Brain Vitamins: Can Vitamins Boost Memory?

Written by Zohra Ashpari | Published on August 7, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on August 7, 2014

What vitamins can do for your brain.

Can a Tablet Really Boost Your Memory?

Whether you suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or you just have memory problems, it’s been said that certain vitamins and fatty acids can help or prevent memory loss. The long list of potential solutions includes vitamins like B12, herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, and omega-3 fatty acids. But can a tablet really help boost your memory?

Unfortunately, much of the evidence for the popular “cures” isn’t very strong. Here, we discuss what recent clinical studies have to say about vitamins and memory loss.

Vitamin B12

Scientists have long been researching the relation between low levels of B12 (cobalamin) and memory loss. According to a Mayo Clinic expert, enough B12 in your diet can help improve memory.  However, if you get adequate B12, there is no evidence that higher intake can bring positive effects.

B12 deficiency is most common among older people, people with bowel or stomach issues, or strict vegetarians. The diabetes drug metformin has also been shown to lower B12 levels. You should be able to get enough B12 naturally, in foods like fish, meat and poultry. Fortified breakfast cereal is a good option for vegetarians.

Vitamin E

There is some evidence to suggest that vitamin E can benefit the mind and memory in older people. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that high amounts of vitamin E can help people with mid-level Alzheimer’s disease. Participants took doses of 2,000 international units (IU) a day, but according to Dr. Gad Marshall, a professor of neurology at Harvard, that amount is unsafe. Taking more than 1,000 IU a day is especially risky for people with cardiovascular disease, especially for those on blood thinners, and it also increases the risk of prostate cancer.

Regardless of age or condition, you should be able to get enough vitamin E from your food. Ask your doctor if you’re interested in additional amounts. Vitamin E deficiency is rare, although it may occur among people on low-fat diets. The vitamin comes naturally in nuts, seeds, dark-colored fruits (blueberries, avocados, blackberries), and vegetables (spinach, bell peppers).

Other Potential Cures

When it comes to ginkgo biloba, past and most recent studies concur: the supplement doesn’t seem to slow memory loss or prevent against the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

There isn’t much evidence to suggest a relationship between omega-3 and memory, either. However, research is currently in progress. One recent study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia showed that fish oil can improve non-Alzheimer’s related brain processing.  Study results found that people who took fish oil supplements had less brain atrophy than those who didn’t.  

Another recent study involving healthy adults between the ages of 18-45 showed that taking 1.16 grams a day of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can help speed up reaction time of short-term memory. However, while reaction time improved, memory itself didn’t.

DHA is one main type of omega-3 fatty acid, and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is another. You can find them naturally in fish such as salmon, and in organ meats.

Best Ways to Help Your Memory

For young and older people alike, it’s valuable to get your dietary vitamins from the food you eat. Supplements can fill in the gaps, but check with your doctor before you go over the recommended daily intake.

No matter your age, the best way to prevent against future and existing memory decline is to eat well and exercise your body as well as your brain, advises Marshall. He highly recommends the Mediterranean diet as a good source for all the vitamins your body needs.

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