Supplements for Brain Health and Cognitive Function

December 13, 2023

Supplements for Brain Health and Cognitive Function

From college students longing for better focus and information retention to aging individuals who want to stay mentally sharp, adults of all ages contemplate how to improve their cognitive health at one time or another. Living a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are always important factors for all aspects of wellness, including brain health. However, research shows that some dietary supplements can take this a step further to enhance cognitive function.

What are Nootropics?

If you’ve researched any supplement for brain health, you’ve likely encountered the term nootropic. It comes from the Greek words nóos and tropḗ, meaning mind and turning, respectively. People take nootropics to enhance numerous aspects of brain health, including cognition, memory, motivation, and even creativity. The following supplements have nootropic properties that offer a holistic approach to supporting cognitive health.

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
    Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are essential components that maintain brain cell membrane integrity. Found in abundance in fatty fish like salmon and trout, researchers have linked omega-3s to improved cognitive function and a lower risk of age-related cognitive decline. Omega-3s can also protect the brain against neuroinflammation. Omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil capsules, can benefit those not getting enough through their diet. [1 - 8]
  2. Caffeine
    A staple in many households, caffeine is more than just a morning pick-me-up. It is a natural stimulant that can improve alertness, concentration, and mood. It’s also the most consumed nootropic worldwide. Caffeine works by preventing adenosine from binding to its receptors. Adenosine causes people to grow tired throughout the day, as it promotes drowsiness and muscle relaxation. Caffeine and adenosine share a similar structure, allowing caffeine to occupy its receptors and prevent adenosine from inducing tiredness. Unlike adenosine, caffeine increases alertness and temporarily reduces fatigue perception by triggering neural activity and releasing dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters. Several scientific studies show that caffeine’s energizing effects improve brain function, memory, and reaction times. Research also shows that caffeine has neuroprotective effects, and lifelong coffee drinkers/caffeine consumers are less likely to experience cognitive decline with age. However, too much caffeine can interfere with sleep and cause jitters. Experts recommend a max of 400 mg of caffeine per day with no more than 200mg at a time (e.g., a standard cup of coffee). [9 - 16]
  3. L-Theanine
    L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea leaves that has a unique synergy with caffeine. While l-theanine’s primary claim to fame is promoting relaxation without inducing drowsiness, it creates a balanced state of focused calmness when combined with caffeine. While caffeine stimulates the brain, l-theanine helps attenuate some of caffeine’s side effects, like jitters and nervousness. Additionally, l-theanine complements caffeine’s ability to enhance cognitive functions such as attention, reaction time, and memory by improving focus without the overstimulation caused by caffeine alone. As a result, the combination of caffeine and l-theanine is a popular nootropic stack. [17 - 20]
  4. B Vitamins
    Although most people associate B vitamins with energy production, researchers have linked B vitamin deficiencies to cognitive impairment and decline. Of the eight B vitamins, B6, B9 (folic acid), and B12 form the backbone of cognitive support. They are essential to metabolize homocysteine, which causes oxidative stress, neurodegeneration, and cognitive decline at high levels. [21 - 32]
  5. Choline
    Choline is an essential nutrient and precursor to acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter for learning, memory formation, and memory retrieval. Numerous studies show that choline improves memory, brain processing, and overall cognitive function. Choline can also benefit short- and long-term verbal memory in adults with poor memory and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. PureBulk carries two forms of choline: alpha GPC and choline bitartrate. [33 - 39]
  6. Resveratrol
    Resveratrol is a naturally occurring antioxidant in red wine and the skins of red and purple fruits, particularly grapes and berries. It promotes a healthy environment for cognitive function by improving blood flow to the brain. Research shows that resveratrol may also improve memory and slow age-related cognitive decline by preventing the hippocampus from deteriorating. The hippocampus is essential for forming, consolidating, and retrieving memories. It’s also involved in spatial memory, episodic memory, and the learning and adaptation processes that allow you to adapt to new information and experiences. * [40 - 44]
  7. Ashwagandha
    Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic and nootropic herb. Ayurvedic cultures have used it for centuries for its stress-relieving and rejuvenating properties. Recent studies suggest it may also positively affect cognitive function, making it a promising supplement for those seeking both mental resilience and clarity. In one study, participants took ashwagandha extract two times per day for eight weeks. By the end of the study, the ashwagandha group experienced significant improvements in attention, memory, processing speed, and executive function compared to the placebo group. Another study compared ashwagandha extract’s effects on stressed adults compared to those given a placebo. After 90 days, the ashwagandha group demonstrated substantial improvements in memory, focus, stress levels, and sleep quality compared to participants taking a placebo. According to a third small study, taking a single dose of ashwagandha may improve working memory and sustained attention. [45 - 48]
  8. Lion’s Mane Mushroom
    Lion's Mane mushrooms are rich in the phytochemicals hericenones and erinacines. These compounds stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is a crucial protein for the growth and maintenance of neurons, particularly those involved in memory-related areas of the brain, like the hippocampus. It also contributes to synaptic plasticity, or the synapses’ ability to change and adapt—a fundamental underpinning of memory and learning. It also has neuroprotective properties that may help preserve brain health. * [49 - 56]
  9. Creatine Monohydrate
    Most people associate creatine monohydrate with enhancing athletic performance and muscle growth. However, recent research suggests that creatine supplements may positively affect short-term memory and mental processing speed, making it an intriguing addition to the cognitive toolbox. Interestingly, one study found that creatine improved verbal fluency in vegetarians and vegans. The same study noted that all participants, regardless of their diet, had more steady and predictable reaction times after taking creatine supplements, suggesting that creatine stabilizes cognitive processes. [57 - 61]

Nootropic supplements present intriguing possibilities for improving numerous areas of brain health and cognitive function, including memory, learning, focus, and executive functioning. However, fortifying cognitive vitality and well-being extends beyond the realm of dietary supplements. While some of these supplements can help address nutritional gaps in your diet, they work best when paired with a nutrient-rich diet and active lifestyle. Optimizing your brain health requires a comprehensive approach, and supplements offer a well-rounded investment toward your cognitive well-being.

* Please note: Resveratrol and lion’s mane mushroom may slow clotting. Individuals taking blood thinners should consult a physician before taking these supplements. Those preparing for surgery should not take resveratrol supplements or lion’s mane mushroom extract.

References and Research

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