Brain vitamins and nootropics for memory

Combat memory problems and memory loss. These five brain vitamins enhance memory and support healthy cognitive function.

An estimated one in nine adults over the age of 45 say they experience memory issues, including occasional memory loss. [1] This number skyrockets as we get older. By the time we’re in our mid-60s, an estimated 40% of adults have a memory impairment. [2] But memory loss doesn’t have to be an inevitable outcome of ageing.

The following brain vitamins and certain nootropics—herbs and other substances that improve cognitive function—can help:

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin E

  • B-complex vitamins

  • Herbal nootropics

  • Omega 3 fats

If you want to ensure you’re looking after your brain, long-term, make sure you’re getting the minerals and vitamins best for brain health.

The 5 best vitamins for memory support and enhancement

1. Vitamin D

Nearly half of all Europeans are lacking in vitamin D . [7] Blame it on diet, or the fact that much of Europe doesn’t receive a lot of ultraviolet light exposure during big chunks of the year. Whatever the cause, it should be no surprise that doctors are increasingly worried about memory problems associated with low levels of vitamin D.

Over the course of an eight-year study, researchers found that long-term vitamin D insufficiency was linked with a significantly faster rate of cognitive decline, especially as it relates to memory. [8] And lack of vitamin D level concerns start at a very young age. If mothers or their infants are low in the so-called "sunshine vitamin," children display early difficulties with learning and memory.

Daily nutrient reference values (NRV) for vitamin D:

  • 5µg (European Union)

  • 10µg (UK Department of Health recommended intake level)

Top sources for vitamin D:

  • Salmon, sardines, herring and other fatty fish

  • Liver

  • Egg yolks

  • Some varieties of mushrooms if grown in the sunlight

  • Breakfast cereals and other fortified foods

  • 30 minutes of sunlight, two or three times a week

2. Vitamin E

Vitamin E may help to boost and enhance your memory in several ways.

First, there's brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Neurotrophins are a type of protein that is critical for the survival, growth, and functioning of your brain's neurones. Researchers have found that vitamin E supplementation improves BDNF levels, [10] and also led to improved memory and learning.

Second, there’s the potent antioxidant activity of vitamin E . Antioxidants neutralise free radicals (i.e., unstable atoms) that damage your brain cells. By protecting your brain from cellular damage, vitamin E has been linked to improved memory and cognitive performance. [11]

While vitamin E can enhance memory for everyone, it’s especially supportive for older adults who are in their 60s and beyond. [12]

Daily nutrient reference values (NRV) for vitamin E:

  • 12mg

Top sources for vitamin E:

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Almonds

  • Peanuts

  • Pumpkin

  • Wheat germ oil

3. B-complex vitamins

There are eight different B vitamins that are foundational in brain health and braincare. Together, they’re often referred to as B-complex vitamins.

B-complex vitamins have a protective effect against memory loss and memory impairment, [13] and can help to lower your risks of experiencing memory problems in the future.

But B-complex vitamins also have a supportive and regenerative effect. One study followed seniors over the course of two years. [14] The researchers discovered that taking a B-complex supplement slowed cognitive decline and even helped to reduce the pre-existing atrophy of neurones in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

While everyone can benefit from taking a B-complex supplement for memory, people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may want to especially pay attention to vitamin B12. This B vitamin is only found in animal-based products, and nearly nine out of ten vegans are lacking in B12. [15]

Researchers found that low B12 levels are associated with worse memory performance. [16] This may be one reason people who eat a plant-based diet occasionally complain about vegan brain fog .

Daily nutrient reference values (NRV) for B-complex vitamins:

Top sources for B vitamins:

  • B1 (thiamine): citrus fruits, whole grains, liver and pork

  • B2 (riboflavin): dairy, eggs, leafy greens, and almonds

  • B3 (niacin): fatty fish, peanuts, avocado, and poultry

  • B5 (pantothenic acid): fatty fish, sweet potatoes, dairy and organ meats

  • B6 (pyridoxine): oats, bananas, peanuts, dairy and fish

  • B7 (biotin): leafy greens, peas, legumes, nuts and seeds, and salmon

  • B9 (folic acid): leafy greens, apples, corn, and many types of seafood

  • B12 (cobalamin): organ meats, beef, salmon, and fortified foods

4. Herbal nootropics

Some herbal remedies have been linked with improved cognitive function and enhanced memory. Collectively, natural brain enhancers that aren’t “true” vitamins are often referred to as nootropics .

Ashwagandha ( Withania somnifera ), which is a shrub found in India, Africa and the Middle East, is one of the most popular nootropics. People use its berries and roots as an herbal remedy, and especially as a brain booster that’s been shown to improve cognitive function, boost memory, and reduce the risks of neurological disorders. [17]

However, ashwagandha isn’t the only nootropic being investigated by researchers for its braincare benefits.

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have long promoted water hyssop ( Bacopa monnieri ) as a brain supplement. Researchers have linked its active compounds to improved memory, faster information processing in your brain, and even shorter reaction times and reflexes. [18, 19, 20]

Finally, there’s Panax ginseng . It protects your brain cells from damage, [21] and taking it as a supplement has been shown to improve brain energy levels and boost memory. [22, 23]

5. Omega 3 fats

Omega 3 fatty acids have a wide array of health benefits when it comes to braincare and cognitive performance.

In a study of nearly 500 healthy adults, taking an omega 3 supplement for 24 weeks significantly improved learning and memory function. [24] And if you’re an older adult who’s especially concerned about how ageing is affecting your memory and cognition, you’ll be happy to know that its memory-boosting effects are especially prominent in ageing brains. [25]

Daily nutrient reference values (NRV) for omega 3s:

  • Men: 160mg

  • Women: 90mg

Top sources for omega 3s:

  • Salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish

  • Shellfish, such as crab, clams oysters

  • Seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds (note: these are sources of ALA, which your body then converts into EPA and DHA)

  • Seaweed and sea vegetables

Food for thought: the nutrition and memory connection

Your cognition, especially your memory, is directly impacted by your diet. This link is complex, and still not fully understood. Yet more and more brain researchers are highlighting how the standard Western diet is sabotaging memory and may be behind the rising statistics surrounding memory loss.

“Research suggests that what we eat might have an impact on our ability to remember,” warns Harvard Medical School. [3]

For example, one study reported that people who ate diets heavy in red meat and other animal-based sources of saturated fats had significantly worsening memory over the course of five years. [4] And multiple trials have found high-sugar diets triggered brain irritation and swelling that led to memory impairments. [5, 6]

It’s important to avoid foods that are linked to memory problems. It’s equally important to eat a memory-boosting diet—the Mediterranean diet is strongly associated with better brain health —and fill any nutritional gaps in your diet with memory-boosting vitamin supplements.

























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