20 Memory Supplements That Really Work (in-depth guide)

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Last updated January 17, 2022.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

When choosing a memory supplement, consider only those that contain proven ingredients. Review our list of 20 substances shown to actually improve memory.

More people than ever before are struggling with memory problems.

Students are under constant pressure to increase mental performance.

Employees in high pressure jobs are fueling their brains with caffeine and smart drugs to stay competitive.

Our population is growing older — in the US, more than 10,000 people turn 65 every day

Brains of all ages are overloaded with an endless stream of information that people want to remember.

As a result, memory supplements have become a huge business.

But there are so many to choose from, all claiming to be the best.

How can you pick one that works as claimed?

To choose an effective memory supplement, you need to know if the ingredients in that supplement have scientific evidence for boosting memory.

Proven Memory Supplement Ingredients

Some memory supplements contain a single ingredient, while others contain a mix of ingredients often labeled as a “proprietary blend.”

There are many substances that may improve concentration, increase productivity, smooth out your mood, or are good for your general brain health, but will do nothing to improve your memory.

" Billions of dollars are spent each year on Ginkgo biloba supplements, but its usefulness for memory improvement has not been supported by scientific evidence. 

Not everything marketed as a brain supplement or nootropic will specifically address memory problems.

Here are the best ingredients to look for in a supplement when memory improvement is your main goal.

1. Acetyl-l-Carnitine

Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC or ALCAR) is an amino acid that is well documented for its ability to increase mental energy, thereby improving memory, alertness, focus, mental clarity, and mood. 

It works, in part, by creating acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory, sleep cycle regulation, and other brain functions. 

(Remember this neurotransmitter, since many memory supplements work by increasing acetylcholine.)

ALCAR works as a potent antioxidant, stopping free radical damage in brain cells. 

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It has fast-acting antidepressant properties, often working faster than prescription antidepressants.

When you shop, don’t confuse acetyl-l-carnitine with the less expensive version, l-carnitine.

Acetyl-l-carnitine is the more bioavailable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, something plain l-carnitine cannot do. 

Typical dosages of acetyl-l-carnitine for memory improvement range from 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day

2. Alpha-GPC

Choline is a precursor of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of learning and memory.

Alpha-GPC (alpha-glycerophosphocholine) is a bioavailable form of choline that quickly and efficiently enters the brain.

Alpha-GPC helps form healthy cell membranes and increases the levels of several other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA

In Europe, alpha-GPC is considered so potent that it’s prescribed as a medication to treat Alzheimer’s.

When taken as a supplement, it can improve memory and attention span and ward off age-related mental decline in the elderly.

A typical dose of alpha-GPC is 300 to 600 mg

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3. Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa monnieri is a highly esteemed Ayurvedic herb with a history of use that goes back over 3,000 years.

Legend has it that it was used by ancient scholars to help them memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.

bacopa monnieri
Bacopa monnieri flowers.

It was traditionally used as a brain tonic to enhance memory, learning, and concentration, and to reduce anxiety.

Bacopa is considered an adaptogen, a plant that increases resilience to mental and physical stress. 

It helps to bring stress hormones and the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA into balance.

Bacopa is often included in natural nootropic formulas and is helpful for age-related mental decline

A typical dose of bacopa for memory improvement is 300 mg per day, ideally taken with meals. 

4. Citicoline

Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound that the body synthesizes from the choline found in eggs and meat.

It is also an underappreciated brain supplement — citicoline can significantly improve memory, concentration, focus, and attention and may work better than the popular “study drug” piracetam

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Citicoline is one of the few supplements that’s powerful enough to treat serious neurological disorders, including: 

  • age-related memory loss
  • stroke
  • brain injury
  • dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Citicoline works by increasing brain energy, protecting the brain from damage, and increasing acetylcholine. 

When looking for citicoline supplements, you may come across some that contain Cognizin.

Cognizin is the brand name of a patented, highly bioavailable form of citicoline that has been clinically tested in humans. 

