Learn about the top brain supplements that can improve memory, mood, and productivity and protect against mental decline, depression, anxiety and dementia.

Top 15 Brain Supplements for a Mental Edge

Research has shown that taking the right supplements can help your brain health and fitness right now and protect against mental decline in the future.

But picking the best one(s) can be a challenge.

There are literally hundreds of individual nutrients to choose from — vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and phytonutrients — and thousands of combinations of ingredients.

Finding the best supplement to take largely depends on the results you are looking for.

Are you looking to increase your attention and concentration?

Is your biggest concern reversing memory loss or preventing age-related mental decline?

Or are you tired of feeling stressed out, depressed, or anxious?

In this guide, you’ll find what we feel are the best brain supplements — those that have been proven to be safe, effective, and cover a wide variety of needs.

Some of these are powerful enough that they are sometimes used as prescription medications!

We’ll examine the unique properties of each, including recommended dosages and side effects or interactions so you can make an informed decision.

How To Get the Most from This Guide

Keep in mind that almost all of the supplements in this guide have multiple brain health benefits, not just the one shown in the headline for each supplement.

So read the whole description for each supplement.

Also, when you look to buy, you will find a lot of choices.

So read our guide on how to choose a good supplement.

Finally, to get more in-depth information, read the related articles that follow each section.


#1. Citicoline

Potent Brain Protector

Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound found in every cell of your body.

It’s less widely known that many other brain supplements you’ll find on this list, yet it’s one of the best brain boosters available.

Citicoline helps build healthy brain cell membranes.

It improves blood flow to the brain and also brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change throughout life.

It increases brain energy by firing up your mitochondria, the powerhouse of each cell. (1)

Citicoline reduces the harmful effects of free radical damage and inflammation, two major causes of brain aging. (2)

It raises levels of two important neurotransmitters, acetylcholine and dopamine. (3)

Acetylcholine is the primary brain chemical involved with memory and learning.

Low acetylcholine is implicated in serious neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and multiple sclerosis. (4, 5)

Dopamine is linked to motivation, productivity, and your “pleasure-reward” system.

Citicoline supplements can significantly improve memory, concentration, focus, and attention. (678)

Doctors throughout Europe prescribe citicoline for serious neurological disorders such as age-related memory loss, stroke, brain injury, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. (910)

Citicoline is sometimes sold as a single-ingredient supplement, but is often included in nootropic brain supplement formulas. (11)

One study comparing citicoline to several popular nootropics concluded that it improved memory and cognition as well as the study drug piracetam. (12)

Consider citicoline if you take any medications that are anticholinergic, those that work by blocking the action of acetylcholine.

A surprising number of drugs fall into this category, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC).

A good rule of thumb is that any medication that starts with “anti” is likely to affect your acetylcholine level.

This includes antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics, and antihypertensives.

Citicoline Dosage

A typical dose of citicoline is 250 to 1,000 mg doses taken twice a day for a total intake of 500 to 2,000 mg. (13)

A daily dose of 1,000 to 2,000 mg is recommended to support thinking skills. (14)

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When looking for a citicoline supplement you are likely to come across CDP-choline (cytidine diphosphocholine).

This is simply another name for citicoline — they are the same compound.

You may also see the brand name Cognizin.

This is a highly bioavailable form of citicoline that’s got research to back up its claims as a cognitive enhancer. (15)

Citicoline Side Effects and Warnings

Side effects of citicoline include insomnia, headache, diarrhea, low or high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, and chest pains. (16)

Do not mix citicoline with levodopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease, without talking to your doctor. (17)

Citicoline can amplify this drug’s effectiveness which may require a change in its dosage.

#2. Curcumin

Nutritional “Gold” for Your Brain

Curcumin is the main bioactive compound in the Indian spice turmeric (Curcuma longa).

It’s responsible for turmeric’s brilliant gold color and most of its health benefits.

curcumin supplements and powderCurcumin protects your brain in an impressive number of ways.

