Do you have those moments where you forget where your glasses are, only to realise they have been on top of your head the whole time? Or do you look everywhere for your cell phone when it's been in your back pocket all along? While this everyday forgetfulness feels normal, adding supplements to your regimen can help maximise your mental recall and focus. Of course, a nutrient-dense diet is always preferred, but sometimes life (and work) gets in the way of our health goals, and we don't consume the number of calories and minerals our body and mind needs.
So when we can't get it through diet, what are some of the supplements we should be taking to improve memory?
To find out, we turned to Dan Engle, MD, board-certified in psychiatry and neurology, to provide some clarity on the vitamins that will help us reach optimal brain function. "These agents are called 'nootropics,' which generally translates to mean memory and/ or cognitive enhancers," he told MyDomaine Australia. "Some people will try these single agents one by one, and while this helps to identify a person's direct experience with each one individually, their full benefits are usually seen when used [smartly] in combination with one another." He says this can be done by creating a "comprehensive formula" from scratch or what is known as a "nootropic stack"—the combination of two or more supplements that have beneficial effects on memory, learning, focus, or motivation.
If you do start taking them, Engle recommends doing so in the morning and afternoon but not in the evening, as they "can cause insomnia if taken too late." Examples of two of the better formula "stacks" on the market are Alpha Brain by Onnit and Qualia by Neuro Hacker Collective. Intrigued to know more? Below Engle shares the supplements for memory, right down to the nitty-gritty.
To Improve Cell Structure, Function, and Communication
If you want to support a healthy brain (and heart), along with healthy cell development and maintenance, then take a phospholipid supplement. "This supports the cell membrane, as it mirrors the lipids already present in the lipid bi-layer, which allows for optimal nutrient transport from outside the cell to inside," Engle explains. "An example of these phospholipids would be phosphatidylserine and Alpha-GPC, otherwise known as L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine." Given that brain cell membranes are composed of fat (as are all membranes in the body), taking an omega-3 supplement with high-quality EPA and DHA is highly recommended too.
"This offers the added benefit of being an anti-inflammatory agent in the body," he explains.
To Increase Blood Flow to the Brain
In order to improve memory, you need to increase blood flow to the brain. Engle says common herbs and adaptogens are helpful for this, including green tea extract, ginkgo biloba, and cacao. "Adaptogens are herbs that keep the body in balance when the body is stressed," he says. "It will reduce the strain on the systems, and when tired, it will help to energise it." For additional support, a semi-synthetic supplement may be needed. "Vinpocetine, adapted from the periwinkle plant, is a great example of this," he adds.
Support Your Mitochondria
In simple terms, Engle says mitochondria are the energy factories of the cell. In order to optimise their function, it's important to give them the "raw agents" necessary for stimulating growth and energy output. Examples of raw agents include CoQ10, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), and acetyl-L-carnitine.
Take Neurotransmitter Boosters
According to Engle, there are two important neurotransmitters that you need to support. The first is acetylcholine, which is responsible for memory storage and recall, and the second is dopamine, which influences mood and motivation. "Supplements are helpful for the optimal production and effectiveness of acetylcholine," he says. This includes acetyl-L-carnitine and Huperzia serrata. For dopamine, the recommended supplements are mucuna pruriens, phenylethylamine (PEA), and N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT).
"It's important to be careful with dopamine agents if there's a significant history of insomnia or anxiety and to be mindful of not using them too much," he explains.
Ingest Synthetic Memory Enhancers (or Nootropics)
If you want to improve cognitive function (with memory being one aspect of it), then nootropics are your go-to vitamin. They exist in a variety of different forms including aniracetam, pramiracetam, and nooept.
Don't Forget the Broad-Spectrum Vitamins and Minerals
While the above vitamins are specific to optimal brain health and memory function, a necessary component to this is broad-spectrum vitamins such as B3 and B6. Key broad-spectrum minerals include zinc picolinate, lithium orotate, and magnesium threonate.