- Vitamin B12 is crucial for memory, so if you’re deficient in it you could experience forgetfulness.
- A vitamin D deficiency could also put you at risk for memory-impairing conditions like Alzheimers.
- It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.
Memory problems may be more common than you think, with one in nine adults over the age of 45 experiencing some form of confusion or memory loss.
Perhaps to combat this, a 2021 survey found that 21% of adults over 50 take at least one supplement to support their brain — in particular, to boost memory.
Memory impairments can affect your quality of life, and in some cases, can progress into something more serious, like Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are four supplements that may possibly have benefits for memory, as well as other ways to improve your memory.
1. Vitamin B12
B vitamins are crucial for brain health because they “help create the neurochemicals that allow brain cells to communicate with each other, ” says Dr. Ayesha Sherzai, a neurologist with Loma Linda University Health.
Vitamin B12, in particular, is important for memory. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause cognitive effects like confusion or poor memory, and even dementia in severe cases.
In fact, a 2020 study of patients with a vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive impairment found that 84% of participants who took vitamin B12 supplements experienced an improvement in symptoms such as decline of focus and memory.
However, if you are not vitamin B12 deficient, supplementing with B vitamins likely won’t make a difference in improving your memory, Sherzai says.
2. Vitamin D
Sherzai says vitamin D is a hormone precursor, which means it’s a key component for hormone creation — most notably hormones that are responsible for communication between brain cells.
Consequently, not getting enough vitamin D can raise the risk of memory issues.
For example, one study found that people with a vitamin D deficiency were significantly more likely to be at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Therefore, getting enough vitamin D may reduce your risk of cognitive diseases if — like 40% of Americans — you’re vitamin D deficient.
Additionally, people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who are deficient in vitamin D and have cognitive impairments may benefit from supplementation.
A study found that people with MS who were deficient in vitamin D experienced improved memory after three months of vitamin D supplementation.
3. Vitamin E
Overtime, free radical damage can affect your brain, resulting in cognitive decline.
But consuming antioxidants like vitamin E can counter some free radical damage, says Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatrist and the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
As a result, vitamin E may help prevent certain cognitive deficit, such as Alzheimers, as demonstrated by the following studies:
- A review found that high levels of vitamin E in the blood are linked to higher cognitive performance and that the vitamin may play a role in delaying or preventing cognitive decline related to general aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
- A study of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease patients found that compared to a control group, those who took 2,000 IU of vitamin E per day over two years saw a 19% slower progression of the disease.
Additionally, Merrill says not all studies on vitamin E have been so positive, so researchers are still not completely sure exactly how effective vitamin E is for brain health.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) play a role in brain health, says Merrill. Deficiencies in EPA and DHA are linked to neurodegenerative disorders.
EPA and DHA fight inflammation in the brain, says Sherzai. They may also help reinforce the connections between brain cells and help create neurochemicals, she says.
One study found that omega-3 supplementation, particularly along with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) supplementation over 12 months slowed cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
However, a review found that omega-3 supplementation may only be beneficial when someone is in the earlier stages of cognitive impairment, so it can help as a potential treatment but not necessarily as a preventative measure.
Other ways to improve memory
It isn’t ideal to rely on vitamins for memory and brain health:
“Supplements, as the name implies, should be supplemental. They shouldn’t be primary for people trying to take care of themselves [and] better their memory performance,” Merrill says.
Additionally, while supplements may have some benefit, research is still mixed on the extent of how much these vitamins can actually help, and no one vitamin is a silver bullet, says Merrill. Not to mention, supplements are not regulated by the FDA.
Rather than just relying on vitamins that may or may not work, Sherzai says a better approach to improve your memory and prevent cognitive decline is to live an overall healthier lifestyle.
She suggests following the “NEURO” acronym which stands for:
When it comes down to it, while there is some promising research for some vitamins and memory, research is mixed, and there isn’t enough definitive data to say for sure that vitamins can improve memory.
However, it is possible that B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids can benefit memory, particularly if you’re deficient in them. Ultimately, we need more long-term, large-scale studies to determine the true efficacy of these supplements.
Focus on maintaining a healthier lifestyle and following the “NEURO” acronym to improve your health and memory.
If you decide to try vitamins or supplements for your cognitive function, discuss it with your doctor first to determine the best course of action and ensure that there aren’t any contraindications with any medications or supplements you currently take.