It's no secret that we don't use the potential power our brains have. Movies like Lucy and Limitless have created in interest in memory boosting supplements in the hope that maybe we can take a step closer to doing so. Many products are marketed based on superstition and tradition from ancient cultures rather than actual science.
Since this is often enough for some people these supplements remain popular even though some are even dangerous! After looking at the market you have to choose carefully which supplements will work for your particular memory concerns and decide whether or not they are harmless enough to try
How Does Memory Work?
Memories are actually nothing more than neural impulses that come from different parts of the brain, there is no specific “store” area in our brains for memories. We have several different types of memory – long term, short-term, and working, and certain areas are responsible for the production of each.
For example, long term memories are usually found in the brain's hippocampus. The brains of Alzheimer's patients have been shown to have degeneration here which is why they may remember how to use the a fork but not what school they went to.
Our short term memory is like a quick check list and we can only keep 10-15 things on there before we start to forget. We all lose memories and forget things, it's just natural. But even if we lose certain memories the actual ability to learn and remember things comes from the neocortex or gray matter and counts as short term memory.
For long term memory scientists hypothesize that during sleep the hippocampus stimulates neurotransmitters to the neocortex repeatedly so that the response becomes remembered.
After this the neocortex is able to recall memories bypassing of the hippocampus – which is why amnesiacs can often remember long term events. When we sleep our bodies repeat the information learned throughout the day and then either commit to storing it in the neocortex or discard the response to save space.
When it comes to choosing a supplement what you want is something that supports this process and improves the brain's own function rather than simply throwing additional compounds in and hoping the brain uses them.
Natural Memory Supplements
A herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to help scholars memorize lengthy scriptures. It was mixed into a tonic to enhance learning and memory. Studies have supported this information based on the fact that it contains alkaloids and saponins as well as bacosides. The majority of studies were however, based on rats.
Those on humans showed that the effect on memory was only pronounced enough when tested against learning new information rather than recalling facts that were already known. Ginseng works on acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase, neurotransmitters and enzymes that work to improve overall memory function.
While most people would think of a powdered spice it's actually a powerful antioxidant and cardiovascular stimulant. Found in many Ayurvedic texts it is full of Curcumin which improves memory by increasing blood flow.
People who naturally eat a diet that has curcumin in have been shown to have a low risk of Alzheimer's. Curcumin as a supplement isn't very bioavailable, so it's important to find supplements that have been broken down into a form that is.
This is one of the most popular choices of supplement for memory and it's also one of the most researched herbal supplements to date. It is considered as the holy grail of Chinese herbs and brings wisdom to those who take it. The North American species is actually more potent than the Chinese. One of the most well-known memory supplements containing American Gingseng is Cerboost.
Many vegetables have brain boosting properties but this legume is good for overall brain health This improves levels of dopamine. Dopamine levels are linked closely to anxiety and depression. Murcuna works on stimulating the brain to make you more alert and it is also a good source of L-DOPA, a precursor to dopamine.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty acids play a large part in brain development and health. Most of the brain benefits come from DHA or docosahexaenoic acid which forms the structure of brain cell. With any deficiency in DHA the brain begins to shrink which in turn affects cognitory function and inevitably memory loss.
Omega-3 acids are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. While eating fish has been shown to improve memory function you can also take fish oil supplements to boost your DHA levels and prevent memory loss.
A Scandinavian herb that is used to improve tolerance to stress b decreasing cortisol levels. Cortisol impairs memory by affecting both the hippocampus and the hypercortex. It also increases levels of several neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
It's a good solution for those whose memory scalene because of stress. There's several other names for this herb when found in supplement form including Goldenroot, roseroot, and Arctic root.
Vinpocetine is derived from the periwinkle plant and its thought to improve memory by increasing blood flow to the brain and improving the flow of oxygen to cells there. It's also thought to have antioxidant properties that help protect brain cells from free radical damage. It's thought to be as effective as Ginko Biloba and its proposed as a treatment for Alzheimer's.
Also called ALCAR this is an amino acid that is usually found in foods especially meats and high fat foods. It works as a memory supplement by improving the production of acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter that regulates brain functions.
It's also an antioxidant which may have an effect on free radical damage on brain cells. It has some anti-depressant properties too and since there have been links shown between memory and depression.
Acetylcholine is actually a component broken down from choline. Choline in its most bioavailable form is alpha-glycerophosphocholine (AGPC). Its a compound needed to produce healthy cell membranes and also works to break down into other neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and dopamine.
