upset stomach so its a good idea to take with food to prevent this side effect.
Bacopa is considered very safe, safe enough to give to children. (51)
Side effects of bacopa are rare, but the most common ones are dry mouth and digestive upset.
These can largely be avoided by taking it along with meals. (52)
Traditionally, bacopa is administered as a food that is cooked with ghee (clarified butter).
Bacopa should not be combined with antihistamines, antidepressants, glaucoma medications, drugs taken for Alzheimer’s, or thyroid hormones
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) belongs to the same genus as Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), but is a unique species.
American ginseng is mostly cultivated in Wisconsin and Canada, where growing conditions are ideal for encouraging a higher concentration of ginseng’s active ingredients, ginsenosides. (56)
- Huperzine A. …
- Vitamin D3. …
- DHA and EPA. ..
S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe)
A substance that occurs naturally in your body, supplementation may be useful for reducing the decline in brain function seen in people who have depression.
More recently, a study found that, in some instances, SAMe may be as effective as some types of antidepressant medications. However, there is no evidence that this supplement benefits people who don’t have depression.
Going beyond depression, scientists have now found a wealth of anti-aging benefits of SAMe in protecting against Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, liver disease, and encouraging critical DNA repair.
Lion’s Mane: A “Smart” Mushroom
Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is an edible mushroom native to parts of Asia, North America, and Europe. It’s been used medicinally and as a culinary delicacy for thousands of years.
Now it’s sold as a brain supplement. It’s been said that lion’s mane can impart “nerves of steel and the memory of a lion.”World-renowned fungi expert Paul Stamets calls it the “first smart mushroom.” (71)
Lion’s mane is a popular nootropic — a substance that improves mental functions such as memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration — while simultaneously making your brain healthier.
It excels at improving cognitive function and treating neurological disorders.
Lion’s mane can also be helpful for anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. (73)
Lion’s Mane Dosage
Optimal dosages have not yet been established, but a typical dose of lion’s mane extract is 1,000 mg taken three times a day. (74)
In one study, seniors with mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia, experienced significant cognitive improvement taking 3,000 mg of lion’s mane powder daily. (75)
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The only known side effect is itchy skin which is believed to be caused by the increase in nerve growth factor. (76)
8. Magnesium L-Threonate: Patented Brain Mineral
Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral that is required for over 600 metabolic functions.
Signs of magnesium deficiency include brain fog, lack of focus, inability to handle stress, insomnia, caffeine addiction, and generally feeling tired but wired.
There are many forms of magnesium to choose from, but only magnesium l-threonate readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. (83)
Look for supplements that contain Magtein, a patented brand of magnesium l-threonate that’s a proven cognitive enhancer.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is generally 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women, but that can vary slightly depending on age. (86)
The maker’s of Magtein suggest 1,000 mg taken twice a day for optimal cognitive benefits. (87)
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This dose isn’t as high as it sounds, since only a fraction of Magtein is elemental magnesium, the amount of pure magnesium available in a supplement.
According to the Magtein label, 2,000 mg of magnesium l-threonate yields just 147 mg of elemental magnesium. (88)
Magnesium Side Effects and Interactions
Magnesium can cause digestive upset and loose stools, particularly if you take too much or take inexpensive forms of magnesium such as magnesium oxide or magnesium sulfate.
You should not take these anyway since they are the least bioavailable forms of magnesium. (89)
There are currently 32 official FDA reports of magnesium sulfate triggering brain fog, short-term memory loss, amnesia, blackouts, and other kinds of mental distress. (92)
The only reported side effects of magnesium l-threonate are headaches and drowsiness the first week or so. (93)
Discuss taking magnesium with your doctor if you take antibiotics, high blood pressure medications, osteoporosis medications, or muscle relaxants. (94)
Magnesium can affect the effectiveness of these drugs.
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9. Tryptophan: Proven Mood Booster
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that’s a precursor to serotonin.
Serotonin plays a large role in mood, sleep, learning, and appetite control.
A low serotonin level is widely believed to be a major cause of depression.
The most popular antidepressant medications like Prozac and Zoloft are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), thought to work by making more serotonin available in the brain.
You can increase serotonin levels naturally by providing more of its building blocks in the form of tryptophan.
By increasing serotonin levels, tryptophan can improve the quality of life for those with a wide variety of brain-related and mental health issues.
Studies have found tryptophan to be as effective for depression as antidepressant drugs. (95)
Low levels of tryptophan are associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with ADHD have 50% lower than average blood levels of tryptophan. (98)
Low tryptophan can cause both long-term and short-term memory loss and impair other cognitive functions. (99)
There is no official recommended dosage for tryptophan and suggested doses vary widely.