A daily dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mg of citicoline is recommended for cognitive enhancement. 

5. Curcumin

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a culinary spice that’s also a traditional Ayurvedic natural remedy.

Turmeric has gotten a lot of attention recently since people who consume it as part of their traditional cuisine have particularly low rates of Alzheimer’s

Curcumin, turmeric’s main active ingredient, can improve memory and concentration by increasing: 

One study found that curcumin improved memory and attention in healthy seniors. 

Impressively, these benefits were experienced within an hour after taking a single dose of a curcumin supplement.

When choosing a curcumin supplement, look for one that offers enhanced bioavailability; otherwise, most of it will pass through your intestines unabsorbed

Most commonly, this means a supplement that includes the black pepper extract piperine.

A suggested dosage for curcumin is 500 mg, three times per day, provided that steps have been taken to enhance bioavailability. 

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6. American Ginseng

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is one of the most popular and widely researched herbs.

In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is considered the “elixir of life” that brings strength, wisdom, and longevity to those who take it.

A North American species, Panax quinquefolius, is now considered the world’s best ginseng for memory enhancement and is sought by even the Chinese for its high quality. 

For memory improvement, look for a ginseng supplement that contains Cereboost.

This patented American ginseng extract has clinical studies to back up its claims for improving memory and mental clarity and sharpness.

These positive effects are often experienced within just a few hours of taking a dose.

A typical ginseng dose is 100 to 200 mg daily.

Brain supplements that contain Cereboost usually contain 200 mg of American ginseng.

7. Huperzine A

Huperzine A is a compound isolated from Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata), a traditional Chinese medicine herb for memory improvement.

Huperzine A raises acetylcholine levels by blocking acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks it down

In China, huperzine A is an approved drug for treating Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. 

It works very similarly to the popular Alzheimer’s drug Aricept.

In the US, huperzine A is included in many brain supplements to improve memory, focus, and concentration.

It also works as an antioxidant that protects brain cells from oxidation and some neurotoxins.

The general recommended dosage for huperzine A is 50 to 200 mcg daily. 

8. Magnesium L-Threonate

Magnesium may be the most underappreciated dietary mineral.

It’s needed for over 600 metabolic functions and has profound effects on the brain and mental health.

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Low magnesium has been linked to a long list of mental disorders, including: 

If you feel “tired but wired” and have trouble sleeping, especially due to a racing mind or leg cramps, magnesium can be the answer.

There are many forms of magnesium supplements available and the form you choose matters.

Inexpensive magnesium supplements, such as magnesium sulfate, will do little for your brain, but will have you running to the bathroom.

Magnesium l-threonate is a relatively new form of magnesium with the unique ability to readily permeate brain cell membranes.

This makes it an excellent choice for improving memory, attention, depression, and anxiety. 

Look for a supplement that contains Magtein®, a patented brand of magnesium l-threonate that’s a proven cognitive enhancer.

According to the Magtein manufacturer, a suggested dose is 1,000 mg, twice a day

9. Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that enhances memory, mood, and overall brain health. 

It goes by many common names — my favorite is velvet bean.

The beans and pods contain l-dopa, a dopamine precursor

So, unlike most memory supplements that increase acetylcholine levels, mucuna works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

beans and pods of mucuna pruriens
Beans and pods of Mucuna pruriens. (Image courtesy of University of Richmond)

Dopamine is called the “motivation molecule” and is in charge of the brain’s pleasure-reward system.

If you are unfocused, unmotivated, lethargic, or depressed, you may be low in dopamine.

If you have memory loss and little zest for life, Mucuna pruriens is a supplement to consider.

Currently, there is no scientific consensus on how much to take.

Until there is, I’d recommend that you buy a reputable brand and follow the recommended dosage instructions on the label.

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10. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for the health and function of the brain.

The brain benefits of omega-3 fats are derived mostly from docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a primary structural component of the brain.

