Written by Tara Boustany on
October 16, 2021
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Tara Boustany on:

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Do you want to improve your brain health?

Your brain is the control center of your body. It manages everything from controlling your heart rate and breathing to allowing you to move, feel, and think.

For all these reasons, it’s important to keep it in peak working condition. Your diet has a big impact on both short- and long-term brain function. Much of the evidence comes from research on the food you eat, and not on supplements.

Yet, supplements also support brain health in many ways. This is why it’s important to know what the best supplements are and how they work before you start taking them. 

In this article, you’ll learn about supplements that are used to improve brain health. This includes what they do, how they work, and which ones may be best for you. 

Continue reading to learn more about the best supplements used for brain health!

What are the best supplements for brain health?

There are a number of brain supplements that can be taken to improve brain health. You may have heard about some before, while others you might not know anything about.

Here is a list of the most common brain boosters and how they work:

B Vitamins

All B vitamins play an important role in brain health. Without proper B vitamins levels, you could feel tired or have trouble thinking clearly. Most people get enough B vitamins from their diet.

Unless you’re low on B vitamins or pregnant (vitamin B9 is a must to prevent birth defects), a vitamin supplement is not likely to help.

While vitamin supplements are important, there isn’t evidence that they improve memory, cognition, or brain health. Always talk to your doctor before you add any vitamin supplements to your routine.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in coffee, tea, and dark chocolate. Caffeine may also be found in some non-prescription medications, like cough syrup and slimming tablets. It is available as a dietary supplement.

However, you don’t need it since you may get it from these sources. It boosts energy and alertness by stimulating the brain and central nervous system. Caffeine has also been linked to better memory, reaction times, and general brain function in several studies.

One cup of coffee contains anywhere from 50 to 400 mg of caffeine, although the amount varies. When taken as a stimulant, caffeine is most often consumed in the range of 100 to 200 mg (caffeine base) every 3 to 4 hours as needed.

Single doses of around 200–400 mg per day are generally considered safe and are enough to benefit health. But, caffeine can harm your productivity if you consume too much of it. Caffeine excess has been linked to side effects such as anxiety, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in tea leaves. L-theanine is being studied for several different uses. More studies are needed to evaluate its potential benefits.

L-theanine and caffeine combination improves attention span and visual information processing. In combination with caffeine: 12-100 mg L-theanine, 30-100 mg caffeine.

Only a few studies have been conducted, such as one published in 2019 that included only 30 people. Until more study is done, drinking green tea is a safe bet because it naturally contains both L-theanine, caffeine, and antioxidants.

All these substances may benefit your mental and physical health in other ways.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays an essential role in brain health. Fish are the best food source of omega-3 fatty acids. There are two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in fish — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

DHA can be found in fatty fish, fish oil pills, and krill oil. DHA accounts for around 20% of the total fat, and 90% of the omega-3 fat in your brain. DHA supplements have been found to enhance attention, memory, and reaction times in healthy people with low DHA intakes. It has also helped individuals with declining brain function.

EPA has anti-inflammatory properties that might protect the brain against harm and aging. EPA has been associated with benefits such as improved mood in individuals suffering from depression.

Taking fish oil, which contains both DHA and EPA, has been found to help reduce cognitive decline associated with aging. Yet, fish oil’s preservative effects on brain health have mixed results.

Eating two portions of oily fish per week is the best way to get the required amount of omega-3 fatty acids. More research is needed to determine the right proportions of DHA and EPA.

The current evidence recommends taking 1g daily of combined DHA and EPA to maintain brain health. There have been several studies on fish oil supplements and their influence on brain health, particularly.

According to a recent study, using DHA and EPA may help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Keep in mind that not all dietary supplements are equal; they come in different grades, doses, and sources of fish oil.

The right type of fish oil, in the correct dosage, is necessary for optimal results:

  • At least 250 mg of DHA in each capsule: a daily total of at least 1,000–1,500 mg
  • 600 mg per day of EPA

It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin taking any fish oil supplements. They should be taken with a meal and plenty of water. Begin with a low dose and increase gradually to the maximum tolerated dose advised by your doctor.

While Fish oil is relatively safe for most people, it can have an impact on bleeding and interact with anticoagulants. Thus, consult with your doctor to have regular blood work checked.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a vital nutrient for brain health. It is an antioxidant, which means that it combats free radicals, including those that damage your brain cells.

There is some evidence suggesting that people who consume a diet rich in vitamin E might be less likely to get dementia.