As little as 250 mg has been found to improve the quality of sleep.
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On the other hand, up to 12 grams per day has been suggested for depression. (100)
Most supplement manufacturers suggest a daily dose of 1,000 to 1,500 mg. (101)
We suggest starting with 500 mg a day, then working up to a higher dose.
Tryptophan Side Effects and Interactions
The most common tryptophan side effects are digestive upset, loss of appetite, headache, and drowsiness. (102)
Tryptophan should not be taken with SSRI antidepressants.
When taken together, they can cause a potentially serious condition known as serotonin syndrome.
Tryptophan should also not be taken with drugs with a sedating effect such as Ambien, Ativan, Valium, and Ultram.
10. Vinpocetine: A Natural “Smart Drug”
Vinpocetine is a relatively new brain booster that blurs the line between brain supplement and smart drug.
It’s based on vincamine, a chemical found in periwinkle (Vinca minor).
This flowering vine has been used since medieval times to treat headaches, memory loss, and vertigo. (103)
Vinpocetine supplements are usually taken to improve memory, overcome brain fog, increase mental clarity, protect the brain against aging, and promote overall mental well-being. (104)
Its ability to protect the brain from degeneration makes it a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s. (108)
Vinpocetine can help to prevent the short-term memory loss that often accompanies benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs. (109)
It improves the brain’s ability to use glucose, its main source of energy, after a stroke. (110)
In some parts of the world, vinpocetine is available by prescription only. (111)
The FDA has initiated proceedings to take vinpocetine off the shelves, not because there have been any safety issues, but because they believe it should be classified as a drug and not a supplement. (114)
While studies show that vinpocetine looks like a promising treatment for mental decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, there’s not a lot of research yet to back up claims that it makes cognitively healthy adults smarter.
Most clinical studies on vinpocetine have used a dose of 10 mg, three times daily. (115)
A good place to start is to take 5 mg with each meal. (116)
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Then you can work up to as high as 20 mg with each meal for maximum neuroprotective benefits.
Avoid taking vinpocetine on an empty stomach since it’s absorbed up to 100% better with food.
Vinpocetine Side Effects and Warnings
Vinpocetine is generally considered safe with few side effects.
However, it’s advised that you avoid vinpocetine if you take a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin) or any over-the-counter medications that can interfere with clotting such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
11. Huperzine A: Powerful Memory Remedy
The main active compound in Chinese club moss is an alkaloid called huperzine A.
Huperzine A works by the same mechanism as the popular Alzheimer’s drug Aricept.
They both work by inhibiting an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase) that deactivates acetylcholine.
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Huperzine A shows promise for delaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages. (123)
Huperzine A is so powerful that it’s been given the status of an approved drug for treating vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s in China. (126)
Huperzine A Dosage
The general recommended dosage is 50 to 200 mcg twice daily and can be taken on an empty stomach. (127)
Huperzine A Side Effects and Warnings
Although huperzine A is a naturally occurring compound, it’s not without side effects.
Reported side effects are significant and include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, slurred speech, restlessness, anorexia, muscle twitching, cramps, incontinence, high blood pressure, and slowed heart rate. (128)
Huperzine A does not mix well with antihistamines, antidepressants, the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept, or the motion sickness drug scopolamine. (129)
12. Ginkgo: Timeless Brain Tonic
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is one of the most widely used natural remedies in the world. (130)
It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Ginkgo increases circulation to the brain, balances brain chemistry, and protects the brain from free radical damage. (131)
It’s considered so effective that it’s sometimes prescribed as a medication in Europe.
But not all of ginkgo’s reported benefits have held up to the latest scientific scrutiny.
But this does not make ginkgo useless as a brain supplement.
And, of course, you may decide that its long history of use outweighs the latest scientific findings.
It reliably improves short-term memory in seniors. (136)
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Ginkgo reduces ADHD symptoms in children and teens, but not as effectively as the ADHD drug Ritalin. (137)
It can increase the turnover of both serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters linked to depression. (138)
And lastly, for those diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, ginkgo shows great promise for improving memory and day-to-day quality of life. (139)
A typical ginkgo dose is 40 to 120 mg, three times a day. (140)
Start with a low dose and take with meals to avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Ginkgo Side Effects and Warnings
Known ginkgo side effects include digestive upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, and restlessness. (141)
Ginkgo should not be taken with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft, since together they can cause serotonin syndrome. (142)
Ginkgo reacts badly with a slew of medications.
