Memory loss is something we all have to contend with eventually. As we get older, the signs of cognitive decline start to become more apparent; we experience more memory lapses, our short term memory seems to completely disappear at times, and our cognitive function as a whole seems to start deteriorating.
Obviously the severity of this decline in cognitive function is a spectrum. For some older adults, all they notice are memory games getting harder. For those less fortunate, cognitive impairment can manifest quickly and become much more severe, ultimately leading to mild cognitive impairment, long term memory loss, and potentially Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
While we all experience cognitive decline differently, to different degrees of severity, it is something that affects everyone to some degree. Nobody reaches very old age without even mild cognitive impairment; memory problems are just part and parcel of being an older adult. That said, there are ways that we can slow the onset of cognitive decline and attenuate its severity. Memory decline is a process we learn more about every day, and we know some of the key mchanisms that drive it; by targeting those processes and slowing (or even preventing some of them), we can preserve short and long term memory function for much longer.
In this article, I’ll explain the neurophysiolgy of memory and cognitive decline. I will go through some of the variables involved in cognitive decline which we can control, and explain what changes we can make to try and help preserve as much memory function as possible. I will then go on to discuss the various memory enhancing supplements we can use.
At the end of the article, I’ll give you my recommended memory enhancing supplement stack. Please post your questons in the comments at the end and I’ll get right back to you!
Neurophysiology of Memory
Like all cognitive processes,memory is extraordinarily complicated and not yet fully understood. Even still, we are constantly making progress in understanding the actual physical processes which underly memory formation and retrieval.
For example,brain imaging studies have managed to pin down specific areas of the brain as responsible for particular types of memory. The hippocampus is thought to be priarily responsible for spatial learning (mental prepresentations of our environment) and declarative learning (information one can speak about and articulate). The prefrontal cortex appears to be most active when employiong short-term working memory, and we know that the amygdala is the brain region largely responsible for attaching emotional significance to memories.
However, all of this needs to be taken with trucklods of salt.
Much of our understanding of memory function comes from animal studies, brain imaging studies, and from examining patients with injuries to specific brain regions. None of these investigative methods produces concrete proof that a certain area of the brain is “in charge of” certain aspects of memory.
In any case, it seems that the biggest variable controlling memory function, as well as cognitive performance generally, is overall brain cell health.
How Brain Health Affects Memory
Experts currently believe that learning and memory are cognitive functions largely dependent on changes in neurons. More specificaly, it is thought that learning and memory formation occurs when changes are made to the synapses which link neurons.
Your neurons are connected by synapses. These are the communication “gateways” of your brain cells; one neuron sends a signal to another by releasing neurotransmitters which move from the synapse to receptors on the receiving synapse, as is shown here:
Learning occurs when there is either up or down regulation of neurons for prolonged periods of time. This is known as long term potentiation (upregulation) and long term depression (downregulation). In simple terms, the brain enhances the signal transmission between two neurons by stiulating them simultaneously (or synchronously), a process that leads to the encoding of memories.
So the health of your brain cells – specifically your neurons and the synapses which connec them – largely govern memory function.
How does this relate to dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other memory conditions? How does this all tie in to memory supplements?
Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Memory Loss
I need to preface this section by saying that I am not an expert on mental health conditions or cognitive conditions as they manifest clinically. I have no experience treating patients with any mental health conditions or memory loss. If you think you may have dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease or any of the related conditions, then you need to medical advice from the experts; qualified medical doctors trained to assess, diagnose and treat these conditions.
Just like memory function itself, dementia and conditions relatd to dementia are extremely complicated. Our understanding of memory loss disorders is far from complete. However,we do have a basic grasp on what causes most dementias (it is a group of conditions with differing manifestations).
The current best evidence suggests that memory conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are caused by a combination of neuron atrophy and the build-up of protein plaques between neurons which inhibits their ability to send neurotransmitters.
The initial stages of Alzheimer’s – when the disease first starts producing noticeable symptoms – is typically concurrent with the death or degradation of neurons in areas of the brain associated with memory. In very basic terms, people with Alzheimer’s have a large amount of beta-amyloid protein plaque deposited between their neurons. This plaque is itself toxic, so it simultaneously disrupts a neuron’s ability to send or receive messages while also destroying the brain cell itself.
The focus of a lot of research right now is determining whether the disease is caused by these changes, or whether the disease itself causes them. But either way, it seems that experts are narrowing in on the mechanisms which underly memory diseases. Pharmacueitcal companies are now targeting prescriptiojn drugs which can break down the beta-amyloid protein, but work is unfortunately slow-going.
In the case of dementias, causes are much more diverse. One of the more common types of dementia is vascular dementia. As the name suggests, vascular dementia is caused by a reduction in blood flow in specific areas of the brain (i.e. those associated with memory).
