Everybody has a moment of forgetfulness from time to time—forgetting why you entered a room, misplacing a cellphone or car keys, or forgetting that the glasses you’re looking for are tucked in your shirt pocket. Whether you’re experiencing mild forgetful moments or trying to improve your memory for practical applications such as studying or information-based work, there are many vitamins that have shown positive results in improving memory function.
8 Nutrients that Boost Memory
There are many nutrients that support cognitive function and memory. In many cases, these can be obtained through a healthy and well-balanced diet. However, for people who may not get enough nutrients through their diet, who experience inadequate nutrient absorption, experience bowel or stomach issues, or who are taking certain medications that can deplete nutrient absorption, there are several nutrients shown to enhance cognition and memory.
Many B vitamins, especially B-12, have been shown to provide nutritional benefits that can improve memory and brain function. Adequate levels of B-12 are needed to maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cell health.(1)
While many adults achieve sufficient levels of B-12 through their diet—especially from fish and poultry—some diets, especially vegetarian diets, result in inadequate B-12 levels, which can often result in symptoms of memory loss. Several medications can decrease B12 levels in the body including commonly prescribed ones such as Metformin and proton pump inhibitors.
Vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, helping to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. This vitamin has also been shown to help protect the sheath surrounding nerve cells.
This supplement has been found to be most beneficial in individuals suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, though the levels at which vitamin E can and should be supplemented are still under analysis. Vitamin E has been shown to be especially effective as a memory supplement for individuals who may be experiencing memory loss due to oxidative stress.(2)
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most herbal choices to support memory and cognitive function. This herbal extract is obtained from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree and has been used in traditional medicine in China as early as 2800 B.C.
Many people choose to use the supplement Ginkgo biloba to support vascular health. This is important to brain and memory health since it can help improve blood circulation in the brain. Ginkgo biloba also has antioxidant properties which may be neuroprotective. Through supporting normal blood flow and protecting neurons it may provide benefit to those with Alzheimer’s, vascular or mixed dementia.(3)
Fish oil is becoming one of the most popular cognitive supplements for a variety of reasons, including its beneficial effects in reducing inflammation While this supplement may not be helpful in people already experiencing Alzheimer’s, those looking to simply improve brain memory may see an improvement in brain-related processing.(4)
Fish oil is high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, that is helpful in speeding up reaction time in short-term memory. It has also been suggested that DHA supports the process of nerve cells making functional connections called synapses, and can be beneficial in supporting healthy memory and cognition.(5)
Choline is a precursor to the chemical acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning. Studies have shown that low levels of choline intake are associated with poorer performance on memory tests. Certain forms of choline such as CDP-choline may be better at enhancing memory and cognitive function. While humans produce acetylcholine in the body, levels often decrease as we age so consider supporting this neurotransmitter with diet or supplements.(6)
Certain forms of magnesium, especially Magnesium L-threonate, are shown to be effective in increasing plasticity in the brain. Brain plasticity helps enhance synapses between neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays an important role in long-term memory. Magnesium is a common mineral deficiency and the L-threonate form has been shown to be the best at crossing the blood brain barrier. Studies have also shown improvements in memory recall to test subjects who may be experiencing occasional memory loss due to aging.(7)
L-Methylfolate is a more usable form of the essential B-vitamin, folate. Folate is important in making the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Low folate is associated with impaired cognition and folate levels can be depleted by certain medications. Folate is also important to the biochemical process that lowers homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels are a marker of inflammation and are associated with poorer cognitive performance. New findings, such as those from Dutch researchers, have found that improving folate intake improved memory scores as well as information processing and muscle skills.(8)
Acetyl L-Carnitine is an amino acid that is a powerful antioxidant. It crosses the blood brain barrier where it is neuroprotective, supporting memory and mental function in older people with some memory loss. It’s often used for cognitive support to boost memory and mental function.(9)
Additional Healthy Choices to Improve Memory
In addition to memory-boosting nutrients and herbs, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet. Choose a diet with a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to provide an array of antioxidant protection. The Mediterranean diet and MIND diet are two diets shown to have positive effects on memory. Other positive lifestyle choices that improve memory include maintaining good sleeping habits, physical exercise, and engaging in social and community activities.