Written by Josh Horsman
Our memory forms a vital part of who we are and who we once were. It is key to daily decision-making, everyday activities as well as learning and growing for the future. But many of us find that, for various reasons, our memories might not be performing as effectively as they once did. For those who can identify with this frustration, an obvious solution is to look to medicine for answers. But often this can cause further confusion because there are so many drugs and supplements out there which claim to improve memory and brain performance.
Thankfully, we've created this guide to some of the best memory-enhancing supplements:
Also known as ‘ALC’, Acetyl-l-Carnitine is a powerful amino acid notable for its cognitive enhancing properties which are purported to boost mental focus, mood, alertness and concentration. ALC does this by creating new acetylcholine neurotransmitters which play a vital role in key brain functions such as memory, learning and sleep-regulation.
ALC has been called the ‘number one’ brain supplement by many leading doctors and experts and scientific research is beginning to add evidence to further strengthen these claims.
One study showed that patients with mild dementia who took ALC every day for 12 weeks increased their scores on tests of their long-term memory, while other studies have found that ALC helps to protect the brain and defend against the onset of memory problems.
The recommended daily dose ranges from 630 to 2,500 mg per day and up to 4,000 mg for treating Alzheimer’s patients.
2. Huperzine A
Huperzine A is a natural supplement derived from plants. It has long been used in traditional chinese medicine, but now the rest of the world is waking up to its brain-boosting potential.
Most notably, it has been hailed as a potentially significant supplement for treating patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia. This is because it has similar effects on neurotransmitters in the brain as ‘Cholinesterase Inhibitors’ which are FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs.
But some early research studies suggest that the supplement could have positive implications for healthy people too. A Chinese study which measured the effect of Huperzine A on school children found that it successfully improved memory scores.
However, it’s important not to get too carried away about the potential of Huperzine A. It has been known to produce side effects including: Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite. While it may be an effective supplement for boosting memory, further research is needed to determine its viability as a long-term supplementary solution.
3. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that has used in Indian ayurvedic medicine since ancient times. It is a common supplement that is typically taken in capsule form.
The herb has long been revered for its supposed brain-boosting effects, but it's only in modern times that research has been able to test these claims. Several studies have indeed confirmed that Bacopa Monnieri can increase the speed at which the brain processes information and also improve memory.
The active ‘bacoside’ compounds within the plant work to improve the signalling within the brain which causes these effects, which are typically felt over time rather than immediately after taking.
Evidence of cognitive improvement through taking Bacopa Monnieri, however, remains insubstantial at present, but existing research certainly suggests a positive impact on the brains of those who take it.
You might not have heard of curcumin, but you may well have heard of Turmeric, the spice which gives Indian food it’s bright colours. Curcumin is a key ingredient in Turmeric, and an extremely valued remedy in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Recently, however, the claims of Curcumin’s unique properties have been strengthened by scientific research. A study at UCLA in California found that regular consumption improved memory testing scores by up to 28% in patients with mild memory-loss over a period of 18 months.
Curcumin is available to purchase in the form of a supplement, and suggested dosages range from 80mg to 500mg. However, if in doubt, speak to your doctor about the best supplements for you.
5. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
The Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood are often referred to as ‘good fats’ and are the foundation of two of the best diets known diets for brain health: ‘The MIND Diet’ and the ‘Mediterranean Diet’. It’s therefore little wonder that fish oils are the most popular brain boosting supplement.
Omega-3’s are rich in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), a substance which accounts for around 25% of the fat in your brain cells and plays a key role in maintaining brain structure and function. Studies also show that the nutrients contained within fish oil are effective at fighting against cognitive decline, helping to preserve brain function.
When it comes to memory in particular, a study at the University of Pittsburgh has confirmed that omega-3 can bring significant improvements. The six month study involved a group of 18-25 year olds taking fish-oil every day and it led to significant improvements in the ‘working memory’ of subjects of up to 23%!
Experts generally recommend 500 to 1,000 mg of total omega-3s per day.
6. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is a naturally-occuring tree that has grown in china for thousands of years and has been used in herbal-medicine for centuries. However in recent years, much research has focussed on the the leaf of the tree and its medicinal, brain-boosting properties. Scientists believe that Ginkgo works to thin the blood which increases the oxygen supply to the brain, thereby increasing cognitive performance. This supplement is particularly notable for its potential to improve brain function in those living with Dementia, something several research studies appear to have confirmed. However, there is also some evidence, such as a 2001 study published in the Psychopharmacology journal, that Ginkgo could also improve memory in healthy individuals.
7. MCT Oil
You might well have heard of MCT oil and its notorious brain-boosting properties. Due to its colorless, odorless nature, it has become a popular added-ingredient in cooking, smoothies and even in ‘bulletproof’ coffee. MCT oil is made up of healthy ‘medium-chain triglyceride’ fats, which raise levels of ‘ketones’ in the blood. Ketones are a vital energy source for the brain that fuel all areas of cognitive function.
The impact of MCT on memory was first brought to the fore by Dr. Mary Newport, who claimed success in treating her husband’s Alzheimer’s Disease using the oil. Since then, a range of scientific research has added further weight to the claim that MCT Oil can be effective in negating the effects of memory-loss in patients with memory problems. There is, however, currently far less certainty regarding its ability to improve memory in healthy adults.
Nevertheless, the brain-boosting properties of MCT Oil are undeniable and, given its ready availability, there is little reason to not increase your personal consumption.
Vinpocetine is a natural memory-boosting substance, derived from Vincamine which is an extract of the periwinkle plant. When ingested, it causes the blood vessels in the brain to dilate. This improves blood flow to the brain and therefore boosts cognitive performance.
It’s also theorised that Vinpocetine increases the ability of brain cells to absorb glucose, providing extra energy for cognitive functions.
Vinpocetine is readily available and popular in Europe where it can be obtained on a prescription only basis. However, it has also recently become available in the USA which should only serve to strengthen its popularity and enable further exploration into its memory-boosting prowess.
Most clinical studies on Vinpocetine have used a dose of 10 mg three times per day. This supplement should also be taken with meals to ensure effective absorption.
These are just some of an ever-increasing range of supplements available which may improve your memory and boost cognitive performance. The important thing is to discuss with your doctor before trying any new supplement which you are unsure of or unfamiliar with. They will always be able to provide the best advice to help you choose the right product to fit your specific needs.