Curcumin increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, the “happiness brain chemical.” (18)

In fact, curcumin is as effective for depression as the popular antidepressant Prozac. (19)

It’s like “exercise in a bottle” that increases blood flow to the brain as effectively as physical exercise. (20)

Curcumin reduces the compulsiveness and associated memory loss of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (21)

Remarkably, curcumin was found to improve both memory and attention in healthy seniors within an hour after taking a single dose! (22)

These study participants additionally showed significant improvements in working memory, energy, mood, and stress after taking curcumin for one month.

Its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce brain inflammation and break up brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. (23)

Seniors in India who consume turmeric as a regular part of their diet have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world. (24)

Curcumin and Turmeric Dosages

You can get your curcumin from either curcumin or turmeric supplements.

The University of Maryland’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide suggests these turmeric dosages:

  • Cut root: 1.5-3 grams per day
  • Dried, powdered root: 1-3 grams per day (approximately 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
  • Fluid extract (1:1): 30-90 drops per day
  • Tincture (1:2): 15-30 drops, 4 times per day

The recommended curcumin dosage for a standardized powder supplement is 400 to 600 mg three times per day. (25)

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Curcumin supplements are poorly absorbed, but there are measures that overcome this problem. (26)

The addition of piperine, a compound found in black pepper, increases curcumin absorption by a remarkable 2,000%. (27)

Curcumin and Turmeric Side Effects and Warnings

Turmeric consumed as a spice in food is very safe.

Turmeric supplements can cause nausea and diarrhea, especially in high doses.

Both turmeric and curcumin supplements have quite a number of possible side effects, interactions, and warnings.

These supplements can interact with medicines like aspirin, NSAID painkillers, statins, diabetes drugs, blood pressure medicines, and blood thinners.

They may also interact with natural supplements with blood thinning properties including ginkgo, ginseng, and garlic. (28)

The piperine often added to turmeric and curcumin supplements unfortunately can also increase the side effects of a number of drugs. (29)

However, you can increase the bioavailability of curcumin and turmeric supplements by taking them with phosphatidylserine instead.

If you take any medications, check for possible interactions between them and turmeric or curcumin at RxList.com.

Related articles:
The Impressive Brain Benefits of Curcumin Supplements

#3. Acetyl-l-Carnitine

For More Mental Energy

Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is an amino acid that increases both mental and physical energy. (30)

It acts a powerful antioxidant, protecting your brain from free radical damage. (31)

ALCAR is a precursor of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning.

It also increases the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, both of which play a role in depression. (32)

In fact, acetyl-l-carnitine is a fast-acting antidepressant that usually brings some relief within a week. (33)

It improves mental clarity, focus, mood, processing speed, and memory and has strong anti-aging effects on the brain. (34)

It can be helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. (35, 36)

One study found that acetyl-l-carnitine stabilizes tau proteins which produce the brain tangles believed to cause Alzheimer’s. (37)

It increases the insulin sensitivity of brain cells to help them utilize blood glucose, the brain’s main fuel source. (38)

There’s evidence that it may prevent brain damage from excess alcohol intake. (39)

Acetyl-l-Carnitine Dosage

The generally recommended dose ranges from 630 to 2,500 mg per day and up to 4,000 mg for treating Alzheimer’s patients. (4041)

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When buying a supplement, don’t confuse acetyl-l-carnitine with the less expensive l-carnitine.

ALCAR is a far more bioavailable form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, something plain l-carnitine cannot do. (42)

Acetyl-l-Carnitine Side Effects and Warnings

Acetyl-l-carnitine is generally considered safe and there are few side effects, mainly digestive upset, restlessness, or a fishy body odor. (43)

If you take a blood thinner such as coumadin, avoid taking ALCAR as it can increase the drug’s blood-thinning effects.

There’s some concern that acetyl-l-carnitine interferes with thyroid hormone, so it’s best to avoid if you have low thyroid. (44)

#4. Bacopa

For Balanced Brain Chemistry

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy.

Its use as a nerve and brain tonic for improving memory, learning, and concentration dates back at least 3,000 years. (45)

bacopa monnieriAccording to legend, it was used by ancient scholars to help them memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.

