The Best Vitamins for Memory Improvement
What are the best vitamins for memory? While there is no miracle cure for a bad memory, the vitamins listed below may be able to help.
A word of caution: Everyone has heard there are vitamins and supplements that can improve your memory and other brain functions. Research indicates this may be true.
However, success in using vitamins for memory improvement varies. Some products work better for some people than others. Each of us have different genetics, health and diet, and natural memory ability, which may partially explain this.
And don't forget: what you eat and drink and the quality of your sleep have a powerful effect on your memory, too. Taking vitamin pills won't offset an unbalanced lifestyle.
So do your own research before trying any vitamins or supplements. Read the labels and product reviews. Evaluate the advice and tips from people who have used the products. Consult your physician as appropriate for your situation. This is common sense.
Below is a list of vitamins for memory, followed by a longer list of supplements that may have a positive effect on memory and brain function. A brief description and background information are included for each one. All are legal in the U.S. and readily available from health food stores, nutrition shops, and online stores such as Amazon.com.
Below are three types of vitamins for memory improvement you may wish to consider taking. Studies indicate these vitamins are essential for the brain and memory to operate at its best. For many people, vitamin pills are an easy way to help them get enough of these vitamins in their daily diet.
The following are vitamins that can affect memory and brain power:
Research shows that B vitamins improve memory by creating a protective shield for the neurons in the brain.
B vitamins break down homocysteine, which is an amino acid that is a toxic poison to nerve cells. These vitamins also aid in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen, an important brain nutrient.
The most important B vitamins for memory include B6, B12, and Folic Acid (B9).
You can increase the B vitamins in your diet by taking vitamin supplements and by consuming healthly, natural foods such as spinach and other dark, leafy greens; broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons, black beans, leeks, and other legumes, citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, and soybeans.
Vitamins C, E, and beta carotene are antioxidants and are also important vitamins for memory. Antioxidants protect brain tissue by breaking down free radicals, which are toxic forms of the oxygen molecule natually found in the bloodstream.
Antioxidant vitamins and memory are linked because the damage free radicals do can impare the functioning of the neurons in your brain. Like the B vitamins, in other words, the antioxidant vitamins prevent damage to the basic brain structures.
Supplementing with antioxidant vitamins daily is recommended. In addition, these vitamins can be found in naturally occurring foods such as blueberries, strawberries, and other berries; sweet potatoes; red tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, peppermint tea, and other types of herbal tea; nuts and seeds; and citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits.
Note that with some of these foods, you get both the B vitamins and the antioxidants - a double dose of vitamins for memory improvement!
OMEGA FATTY ACIDS.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not really "vitamins" as such, but important fat molecules that enhance memory and brain function.
So much is said about so-called bad fats, but the Omega-3 fatty acids are actually a class of good fats.
These fats help protect the brain against inflammation and high cholesterol. That's what makes these fatty acids good vitamins for memory improvement.
Benefits of fish oil supplements
Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, halibut, and mackerel; walnuts; and flaxseed/flaxseed oil.
In addition to taking regular vitamins for memory improvement, you might also want to try memory and brain enhancing supplements. Keep reading to learn more.
Supplements are similar to vitamins, and may even contain vitamins, but are generally available in pill form only and not necessarily in food. See the examples below - you'll understand what I mean!
I've included references to published research studies for most of these supplements. However, the few references listed here are examples only and not meant to be comprehensive. Also keep in mind that scientific research is an ongoing process with new developments and discoveries happening all the time.
These supplements are listed in alphabetical order. I don't advocate any of them in particular. It's up to you and your physician to determine which supplements (if any) are right for your situation.
ACETYL L-CARNITINE. Known for its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, this amino acid (also known as ALCAR) helps with energy production necessary for optimal brain function.
This supplement is a powerful antioxidant that protects brain cells.Bodybuilders like acetyl l-carnitine too, as it can help muscles grow stronger during exercise.
Research studies that suggest acetyl l-carnitine may protect brain cells:
(1) Barhwal K, Hota SK, et. al. (June 2009). "Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) prevents hypobaric hypoxia-induced spatial memory impairment through extracellular related kinase-mediated nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 phosphorylation". Neuroscience 161 (2): 501-14. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.02.086.
ALPHA GPC. The long name for this supplement is alpha glycerophospocholine. Alpha GPC is a form of choline that boosts basic life processes including growth and revitalization.
It is the precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Alpha GPC is thought to support increased attention span, mental focus, recall, and other brain functions.
Supplementation with Alpha GPC can also help with therapeutic recovery from strokes, Alzheimer's disease, and other vascular brain conditions.
Research suggesting that Alpha GPC assists cognitive disorder recovery:
(1) Barbagallo Sangiorgi G, et al. "Alpha-Glycerophosphocholine in the mental recovery of cerebral ischemic attacks." An Italian multicenter clinical trial. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1994; 717:253-69.
