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Brain Supplements: What Health Supplements Can I Take to Improve Memory?

Memory lossIt is frustrating. Knowing that you know something but it just will not come out of your head. The file is there, you just cannot find it. Worse if it happens during a test or interview. Can memory be improved? Are there supplements that can help improve your memory?

Memory is one of the most important functions of the brain. Let’s face it; our education system favors those with better memory, and how well you do is largely proportional to how much “material” you remember. Too, other brain functions may not work at optimum level if memory is compromised.

Though we humans need and use it more, even animals need and use. I once saw a mouse approach a trap. Then it stopped, took what appeared to be a better look, and then took off the other way running! I’m pretty sure the trap triggered a memory about one or more of its “buddies”

The occasional “senior moment” (no pun intended) can occur to anyone at anytime. I’m sure even Einstein had one of those even in his younger days. But when these begin to be more frequent than “normal” it can be worrisome, even scary.

Really, Take a Pill to Help Improve Memory?

So, can you really take a pill to improve your memory? Brain supplements, promising to improve memory, focus and general mental function are increasing in popularity and there is now a virtual industry for these products. But do they really work?

Fortunately, there is greater knowledge and understanding about how the brain works with more being discovered virtually daily. This understanding can help us find supplements that provide the nutritional, neurochemical and hormonal compounds that may enhance brain functioning. They have a word for drugs and supplements that are said to do this; nootropics.

Nay, these supplements may also help us prevent or at least slow down diseases and conditions that negatively impact memory and other cognitive functions. These include age-related ones such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Experts agree that that some evidence exists to show that certain ingredients in certain supplements may have benefit for memory and general brain functioning.

Supplements that May Help Improve Memory

While some of the supplements listed below may help prevent or slow conditions that impact cognitive functions, they may not be of much help after onset. It is best to start taking them before detecting any issue as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A big part of our brain is made up of fat. Not just fat as we know it, but a type of fat known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). A study published in the The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that taking DHA may improve memory and learning in adults with mild cognitive imparements.[1] A separate study showed that people with low blood DHA levels had smaller brains and were more likely to experience cognitive impairment.

A study done at Oxford University involving school-age children showed that children who received DHA supplements improved their reading and learning skills.

Eating fatty fish regularly such as salmon and tuna is touted as the best way to get DHA. However, this is not practical many of us, and it can get expensive as wild fish don’t come cheap (forget farmed fish if you really care for your health).

For many, fish oil or krill oil supplements are the easiest way to ensure getting sufficient quantities of omega-3 fatty acids is to take a fish oil or krill oil supplement daily. And you get to know exactly how much of the good oils you are getting. Plant sources of omega-3 do not supply DHA.

Ginkgo Biloba

The jury is still out on benefits of ginkgo biloba on memory function as studies have shown conflicting results. Some studies indicate that it may actually be beneficial. Also referred to simply as ginkgo, it is commonly used in Europe for a type of dementia resulting from decreased blood flow.[2]

Ginkgo is widely used in Europe for treating dementia. At first, doctors thought it helped because it improves blood flow to the brain. Now more study suggests it may protect nerve cells that are damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. A number of studies have found that ginkgo has a positive effect on memory and thinking in people with Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia.[3]

Researchers also found that verbal recall may be improved among people with age-related memory impairment when taking ginkgo biloba for six months compared to a group that received a placebo. Long-term may also help maintain cognitive performance longer as well as or slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).[4]

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC)

An amino acid is a form of amino acid involved in energy metabolism, acetyl-l-carnitine. It may also enhance or mimic the function of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. A study indicated that ALC may increase learning capacity in aging rats.[5] Whether this translates to humans is not yet clear. However ALC has been used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Panax Ginseng

Also known as Asian ginseng, panax ginseng has virtually all the hallmarks of a brain supplement. These include memory, focus, alertness, and even mood. It is often used along with ginkgo biloba (mentioned above). A double-blind placebo controlled study involving middle-aged volunteers showed that panax ginseng and ginkgo biloba combination may enhance memory.[6]


DMAE is short for dimethylaminoethanol, also known as dimethylethanolamine. It is sometimes also referred to as Deanol or Deaner. It has been found to enhance the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which as mentioned earlier plays a part in learning and memory.

This is by no means a full list of brain supplements, also called “smart supplements” that may help improve memory. But while there are dozens, even hundreds out there, few have actually been studied. Remember to consult your doctor before starting on a new supplement, especially if you are on medication, are pregnant or nursing.


[1] Science Daily: DHA Improves Memory and Cognitive Function in Older Adults

[2] WebMD: Fortifying Your Memory With Supplements

[3] University of Maryland: Ginkgo biloba

[4] UCLA: Ginkgo Biloba & The Brain

[5] NIH: Acetyl-L-carnitine improves aged brain function

[6] NIH: The memory enhancing effects of a Ginkgo biloba/Panax ginseng combination in healthy middle-aged volunteers

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