It increases cerebral blood flow, delivering more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose to the brain. (46)

When tested against two very different kinds of cognitive enhancers — the ancient herbal remedy ginseng and the popular smart drug Modafinil — bacopa came out on top.  (47)

Bacopa is among the handful of herbs considered adaptogenic.

Adaptogens have the ability to calm a stressed mind and increase energy without being either sedating or stimulating.

In many ways, adaptogens act like a thermostat that keeps you in an emotional comfort zone.

Bacopa works in part by balancing the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

It’s this ability to restore balance that makes bacopa an excellent choice if you are looking for a natural cognitive enhancing supplement that also alleviates stress, anxiety, or depression. (48)

Bacopa Dosage

So far, about a dozen bioactive compounds have been found in bacopa, the most important of which are bacopaside A and bacopaside B. (49)

Look for a supplement with a standardized content of 55% bacopasides.

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A typical dose is 50 to 100 mg of bacopa three times per day, one dose with each meal. (50)

One brand of bacopa that has studies to support its use as a cognitive enhancer is KeenMind.

Bacopa Side Effects and Warnings

Bacopa is considered very safe, safe enough to give to children. (51)

Side effects of bacopa are rare, but the most common ones are dry mouth and digestive upset.

But these can largely be avoided by taking it along with meals. (52)

Traditionally, bacopa was administered as a food that was cooked with ghee (clarified butter).

Bacopa should not be combined with antihistamines, antidepressants, glaucoma medications, drugs taken for Alzheimer’s, or thyroid hormones. (53)

#5. American Ginseng

Best in Class Brain Booster

Ginseng may be a classical Asian herb, but American ginseng is now considered the best in the world.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) belongs to the same genus as Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), but is a unique species.

ginsengIn an ironic twist, the Chinese now prefer genuine American ginseng for its superior quality and ability to upgrade brain function. (5455)

American ginseng is mostly cultivated in Wisconsin and Canada, where growing conditions are ideal for encouraging higher concentration of ginseng’s active ingredients called ginsenosides. (56)

Cereboost is a patent-pending extract derived from American ginseng with clinical studies to support its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer.

Study participants were given a mental aptitude test and performed significantly better after ingesting Cereboost.

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It worked quickly to improve memory, mental clarity, and sharpness within just a few hours after taking a single dose. (57)

Cereboost is neuroprotective and increases acetylcholine levels. (58)

American ginseng is a better choice than Asian ginseng if you tend towards anxiety since it is less stimulating. (59)

Like bacopa, American ginseng acts as an adaptogen, promoting physical strength and mental energy while dialing down the damaging effects of stress.

It also reduces postprandial hypoglycemia, a common underlying cause of anxiety. (60)

American Ginseng Dosage

Standard doses have not been established, but a typical dose of American ginseng is 100 to 200 mg daily. (61)

Brain supplements that contain Cereboost usually contain 200 mg.

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American ginseng supplements are available as capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts.

You can also buy tea bags, loose bulk tea, and dried roots that are used to make tea or are added to cooked foods.

American Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions

American ginseng can cause some side effects including diarrhea, itching, insomnia, headache, and nervousness. (62)

Since its ginsenosides can act like estrogen, do not take American ginseng if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a hormone-sensitive cancer.

Discuss taking American ginseng with your doctor if you take an MAOI antidepressant, diabetic medication, or immune suppressant since it can affect the effectiveness of these drugs.

Related articles:
11 Evidence-Based Ways Ginseng Benefits Mental and Physical Health

SUBJECT: Sharper thinking, better mood

Movies like Limitless and Lucy have fueled an interest in the power of nootropics. Nootropics are substances that claim to make you smarter, highly focused, and more productive.

But many of the products containing these substances are neither helpful nor harmless.

We’ve looked closely at the market and found a supplement that combines many of the most effective, safe and natural brain enhancers we know.

These enhancers work with your brain’s own neurotransmitters to really improve your mental energy, clarity, focus and mood. Read more about it below.

Start thinking better today

Deane & Dr. Pat

#6. Alpha GPC

Top Memory Enhancer

Alpha GPC (alpha-glycerophosphocholine) is a synthetic form of choline.