DHA deficiency measurably shrinks the brain and causes a variety of cognitive impairments. 

DHA shields aging brains from memory loss, depression, age-related mental decline, and even Alzheimer’s

You can take DHA as a single-ingredient supplement or you can get DHA from fish oil or krill oil supplements which also contain other omega-3s.

Fish oil has a proven track record for improving brain functions of all kinds, including memory, mood, and mental well-being. 

Experts generally recommend taking 1,000 mg of total omega-3s per day, with a minimum of 220 mg of DHA.

11. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid found in particularly high concentrations in brain cell membranes.

It helps these membranes act as the brain’s “gatekeepers” by regulating the flow of nutrients into and waste products out of the brain.

PS reduces the wear and tear of stress by normalizing the stress hormone cortisol

It boosts memory and learning and can help with attention disorders

Phosphatidylserine is protective against age-related mental decline and shows promise for treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

PS can improve mood and help with depression, especially among seniors

The general recommended dose of phosphatidylserine is 100 mg, three times a day

12. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a highly regarded adaptogen that might just be the answer for whatever ails you.

This traditional Chinese and Scandinavian medicine herb is used to increase physical stamina, tolerance to stress, mental vitality, and longevity.

It works by decreasing cortisol while increasing levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. 

This is an excellent herbal remedy to try if you believe your memory loss is due to too much stress, or is accompanied by anxiety, depression, brain fog, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Note when shopping: This herb goes by many other names, including Arctic root, golden root, and roseroot (since it smells a little like a rose).

A typical dose of Rhodiola rosea is 200 to 600 mg per day

13. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a synthetic version of vincamine, a compound derived from the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor), that improves memory and overall mental well-being. 

It works by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing the brain’s use of oxygen, and protecting the brain from free radical damage.

periwinkle flowers
Periwinkle, source of vincamine.

Vinpocetine has only recently become available in the United States.

It is very popular in Europe and Japan where it’s available by prescription only.

Doctors in Europe believe that it is far more effective than Ginkgo biloba, which is widely promoted as one of the best brain supplements.

It is these qualities that make vinpocetine a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s

While studies show that vinpocetine is a promising treatment for mental decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, as of yet there’s not a lot of evidence that it helps the brains of healthy adults.

Most clinical studies of vinpocetine have used a dose of 5 to 30 mg, three times per day

For maximum absorption, this is one supplement that you definitely should take with meals.

Memory Supplement Ingredients to Be Used With Caution

There are some popular memory supplements that should largely be avoided for various reasons.

Some have not withstood scientific scrutiny, while others are best obtained from foods and not from supplements.

A few, even though they are “natural,” are not necessarily safe and have significant side effects.

It’s important to understand the pros and cons of these memory supplements before giving them a try.

14. Galantamine

Galantamine is derived from the snowdrop flower (Galanthus caucasicus) and works by blocking the breakdown of acetylcholine.

It straddles the line between being a drug and a natural remedy.

In the US, it’s approved for treating Alzheimer’s and is available as both a prescription and over-the-counter supplement. 

It’s not recommended for minor memory loss since it can have some serious side effects.

Galantamine’s long list of side effects includes blurred vision, chest pains, abdominal pain, mental confusion, dizziness, headache, vomiting, muscle cramps, and more. 

If your memory loss is serious and you think galantamine could help, talk to your doctor before taking.

15. Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular herbal remedies worldwide and is most commonly taken for memory improvement.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on Ginkgo biloba supplements, but their usefulness for memory improvement has not been supported by scientific evidence

Research has repeatedly concluded that ginkgo does very little to improve memory in healthy adults. 

However, ginkgo has been found to be beneficial for improving the day-to-day quality of life for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients

Other proven uses for ginkgo are for anxiety and depression.

It can also be a helpful adjunct to medications taken for ADHD and schizophrenia

16. MCT Oil

MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil has been enjoying its 15 minutes of fame as an ingredient in “Bulletproof” coffee.

