Raise your hand if you’ve gone to the kitchen and forgotten why? Or you couldn’t remember where you left those darn car keys? Or even when you couldn’t… oh shoot, what’s that word again?
For many of us, memory loss is a major concern, especially as we get older. And some may even wonder whether we’ll be one of the millions who develop some form of memory disorder.
In this modern age, when your brain needs its nutrients, there are all types of pills for that. But the real question is: do memory supplements work?
Let’s take a closer look at whether they are as awesome and effective as some claim it to be with brain coach Jim Kwik weighing in with expert insights.
Why Do People Take Supplements?
People take supplements for various reasons. Some take it for prevention. Others take it to ensure they get enough essential nutrients. And others take it to maintain or improve their health.
Whatever the reasons may be, supplements, it seems, is a booming industry. It’s no surprise, though. Go to a pharmacy and chances are, there’s an alternative option to help with all sorts of ailments.
Stress relief? Better sleep? Increase in collagen? Boost immunity? To improve overall wellbeing? Pop a pill and go.
For memory and brain, specifically, the popularity of supplements is skyrocketing. A 2019 report by the Global Council on Brain Health noted that brain-health supplements are projected to generate more than US$5 billion by 2023.
Despite the high demand, scientific research doesn’t always support its effectiveness. So why choose this option over medicine?
According to Evangeline Lausier, MD, adjunct assistant professor in medicine at Duke University, in an article on WebMD, the problem with prescription drugs is that they’re extremely expensive. Moreover, they often have limited effectiveness during a short time frame.
So, as an alternative, people are turning to supplements for memory and the brain, or ‘brain nutrients’ as Jim Kwik (who’s also the trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest) calls it. It merits the question if these super pills actually work. Let’s dive in deeper.
Do Memory Supplements Work?
In short, yes. However, it’s more complex than that.
In order for the body to function as it should, it needs vitamins and minerals. For most parts, we get them from the foods we eat. However, for some of us, we need a little help.
This is where supplements come in. And when it comes to the brain, there’s evidence that suggests they may be beneficial, including omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium.
These dietary supplements can be useful to supply the nutrients your brain needs when it’s lacking it. However, they weren’t ever intended to replace food.
Realistically, no pill can have the same nutrients and benefits as actual foods, like fruits and vegetables. While a pill may be convenient, power foods have (and will always have) the upper hand, which include:
- Greater nutritional value with a variety of micronutrients that your body needs.
- Essential fiber that helps reduce the risk of diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and stroke.
- Protective substances, such as antioxidants, that help promote cellular health and decelerate cell and tissue damage.
It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require supplement manufacturers to prove their products are effective, as long as they don’t make any claims about specific diseases.
So, before you go to the pharmacy and ask what supplements are good for memory, Jim recommends, “Have a blood test done, see which of the brain nutrients you’re lacking…then, you can supplement.”
Bottom line, it’s always advisable to check with your healthcare professional, your dietitian, and/or your nutritionist to ensure the product is safe for you to take.
What ‘Brain Nutrients’ Does Jim Kwik Recommend?
There’s a list of vitamins and fatty acids that have been suggested to slow or prevent memory loss. This includes vitamins like the B’s or herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba and fish oil.
“If you’re lacking certain nutrients, your brain is not going to get the results that you’re looking for,” says Jim. He suggests ensuring you have “a good multivitamin that’s strong.”
Here are three he recommends with studies showing the benefits for your brain. It is important to note, though, that these nutrients work well in combination with each other rather than alone.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your brain. This can lead to cell and tissue damage. What’s more, it increases as you age.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which plays an important role in protecting the cells and tissues from the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
One study looked at the effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during aging and in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Its results showed “vitamin E as a nutritional compound to promote healthy brain aging and to delay AD-related functional decline.”
Natural sources of Vitamin E
Amongst other natural sources, here are a few that vitamin E can be found in:
- Red bell pepper
- Sunflower seeds
You may have heard of B6 and B12, but fun fact: there are actually eight B vitamins in total.
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothetic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folate)
- B12 (cobalamin)
In regards to the brain, folate acid, B6, and B12 are the three that are often in the spotlight. While they are key micronutrients for brain health, the other five play just as important of a role in maintaining healthy brain cells, according to Professor David Kennedy, director of the Brain, Performance, and Nutrition Research Center.
