Answer:

There are a few supplements which may provide modest benefit with memory and cognition in certain people: These are fish oil, certain B vitamins, cocoa flavanols, curcumin (from turmeric), huperzine A, vinpocetine, and acetyl-L-carnitine. In some situations, these may work together: One study found that fish oil may be helpful for people with Alzheimer's disease, but only those that also have adequate levels of B vitamins.

Increasing magnesium intake may improve cognition in older people who otherwise have a high ratio of calcium to magnesium intake.

CoQ10 may help improve statin drug side-effects, including memory loss.

Certain forms of choline may be help improve short-term memory and attention in older adults, or improve cognition in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, while other forms of choline have not been found to have a benefit.

In girls deficient in iron, iron supplementation may improve learning and memory.

Probiotic supplements may improve overall cognition in older people with cognitive impairment but not those with intact cognitive function.

Although green tea has been touted for improving brain function, this effect is not well established. Other supplements touted for brain function, such as Gingko biloba and vitamin E have, by and large, not been found to be helpful.

Be aware that some proprietary formulas that contain some of these ingredients, such as Procera AVH, may promise more of a benefit than clinical evidence suggests. The FDA has warned that many supplements promoted to treat Alzheimer's disease and dementia are marketed with unproven claims and are "selling false hope." The FDA has also advised consumers to avoid supplements promoted to prevent or treat traumatic brain injuries. Vinpocetine, and ingredient in memory supplements such as Procera AVH and Alpha Brain, may cause fetal harm or miscarriage, and should not be taken by women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant. It can also inhibit blood platelets from forming clots and could dangerously interact with other blood- thinning supplements like garlic, ginkgo and high dose vitamin E, and drugs such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), ticlopidine (Ticlid), or pentoxifylline (Trental) and Coumadin.

Also be aware that some supplements promoted for memory and cognition contain drugs that do not have FDA approval for use and are not permitted to be sold as dietary supplement ingredients. These drugs include Noopept (omberacetam) and its analogs, such as piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam or phenylpiracetam.

Foods and cognition
Diets providing higher intakes of certain antioxidant compounds have been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. In a study that followed over 2,500 people 50 years of age or older for 20 years, the risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias was reduced by 76% among those with higher intakes of anthocyanins (16 mg/day from foods such as blueberries, strawberries and red wine) and by 46% among those with higher intakes of flavonols (14 mg/day from foods such as tea, apples and pears) compared to those with the lowest intakes (Shishtar, Am J Clin Nutr 2020). These higher amounts are not difficult to obtain. For example, you can get 16 mg of anthocyanins from just ¼ cup of blueberries (Routray, Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf 2011).

When combined with other healthy lifestyle factors, consuming a high-quality "MIND" diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is associated with a significantly decreased risk of Alzheimer dementia, according to results of two studies that followed over 2,500 older Americans for about six years. The MIND diet is based on ten healthy food groups (leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine) and five unhealthy food groups (red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, fried food, and fast food). The quality of the diet is evaluated by how often foods in each group are consumed. Five healthy lifestyle factors were considered: having the highest MIND diet score (upper 40%), not smoking, engaging in >150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity, light to moderate alcohol consumption (one drink per day for women and two for men), and engagement in late-life cognitive activities (such as reading, writing, or playing chess). The risk of Alzheimer dementia was 37% lower in those with 2 to 3 healthy lifestyle factors and 60% lower in those with 4 to 5 factors compared to those with no or only one healthy lifestyle factor (Dhana, Neurology 2020).

You can read more about the potential memory and cognition benefits of these supplements by using the links above.

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34 Comments

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Robert8669
May 4, 2016

The problem with taking a strong position on issues related to nutrition and Alzheimer's (and Alzheimer's prevention) is that we really don't understand the causes of the disease.

While the beta-amyloid causal model is popular in certain medical circles and with the public, there is very little evidence to support it and much evidence that contradicts it. Beta-amyloid seems to be involved but probably in ways similar to the way cholesterol is involved in artery disease and firefighters are involved in fires. All are present at the event but they are probably an effect and not a cause. Why is this important? Treating effects is less certain to bring benefits than identifying and interfering with causes.

Until we know better, the list provided by CL, including Magnesium L-threonate, falls into the "it couldn't hurt and is otherwise beneficial" category, especially if you have reason to suspect genetic predisposition. It is also worth noting that the incidence of Alzheimer's is low in areas that consume a great deal of turmeric in their daily diets. Perhaps, but we should also consider that these diets are also associated with large amounts of ginger, garlic, and other potentially beneficial dietary products.

