20 Memory Supplements That Really Work


Created by Deane Alban | Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC
Last updated on September 20, 2018
➤ Balanced information, research-based
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When choosing a memory supplement, consider only those that contain proven ingredients. Review our list of 20 substances shown to actually improve memory.

What You’ll Learn Here

colorful supplement pills

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 in the US is growing older — 10,000 65-year-olds enroll in Medicare every day. (1)

And 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 memory supplements to choose from, all claiming to be the best.

How can you pick ones that work 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 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 some of the best substances to look for in a supplement when memory improvement is your main goal.

1. Acetyl-l-Carnitine

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 responsible for learning, memory, regulating sleep cycle, and other brain functions. (3)

ALCAR works as a potent antioxidant, stopping free radical damage in brain cells. (4)

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 easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, something plain l-carnitine cannot do. (6)

The recommended daily dose ranges from 630 to 2,500 mg per day and up to 4,000 mg for treating Alzheimer’s patients. (7)

2. Alpha-GPC

Choline is a precursor of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for 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)

Related on Be Brain Fit —
How Acetylcholine Deficiency Impacts Memory

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 memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.

bacopa monnieri

Bacopa monnieri

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.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
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Bacopa is often included in natural nootropic formulas and is good for age-related mental decline. (13)

A typical dose of bacopa is 50 – 100 mg taken three times per day, ideally with meals. (14)

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4. Citicoline

Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound that your body synthesizes from the choline found in eggs and meat.

It’s 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)

It’s one of the few supplements that’s powerful enough to treat serious neurological disorders such as age-related memory loss, stroke, brain injury, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. (17, 18)

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)

5. Curcumin

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a 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)

Curcumin, turmeric’s main active ingredient, can improve memory and concentration by increasing blood flow, neurotransmitter formation, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates new brain cell production. (23, 24)

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!

When choosing a curcumin supplement, look for one that offers increased bioavailability.

Most commonly, this means a supplement that includes the black pepper extract piperine.

Otherwise, most of the curcumin will pass through your intestines unabsorbed. (26)

Suggested dosages for curcumin range from 80 mg to 500 mg as long as the supplement manufacturer has taken steps to enhance bioavailability. (27)

6. Ginseng

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.

Surprisingly, a North American species, Panax quinquefolius, is now considered the world’s best ginseng and is sought after even by the Chinese. (28, 29)

For memory improvement, look for a ginseng supplement that contains Cereboost.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
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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 isolated compound from Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata), a traditional Chinese herb for memory improvement.

Huperzine A raises acetylcholine levels by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. (31)

In China, it’s an approved drug for treating Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. (32)

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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.

It works as an antioxidant that protects brain cells from oxidation and environmental toxins. (33, 34)

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 brain and mental health.

Magnesium deficiency can cause depression since without it, the brain chemical serotonin cannot bind to its receptors. (36)

Studies have found links between low magnesium and anxiety, ADHD, depression, migraines, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and more. (37, 38)

If you feel “tired but wired” and have trouble sleeping, especially because of racing mind or leg cramps, magnesium can be the answer.

There are many forms of magnesium supplements available.

Inexpensive magnesium will do little for your brain, but will have you running to the bathroom.

Related on Be Brain Fit —
Magnesium L-Threonate: Breakthrough Brain Supplement

Magnesium l-threonate is a relatively new form of magnesium supplement with the unique ability to permeate brain cell membranes.

This makes it a good choice for improving memory, attention, depression, and anxiety. (39, 40)

Look for a supplement that contains Magtein, a patented brand of magnesium l-threonate that’s a proven cognitive enhancer.

According to the Magtein website, 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.

beans and pods of mucuna pruriens

Beans and pods of Mucuna pruriens.
Image courtesy of University of Richmond

Dopamine is the “motivation molecule” and is in charge of the 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 go by 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 cognitive impairments. (44)

DHA shields aging brains from memory loss, depression, age-related mental decline, and even Alzheimer’s. (45, 46)

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You can take DHA as a single ingredient supplement or you can get your DHA from fish oil or krill oil supplements.

Fish oil has a proven track record for improving brain functions of all kinds, including memory, mood, and mental well-being. (47, 48)

Experts generally recommend 500 to 1,000 mg of total omega-3s per day. (49, 50)

If you are taking DHA alone, you can take up to 1,000 mg per day. (51, 52)

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11. Phosphatidylserine

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.

PS reduces the wear and tear of stress by normalizing the stress hormone cortisol. (53, 54)

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)

PS can improve mood and help with depression, especially among seniors. (57, 58)

The general recommended dose of phosphatidylserine is 100 mg three times a day. (59)

12. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that might just be the answer to 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)

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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).

A typical dose is 200 to 600 mg per day. (61, 62)

13. Vinpocetine

Vinpocetine is a synthetic version of vincamine, a compound derived from the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor) that improves memory and overall mental well-being. (63)

It works by increasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing the brain’s use of oxygen, and protecting the brain from free radical damage.

periwinkle flowers

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 makes healthy adults smarter.

Most clinical studies on vinpocetine have used a dose of 10 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.

Understand the pros and cons of these memory supplements before you decide to try them.

14. Galantamine

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.

15. Ginkgo

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)

Major studies have proven repeatedly that ginkgo does very little to improve the memory of healthy adults. (69, 70)

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However, ginkgo has been found to be beneficial for improving the day-to-day quality of life for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. (71, 72)

Other proven uses for ginkgo are for anxiety and depression.

It’s also a helpful adjunct to medications taken for ADHD and schizophrenia. (73, 74)

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, it was popularized by Dr. Mary Newport 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?.

MCT oil offers neuroprotective benefits for a wide range of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, dementia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, stroke, and traumatic brain injury. (75)

One exciting 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 a main dietary source of medium-chain triglycerides.

17. Resveratrol

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 not very stable or well utilized in the body. (77)

Almost all of the research (and surrounding hype) about resveratrol comes from animal studies.

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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.

18. EGCG

Green tea has been revered 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 brain plaques linked to Alzheimer’s. (81)

It also wards off depression, increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA, and actually changes your brainwave patterns. (82, 83, 84)

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 from the synergy between EGCG and the other brain-enhancing nutrients in green tea, notably the relaxing amino acid l-theanine and caffeine. (86)

19. Caffeine

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).

Research confirms that nicotine administered via transdermal patch can improve memory, attention, and mental processing in people with MCI or Alzheimer’s with no side effects. (89, 90)

But unsurprisingly, the 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, stick with the supplement ingredients on this list.

Just because a product is marketed as a brain supplement doesn’t mean it contains ingredients that can actually help your memory.

Recommended: A high-quality brain supplement upgrades your brain’s capacity to work better. Mind Lab Pro is the brain supplement we recommend because, by boosting your brain health, it can help you:

    Improve your mental clarity and focus.

    Boost your memory and your ability to learn.

    Increase your capacity to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.

Read how Mind Lab Pro supports brain health.

READ NEXT: Why Your Memory Is Bad and What to Do About It

Related categories: brain supplements, mental performance

Related topics: concentration, focus, herbal supplements, memory

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