If you often feel
brain foggy, forgetful, or have trouble remembering things — like that one important errand you definitely had on your to-do list — then you might be in the market for a supplement that helps support memory and cognition.
Before diving into supplements, though, let’s chat about what else you can do to
support your memory right now and as you get older. According to Dr. Reuben Chen, M.D., a board-certified medical physician, you can take care of your brain by getting enough sleep, physical activity, good nutrition — from whole foods, like fruits and vegetables — and by avoiding alcohol. Memory issues, like being forgetful or foggy, also tend to go hand-in-hand with mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression. That’s why working to reduce stress and/or seeing a qualified mental health professional should be part of the bigger picture, Chen says. It’s possible once you sort out your mental health, those pesky memory issues will fade away.
There are also lots of little things you can do every day to
boost your brain power, including playing Wordle or Sudoku. Chen says stimulating activities and brain teasers help keep your memory sharp. “Learning new skills also improves memory, especially languages and musical instruments,” he tells Bustle.
If you’re already doing all of that or would like to
improve your cognition even further, that’s when you might add in a supplement. “Supplements can provide added nutrition,” Chen says, noting that many also decrease the overall inflammatory processes in the body, which studies have shown negatively impacts the brain.
Here, experts share all the best supplements for memory support that you can consider adding to your wellness routine.
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 Omega-3 What It Is: Omega-3 is a fatty acid is found in fish and alpha-linolenic acid (aka the kind sourced from nuts and seeds). What It Does. According to registered dietician Trista Best, RD, fish oil and omega-3s can help improve your mood and energy, and it’s also been shown to potentially prevent the risk of some cognitive disorders. “This is because roughly 60% of the brain is made of fat, and half that amount is omega-3 type fats,” she tells Bustle. “The brain requires omega-3 fat to make nerve cells, which are vital to memory and one's ability to learn.” The Product: The omega-3 krill oil from MegaRed contains DHA and EPA fatty acids, as well as astaxanthin (a potent antioxidant) and phospholipids (also rich in fatty acids) to support brain health. MegaRed Omega 3 Krill Oil has been shown to significantly increase your omega-3 index in just 30 days. What To Know: “You can also integrate omega-3 rich foods into your diet to boost your benefits even further,” Best says. “Omega-3 rich foods include fatty fish, walnuts, chia, flaxseed, navy beans, avocado, tofu, and canola oil.” 2 Lion’s Mane What It Is: Chen recommends taking lion’s mane along with an omega-3 supplement to support brain health. “Lion's mane is a medicinal mushroom that has demonstrated neuroprotective effects,” he says. What It Does: Chen points to a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms that found that lion’s mane, or Hericium erinaceus, improved recognition memory in an animal model. “It may also reduce symptoms of brain fog,” he says. The Product: Om’s Mushroom Superfood contains 50 servings of lion’s mane mushroom powder. Each packet contains has 2,000 mg of functional mushrooms to support your memory, focus, mental clarity, and nerve health. What To Know: Chen recommends taking lion’s mane once or twice a day, with a dose of 500 to 1,000 mg. 3 Bacopa What It Is: Bacopa is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that’s been used for centuries, says DJ Blatner, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with supplement brand NOW. What It Does: Recent scientific studies indicate that bacopa can support nervous system health by supporting the brain’s free radical protective systems and reducing inflammation, says Blatner. The Product: The Bacopa Extract from NOW contains 450 mg of the herb per vegetarian capsule. What To Know: For benefits, simply take one capsule daily. One thing to note: “Bacopa may cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort for those with sensitivities,” Blatner says. 4 Curcumin What It Is: According to Dr. Daniel Boyer, M.D., a board-certified doctor, curcumin is found in the common spice turmeric. What It Does: “This compound has been shown to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties necessary for maintaining healthy brain function,” Boyer tells Bustle. A 2018 study published in Phytotherapy Research found that curcumin appears to be effective in improving cognitive function in the elderly. The Product: This option from NatureWise contains 750 mg of organic curcumin in each capsule. Because curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, the supplement is enhanced with ginger and Bioperine, the latter of which is a patented black pepper extract proven to increase bioavailability. What To Know: You can take this curcumin supplement up to three times per day. As it goes with any additions to a diet, just make sure to consult with your doctor first to make sure it won’t interact with your other supplements or medications. 5 Gingko Biloba What It Is: Another good nutrient for the brain is ginkgo biloba, an extract made from the ginkgo tree that originated in China. What It Does: The most helpful components of ginkgo are believed to be flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant qualities, and terpenoids, which help improve circulation by dilating blood vessels. Most research on ginkgo focuses on its effect on dementia, memory, and pain caused by too little blood flow or “claudication.” The Product: Supplements made from ginkgo biloba may support healthy cerebral functions, according to Blatner. This option from Bronson is vegetarian, non-GMO, and gluten- and soy-free. What To Know: Take two supplements once a day with food. 6 Acetyl L-Carnitine What It Is: Acetyl L-Carnitine, or ALCAR, is a form of L-carnitine, an amino acid that is found in nearly all cells of the body. What It Does: “ALCAR aids in the production of energy in the brain by increasing brain carnitine levels and promoting acetylcholine production, which is vital to earning, memory, and cognition,” Dr. Harold Hong, a board-certified psychiatrist at New Waters Recovery, tells Bustle. “This neurotransmitter also supports the brain's ability to grow new neurons and repair damaged ones.” The Product: NaturaLife Labs Acetyl L-Carnitine comes in 100 veggie capsules with 1,500 mg per capsule. It’s said to support energy production and brain function. What To Know: Note that taking ALCAR can sometimes have side effects like an upset stomach, vomiting, nausea, and headaches. 