Research has shown that this compound works to slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease. It can hold off age related mental decline as well as improve attention span.
Derived from choline found in animal products it's been found in studies to work well on the brain in a variety of situations. This is also used for Alzheimer's treatment and is thought to have serious effects on those suffering Dementia, brain injury and age-related memory loss. The most common brand of citricoline is Cognizin which has been engineered to be as bioavailable as that found in food.
Derived from a type of Chinese moss this has been used for centuries specifically to improve memory function. It blocks certain enzymes and raises acetylcholine levels by stopping the compound from breaking down. The compound has been refined into drugs used to treat Alzheimer's and dementia. The compound itself is an antioxidant that protects against environmental toxins and free radical damage.
Magnesium is an important dietary supplement for many reasons. It's used for over 300 processes in the body including many within the brain. Part of the reason it's so important to memory is that low levels of magnesium are linked to depression, schizophrenia and anxiety.
Magnesium comes in many different supplements but the best for brain function is magnesium threonate. The reason for this is that it can penetrate the cell walls of brain cells better than other forms.
A phospholipid that makes up part of the structure of the brain cell membranes. The compound helps to regulate nutrients in and out of the brain and helps to neutralize the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is linked to stress, which has also been linked to poor memory function.
It does this by interfering with the brain's ability to create new memories in the hypercortex and also impairs the hippocampus' ability to recall memories that have already been encoded.
Warning for Supplements
Many popular supplements are have not had significant research to confirm their efficiency and some should be avoided if you have certain health concerns. While the majority of big name supplements like Ginseng and turmeric there is enough research to say that these are safe and effective. Others, such as omega acids are better available to the body when they're taken in as part of a varied diet.
While these supplements have been thought to have some effect on memory their use should only come with doctors advice and with caution.
Supplements to use With Caution
Dervied from the snowdrop flower it acts similarly to Huperzine A by blocking acetylcholine breaking down. It's been refined into several drugs to treat Alzheimer's and can be found both as a prescription dose that is much stronger and a low-dose supplement. However, it has serious side effects including diarrhea, vomiting, pain, and digestive issues.
You might think it strange that such a popular supplement makes it to the cautionary list. Ginko Biloba is one of the most popular supplements in the world and while it has been lauded as an ancient Chinese remedy for memory issues science has failed to back it up.
While minor improvements in everyday short term memory have been tentatively linked there is no evidence showing that it improves long term memory or helps with Alzheimer's. While there are no unpleasant side effects like Galantamine it's usefulness isn't proven.
A supplement that has recently become popular thanks to the “bulletproof coffee” fad, it's found naturally in coconut oil. Medium chain trigylcerides have been shown to have a protective effect against a variety of neurological diseases.
It was published as a memory improver thanks to Dr. Mary Newport who documented the effect of the coffee mixture on her husband's Alzheimer's. While there's nothing sinister about MCT it's best included in your diet by simply swapping other oils for healthier coconut oil instead.
Known for being the heart healthy chemical in red wine it's also found in the grapes themselves and has been linked to improving age related memory problems. Isolated on it's own the chemical itself isn't very stable however and when used in studies it's only shown some results from animal studies.
The Chianti study found that there was no correlation between those who consumed a lot of that wine and health markers for memory loss diseases. There's no doubt that the compound improves blood flow to the brain but other than the occasional glass of red wine it isn't worth taking on it's own.
Green tea seems like it's the solution for every health problem around these days and epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant in it, has been linked to preventing brain degeneration linked to Alzheimer's. It' promotes the creation of new brain cells and also increases the production of GABA.
It's available as a supplement on it's own derived from tea but it's not very bioavailable. It's much more effective when taken as a green tea drink. Not all teas are created equal though, and green tea should be brewed direct from the leaves rather than chemically added (such as many “tea” sodas. You can also find green tea supplements that are whole rather than just EGCG on its own.
Caffeine and Nicotine
While both compounds are found naturally they're also linked to addiction and have been shown to cause serious health problems including death when found in purer forms. Studies have been shown that they both improve memory by improving focus when creating new memories.
Not all of those supplements marketed to improve brain function actually do any good, and many have such spotty research that the term is hardly appropriate for what little benefit is there. It's important if you do decide that you want to take any supplement that you check the dosage is safe and that the supplement itself does have proven benefits.
Hopefully, you've seen that there's a wide selection of memory supplements that work available and several which are less proven so you're better able to decide which will work for you.