10 Best Natural Nootropics for Memory and Recall
Do you feel like time is passing you in a blur? Are you struggling to remember passwords, directions and what you're supposed to do today? If so, you're not alone. In fact, there's a whole industry devoted to helping you. There are many vitamins, supplements, herbs and other nootropics advertised as memory supplements. Others promise to improve intelligence, increase energy, clear mental fog, and memory, too. Since our brains consume more than a third of our glucose and oxygen, anything that improves our underlying health benefits the brain indirectly. But what can genuinely be considered nootropics for memory? Here are the 10 best natural nootropics for memory individually that actually work.
The 10 Best Natural Nootropics for Memory
We’ve already said that the brain uses the lion's share of glucose, oxygen, and other nutrients. If you are anemic, if you have an iron deficit, your body won’t be able to deliver the full daily requirement of nutrients to your brain. For girls who are both growing and experiencing their periods and women who are menstruating heavily, you probably need an iron supplement. Vegetarians and vegans suffering from declining short-term memory can’t solve their anemia by eating a slab of steak, and it is tough to get enough iron from vegetarian sources. The solution may be an iron supplement.
There are health conditions that can contribute to poor absorption of iron or a greater need for it, and this can lead to people who think they’re getting enough iron not really having enough. If you have Crohn’s disease or bad hemorrhoids, you need to increase your iron intake to offset the blood loss. If you’ve had stomach stapling surgery or other weight loss surgeries, you may not be able to pull all of the iron out of the food you eat. Antacids and other medications can interfere with iron absorption. If you’re suffering memory problems and/or fatigue and dealing with any of these situations, try an iron supplement before assuming you have dementia. You may see side benefits like a reduction in the severity of restless leg syndrome.
If you’re anemic or are at risk of being so, that makes an iron one of the best supplements for memory. It is almost impossible to have too much iron unless you already have an iron overload disorder.
2. Turmeric / Curcumin
Curcumin is the key ingredient in turmeric. This compound has been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and benefits those with diabetes and depression. There is significant research suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease is the third type of diabetes. Cardiovascular problems always adversely affect memory and mental function, since you’re struggling to get enough nutrients and oxygen to the brain. For this reason, turmeric and curcumin supplements are a viable choice for those who want to improve their overall health and their memory.
There are several reasons to opt for supplements over the spice. One is the cost-benefit ratio. If you’re buying the spice, you’re paying quite a bit for something that may leach away when you drain the cooking oil or boiling water from your food. If you just take the supplement, you get the whole dose. Another issue is merely cooking with it every day. Humans like variety and novelty in their food. Unless you love Indian food or are Indian, you may be hard-pressed to integrate this spice into your cooking on a daily basis in large enough amounts to gain the benefits. Or you could take the supplement daily.
A side benefit of consuming turmeric is that it provides a decent dose of vitamin C, as well. However, if you’re concerned about a lack of antioxidants affecting your brain, know that vitamin A has more impact on your memory than vitamin C, and turmeric doesn’t contain that. If you need vitamin A, orange and yellow vegetables are an excellent source for that, but the boldly orange turmeric is not among them.
In general, we’ll say that turmeric is one of the best nootropics for memory because it supports brain health and ideal function in literally every way.
Choline is a nutrient related to B-vitamins but is not classified as a B-vitamin. It is naturally found in foods like meat and beans that contain high levels of B-vitamins. A deficiency of this nutrient can cause liver disease, neurological disorders, and kidney disease.
Choline has been found to provide some improvement to short-term memory in older adults. Studies have shown that it allows for some benefit in cognition and memory for adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. We’ll advice taking choline as one of your memory supplements, especially if you cannot get enough of it naturally in your diet.
Acetyl-l-carnitine is an acetylated form of L-carnitine. It is sometimes called ALCAR or ALC. Acetyl-l-carnitine is an amino acid often used to manage conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and impaired mental function associated with alcoholism. It reduced symptoms of depression, particularly in older people. It improved mood in those with dysthymia. Acetyl-l-carnitine is a supplement with significant research behind it linking it to improved memory and cognition in people with age-related memory problems. It seems to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s but not in preventing developing the condition.
It has shown some benefit in treating diabetic neuropathy. Several studies have shown that this supplement helps the body use insulin more efficiently, though it apparently isn’t a cure for diabetes. It has been shown to help people with pre-diabetes improve their blood sugar levels. In this regard, we can see ALCAR as something you can take to slow the progression of diabetes, something we know can adversely affect the brain directly and positively impacts it as its slow destruction of the cardiovascular system impedes mental function.
Acetyl-l-carnitine also helps the body produce energy, and for some, lifting the brain fog because you can’t get going in the morning may be enough to improve mental function and memory throughout the day. Carnitine is already contained within most cells in your body and used to produce energy. ALC is merely the form of carnitine readily available as a supplement. You probably want to consider taking this nootropic if you’re not able or willing to get it naturally through sources like milk and beef.