But long before that, its use was popularized by neonatal physician Mary Newport, MD, who used it, along with coconut oil, to treat her husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She published a detailed account of his progress in her book Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?.

MCT oil offers neuroprotective benefits for a wide range of neurological diseases, including: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • dementia
  • epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • stroke
  • traumatic brain injury

One study found that adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an intermediate stage before dementia, experienced an immediate and significant improvement in memory after taking a single dose of MCT oil

But so far, there is little scientific evidence that MCT oil increases mental performance in healthy adults.

Before taking MCT oil as a supplement, consider incorporating coconut oil into your diet since it’s the main dietary source of medium-chain triglycerides.

17. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a compound found in red wine, grapes, and several kinds of berries.

It is sold as a brain supplement to improve memory and provide protection against age-related mental decline.

But isolated resveratrol found in supplements is immediately broken down into metabolites which do not reach the brain

Almost all of the research (and surrounding hype) about resveratrol comes from animal studies.

The most significant human study is the Chianti Study.

After tracking study participants who lived in the Chianti region of Italy for nine years, researchers found no correlation between resveratrol levels and any health markers. 

Another study found that resveratrol increases blood flow to the brain, but no positive changes in mental performance were detected. 

For memory improvement, skip this supplement and instead eat grapes, berries, peanuts, and chocolate, and have an occasional glass of red wine.

18. EGCG

Green tea has been lauded in Asia for its ability to increase longevity, mental clarity, and physical stamina.

One of the most important compounds in green tea is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate).

EGCG is especially protective against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. 

It promotes new brain cell creation in the parts of the brain affected by these diseases and reduces the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. 

It also inhibits depression, increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA, and actually changes brainwave patterns

While you can take supplemental EGCG, we don’t recommend it since it’s notoriously unstable and poorly absorbed

It’s much better to get your EGCG by drinking green tea.

That way, you’ll also reap the synergistic benefits between EGCG and other brain-enhancing nutrients in green tea, notably the relaxing amino acid l-theanine and caffeine. 

19. Caffeine

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee and tea, and is added to energy drinks, sodas, and many brain supplements to boost energy, memory, productivity, and focus

Most people can tolerate and even benefit from caffeine in moderation.

But if you are prone to anxiety, caffeine is one substance to skip.

Too much caffeine can cause significant anxiety symptoms, even in people with no history of anxiety disorders.

While pure caffeine pills and powders are available, they are dangerous and definitely not recommended.

Pure caffeine is an extremely powerful psychoactive drug and it’s easy to take too much.

Unfortunately, there have been a few deaths from caffeine powder overdose.

If you’re going to ingest caffeine, get it from coffee and tea, which also contain an abundance of nutrients that nourish and protect your brain.

20. Nicotine 

One of the most unexpected memory boosters is nicotine.

While no one would recommend that you start smoking, there’s a lot of evidence that isolated nicotine (NOT smoking tobacco) is one of the best cognitive enhancers around.

More than 40 studies support the conclusion that nicotine improves memory, attention, accuracy, response time, and fine motor skills — and it does so surprisingly safely

This is no secret among college students and biohackers who already use various nicotine replacement products to improve mental performance.

Desperate seniors use it to alleviate the symptoms of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Research confirms that nicotine administered via transdermal patch can improve memory, attention, and mental processing in people with MCI or Alzheimer’s, with no side effects. 

But experts strongly advise against self-medicating with nicotine and suggest you work with a health care professional instead.

Memory Supplements: Take the Next Step

If memory improvement is your main objective, you will do well to use a supplement that contains the memory enhancers on this list.

You can start with either a single-ingredient supplement or find a proprietary blend that contains several of these proven ingredients.

Keep in mind that just because a product is marketed as a brain supplement does not mean that it contains ingredients that can actually help your memory.

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  • Improve your mental clarity and focus.
  • Boost your memory and your ability to learn.
  • Increase your capacity to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.
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