Choline is an essential nutrient for brain development, healthy brain cells, and neurotransmitter formation.

It is a precursor of acetylcholine, the brain chemical of learning and memory.

Unfortunately, choline supplements do not effectively enter the brain.

However, the alpha GPC form of choline quickly and efficiently moves choline into the brain where it’s used to form brain cell membranes and stimulate the growth of new brain cells.

Alpha GPC also increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), the neurotransmitter associated with relaxation. (63)

Signs of low GABA include being easily overstimulated, overwhelmed, and stressed out.

Alpha GPC studies show it consistently improves memory and attention span in people of all ages, while warding off age-related mental decline. (64)

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Alpha GPC is sold as a memory supplement throughout much of the world.

In Europe it is used as a prescription medication for Alzheimer’s that works by increasing acetylcholine levels. (65)

Alzheimer’s patients’ levels of acetylcholine often dip to 90% below normal. (66)

It can also help the brain recover after a stroke, injury, or transient ischemic attack. (67)

Alpha GPC Dosage

A typical dose of alpha GPC is 300 to 600 mg, but the ideal standard dose is yet to be determined. (68)

In almost all studies on mental decline, participants were given 400 mg, three times a day. (69)

Alpha GPC Side Effects and Warnings

Alpha GPC is generally considered safe, but possible side effects include headache, insomnia, dizziness, mental confusion, heartburn, and skin rash. (70)

Alpha GPC supplements are derived from either soy or eggs, two of the most common food allergens, so be mindful if you have a known food allergy.

The only known drug interaction is with scopolamine, a drug often used for motion sickness and nausea following surgery.

Related articles:
Balance Your Neurotransmitters to Take Control of Your Life

#7. Lion’s Mane

A “Smart” Mushroom

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), also known as yamabushitake, is an edible mushroom native to parts of Asia, North America, and Europe.

It’s been used both medicinally and as a culinary delicacy for thousands of years.

lion's mane mushroomNow it’s sold as a brain supplement. (In its natural setting, it sometimes even looks like a human brain.)

It’s been said that lion’s mane can impart “nerves of steel” and the “memory of a lion.”

World-renowned fungi expert Paul Stamets calls it the “first smart mushroom.” (71)

It is a popular nootropic — a substance that improves mental functions such as memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration — while simultaneously making your brain healthier.

Lion’s mane excels at improving cognitive function and treating neurological disorders.

It’s been found to contain two unique groups of compounds, hericenones and erinacines, that stimulate the formation of nerve growth factor (NGF). (72)

NGF is a protein that is crucial to the growth and maintenance of certain types of neurons.

Lion’s mane can be helpful for anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. (73)

Lion’s Mane Dosage

Optimal dosages have not yet been established, but a typical dose of lion’s mane extract is 1,000 mg taken three times a day. (74)

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In one study, seniors with mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia, experienced significant cognitive improvement taking 3,000 mg of lion’s mane powder daily. (75)

Lion’s mane is available in capsules, powder, liquid tincture, or tea.

Lion’s Mane Side Effects and Interactions

Lion’s mane is extremely safe.

It’s regularly consumed as a food in Asia and is becoming increasingly available in gourmet food stores elsewhere.

The only known side effect is itchy skin which may be caused by the increase in nerve growth factor. (76)

Related articles:
How Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits Your Brain

#8. Magnesium Threonate

Patented Brain Mineral

Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral that is required in over 600 metabolic functions.

As important as it is, magnesium deficiency is the second most common nutritional deficiency in developed countries. (7778)

Signs of magnesium deficiency include brain fog, lack of focus, inability to handle stress, insomnia, caffeine addiction, and generally feeling tired but wired.

Magnesium supplementation has proven beneficial for numerous mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. (7980, 8182)

There are many forms of magnesium to choose from, but only magnesium l-threonate readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. (83)

Its unique ability to permeate brain cell membranes and elevate magnesium concentrations in the brain makes it an excellent choice for improving memory, attention, depression, and anxiety. (84, 85)

Look for supplements that contain Magtein, a patented brand of magnesium l-threonate that’s a proven cognitive enhancer.