Early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia include:
- Difficulty doing familiar, everyday tasks
- Mood swings
- Getting confused about times and places
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering new information
If you believe that you or anybody is exhibiting early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s or any kind of cognitive impairment, it is absolutely vital that you seek proper medical attention immediately. Ideally, seek advice from experts in the field of memory loss.
Diet and Memory
The progression of pathologies such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease obviously cannot be affected by foods. However, cognitive function can absolutely be affected by diet; the foods we eat directly influence how our brains work, and that includes how our memory works.
Certain diets are often linked with certain health outcomes. For example, the Mediterranean diet is said to be generally heart protective, while the Okinawan Diet (or what that diet once was) is said to promote life span. The science behind these trends is often shaky. However, certain diets – or more accurately certain foods – can be said to promote good cognition, and by extension, improve memory.
So what kind of food should you be eating to improve memory and overall cognitive performance? What specific foods are good for brain health and function?
Right away, I need to say that fish is not the “brain food” it is often made out to be. While fish is a healthier alternative to red meat when it comes to protecting your heart, and a fairly rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, it is not the optimal food to be eating if you care about your long-term brain health and brain function. That’s because fatty fish – the kind recommended for brain function support – is now typically loaded with pollutants, toxins, and microplastics. Mercury is the biggest concern; large, ocean-going fish are typically loaded with mercury, which kills brain cells.
If you do not get enough omega 3s from your regular diet, I recommend using a supplement containing omega 3s from algae. Algae is the best source of omega 3s; it’s where the fish get it from anyway! Algae oil is typically richer in omega 3s than cod liver oil, and it contains none of the nasty pollutants or brain cell-killing toxins found in fish oil. In particular, algae oil is rich in DHA omega 3 fatty acid. This is the kind of omega 3 fatty acid which will have the largest impact on overall brain function and health.
So what foods are good for memory?
Generally speaking, to promote memory function you want to focus on foods which provide all of the vitamins, amino acids, fats and other nutrients involved in normal brain function. You also want to prioritize anti-oxidants, particularly those known to have a high affinity for brain cell protection.
This means focusing on consuming large quantities of leafy green vegetables, brightly colored vegetables, nuts, seeds, and specific plant oils like olive oil and coconut oil. To ensure you get all the vitamins and anti-oxidants implicated in brain function and health (resveratrol, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the B Vitamins like folic acid and B12) it’s wise to also consume a good variety of fruits.
Amino acids like Tyrosine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine are also implicated in brain function, but it is generally better to supplement with these rather than trying to obtain large quantities from food.
Summary: What foods are good for memory?
Diet can have a profound impact on memory function. To support memory as you get older, focus on eaing a varied, balanced diet rich in omega 3 faty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Eating lots of leafy green vegetables and healty fats is a must for optimal cognitive performance.
Best Supplements For Memory and Cognitive Performance
There are no memory boosters capable of reversing or completely preventing cognitive decline. The pharmaceutical industry is spending billions of dollars to try and find a reliable drug for curing or even controlling dementia, but to no avail (so far). So there are obviously no supplements for memory powerful enough to reverse disease.
However, there are memory enhancing supplements capable of significantly improving memory retention, recall, and overall memory function. These range from general brain health supplements which support brain cell health to specialist memory enhancement supplements which target specific aspects of neuron functionality.
It is unlikely that a single supplement will be able to make a big difference to your ability to remember things. This is particularly true if we’re talking about a natural, plant-derived supplement. In practice, the best way to enhance memory is to use a combination of supplements which target different variables affecting cogntiive performance.
Here are the best supplements for memory function available for purchase right now. All of these have been proven to be effective for improving memory in independent clinical trials. None of them are magic memory pills; there’s no such thing as “memory pills”. But these supplements can improve memory function.
Most effective memory supplements on the market right now:
- Bacopa monnieri
- Ginkgo biloba
- Lion’s mane mushroom
- Omega 3 fatty acids
Bacopa monnieri is probably the single best supplement for preventing memory decline. It is arguiably the most active memory enahncing agent of all the widely-used memory supplements.
Clinical trials have found that Bacopa monnieri supplementation significantly improves performance in memory tests. Studies have tyupically l;asted around 12 weeks, with major benefits becoming apparent after around 6 weeks of daily supplementation and becoming stronger over time. Bacopa monnieri seems to have a more pronounced effect in older people with mild cognitive impairment, but it does improve memory function in young people too.
While there is some disagreement in how Bacopa monnieri works exactl, studies have shown that consistent use of bacoside-rich Bacopa monnieri extract increases dendritic arborization (the branching of connections between neurons). This would definitely explain how Bacopa is able to so reliably improve memory function.