Drugs.com lists over 250 of them.
If you take any medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or visit Drugs.com to check for Ginkgo biloba drug interactions before taking this supplement.
13. DHA: Critical Brain Cell Building Block
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is not optional if you are seeking optimal brain performance.
And of all the omega-3s, DHA is the most important one for your brain.
Omega-3 fats are harder to get from diet alone since few people regularly eat the main dietary sources — wild-caught, cold water, oily fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. (147)
It also plays an important role in brain cell communication.
Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder have all been found to improve with DHA supplementation.
Seniors with high levels of DHA have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. (151)
DHA and Fish Oil Dosages
DHA is sometimes sold as a single-ingredient supplement, but most commonly it is included as a major component in fish oil or krill oil supplements.
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A US National Institutes of Health workshop that included omega-3 experts from around the world determined that 220 mg of DHA is the minimum dose that should be taken for optimal health. (154)
But it’s safe and often beneficial to take more — up to 1,000 mg per day.
DHA and Fish Oil Side Effects and Warnings
DHA is considered generally safe.
It may increase blood sugar in diabetics and lower blood pressure in those with hypertension which can alter your need for medication.
14. Phosphatidylserine: Versatile Brain Enhancer
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid naturally found in high concentrations in the brain. (157)
It is also a popular brain supplement for boosting memory, cognition, concentration, and learning.
Phosphatidylserine is a major component of human brain cell membranes.
By supporting brain cell membrane integrity, PS helps to keep toxins, pathogens, and other unwanted invaders out of your brain.
It normalizes the level of the stress hormone cortisol to reduce the effects of stress. (158)
Phosphatidylserine is safe and effective for brains of all ages.
It is the primary ingredient in Vayarin, a medical food prescribed for children with ADHD.
It is a favorite memory supplement used by students to perform better on their exams.
Numerous studies conclude that phosphatidylserine may be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (163)
Notably, phosphatidylserine is the only brain supplement that’s received a qualified stamp of approval from the FDA for age-related cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.
The general recommended dose of phosphatidylserine is 100 mg, three times a day. (164)
But doses of twice that, 600 mg per day, are considered safe. (165)
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Phosphatidylserine is one of the few brain supplements with dosages determined for children.
A typical dose for children and young teens is 200 mg per day.
Phosphatidylserine Side Effects and Warnings
The most common side effects experienced with phosphatidylserine supplements are digestive upset and insomnia, particularly with high dosages.
Phosphatidylserine should be avoided if you take blood thinners or anti-inflammatory drugs. (166)
It can decrease the effectiveness of antihistamines and antidepressants.
Do not take phosphatidylserine with drugs prescribed for Alzheimer’s, such as Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne, without talking to your doctor. (167)
Phosphatidylserine can alter these drugs’ effectiveness and magnify their side effects.
Phosphatidylserine supplements are almost always derived from soy.
If soy is a food you avoid, look for one extracted from sunflower oil instead.
15. L-Theanine: Meditation in a Cup or Capsule
L-theanine is an amino acid found in black and green teas (Camellia sinensis) that offers a truly unique set of brain benefits.
One of the ways it works is by altering your brainwave patterns. (168)
It sharpens focus, reduces stress, and imparts a sense of overall well-being.
It won’t make you drowsy, but can improve your quality of sleep. (175)
L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine.
The combination of caffeine and l-theanine can help you perform mentally demanding tasks better than with caffeine alone. (176)
And since l-theanine is relaxing, it won’t leave you edgy.
This unique caffeine-enhancing property makes l-theanine a popular supplement for those seeking optimal mental performance.
Some college students and biohackers use this caffeine-theanine combination in place of smart drugs.
The general recommended dosage for l-theanine is 200 to 400 mg, once or twice daily. (181)
Some people experience noticeable benefits with as little as 50 mg and almost everyone experiences some degree of relaxation with a 400 mg dose. (182)
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One popular name brand of l-theanine is Suntheanine.
This is a patented brand of pure theanine often used in studies when a standardized formula is required.
L-Theanine Side Effects and Interactions
L-theanine supplements are considered very safe. (188)
The few reported adverse reactions include headache, dizziness, and gastrointestinal distress.
Use l-theanine with caution if you’re on a high blood pressure medication since it can decrease your blood pressure. (189)
BONUS: The Foundational Brain Supplement
All essential vitamins and minerals play a vital role in brain function.
Some act as natural antidepressants or combat the effects of stress, while some are essential cofactors in neurotransmitter formation.