Magnesium Dosage

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is generally 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women, but that can vary slightly depending on age. (86)

The maker’s of Magtein suggest 1,000 mg taken twice a day for optimal cognitive benefits. (87)

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This isn’t as high a dose as it sounds since only a fraction of Magtein is elemental magnesium — 144 mg per 2,ooo mg of Magtein. (88)

Magnesium Side Effects and Interactions

Magnesium can cause digestive upsets and loose stools, particularly if you take too much or take inexpensive forms of magnesium such as oxide or sulfate.

You should not be taking these anyway since they are the least bioavaible forms of magnesium. (89)

Magnesium sulfate, the kind found in Epsom salts, can cause dramatic diarrhea and disrupt your electrolyte balance, leading to a potentially serious condition known as hypermagnesemia. (9091)

There are currently 32 official FDA reports of magnesium sulfate triggering brain fog, short-term memory loss, amnesia, blackouts, and other kinds of mental distress. (92)

The only reported side effects of magnesium threonate are headaches and drowsiness the first week or so. (93)

Discuss taking magnesium with your doctor if you take antibiotics, high blood pressure medications, osteoporosis medications, or muscle relaxants. (94)

Magnesium can affect these drugs’ effectiveness.

Related articles:
8 Ways Magnesium Relieves Anxiety and Stress

#9. Tryptophan

Proven Mood Booster

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that’s a precursor to serotonin.

Serotonin plays a large role in mood, sleep, learning, and appetite control.

tryptophan serotonin synthesis pathway

A low serotonin level is widely believed to be a major cause of depression.

The most popular antidepressant medications like Prozac and Zoloft are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are believed to work by making more serotonin available in the brain.

You can increase serotonin levels naturally by providing more of its building block in the form of tryptophan.

By increasing serotonin levels, tryptophan can improve the quality of life for those with a wide variety of brain-related and mental health issues.

Studies have found tryptophan to be as effective for depression as antidepressant drugs. (95)

Tryptophan has been found useful for reducing general anxiety, social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. (9697)

Low levels of tryptophan are associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Children with ADHD have 50% lower than average blood levels of tryptophan. (98)

Low tryptophan can cause both long-term and short-term memory loss and impair other cognitive functions. (99)

Tryptophan Dosage

There is no official recommended dosage for tryptophan and suggested doses vary widely.

As little as 250 mg was found to increase the quality of sleep.

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On the other hand, up to 12 grams per day has been suggested for depression. (100)

Most supplement manufacturers suggest a daily dose of 1,000 to 1,500 mg. (101)

We suggest starting with 500 mg a day and then working up to a higher dose.

Tryptophan Side Effects and Interactions

The most common tryptophan side effects are digestive upset, loss of appetite, headache, and drowsiness. (102)

Tryptophan should not be taken with SSRI antidepressants.

When taken together, they can cause a potentially serious condition known as serotonin syndrome.

Tryptophan should also not be taken with drugs with a sedating effect including Ambien, Ativan, Valium, and Ultram.

Related articles:
Using Tryptophan to Boost Serotonin for Good Mental Health

#10. Vinpocetine

A Natural “Smart Drug”

Vinpocetine is a relatively new brain booster that blurs the line between brain supplement and smart drug.

It’s based on vincamine, a chemical found in periwinkle (Vinca minor).

vinca minor vinpocetineThis flowering vine has been used since medieval times to treat headaches, memory loss, and vertigo. (103)

Vinpocetine supplements are usually taken to improve memory, overcome brain fog, increase mental clarity, protect the brain against aging, and promote overall mental well-being. (104)

It rapidly enters the brain to increase blood flow, decrease brain inflammation, protect against free radical damage, and balance neurotransmitter levels. (105106107)

Its ability to protect the brain from degeneration makes it a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s. (108)

Vinpocetine prevents the short-term memory loss that often accompanies benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs. (109)

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It improves the brain’s ability to use glucose, its main source of fuel, after a stroke. (110)

In some parts of the world vinpocetine is available by prescription only. (111)

Here in the US, it’s available as a brain supplement, at least for now. (112113)

The FDA has initiated proceedings to take vinpocetine off the shelves, not because there have been any safety issues, but because they believe it should be classified as a drug and not a supplement. (114)

While studies show that vinpocetine looks like a promising treatment for mental decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, there’s not a lot of research yet to back up claims that it makes healthy adults smarter.