Ginkgo biloba is easily one of the best memory supplements in existence, particularly if your memory issues are related to poor cerebral blood flow (although ginkgo biloba has not been shown to work in cases of vascular dementia). Ginkgo biloba extract is taken from the Ginkgo tree (also known as the Maidenhair Tree), and it has a logn history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Clinical evidence shows that Ginkgo biloba extract improves blood flow in the brain. One group of compounds in Ginkgo biloba, terpenes, increase blood viscosity (just as blood thinners do) and trigger vasodilation; two effects which greatly improve blood flow within the brain. This leads to much better oxygen and nutrient delivery to your brain cells (which compounds the benefits of the other nootropics you might be taking). Ginkgo biloba also contains ginkgosides and glycosides; compounds which also raise vasodilation as well as having some mild anti-oxidant activity.
Amazingly, Ginkgo biloba seems to improve blood flow without raising blood pressure, making it ideal for people with various risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This is a great memory enhancing supplement; the unique mechanism of action of Ginkgo biloba, and the fact it also promotes brain health, makes it the perfect addition to a nootropic stack built for memory.
Citicoline is possibly the best nootropic to take if your goal is to improve brain function across the board. Citicoline quickly raises choline availability in the brain. This leads to a rapid increase in the availability of both acetylcholine, the brain’s chief executive neurotransmitter, and phosphatidylcholine, a primary structural component of brain cell membranes.
Studies have shown that citicoline supplementation is able to improve memory, enhance focus, and increase learning capacity. The cytidine content of citicoline means that it also supports good brain health by enhancing brain cell formation. So while citicoline is generally viewed as a performance nootropic, it is also one of the best memory supplements in the world as it actively improves working memory while also supporting brain health. A fantastic nootropic and a vital part of any quality nootropic stack.
Phosphatidylserine is one of the best brain health supplements and a fantastic supplement for supporting both long and short term memory. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid. It is an integral component of your brain cells; phosphatidylserine is a primary part of your brain cell membranes. While we do consume phospholipids like phosphatidylserine through food, we tend to consume suboptimal amounts for brain cell maintenance. Our phospholipid levels also naturally decline as we age, and this is often accompanied by a decline in cognitive performance (particularly memory).
Studies have shown that supplementing with phosphatidylserine for several weeks and months produces significant improvements in cognitive function, including memory function.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is a very interesting brain supplement; one that should be included in any nootropic stack designed to enhance brain function over the long term. Study after study shows that Lion’s Mane Mushroom consumption increases the release of a neuropeptide called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). This neurotrophic factor controls the growth and proliferation of brain cell structures such as neurons and the dendrites which connect them. By increase the output of NGF, Lion’s Mane Mushroom can improve memory in a very fundamental, lasting way.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
While omega 3 fatty acids are not normally considered nootropics, the omega 3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) should definitely be considered potent memory enhancers.
Omega 3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They promote heart health and eye function, reduce joint pain, and possibly help control cholesterol. But above all else, omega 3s are superb brain supplements. DHA makes up a huge amount of your brain’s gray matter in terms of physical mass. Few people conusme enough DHA on a daily basis to optimally promote the synthesis and maintenance of gray matter. More than one study has shown that omega 3 supplementation produces statistically significant improvements in multiple measures of cognitive function, especially the ability to remember facts.
Generally speaking, I do not recommend the use of fish oil for increasing omega 3 intake. Supplementing with omega 3s obtained from algae (which is where fish get their omega 3s in the first place) is the most reliable way to increase omega 3 intake without exposing yourself to the toxins, pollutants and microplastics found in fish.
Top Brain Health Supplement For Memory Functon
What is thebest supplement to improve memory? What can I take to help my memory right now? Do supplements for memory really work?
If you’re goal is to be able to remember things better, and faster, then I honestly think the best approach is to try to increase overall brain power.
Enhancing cognitive performance is a complicated process. The most efficient and effective way to improve one aspect of brain function is to enhance all of them. That’s why the best memory supplements are those that target every single aspect of brain function; in other words, complete nootropics.
That’s why I recommend Mind Lab Pro. It is easily the most complete nootropic on the market today. As well as being a highly effetive memory enhancing supplement, it is a great focus and learning support stack, as well as a potent anxiolytic and brain health supplement. The best memory supplements target whole brain function, which is why Mind Lab Pro is the best pre-made memory supplement stack out there today.
Paul Tardner is the Head Writer at IJEST.org. Paul is a former academic and research scientist. He now dedicates his time to his own research into nootropics, with a particular focus on cognitive enhancement in old age. You can learn more about Paul from his profile page.