The issue gets even more complicated when considering what my neurosurgeon friends tell me about the low correlation between cognitive function and physical deterioration of the brain in Alzheimer's patients. Some people seem to lose cognitive function quickly with relatively little brain damage while other individuals remain cognitively competent despite widespread physical deterioration. What does this mean? We do not know.

If I had to guess today, I would say that the causes of Alzheimer's involve chronic inflammation and an unlucky combination of genetic dispositions. My guess is that beta-amyloid will turn out to be one of the firefighters.

For now, the top of my list includes regulating blood sugar, exercising, and consuming a diverse array of antioxidants throughout each day, hedging my bets, if you will.

Rhonda11181
August 18, 2016

Thank you for sharing and equating beta amyloid in the brain to cholesterol in the arteries. Probably both are firefighters rather than arsonists

Robert8598
April 3, 2016

Is there any info on prevagen?

ConsumerLab.com
April 4, 2016

Hi Robert - Yes, please see the CL Answer about Prevagen here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/does-prevagen-really-improve-memory/prevagen-memory/

gordon15532
September 14, 2017

I sold this product when it was in the natural products arena. Those retailers who bought Prevagen had about 2/3rds returned for ineffectiveness.

Kenneth679
April 20, 2015

What about fisetin? Search for Pamela Maher's work at the Salk Institute.

ConsumerLab.com
May 18, 2015

Hi Kenneth - We've now posted a CL Answer about fisetin here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers//fisetin-cognisetin-novusetin/

Ilima670
April 19, 2015

What about phosphatidylserine? I have heard that helps with brain function.

ConsumerLab.com
April 24, 2015

Hi Ilima - We've now added this to the Answer above with a link to the Encyclopedia article with more information.

M. J.13940
April 21, 2017

Is phosphatidylcholine the same at phosphatidylserine, which was the compound referenced in the question? The Encyclopedia article didn't mention PS that I could see.

ConsumerLab.com
April 27, 2017

Hi MJ - Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine are two different compounds, although they both belong to a class of compounds called phospholipids. Please see this CL Answer: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/do-either-phosphatidylserine-or-phosphatidylcholine-help-with-memory-and-cognition-how-are-these-supplements-different/phosphatidylserine-phosphatidylcholine/. As noted in the Answer, you can find more information about phosphatidylcholine in the Choline Supplements Review ( https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/choline-review/choline/ and more information about phosphatidylserine in the Encyclopedia article about this compound ( https://www.consumerlab.com/encyclopedia/.asp?chunkiid=21843).

micheline15667
October 15, 2017

I take phosphatidylserine at night primarily to lower cortisol, it seems to work.

ConsumerLab.com
October 16, 2017

Hi Micheline - You can read more about the evidence for phosphatidylserine for lowering cortisol levels in the Encyclopedia article about phosphatidylserine : https://www.consumerlab.com/encyclopedia/.asp?chunkiid=21843

Steven21002
September 27, 2020

My DNA relative to dementia is somewhat mixed. My grandparents on my mother's side never had any signs of cognitive decline and lived into their 80s (grandma almost 90). All four of their children had some level of dementia. My mother and one of her brothers only suffered short term memory loss. They repeated themselves constantly but they always remembered their children and could talk about things that happened earlier in their life. They both lived into their 80s. My mother's sister and her other brother were both smokers. They both got dementia in their early 70s that progressed fairly quickly to the point they didn't know anyone. They both died before 80. I try to just eat well and don't take any supplements specific to cognition. I have heard positive things about phosphatidylserine, however, at best, it seems that the benefit may be short lived and not slow the progression of any disease.

Richard20514
August 6, 2020

I know of one supplement that produces noticeable effects for myself mentally...Herbal Extract Memory Complex. Problem is I can only take it for 4-5 days before it is too much...really wakes me up. Was no longer available...but now is..Swanson.

Dr. Amen recommends ginkgo biloba supplements to his patients...he does brain scans showing areas of weak circulation.

I've tried several nootropic supplements at various times and my conclusion is that they can be effective...but you need to watch your sleep cause nothing is going to make you worse mentally than not getting enough good sleep.

Sally20263
June 28, 2020

What about Uridine and Alpha-GPC?

ConsumerLab.com
July 7, 2020

Uridine has been shown to improve memory in animals (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2574024/) but there does not appear to be research on its effects on memory in people. There is evidence that supplementation with Alpha-GPC (which contains choline) may be helpful for people with Alzheimer's disease (see the Choline Supplements Review for more information https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/choline-review/choline/#dementia).

Gidget20084
May 31, 2020

Just yesterday I was listening to an online series of Alzheimers and the latest information. A comment about blueberries was that frozen blueberries (which have had the cell walls burst by freezing) actually make the nutrients more readily available than fresh blueberries.