Vinpocetine Dosage

Most clinical studies on vinpocetine used a dose of 10 mg, three times daily. (115)

A good place to start is to take 5 mg with each meal. (116)

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Then you can work up to as high as 20 mg with each meal for maximum neuroprotective benefits.

Avoid taking vinpocetine on an empty stomach since it’s absorbed up to 100% better with food.

Vinpocetine Side Effects and Warnings

Vinpocetine is generally considered safe with few side effects.

Potential side effects include digestive upset, insomnia, headache, dizziness, nervousness, skin rash, and flushing. (117, 118)

However, it’s advised that you avoid vinpocetine if you take a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin) or take any over-the-counter medications that can interfere with clotting such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Related articles:
Cognitive Enhancers Compared: Brain Supplements, Smart Drugs & Nootropics

#11. Huperzine A

Powerful Memory Remedy

Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata) is a small plant native to parts of Asia that’s a traditional Chinese treatment for improving memory and circulation and reducing inflammation. (119120)

The main active compound in Chinese club moss is an alkaloid called huperzine A.

huperzine a chinese club mossHuperzine A works mainly by raising acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter involved with learning, memory, sleep cycle regulation, and other brain functions. (121122)

Huperzine A works by the same mechanism as the popular Alzheimer’s drug Aricept.

They both work by inhibiting an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase) that deactivates acetylcholine.

Huperzine A shows promise for delaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages. (123)

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It protects the patient’s brain against free radical damage and environmental toxins while promoting new brain cell generation. (124125) 

Huperzine A is so powerful that it’s been given the status of an approved drug for treating vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s in China. (126)

Huperzine A Dosage

The general recommended dosage is 50 to 200 mcg twice daily and can be taken on an empty stomach. (127) 

Huperzine A Side Effects and Warnings

Although huperzine A is a naturally occurring compound, it’s not without side effects.

Reported side effects are significant and include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, slurred speech, restlessness, anorexia, muscle twitching, cramps, incontinence, high blood pressure, and slowed heart rate. (128)

Huperzine A does not mix well with antihistamines, antidepressants, the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept, or the motion sickness drug scopolamine. (129)

Related articles:
How Acetylcholine Deficiency Impacts Memory

#12. Ginkgo

Timeless Brain Tonic

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is one of the most widely used natural remedies in the world. (130)

It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.

ginkgo supplementsGinkgo increases circulation to the brain, balances brain chemistry, and protects the brain from free radical damage. (131)

It’s considered so effective that it’s sometimes prescribed as a medication in Europe.

But not all of ginkgo’s reported benefits have held up to the latest scientific scrutiny.

Unexpectedly, two major studies concluded that ginkgo does not improve memory or other cognitive functions in healthy adults. (132133)

But this does not make ginkgo useless as a brain supplement.

And, of course, you may decide that its long history of use outweighs the latest scientific findings.

Ginkgo has been proven beneficial for treating stress and anxiety by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (134135)

It reliably improves short-term memory in seniors. (136)

Ginkgo reduces ADHD symptoms in children and teens, but not as effectively as the ADHD drug Ritalin. (137)

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It can increase the turnover of both serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters linked to depression. (138)

And lastly, for those diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, ginkgo shows great promise for improving memory and day-to-day quality of life. (139)

Ginkgo Dosage

A typical ginkgo dose is 40 to 120 mg three times a day. (140)

Start with a low dose and take with meals to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

Ginkgo Side Effects and Warnings

Known ginkgo side effects include digestive upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, and restlessness. (141)

Ginkgo should not be taken with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft since together, they can cause serotonin syndrome. (142)

Ginkgo reacts badly with a slew of medications.

Drugs.com lists over 500 of them.

If you take any medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, or visit Drugs.com to check for Ginkgo biloba drug interactions before taking this supplement.

