When choosing a memory supplement, consider only those that contain proven ingredients. Review our list of 20 substances shown to actually improve memory.
Table of Contents
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. (1)
Brains of all ages are overloaded with an endless stream of information that must be remembered.
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.
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.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC or ALCAR) is an amino acid well documented for its ability to improve alertness, focus, mental clarity, and mood. (2)
It works in part by creating acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory, sleep cycle regulation, and other brain functions. (3)
ALCAR works as a potent antioxidant, stopping free radical damage in brain cells. (4)
" More than $250 million is spent each year on Ginkgo biloba supplements, but its usefulness for memory improvement is not supported by scientific evidence.
It has fast-acting antidepressant properties too, often working faster than prescription antidepressants. (5)
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. (6)
The recommended daily dose for general memory improvement ranges between 1,500 to 2,000 mg per day. (7)
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. (8)
In Europe, alpha-GPC is prescribed as a medication to treat Alzheimer’s. (9)
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. (10)
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.
It was used as a brain tonic to enhance memory, learning, and concentration and also to treat anxiety, heart and lung problems, and digestive disorders. (11)
Bacopa is considered an adaptogen — a plant that increases resilience to mental and physical stress. (12)
It balances the stress hormones and the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA.
Bacopa is often included in natural nootropic formulas and is good for age-related mental decline. (13)
A typical dose of bacopa for memory improvement is 300 mg per day, ideally taken with meals. (14)
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Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound that your 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. (15, 16)
- age-related memory loss
- brain injury
- Parkinson’s disease
Citicoline works by increasing brain energy, protecting the brain from damage, and increasing acetylcholine. (19)
When looking for citicoline supplements, you may come across some that contain Cognizin.
Cognizin is a brand name of a patented, highly bioavailable form of citicoline that has been clinically tested in humans. (20)
A daily dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mg of citicoline is recommended for cognitive enhancement. (21)
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. (22)
- blood flow
- neurotransmitter formation
- brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates new brain cell production
One study found that curcumin improved memory and attention in healthy seniors. (25)
Remarkably, these benefits were experienced within an hour after taking a single dose.
Most commonly, this means a supplement that includes the black pepper extract piperine.
A suggested dosages for curcumin is 500 mg three times per day, provided steps have been taken to enhance bioavailability. (27)
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.
For memory improvement, look for a ginseng supplement that contains Cereboost.
This patent-pending American ginseng extract has clinical studies to back up its claims for improving memory, mental clarity, and sharpness.
These positive effects are often experienced within just a few hours of taking a dose.
Take 400 mg daily for the maximum memory boost. (30)
7. Huperzine A
Huperzine A is an compound isolated from Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata), a traditional Chinese herb for memory improvement.
Huperzine A raises acetylcholine levels by blocking an enzyme that breaks it down. (31)
In China, huperzine A is an approved drug for treating Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. (32)
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.
The general recommended dosage is 50 to 200 mcg twice a day. (35)
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8. Magnesium L-Threonate
Magnesium may be the most underappreciated dietary mineral.
It’s needed for over 300 metabolic functions and has profound effects on the brain and mental health.
Magnesium deficiency can cause depression, since without it, the brain chemical serotonin cannot bind to its receptors. (36)
- restless leg syndrome
- and more
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 supplement with the unique ability to readily permeate brain cell membranes.
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. (41)
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9. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that enhances memory, mood, and overall brain health. (42)
It goes by many common names — my favorite is velvet bean.
Unlike most memory supplements which increase acetylcholine levels, mucuna works by increasing the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine is 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.
Unfortunately, there is no consensus on how much to take.
Until there is, I’d recommend you buy a reputable brand and follow the recommended dosage instructions on the label.
10. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for the health and function of your brain.
The brain benefits of omega-3 fats are derived mostly from docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a primary structural component of the brain. (43)
DHA deficiency measurably shrinks your brain and causes a variety of cognitive impairments. (44)
You can take DHA as a single-ingredient supplement or you can get your DHA from fish oil or krill oil supplements.
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Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid found in particularly high concentrations in brain cell membranes.
It helps these membranes act as your brain’s “gatekeepers” by regulating the flow of nutrients into and waste products out of your brain.
It boosts memory and learning and can help with ADHD and attention. (55)
Phosphatidylserine is protective against age-related mental decline and shows promise for treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (56)
The general recommended dose of phosphatidylserine is 100 mg three times a day. (59)
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 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. (60)
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).
It works by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing the brain’s use of oxygen, and protecting the brain from free radical damage.
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 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. (64)
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 boosts brain health in healthy adults.
Most clinical studies on vinpocetine have used a dose of 5 to 30 mg three times per day. (65)
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, for various reasons, should be avoided under some circumstances.
Some haven’t withstood scientific scrutiny, while others are best obtained from foods and not in the form of supplements.
A few should not be taken before consulting with your doctor.
It’s important to understand the pros and cons of these memory supplements before giving them a try.
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. (66)
It’s not recommended for minor memory loss since it can have some serious side effects.
Common side effects include blurred vision, chest pains, abdominal pain, mental confusion, dizziness, headache, vomiting, muscle cramps, and more. (67)
If your memory loss is serious and you think galantamine could help, talk to your doctor before taking.
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular herbal remedies worldwide and is most commonly taken for memory improvement.
More than $250 million is spent each year on Ginkgo biloba supplements, but its usefulness for memory improvement has not been supported by scientific evidence. (68)
Other proven uses for ginkgo are for anxiety and depression.
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?.
- 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. (76)
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.
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 from age-related mental decline.
But isolated resveratrol found in supplements is immediately broken down into metabolites which do not reach the brain. (77)
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. (78)
Another study found that resveratrol increases blood flow to the brain, but no positive changes in mental performance were detected. (79)
For memory improvement, skip this supplement and instead adopt the Mediterranean diet which includes a moderate intake of red wine.
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. (80)
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. (81)
While you can take supplemental EGCG, we don’t recommend it since it’s notoriously unstable and poorly absorbed. (85)
It’s much better to get your EGCG by drinking green tea.
That way, you’ll also reap the benefits of the synergy between EGCG and other brain-enhancing nutrients in green tea, notably the relaxing amino acid l-theanine and caffeine. (86)
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. (87)
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.
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. (88)
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 and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
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 substances 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 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.
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