However, it’s unclear whether vitamin E supplements would have the same impact. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E is 15mg of natural Vitamin E (D-Alpha Tocopherol) daily.

Too much vitamin E supplementation can be harmful and is associated with an increased risk of death. Instead of supplements, experts advise healthy individuals to stick to foods like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.

Vitamin E is also found in dark-colored fruits like blueberries, avocados, and dark leafy greens such as spinach and bell peppers.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is an herb that derives from the leaves of the G. Biloba tree. It contains terpene trilactones which are chemicals that help protect against brain cell damage.

The Ginkgo Evaluation Memory study which included 3,000 older adults found that ginkgo doesn’t prevent dementia.

Also, in people who already had dementia, ginkgo didn’t have a beneficial effect on cognitive decline. Furthermore, the plant can increase the bleeding risk.

People who take blood-thinning drugs or have bleeding disorders should use them with caution. The National Institutes of Health lists the following as potential side effects of the plant:

  •     Headache
  •     Nausea
  •     Gastrointestinal upset
  •     Diarrhea
  •     Dizziness,
  •     Allergic skin reactions

It’s highly advisable to discuss potential side effects and interactions of ginkgo biloba with your doctor.

Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many years. It contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds are known to provide health benefits such as improvement in brain functions.

Ginseng can be classified in three ways: fresh, white, or red, depending on how long it is grown. As with ginkgo, many studies show that ginseng may be a potent brain booster.

One small study showed that ginseng improved aspects of mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks of therapy. Yet, these benefits became insignificant after 8 weeks. This implies that ginseng’s effects may decrease with time.

Another small study compared the effects of single doses of 200 or 400 mg of ginseng in healthy people before and after a 10-minute mental test. The 200mg dose was more effective than the 400mg dose at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test.

A third study found that consuming 400 mg of ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills.

Other studies have shown beneficial effects on brain function and behavior in people with Alzheimer’s. Yet, most of these studies are relatively old and include only a small number of people.

Thus, larger studies need to be done before jumping to conclusions.

Curcumin

Curcumin, found in turmeric (an ingredient in curry powder), has been praised for its antioxidant abilities. Curcumin is thought to help promote brain health.

Curcumin may protect against brain aging

Curcumin is an antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier and protects brain cells from free radicals. It may improve memory and concentration by increasing blood flow to the brain.

One study found that taking curcumin supplements improved blood flow as well as physical exercise.  According to another study, one dose of curcumin boosts attention and memory in healthy elderly people within one hour.

Finally, curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance. Chronic inflammation of the brain shuts down energy production in brain cells. This leads to mental fatigue and a decrease in neuron activity.

This, in turn, can lead to anxiety, depression, brain fog, ADHD, and other neurological conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer’s.

Curcumin may be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease

Current research suggests that curcumin is one of the most promising substances used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. Inflammation and oxidative damage contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. As we said earlier, curcumin has beneficial effects on both.

A hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of protein tangles, which are known as amyloid plaques. Curcumin can help in clearing these plaques. It is unknown whether curcumin can slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease in humans, and more research is required.

Curcumin may be a natural antidepressant

Curcumin has shown promising results as a natural antidepressant. Curcumin is as effective for depression as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor Prozac.

Curcumin works by increasing serotonin and dopamine, two key neurotransmitters linked to depression. Another way curcumin acts as an antidepressant is by reducing brain inflammation

There is now large evidence that chronic inflammation can contribute to depression.

Curcumin is considered safe for most people to take indefinitely. There are no downsides to taking curcumin supplements if you suffer from depression.

Unlike many other supplements, curcumin can safely be taken with antidepressants. It is actually believed to enhance their effectiveness. Curcumin can also be safely combined with other natural therapies for depression, such as St. John’s wort.

Supplements for Brain Health: The Bottom Line

All the dietary supplements discussed above show promising results in promoting brain health. Yet, supplements may cause side effects and interact with prescription medication.

Before you start taking any supplement, speak with your doctor directly. Before you begin or change any medication, it’s always advisable to consult with a professional.

Supplements are lightly regulated in the United States, so there’s no guarantee they live up to their claims. While certain supplements might help in some cases, most healthy individuals don’t need supplements to stay sharp.

A healthy diet rich in vegetables, berries, whole grains, and fish can help you maintain brain health as you get older. Staying active, getting enough sleep, and constantly challenging your mind can also make a huge difference.

If you want to learn more about taking care of your mental health and maintaining a healthy brain, check out these very informative resources

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