BACOPA MONNIERI. This Asian herb has been used by Ayurvedic doctors in India for centuries as one of the natural vitamins for memory improvement and concentration.
Research appears to support this. Studies indicate bacosides (the natural phytonutrients in this herb) may support brain transmitters during memorization, among other effects.
Research suggesting that bacopa monnieri may improve memory:
(1) Morgan A, Stevens J. "Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial." Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2010 Jul;16(7):753-9.
Research suggesting that bacopa monnieri may enhance intellectual activity:
(1) C. Stough, J. Lloyd, et. al. (2001). "The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects". Psychopharmacology (Berl) 156 (4): 481-4. doi:10.1007/s002130100815.
(2) S. Roodenrys, D. Booth, et. al. (2002). "Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory". Neuropsychopharmacology (Wollongong) 27 (2): 279-81. doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(01)00419-5.
(3) Stough C, Downey LA, Lloyd J, et al. (2008). "Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa Monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial." Phytotherapy Research 22:1629-1634.
L-CARNOSINE. This is a general-purpose supplement that helps protect cells and tissues against negative effects of aging. As a broad-spectrum anti-oxidant, Carnosine helps defend against age-related decline of mental and immune function. Its antioxidant effects appear to protect the brain from strokes.
Note: Don't confuse l-carnosine with the supplement l-carnotine.
Research suggesting that carnosine may provide anti-aging protection:
(1) Aruoma OI, Laughton MJ, Halliwell B (December 1989). "Carnosine, homocarnosine and anserine: could they act as antioxidants in vivo?". The Biochemical Journal 264 (3): 863-9.
(2) Choi SY, Kwon HY, Kwon OB, Kang JH (November 1999). "Hydrogen peroxide-mediated Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase fragmentation: protection by carnosine, homocarnosine and anserine". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1472 (3): 651-7. doi:10.1016/S0304-4165(99)00189-0
(3) Klebanov GI, Teselkin YuO, Babenkova IV, et al. (1998). "Effect of carnosine and its components on free-radical reactions". Membrane & Cell Biology 12 (1): 89-99.
(4) Reddy VP, Garrett MR, Perry G, Smith MA (May 2005). "Carnosine: a versatile antioxidant and antiglycating agent". Science of Aging Knowledge Environment 2005 (18): pe12. doi:10.1126/sageke.2005.18.pe12
Research suggesting that carnosine may protect against strokes:
(1) Min J, Senut MC, Rajanikant K, et al. (October 2008). "Differential Neuroprotective Effects of Carnosine, Anserine, and N-Acetyl Carnosine against Permanent Focal Ischemia". Journal of Neuroscience Research 86 (13): 2984-91. doi:10.1002/jnr.21744
CITICOLINE. This supplement is a type of B vitamin nootropic that has been refined to produce targeted action for phospholipid creation. As phospholipids make up brain cell membranes, this supplement helps enhance production of vital neurotransmitters. It is also known as cytidine diphosphate-choline (CDP-Choline).
Studies have shown that citicoline can improve memory and verbal learning. It can help increase mental energy and improve focus. For these reasons, it may one day be useful for treatment of attention deficit disorder.
Research suggesting that citicoline may improve focus and mental energy:
(1) "Supplement naturally boosts ageing brain power". Sydney Morning Herald 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
(2) Silveri MM, Dikan J, Ross AJ, et al. (November 2008). "Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy". NMR in Biomedicine 21 (10): 1066-75. doi:10.1002/nbm.1281.
Research suggesting that citicoline may protect memory ability:
(1) Teather LA, Wurtman RJ (2005). "Dietary CDP-choline supplementation prevents memory impairment caused by impoverished environmental conditions in rats". Learning & Memory 12 (1): 39-43. doi:10.1101/lm.83905.
COQ10 (Ubiquinol). Coenzyme Q10 is a chemical found naturally in the body that contributes to the production of ATP, the body's main source of energy. CoQ10 supplements help insure maximum physical energy which can help with concentration and memory.
Studies indicate this supplement may help protect against age-related memory decline, including Parkinson's disease.
Research suggesting that ubiquinol may protect against age-related memory loss:
(1) Shults CW, Oakes D, Kieburtz K, et al. (October 2002). "Effects of coenzyme Q10 in early Parkinson disease: evidence of slowing of the functional decline". Archives of Neurology 59 (10): 1541-50. doi:10.1001/archneur.59.10.1541
(2) Cleren C, Yang L, Lorenzo B, et al. (March 2008). "Therapeutic effects of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and reduced CoQ10 in the MPTP model of Parkinsonism". Journal of Neurochemistry 104 (6): 1613-21. doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2007.05097.x.