In his 2016 review paper, he notes that there are neurological and psychiatric symptoms with the deficiency in any of the B vitamins. He suggests the B’s are good for cognitive health individually, but together (as well as with other vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients), they function even better.
Natural sources of B vitamins
Amongst other natural sources, here are a few that B vitamins can be found in:
- Leafy greens
- Meat (especially liver)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Did you know your body can’t produce these essential fats? Instead, it has to get them from food.
Looking at the brain, specifically, what makes omega-3 fatty acids such an integral part of this organ’s ability to function? Here are a few points on they’re so special:
- Helps the brain to age slower
- Improves memory
- Lowers the risk for numerous health issues
A 2020 study took a look at the importance of omega-3s (specifically from fish) for brain development. Additionally, it also looked at the prevention and treatment of behavior, mood, and other brain disorders.
The findings reported marine omega-3s supplement may be beneficial. And considering how safe it is, taking it daily “may be a cost-effective strategy for supporting brain and mood health.”
Natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids
While you can take fish oil pills or fortified foods (like eggs), here are a few natural sources that provide omega-3 fatty acids:
- Chia seeds
There are, of course, various other vitamins and minerals that come in the form of a pill. In a conversation with Vishen on The Mindvalley Podcast, Shawn Stevenson, bestselling author of Eat Smarter and founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, suggests a few other supplements you can consider:
- Magnesium is said to be able to restore critical brain plasticity and improve cognitive function.
- Melatonin helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms and with sleep.
- L-theanine may increase focus and attention.
- Zinc helps your brain cells communicate better
- 5-HTP helps raise serotonin levels in the brain, which then helps regulate mood and behavior.
Supplements can be a great option if your body is unable to naturally get the nutrients it needs or if your lifestyle restricts you from accessing fresh foods. However, it’s highly recommended to always opt for real food before reaching for the bottle.
Other Ways to Boost Your Brain Health
The types of food you eat are one way to increase brain power. However, there are seven additional habits that can help improve your brain health. And when you do them simultaneously, it really gives an ‘oomph’ to your mental wellbeing.
1. Exercise. As your body moves, your brain grooves, according to Jim. He explains the primary function of your brain is movement control. His go-to exercise? High-intensity interval training (HIIT). But you can go for any type of fitness, like 10X or yoga.
2. Self-talk. Kill the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), as Jim calls it. Because how you speak to yourself as well as how you allow others to speak to you can really affect how your brain functions.
Your brain is like a supercomputer and your self-talk is the program it will run.— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest
3. Journaling. Penning down your thoughts and feelings is incredibly beneficial for your brain. Research has shown it helps the brain focus, boosts long-term memory, highlights patterns, allows the brain to reflect, and improves cognitive function.
4. Morning routine. Doing bite-sized activities, like making your bed and brushing your teeth, first thing in the morning can help you focus on what’s in front of you. Not only that, but it also helps set the tone of the day and is a great reminder that little things in life matter.
5. Sleep. Prioritizing sleep is self-love. Plus, it’s essential to your brain’s wellbeing — converts short-term memories into long-term memories, clears the plaque in your brain, and dream states allow you to come up with new solutions and ideas.
6. Read. Research shows that when you read on the regular, it stimulates your mind, reduces stress, improves your memory, strengthens your analytical thinking, and improves your focus and concentration. Jim suggests reading a book at least 30 minutes a day. And if you’ve got that down, try reading a book a day.
7. Drink water. “A 2% drop in your body’s baseline hydration level can lead to impairments in tasks requiring attention, coordination, [and] executive function,” says Shawn, whose podcast, The Model Health Show, is ranked the #1 health podcast in the U.S. But it’s not just about the water; it’s about the conductivity of that water. That’s why electrolytes are so important — they help the cells in your brain to talk to each other.
Unlock Your Superbrain
Like a bra to breasts, memory supplements can help support the brain. But let’s remember that it shouldn’t be used in replacement of the nutrients you get in actual food. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what you feed your body so that you can properly fuel your brain.
Mindvalley has a library of resources where you can learn to boost your memory through foods as well as other methods to train your brain.
Not sure where to start? Mindvalley’s Superbrain masterclass is highly recommended (and it’s free!). With Jim guiding you through, you’ll discover powerful hacks to learn faster, comprehend more, and forget less.
Now, step into your greatness and unleash the limitless potential of your brain. Welcome in.