Citicoline is very similar to choline but is not the same thing. Citicoline or CDP choline enhances several cognitive functions by synthesizing phosphatidylcholine, a substance that helps make up the brain itself. Citicoline has been tested for its benefits in stroke survivors. Citicoline has an additional advantage over choline, and that is the fact that it provides some cytidine. Cytidine boosts the creation of specific nucleic acids by the body. Citicoline usage affects hormones implicated in depression and attention deficit disorder, both of which can adversely impact memory.
6. Fish Oil
Fish oils like cod liver oil have a bad rap because they were used as punishments in cartoons two generations ago. In other cases, the characters made comedic faces as they struggled to swallow the fish oil offered as a general placebo. There was a measure of truth to the belief that fish oil was good for you. Fish oils contain omega 3 fatty acids, something so valuable to brain development that it is being added to new baby formulas. Most fish oils contain omega-7 as well.
Fish oils contain iodine, and a lack of that vital nutrient during childhood can contribute to mental retardation. Fish oils typically include vitamin D, as well. Older adults tend not to spend enough time outside to get enough vitamin D naturally, though we now know that vitamin D is a critical ingredient in making essential neurochemicals as well as maintaining healthy bones.
One benefit of fish oil supplements over eating the fish themselves is safety. It can be a challenge to find fish that is not only fresh and parasite free but free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other toxic metals.
Some studies suggest consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
7. L-glutamic Acid
L-glutamic acid is also known as glutamic acid. It is similar to but not the same as amino acid glutamate. This is compound can be made by the body. It is called a non-essential amino acid because you don’t have to take it to live, though there are benefits for doing so. It can be increased through supplements or a healthy diet. If you’re trying to get enough of this nootropic for memory, you need to eat enough fish, eggs, dairy and red meat to get it. There are a few plant-based foods that contain this nutrient, but you’re back to the problem of eating enough of it on a daily basis to get this nutrient.
One benefit of l-glutamic acid is the fact that the body can use it to deliver nitrogen to damaged tissues. Whether you’ve undergone surgery or a traumatic injury, this supplement can aid in healing. Some types of chemotherapy deplete l-glutamic acid in the body, interfering with the body’s ability to process glucose and other nutrients. Supplementation adds it back to your body can function at its highest possible level.
Glutamic acid stimulates the glutamate receptors in the brain. This stimulation can improve memory and other cognitive functions. However, this can worsen conditions like epilepsy. Consult with your doctor if you already have a neurological condition so that you don’t end up making it worse. Avoid this supplement if you have kidney or liver disease.
Magnesium is needed to convert those B-vitamins into their active form. If you’re taking B-vitamins for the benefits to your memory, you probably need to take multivitamins containing magnesium or a magnesium supplement. Animal studies have shown that magnesium improves working memory and long-term memory. Animals given these supplements were able to learn new information better and retain it over the long term.
Magnesium is also used in regulating the transmission of impulses between cells; a deficit of this nutrient can lead to neurological problems.
Zinc is contained in higher than expected levels in neurons in the executive or decision making part of the brain. Zinc is critical to the communication between neurons in the brain’s learning and memory center, the hippocampus.
A deficiency of this nutrient is linked to neurological impairments, and a dietary zinc deficiency has been linked to memory problems. However, you don’t want to take too much of this supplement, because of too much impact your memory as well. Take too much zinc, also, and you could trigger seizures. If you have epilepsy or a related condition, consult with your doctor before you take zinc supplements.
10. B Vitamins
Folate is so critical to brain development and maintenance that we add it to processed grains to ensure that pregnant women get enough of it. After white slices of bread and cereals were told to add folate to their ingredients list, the incidence of spina bifida and related neurological defects fell by about a third. We can be reasonably sure that a lack of this nutrient can cause memory problems in adults. Older adults and those who take stomach acid suppressants have trouble getting enough vitamin B, especially folate.
Vitamin B 12 is necessary for your brain to function correctly. In fact, if you’re suffering from memory problems, a B12 deficit is one of the first things doctors check. If the tests show that you’re deficient, the best options are a B12 shot or B12 supplements since it is challenging to get enough of this nutrient into the body quickly through diet alone. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, a lack of B12 can cause memory issues and fatigue after your body depletes its stores of this nutrient. Don’t let your body run out. A lack of B12 is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, so taking the supplement will logically help prevent it.
Compare this to Ginkgo Biloba. While it is touted as a memory saver, this herbal remedy in recent studies was proven not to help prevent dementia. Because it helps small blood vessels deliver more nutrients, Ginkgo may help stabilize symptoms of dementia but won’t do much to avoid it and indeed won’t reverse it.
You may be wondering why we didn’t cite the classic memory nootropics like gingko biloba, and that is because more recent research has shown mixed results or no effect from taking those herbal remedies. That’s why we are mostly directing you to take amino acids and vitamins instead of green tea and traditional Chinese treatments. We've recommended the top ten vitamins, minerals and amino acid supplements that are scientifically proven to enhance memory or offset the nutritional deficits that cause so many of us to feel like our memories are fading.