DMAE. Also known as dimethylethanolamine, this supplement is believed to help with mental energy, alertness, and concentration.
This is another compound able to cross the blood-brain barrier to reach brain cells. It my be precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Some studies indicates DMAE may help alleviate symptoms of ADHD.
Research suggesting that DMAE may enhance alertness and mood:
(1) Dimpfel W, Wedekind W, Keplinger I (May 2003). "Efficacy of dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) containing vitamin-mineral drug combination on EEG patterns in the presence of different emotional states". European Journal of Medical Research 8 (5): 183-91.
(2) Pfeiffer CC, Jenney EH, Gallagher W, et al. (September 1957). "Stimulant effect of 2-dimethylaminoethanol; possible precursor of brain acetylcholine". Science 126 (3274): 610-1. doi:10.1126/science.126.3274.610.
GOTU KOLA. The scientific name for this herbal supplement is centella asiatica. A plant native to southeast Asia, it is claimed to help with focus and mental clarity.
Gotu kola may also help improve sleep and boost mood.
Research suggesting that gotu kola may help improve concentration:
(1) Bradwejn, J., Zhou, Y., et al., "A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study On The Effects of Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) on Acoustic Startle Response in Healthy Subjects", Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 2000 Dec; 20(6):680-4
(2) Cataldo, A., Gasbarro, V., et al., "Effectiveness of the Combination of Alpha Tocopherol, Rutin, Melilotus, and Centella asiatica in The Treatment of Patients With Chronic Venous Insufficiency", Minerva Cardioangiology 2001, Apr; 49(2):159-63.
GINKO BILOBA. This herb has been shown to improve blood flow to your organs including your brain. Research concerning its effectiveness is mixed, though some studies indicated it may improve concentration.
Ginkgo isn't a miracle worker, but improving blood flow to the brain is possibly healthful. It may mean that oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your brain cells more efficiently.
Research suggesting that ginko biloba may improve attention span:
(1) Elsabagh, Sarah; Hartley, David E.; et. al. (2005). "Differential cognitive effects of Ginkgo biloba after acute and chronic treatment in healthy young volunteers". Psychopharmacology 179 (2): 437-46. doi:10.1007/s00213-005-2206-6
(2) Kennedy, David O.; Scholey, Andrew B.; Wesnes, Keith A. (2000). "The dose-dependent cognitive effects of acute administration of Ginkgo biloba to healthy young volunteers". Psychopharmacology 151 (4): 416-23. doi:10.1007/s002130000501
HUPERZINE A. This supplement is an extract of the Chinese moss huperzia serrata. Studies indicate that Hyperzine A enhances learning and memory for students by helping the action of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Indicated to fight mild age-related memory loss, including Alzheimer's disease. Also useful for a short-term memory boost, such as when preparing for an exam.
Research suggesting that huperzine may enhance memory:
(1) Sun, QQ; Xu, SS; Pan, JL; Guo, HM; Cao, WQ (1999). "Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.". Zhongguo yao li xue bao (Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20 (7): 601-3.
Research suggesting that huperzine may help with Alzheimer's disease:
(1) Wang, Bai-Song; Wang, Hao; et.al. (2009). "Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease: an updated meta-analysis". Journal of Neural Transmission 116 (4): 457. doi:10.1007/s00702-009-0189-x.
LION'S MANE MUSHROOM. Used for centuries in China and Japan to enhance mental performance, this herb has been shown to contain erinacines which may assist nerve and brain cell growth. The scientific name is hericium erinaceus.
Research suggesting that lion's mane mushroom may improve cognitive ability:
(1) Mori, K.; Inatomi, S.; et. al. (2009). "Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial". Phytotherapy Research 23 (3): 367-372. doi:10.1002/ptr.2634.
MAGNESIUM L-THREONATE. Magnesium l-threonate (MgT) is one of the newest vitamins for memory. According to a study in the journal Neuron, increasing the level of magnesium in the brain can significantly improve memory and learning. However, traditional magnesium vitamins, and excess magnesium from the diet, have difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Scientists developed MgT, a special magnesium compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier easily, for use in their studies. Although further research is necessary to measure its effect in humans, magnesium l-threonate is available now for those who want to try it.
Note: Half the people in industrialized countries are thought to have a magnesium deficiency.
Research suggesting that magnesium l-threonate may improve memory and learning:
Inna Slutsky, Nashat Abumaria, Long-Jun Wu, Chao Huang, Ling Zhang, Bo Li, Xiang Zhao, Arvind Govindarajan, Ming-Gao Zhao, Min Zhuo, Susumu Tonegawa, and Guosong Liu (2010). "Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium". Neuron 65 (2): 165-177. DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.026.