Many are antioxidants that protect the brain from the damaging effects of free radicals, inflammation, neurotoxins, and aging.
So before you start taking the brain supplements we’ve discussed here, make sure you’ve got your basic nutritional needs met.
It’s generally thought that vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past, but that’s not true.
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Deficiencies in any of these can have a profound impact on your brain.
The Harvard School of Public Health advises all adults to take a multivitamin supplement as insurance to fill any nutritional gaps. (193)
We think this is sound advice.
Pound for pound, your brain requires more nutrients than any other organ.
But processed food, factory farming practices, and the nutrient-draining stresses of modern life are just some of the factors that have created a perfect storm of suboptimal nutrition.
Brain Supplements: Take the Next Step
There are many reasons to take a brain supplement: to improve mood, memory, and concentration as well as to protect the brain against aging or to prevent or halt cognitive decline.
But there are endless substances and combinations to choose from.
Stick with supplements that are proven to work, like the ones in this guide.
Recommended: You can start by trying single-ingredient supplements, one at a time. Or you can try Mind Lab Pro® — the Universal Nootropic™. This brain supplement contains 11 brain-enhancing ingredients, including citicoline, bacopa, phosphatidylserine, lion’s mane, and l-theanine, all working together to help optimize your mood, brain health, and cognitive function.
READ NEXT: 22 Best Natural Nootropic Supplements
Curcumin was found to improve both memory and attention in healthy seniors within an hour after taking a single dose! (22) Study participants showed significant improvements in working memory, energy, mood, and stress after taking curcumin for one month. Curcumin’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce brain inflammation and break up brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. Seniors in India who consume turmeric as a regular part of their diet have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world.
A typical turmeric dosage is 400 to 600 mg, three times per day. (25)
The recommended daily dose of curcumin is 80 mg to 500 mg, provided that the supplement manufacturer has taken steps to enhance bioavailability.
Curcumin supplements are poorly absorbed, but there are measures that overcome this problem.
The addition of piperine, a compound found in black pepper, is one of the most common ways to enhance bioavailability.
Its addition can increase curcumin absorption by a remarkable 2,000%.
Both turmeric and curcumin supplements have quite a number of possible side effects, interactions, and warnings.
These supplements can interact with medicines like aspirin, NSAID painkillers, statins, diabetes drugs, blood pressure medicines, and blood thinners.
They may also interact with natural supplements with blood-thinning properties such as ginkgo, ginseng, and garlic. (28)
The piperine often added to turmeric and curcumin supplements can also increase the side effects of a number of drugs. (29)
However, you can increase the bioavailability of curcumin and turmeric supplements by taking them with phosphatidylserine instead.
If you take any medications, check for possible interactions between them and turmeric or curcumin with a reputable online interaction checker.
Acetyl-l-Carnitine: For More Mental Energy
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is an amino acid that increases both mental and physical energy. (30)
It acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting your brain from free radical damage. (31)
ALCAR is a precursor of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning.
It also increases the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, both of which play a role in depression. (32)
In fact, acetyl-l-carnitine is a fast-acting antidepressant that usually brings some relief within a week. (33)
It improves mental clarity, focus, mood, processing speed, and memory and has strong anti-aging effects on the brain. (34)
One study found that acetyl-l-carnitine stabilizes the proteins which produce the neurofibrillary tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. (37)
It increases the insulin sensitivity of brain cells to help them utilize blood glucose, the brain’s main fuel source. (38)
There’s evidence that it may prevent brain damage from excessive alcohol intake. (39)
If you take a blood thinner such as coumadin, avoid taking ALCAR as it can increase the drug’s blood-thinning effects.
There’s some concern that acetyl-l-carnitine interferes with thyroid hormone, so discuss this with your doctor if you have low thyroid function.
Acetyl-L-carnitine may work as a brain booster by helping maintain brain cells. Not much is known about its effects in healthy people, but one study found that people with early Alzheimer’s and mild memory impairment benefited from taking it.
Despite the lack of evidence, Sahelian says he thinks it improves mental focus and alertness. “I noticed the effect within two hours,” he says. “It also makes one more motivated, and you can concentrate better and get things done faster.”
DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol), also thought to alter levels of acetylcholine in the brain, is another one that Sahelian says he can get behind based on anecdotal evidence alone. There is little in the way of scientific data to support claims that it boosts brainpower.
Nevertheless, “Most people will notice within an hour or two of taking it that they’re thinking faster and sharper and that they have better focus,” he says.
He says that taking too much can cause side effects such as restlessness, irritability, and tension in the neck muscles.