7 Pycnogenol What It Is: Dr. Fred Pescatore, a natural health physician, recommends taking an antioxidant supplement like Pycnogenol, a natural plant extract made from maritime pine bark, for memory support. What It Does: According to Pescatore, studies have shown that Pycnogenol may help improve both numerical and spatial working memory. An eight-week trial published in Panminerva Medica in 2011 found that the extract helped improve memory and test scores in college studies, and it also decreased test anxiety. The Product: Healthy Origins’ Pycnogenol is encapsulated in the USA using raw material originating from the Les Landes de Gascogne forest in southwest France. This bottle contains 60 veggie capsules to help support cognitive function and circulatory health. What To Know: Other benefits of Pycnogenol include free radical protection for the skin, increased joint health, and eye health support. 8 B Vitamins What It Is: B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that play an important role in brain function, Hong says. What It Does: “B vitamins have been shown to improve memory by reducing inflammation and protecting the brain from damage,” Hong explains. Deficiency in any of the B vitamins is associated with neurocognitive disorders, he adds, which is why it’s important to get enough. The Product: Nature Made’s Stress B-Complex contains vitamin B, vitamin C, and zinc to support your immune system, as well as vitamin B6 to support the production of neurotransmitters. What To Know: Take one tablet daily with water and a meal — and remember to check with your doctor to ensure all your vitamins, supplements, and medications won’t interact. Studies referenced: Alhola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. PMID: 19300585; PMCID: PMC2656292. Baker, E. (2016). Metabolism and functional effects of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids in humans. Prog Lipid Res. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27496755/ Belcaro, G. (2014). Pycnogenol® improves cognitive function, attention, mental performance and specific professional skills in healthy professionals aged 35-55. J Neurosurg Sci. PMID: 24675223. Chang, C. (2009). Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20329590/ Gorelick, PB. (2010). Role of inflammation in cognitive impairment: results of observational epidemiological studies and clinical trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05726.x. Guo, X. (2021). Musical instrument training program improves verbal memory and neural efficiency in novice older adults. Hum Brain Mapp. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25298. Health Quality Ontario. (2013). Vitamin B12 and cognitive function: an evidence-based analysis. Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. PMID: 24379897; PMCID: PMC3874776. Hewlings, S. J. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods, 6(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/foods6100092 Iravani, S., & Zolfaghari, B. (2011). Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical effects of Pinus pinaster bark extract. Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences, 6(1), 1-11. https://doi.org/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203267/ Kennedy, D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020068 Küllenberg, D. (2011). Health effects of dietary phospholipids. Lipids in Health and Disease, 11, 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-11-3 Litwin, H. (2017). Cognitively Stimulating Leisure Activity and Subsequent Cognitive Function: A SHARE-based Analysis. Gerontologist. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw084. Loprinzi, PD. (2018). The Effects of Exercise on Memory Function Among Young to Middle-Aged Adults: Systematic Review and Recommendations for Future Research. Am J Health Promot. doi: 10.1177/0890117117737409. Nemetchek, MD. (2017). The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain. J Ethnopharmacol. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.073. Epub 2016 Jul 26. Mishra, S. (2008). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer's disease: An overview. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. doi: 10.4103/0972-2327.40220. Morris, M. S. (2010). Vitamin B-6 Intake Is Inversely Related to, and the Requirement Is Affected by, Inflammation Status. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(1), 103-110. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.109.114397 Pennisi, M. (2020). Acetyl-L-Carnitine in Dementia and Other Cognitive Disorders: A Critical Update. Nutrients. doi: 10.3390/nu12051389. Sabaratnam, V. (2013). Neuronal Health – Can Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms Help?. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 3(1), 62-68. https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.106549 Schweizer, S. (2018). Symptoms of depression in a large healthy population cohort are related to subjective memory complaints and memory performance in negative contexts. Psychol Med. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717001519. Shukitt-Hale, B. (2019). Blueberries Improve Neuroinflammation and Cognition differentially Depending on Individual Cognitive baseline Status. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glz048. Topiwala, A. (2018). Effects of drinking on late-life brain and cognition. Evid Based Ment Health. doi: 10.1136/eb-2017-102820. Zhu, LN. (2019). Curcumin intervention for cognitive function in different types of people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytother Res. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6257. Zuo, W. (2017). Advances in the Studies of Ginkgo Biloba Leaves Extract on Aging-Related Diseases. Aging and Disease, 8(6), 812-826. https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2017.0615 Sources: Dr. Reuben Chen, board-certified medical physician Trista Best, RD, registered dietician DJ Blatner, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Harold Hong, board-certified psychiatrist at New Waters Recovery Dr. Fred Pescatore, natural health physician Dr. Daniel Boyer, M.D., board-certified doctor
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