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If you are thinking about taking a brain-health supplement to improve your memory, you are not alone.
Brain-health supplements to improve memory and concentration are very popular, with sales reaching $3 billion in 2016 alone.
However, it can be hard to figure out what supplements have the best evidence supporting their use.
Further, it can be difficult to figure out which supplements are the safest to take.
What Does the Research Say?
Clinical trials are largely inconclusive when it comes to the benefit of supplements on memory. Experts think that many studies may simply be too short to find a long-term benefit of certain supplements. Further muddling the picture, researchers measure memory in a variety of ways. Many different types of memory exist, including:
-Global cognition: Overall brain function. This type of brain health is a broad measure of all the different parameters of memory and thinking.
-Declarative memory: Remembering facts and events. An example of declarative memory is knowing that Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.
-Episodic memory: Remembering specific facts in the context of your personal experience. An example of episodic memory is remembering where you were when you heard that planes crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11/01.
-Working memory: Short-term memory. An example of working memory is being able to read a story and follow the plot.
However, some data suggest that antioxidants may be useful in healthy adults, particularly seniors. Antioxidants may be particularly useful in declarative and working memory. Some research shows that antioxidants and B vitamins such as Vitamins B6, B12 and folate may also be helpful in global cognition.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Scientists are still studying how antioxidants work in the body and improve memory. However, research shows that antioxidants may work in several ways, such as:
- Helping cells communicate with each other: Scientists think this may be one of the main ways that antioxidants like flavonoids help protect from illness including cognitive problems. Antioxidants like flavonoids may help cells better communicate with each other and may block certain actions in the cell that would be harmful to the cell’s health.
- Promoting cell growth and survival: Experts think that antioxidants like flavonoids may have helpful effects in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. They may help the formation of neurons, or brain cells, and further help these neurons form synapses, or connections, with nearby cells. They may also help protect neurons in the hippocampus from damaging chemicals like certain cytokines that cause inflammation. They may also increase the brain’s production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow to the brain and keeps blood vessels healthy.
- Getting rid of free radicals: Free radicals are unstable molecules that are naturally formed in the body. They can also occur from exposure to sunlight, pollution and cigarette smoke. They then trigger a process called oxidative stress, which can harm cells. Experts think free radicals play a role in the development of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, a neurological condition which often leads to dementia. Antioxidants counteract this process, protecting cells. Science shows that Vitamin C may be more potent at fighting free radicals in the body than other antioxidants.
- Binding metals in the body that trigger free radicals: Antioxidants like flavonoids can chelate, or bind, metals in the body that might otherwise lead to free radical production. These metals include iron and copper. Medical conditions where these metals are present at a high level may benefit most from antioxidant use.
What Are Examples of Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are found in many different foods and herbs. Plant-based antioxidants like those found in polyphenols and flavonoids can help protect both plants and human cells from damage. Examples of antioxidant-containing substances include:
- Polyphenols: Polyphenols come from phenylalanine and shikimic acid. They protect cells from infection, stress and radiation. An example of a polyphenol is curcumin, which is found in turmeric.
- Flavonoids: Flavonoids are a subtype of polyphenol. They are found in many fruits and vegetables. An example of a flavonoid is quercetin, which is found in all plants. Multiple subtypes of flavonoids exist, including:
o Anthocyanidins: Found in berries, grapes and red wine
o Flavan-3-ols: Found in green tea, cocoa, grapes, apples, red wine and berries
o Flavonols: Found in vegetables like onions, scallions, kale and broccoli. Also found in apples, berries and tea
o Flavones: Found in herbs like parsley and thyme. Also found in vegetables like celery and hot peppers.
o Isoflavones: Found in legumes and soy products.
- Glucosides and Glycosides: Plants use these substances for storage. They are often found in polyphenols and their flavonoid derivatives. For example, saponin, which is found in herbs like ginseng, is a type of glycoside.
- Certain Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene are often found in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. Selenium is a mineral antioxidant found in foods like tuna and salmon.
Do Antioxidants Have Safety Concerns?
Antioxidants are present in a wide variety of chemicals, foods, vitamins and herbs. As such, saying that something is an antioxidant does not automatically mean it is safe. Although some antioxidants like Vitamin C are thought to be generally very safe, others are not.
For example, one glycoside source is unrefined bitter almonds, which can cause cyanide poisoning. Depending on your medical history, even common antioxidants that are safe in most people may pose health risks.
or this reason, you should check with your doctor to make sure that a supplement is safe to take before you begin to take it. Examples of antioxidants that may be risky in certain situations include:
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you are taking a blood-thinner.
- Beta-carotene: If you smoke, taking high-dose beta-carotene may increase your risk of lung cancer.
The Best Supplements to Improve Memory
Some of the best antioxidant supplements that may support your memory and cognition are available on Amazon.com.
We have provided a description of our top two product choices and a link to find them on Amazon.com.
Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any supplement to ensure that it does not have drug interactions or interfere with a medical condition.
NOW Super Antioxidants capsules are packed full of plant-based flavonoids with antioxidant properties. These include extracts from green tea, milk thistle, turmeric, rosemary, grape seed, ginkgo biloba, ginger, hawthorn, cranberry and bilberry.
It also contains quercetin and pineapple-derived bromelain. The serving size is two capsules twice daily. As such, a bottle of 120 capsules can last up to 60 days.
The product is vegan-friendly and contains no soy, sugar, nuts, dairy, eggs, corn or gluten. The product is also GMP-certified, meaning that it meets the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices.
Thorne’s Vitamin C product contains not only the antioxidant Vitamin C, but also flavonoids derived from oranges.
The serving size is one capsule one to three times daily. Because a bottle contains 180 capsules, a single bottle can last 6 months.
Of note, the Vitamin C’s starting material is non-GMO corn, meaning that it contains no genetically modified ingredients. However, no corn or corn starch is contained in the final product. The product is also free of gluten, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, dairy, yeast, shellfish or fish.
Brain health is important. Whether you are a younger adult and want to improve your concentration at work or school, or an older adult wanting to prevent memory loss, a healthy lifestyle including diet and exercise can be beneficial.
Science has shown that some of the best supplements for brain health include antioxidants, many of which are derived from fruits and vegetables. Taking antioxidants as part of a whole-health approach to keeping your brain healthy may help to support memory and cognitive function.