NADH. Reduced B-nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NADH, is a form of Vitamin B3 that boosts energy in cells throughout the body. It also helps with production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Studies indicate that NADH may be therapeutically useful in the treatment of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Research suggesting that NADH may be useful against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease:
(1) Belenky P; Bogan KL, Brenner C (2007). "NAD+ metabolism in health and disease" (PDF). Trends in Biochemical Sciences 32 (1): 12-9. doi:10.1016/j.tibs.2006.11.006.
(2) Kaneko S, Wang J, Kaneko M, et al. (2006). "Protecting axonal degeneration by increasing nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide levels in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis models". Journal of Neuroscience 26 (38): 9794-804. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2116-06.2006.
PHOSPHATIDYL SERINE. One of the more popular brain-improvement supplements, phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a major component of the outer membrane of brain cells.
While this supplement is often promoted as helping to ward off age-related memory decline, the studies supporting this claim are mixed. However, preliminary studies exist that indicate phosphatidyl serine may be of benefit in the treatment of ADHD.
Research suggesting that phosphatidyl serine may help with ADHD:
(1) Hirayama S, Masuda Y, Rabeler R (September/October 2006). "Effect of phosphatidylserine administration on symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children". Agro Food 17 (5): 32-36.
(2) Vaisman N, Kaysar N, et. al. (2008). "Correlation between changes in blood fatty acid composition and visual sustained attention performance in children with inattention: effect of dietary n-3 fatty acids containing phospholipids". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87 (5): 1170-1180.
L-TYROSINE. A non-essential amino acid, l-tyrosine is converted in the body to neurotransmitters that moderate stress response, mental function, and mood.
Studies indicate this supplement is most effective in boosting mental performance when taken during times of stress or fatigue.
Research suggesting that l-tyrosine may help with cognitive performance:
(1) Strüder HK, Hollmann W, Platen P, Donike M, Gotzmann A, Weber K (1998). "Influence of paroxetine, branched-chain amino acids and tyrosine on neuroendocrine system responses and fatigue in humans". Hormone and Metabolic Research 30 (4): 188-94. doi:10.1055/s-2007-978864.
(2) Thomas JR, Lockwood PA, Singh A, Deuster PA (1999). "Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment". Pharmacology Biochemistry & Behavior 64 (3): 495-500. doi:10.1016/S0091-3057(99)00094-5.
VINPOCETINE. An extract of the periwinkle plant, this compound is an herbal aid for improving memory and concentration.
It acts as a vasodilator which may increase blood flow specifically in the part of the brain used for memory storage.
Research suggesting that vinpocetine may improve cerebral blood flow.
(1) Szilagyi G, Nagy Z, Balkay L, et al. (2005). "Effects of vinpocetine on the redistribution of cerebral blood flow and glucose metabolism in chronic ischemic stroke patients: a PET study". Journal of the Neurological Sciences 229-230: 275-84. doi:10.1016/j.jns.2004.11.053
About the Memory Supplements List
The list of brain supplements above is not meant to be complete. There may be other vitamins for memory and related supplements not included here that do have some effectiveness. Having said that, this list should be of value if you are interested in learning about some of the memory and brain supplements that are popular and supported by research.
I've attempted to focus on those which are backed up by credible studies. I have intentionally not included supplements associated with claims of enhanced memory and brain power but for which I was not able to find much scientific evidence (for example, phosphatidyl choline and l-glutamine).
I've also not included every supplement that may boost your physical energy, thus possibly enhancing concentration and attention span, but which doesn't necessarily aid memory directly (for example, ATP and caffeine). Finally, I've not listed any "blends", or products in which multiple brain supplements have been mixed together.
How Necessary Are Memory Vitamins and Supplements?
For many people, it may not be necessary or helpful to take any vitamins for memory improvement or any of the related supplements. Lifestyle changes including a healthier diet, an appropriate exercise program, and more restful sleep could be all that's needed for an acceptable level of memory and brain health.
From a dietary perspective, for example, consider eating more brain foods such a serving of cold-water fish a couple times per week. And try to consume more of the fruits and vegetables that contain B vitamins and antioxidants.
Vitamins and supplement pills are just that, supplemental. They are "add-ons", not the main thing. Achieving a healthy lifestyle should be your first goal.
But for those who have already optimized their diet, exercise, sleep habits, etc., and who are looking for something extra, vitamins for memory and related brain supplements may give them that edge. In fact, you might want to look into the idea of supplement stacks to help you decide which vitamins and supplements to combine.
Before trying any of these products, however, do your due diligence (i.e., do your own research). And be sure to talk to your doctor first as appropriate for your situation.
Reminder: The information on this website is not medical advice. It is for informational purposes only. Consult your physician before making any dietary changes that may affect your health.
Last Updated: 06/11/2020
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