ConsumerLab.com
June 3, 2020

Thank you for sharing that. You can find more information about that research here https://phys.org/news/2014-02-frozen-blueberries.html and here https://openprairie.sdstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=honors_papers.

Carol20262
June 28, 2020

that is so interesting about the frozen blueberries! thank you for sharing.

Ben179
September 24, 2014

Has Consumerlab looked at any of the other popular nootropics such as the racetam group of compounds (e.g. piracetam, oxiracetam, etc.)? They've started showing up in functional beverages like TruBrain.

ConsumerLab.com
September 24, 2014

Thank you Erik and Al - we've added vinpocetine to the list. You can read more about the evidence for it in Encyclopedia article linked above.

GerneyLee11732
February 17, 2017

What about choline? Lecithin? For the brain?

ConsumerLab.com
February 21, 2017

Hi Gerney - We've now added information about choline to the answer above. Please also see the "What It Does" section of the Choline Supplements Review ( https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/choline-review/choline/#whatitdoes) for more about this.

Al176
September 24, 2014

You should mention vinpocetine which is widely used in Europe in treat low blood flow to the brain. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial it was found to be effective for treating senile dementia. Available from any vitamin/supplement seller and not expensive.

Another over-the counter product that has been touted by naturopathic doctors is Cebria which supposedly contains a neuropeptide that enhances the glucose levels in the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier. However, it is a pricier patented product like Protandim (recently tested by ConsumerLab) and only available from the manufacturer. Online comments range from 5 stars "thumbs up" to 1 star "scam" and "ripoff". Perhaps ConsumerLab will someday test it.

Erik174
September 24, 2014

What about Vinpocetine? There are quite a few studies showing it has a significant impact on cognition and memory..

Myrtoashe1707
May 10, 2015

In a paper by Dale Bredesen, he also mentions CDP Choline, bacopa monnieri, and resveratrol. He also introduces the idea of a multifaceted program to reverse cognitive decline. I think this is a fascinating possibility and that we will learn more about it in years to come. Please comment on those supplements as well, as I did find research that seems to support their use.
Here's the link:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4221920/

ConsumerLab.com
May 30, 2015

There is some evidence for choline and cognitive function, which you can read about in the Encyclopedia article: https://www.consumerlab.com/encyclopedia/.asp?chunkiid=21658.

There is less evidence for bacopa (see the Encyclopedia article about Enhancing Memory and Mental Function: https://www.consumerlab.com/encyclopedia/.asp?chunkiid=35549&docid=/encyclopedia//condition/memory) and resveratrol ( https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/resveratrol-review/resveratrol-red-wine/ although more studies on resveratrol are underway.

Robert8677
May 5, 2016

This is true about choline. At the same time there is growing evidence that choline contributes to an intestinal environment that produces TMAO, which "promotes plaque accumulation in the arteries causing heart disease." I put the causal chain in quotes because I think it is less than clear that arterial plaque is the direct result of TMAO in the bloodstream. I think other, perhaps more foundational, factors or co-factors are required. Nonetheless, taking large amounts of choline for mental acuity may end up being a bad strategy.

ConsumerLab.com
May 6, 2016
gordon15533
September 14, 2017

I have found that Dr David Perlmutter's input on brain function is very worthwhile.

Alan11349
October 19, 2016

I especially want to respond to Robert8669's comment. His analyses are spot on, especially his concluding remark: "For now, the top of my list includes regulating blood sugar, exercising, and consuming a diverse array of antioxidants throughout each day, hedging my bets, if you will." Hedging our bets is what we MUST do for now. He also gets it right when he says, "If I had to guess today, I would say that the causes of Alzheimer's involve chronic inflammation and an unlucky combination of genetic dispositions." He goes on to say that beta-amyloid is a "firefighter" of sorts. Researchers are now raising the possibility that beta-amyliod may bet formed as the result of an immune response to cerebral inflammation, thus decreasing the tendency to demonize it. Perhaps a gross analogy is that beta-amyloid is the brain's scar tissue and, while scar tissue may not be our first choice, it ultimately serves a useful purpose. For now, who can say for sure?

Ty15522
September 13, 2017

This might explain why, in the so-called Nun Study, some of the participants who showed no dementia symptoms, had significant amyloid deposits post-mortem.

cynthia 18677
November 27, 2019

Re: the Nun's Study--it was also found, post mortem, that nuns with the highest blood levels of lycopene had been the most likely to remain active and to be able to care for themselves (and others) throughout life. They found no such correlation with any other antioxidant. Lycopene is best absorbed from cooked tomatoes, juice. Like most antioxidants, it is better absorbed from food than from purified supplements.

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