Related articles:
Ginkgo Biloba Benefits and Your Memory

#13. DHA

Critical Brain Cell Building Block

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is not optional if you are seeking optimal brain performance.

Omega-3 deficiency is widespread and linked to over 50 diseases and contributes to 96,000 preventable deaths per year. (143144145)

fish oil capsulesOmega-3 fats are so important to health that more than 30,000 studies have been published on their health benefits! (146)

And of all the omega-3s, DHA is the most important one for your brain.

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Omega-3 fats are harder to get from diet alone since few people regularly eat the main dietary sources — wild-caught, cold water oily fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. (147)

DHA is a major building block of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain where higher level functioning occurs. (148)

It also plays an important role in brain cell communication.

Low DHA levels have been linked to depression, ADHD, serious psychiatric disorders, and a measurable decrease in brain volume. (149150)

Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder have all been found to improve with DHA supplementation.

Seniors with high levels of DHA have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. (151)

DHA and Fish Oil Dosages

DHA is sometimes sold as a single ingredient supplement, but most commonly as a major component in fish oil or krill oil supplements.

If you are taking fish oil, a good rule of thumb is to find a supplement that contains 700 to 1,000 mg of EPA and 200 to 500 mg of DHA. (152)

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If you are taking DHA alone, you can take more — up to 1,000 mg per day. (153, 154)

If you plan to use fish oil or DHA therapeutically, check out Mayo Clinic’s omega-3 dosage information.

There you’ll find recommended dosages for specific mental health conditions including ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia.

DHA and Fish Oil Side Effects and Warnings

DHA is considered generally safe.

It may increase blood sugar in diabetics and lower blood pressure in those with hypertension which can alter your need for medication.

Fish oil can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with aspirin or blood thinners, but DHA alone does not seem to affect blood clotting. (155156)

Related articles:
DHA Supplements: Why They’re Critical for Your Brain

#14. Phosphatidylserine

Versatile Brain Enhancer

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid naturally found in high concentrations in the brain. (157)

It is also a popular brain supplement for boosting memory, cognition, concentration, and learning.

Phosphatidylserine is a major component of human brain cell membranes.

By supporting brain cell membrane integrity, PS helps to keep toxins, pathogens, and other unwanted invaders out of your brain.

It normalizes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to reduce the effects of stress. (158)

Phosphatidylserine is safe and effective for brains of all ages.

It can significantly improve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children. (159160)

It is the primary ingredient in Vayarin, a medical food prescribed for children with ADHD.

It is a favorite memory supplement used by students to perform better on their exams.

Phosphatidylserine is protective against mental decline, can improve mood, and help with depression, especially in seniors. (161162)

Large studies have found that phosphatidylserine may be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (163)

Notably, phosphatidylserine is the only brain supplement that’s received a qualified stamp of approval from the FDA for age-related cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.

Phosphatidylserine Dosage

The general recommended dose is 100 mg taken three times a day. (164)

But doses of twice that, 600 mg per day, are considered safe. (165)

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Phosphatidylserine is one of the few brain supplements with dosages determined for children.

A typical dose for children and young teens is 200 mg per day.

Phosphatidylserine Side Effects and Warnings

The most common side effects experienced with phosphatidylserine supplements are digestive upset and insomnia, particularly with high dosages.

Phosphatidylserine should be avoided if you take blood thinning or anti-inflammatory drugs. (166)

It can decrease the effectiveness of antihistamines and antidepressants.

Do not take phosphatidylserine with drugs prescribed for Alzheimer’s such as Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne without talking to your doctor. (167)

Phosphatidylserine can alter these drugs’ effectiveness and magnify their side effects.

Phosphatidylserine supplements are almost always derived from soy.

If soy is a food you avoid, look for one extracted from sunflower oil instead.

Related articles:
Phosphatidylserine: Why It’s a Top Brain Supplement

#15. L-Theanine

Meditation in a Cup or Capsule

L-theanine is an amino acid found in black and green teas (Camellia sinensis) that offers a truly unique set of brain benefits.

