New and Old ‘Memory Supplements’: Fact and Fiction - Healthy Living Association

New and Old ‘Memory Supplements’: Fact and Fiction

Have you ever wanted to have a better, more accurate memory? The last time you couldn’t find your car keys or phone; did you wish you knew of a trick or two to remember things better? Probably everyone, at one time or another, has wished for a stronger memory.

It’s human nature to lose memory power as you age, so older people have an even bigger stake in the issue of memory enhancement. As always seems to be the case, the drug industry has gotten into the “cognitive enhancement” business in a very, very big way. Nowadays, there are literally dozens of prescription and over-the-counter substances that promise to strengthen the memory and the overall power of the human brain.

What is the real story about these new drugs and supplements, many of which are repackaged versions of very old foods and herbs? Can a pill enhance your memory? Are drugs like this safe? How much do they cost? What are the long-term repercussions of taking them? Are there adverse side-effects? Can a memory pill make me sick or harm my brain in any way?Can that be possible? Are drugs and supplements the answer to this age-old human dilemma? Since at least the early 1800s, people have been looking for special foods, exercises, and drugs that can make their brains more powerful. Today’s big push by the drug industry is only the most modern version of that deep human longing.

I wanted to discover the answers to all those questions for lots of reasons. What I found out was not what I expected, and included a potent dose of both good and bad news. Here’s a short summary of what I learned about “memory supplements” and memory improvement in general:

Memory can be improved with the use of supplements but the results are mixed. Sometimes there are side-effects from the substances, and often they don’t work forever.

There are supplements that work and some that don’t. You’ll need to learn how to shop for memory supplements and be careful not to pay too much. The 20 substances that have been shown in some studies to improve memory function are mostly natural things you can either buy at the store or grow in your backyard garden.

There’s a right way and wrong way to choose memory supplements. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the contents panel on the container lists at least some of the 20 substances known to have effect on memory.

There are certainly many pros and cons of memory-enhancing substances which need to be taken into account before using them. Supplements are more problematic than natural foods like fish and various herbs. Most of the cons are associated with side-effects and high cost. A single trip to the health food store will convince you that memory supplements are big business, which is why the prices are so high for these questionable products.

Both natural and pharmaceutical memory aids exist, which means that you can indeed improve your memory without supplements. The good news is that so-called “memory training” techniques have been shown to be effective and easy for just about anyone with a small amount  of determination and persistence.

The “natural way” to boost memory power is thousands of years old, and relies on elaborate mental “maps” that help the brain place small pieces of information in specific locations. There are other natural memory-enhancing methods that were practiced by the ancient Romans and have survived to this day.

All these natural techniques are available in books and online for anyone to learn, free of charge. A few of them are listed at the end of this article. Note that memory supplements sold in stores are not only pricey but can lead to many dangerous side-effects, while an educational method is both free and completely safe to practice.

Three commonly taken over-the-counter memory supplements include ginkgo biloba, DHA, and a widely used “vision support formula” that combines several of the well-known memory enhancers into a single tablet. Ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries as both a memory aid and as a treatment for dozens of physical and mental problems. DHA is a common omega-3 fatty acid that is in certain types of fish oil. In fact, many people who don’t want to spend a fortune on high-end memory supplements just take fish oil and get most of the benefits of memory improvement for a very small price and with no side-effects.

Vision support formulas are primarily intended to help the eyes and alleviate general vision disorders. It just so happens that the four main ingredients in vision support pills are all reliable memory enhancement substances: lutein, antioxidants, zinc, and zeaxanthin. Ginkgo, fish oil, and vision support are all sold over the counter in drug stores nationwide.

It’s interesting to note that most of the better memory aids are either herbal plants or nutrients found in common foods. The rush to purchase expensive, slickly packaged supplements that have no proven effectiveness is a disturbing notion, and one that leads many people to simply purchase ginkgo biloba, eat more fish, and perhaps try one of the many low-cost vision support products sold at the local pharmacy.

According to the authoritative website, WebMD, the only memory aid that has been show to benefit users is ginkgo biloba. That readily available product sold at most every pharmacy. Memory supplements that “may have potential” but need more research, according to WebMD, are listed below in the chart:

Is Ginkgo the Only Effective Memory Aid?