One of the ways it works is by altering your brain wave patterns. (168)

pot of green tea, source of l-theanineIt puts you into a desirable state of “relaxed attentiveness” similar to that achieved during meditation. (169170)

It sharpens focus, reduces stress, and imparts a sense of overall well-being.

L-theanine raises levels of several key neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine, and GABA — to promote recall, learning, motivation, and positive mood. (171172)

It makes you more resilient to stress and helps ward off anxiety. (173174)

It won’t make you drowsy, but can improve your quality of sleep. (175)

L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine.

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The combination of caffeine and l-theanine can help you perform mentally demanding tasks better than caffeine alone. (176)

And since l-theanine is relaxing, it won’t leave you edgy.

This unique caffeine-enhancing property makes l-theanine a popular supplement with those seeking optimal mental performance.

Some college students and biohackers use this caffeine-theanine combination in place of smart drugs.

L-theanine improves memory and cognition in seniors, even those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). (177178)

It is neuroprotective against stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. (179180)

L-Theanine Dosage

The general recommended dosage for l-theanine is 200 to 400 mg once or twice daily. (181)

Some people experience noticeable benefits with as little as 50 mg and almost everyone experiences some degree of relaxation with a 400 mg dose. (182)

A mix of  l-theanine and caffeine is a popular nootropic “stack” for boosting mood, focus, concentration, and alertness. (183, 184)

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Typical ratios of l-theanine to caffeine range from 1:1 (2oo mg each) to 4:1 (200 gm theanine for every 50 mg of caffeine). (185, 186187)

One popular name brand of l-theanine is Suntheanine.

This is a patented brand of pure theanine often used in studies when a standardized formula is required.

L-Theanine Side Effects and Interactions

L-theanine supplements are considered very safe. (188)

The few reported adverse reactions include headache, dizziness, and gastrointestinal distress.

Use l-theanine with caution if you’re on a high blood pressure medication since it can decrease your blood pressure. (189)

Related articles:
EGCG and L-Theanine: Unique Brain Boosters in Green Tea


The Core Brain Supplement

All essential vitamins and minerals play a vital role in brain function.

Some act as natural antidepressants or combat the effects of stress, while some are essential cofactors in neurotransmitter formation.

Many are antioxidants that protect the brain from the damaging effects of free radicals, inflammation, neurotoxins, and aging.

So before you start taking the brain supplements we’ve discussed here, make sure you’ve got your basic nutritional needs met.

It’s generally thought that vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past, but that’s not true.

Up to 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin B12, 77% in vitamin D, and 75% in the mineral magnesium. (190191192)

Deficiencies in any of these can have a profound impact on your brain.

The Harvard School of Public Health advises all adults to take a multivitamin supplement as insurance to fill any nutritional gaps. (193)

We think this is sound advice.

Pound for pound, your brain requires more nutrients than any other organ.

But processed food, factory farming practices, and the nutrient-draining stresses of modern life are just some of the factors that have created a perfect storm of suboptimal nutrition.

Many studies confirm that taking a multivitamin alone can improve memory and overall brain function while increasing longevity and reducing the risk of degenerative brain disease. (194195196, 197, 198)

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Trying to boost brain power when basic nutrients are missing is like trying to build a house on a faulty foundation.

Taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement is an easy way to supply the core nutrients your brain needs.

Related articles:
How to Choose Nutritional Supplements That Work

Brain Supplements: The Bottom Line

There are many reasons to take a brain supplement: to improve mood, memory, and concentration as well as to protect the brain against aging or to prevent or halt cognitive decline.

But there are endless substances and combinations to choose from.

Stick with supplements that are proven to work, like the ones in this guide.

Then make note of which are a good match for your particular set of symptoms.

Try either a single-ingredient supplement or one that contains a blend of the ingredients you need.

Also keep in mind that just because supplements are natural doesn’t mean they always 100% safe.

This is especially true if you take any medications.

Talk to your doctor before adding any brain supplements to your regimen.

Meanwhile, you can check for interactions with Drugs.com interaction checker.

Lastly, to learn more about any particular supplement, check out our related articles following each supplement section.



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