Ginkgo biloba is often mentioned as the only memory enhancing substance that has withstood several scientific studies, unlike many other products that are on the market.

So, what’s the reason that this simple, cheap, easy-to-find “non-flowering plant” is such a reliable memory aid? It would probably pay solid dividends to take a closer look at GB.

This interesting plant has an exceptionally strange history. It only grows in China (as a wild plant) but is grown all over the globe as a veritable “cash crop” because it is used in so many herbal remedies. (Be careful, because it’s usually misspelled as either “ginko” or “gingko”).

The trees can live for as long as 2,000 years on average! In fact, there’s one in China that is said to be about 3,500 years old. Rather than just an interesting factoid for trivia games, the longevity of the ginkgo tree is what draws many people to it as a health supplement. The thinking is that if something can live for 20 or more centuries, then it must have some pretty healthy stuff in its cells! That may or may not make logical, or scientific, sense but many gingko enthusiasts believe it.

Fruit of the long-living trees is a sort of pungently smelly and watery/slippery thing, and is only produced by the female tree. That’s why the male trees are so sought after by cultivators. That ginkgo smell turns many people away from the female trees, thus putting biodiversity of the species at risk.

Even with all the cultivation of the ginkgo plant, it is officially considered an “endangered” plant by experts. One of the oddest facts about the ginkgo tree is its roots. There are no other known plants that have root systems like the older ginkgos do, with so-called “aerial” sprouting on thick branches. Over the course of about a century, these above-ground branches grow enough to find the ground and take root again. Scientists claim to have no idea why or how this occurs, making the ginkgo tree one of the more mysterious living things on the entire planet.

Another reason ginkgo is sought out as a memory aid is its hardiness. The trees can be grown in just about any climate and were the only living things to survive the WWII atomic bomb attacks on Japan. Memory supplement makers think that ginkgo trees have a cellular structure that helps them thrive and survive in virtually any conditions, which is a concept closely related to the function of memory. Plants that live for 2,000 years might have something in their atomic structure that mimics long memory banks in the human brain, or so the theory goes.

It makes for more of a parlor room debate than a scientific paper, but the fact remains that ginkgo biloba is the lone “survivor” among the current crop of memory enhancing substances. At least it’s the only one that is accepted by both alternative and traditional medical researchers as being effective for memory enhancement.

The “Big List” of Memory Supplement Products

Called nootropics in the health business, these memory and “brain enhancers” are currently enjoying a golden age of popularity. Many contain nothing more than one or two substances that have been shown to have promise as brain boosters, but other than that, the science behind these products is generally lacking. Here’s the list, just in case you want to do more research on the ingredients of one or two that you think might be worth the cost:

Each supplement is listed under the general heading which indicates what it treats.

Source: Thanks to for this amazingly comprehensive listing!

For memory: For basic memory enhancement, both short-term and long-term, the following supplements are available:

Huperzine A

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Ginkgo Biloba

Acorus calamus

Bacopa Monnieri


Choline Citrate

Choline Bitartrate

Celastrus paniculatus





Methylcobalamin (Methyl-B12)








Rhodiola Rosea



For attention and mental focus:




L-Tyrosine (and NALT)









Gotu Kola


Mucuna Pruriens


PEA (Phenylethylamine)


Rhodiola Rosea

For depression and mood problems:


St. Johns Wart


Fish Oil – (Article)






For a longer life:

Multivitamin (Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men is my recommendation)

Fish Oil

Alpha GPC

Alpha Lipoic Acid



Green and white tea




NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine)

R-Lipoic Acid

Turmeric (Curcumin)




For anxiety:






Rhodiola Rosea

Saint John’s Wort



For sleep and sleep-dream related enhancement










Magnesium Aspartate

Mucuna Pruriens

Saint John’s Wort

Valerian Root




Learn More About Memory Improvement

Contrary to popular misinformation, there is plenty you can do to enhance the power of your memory without taking supplements or drugs of any kind. The videos and books listed below offer a wide ranging look at the topic, and show how memory supplements are supposed to work, but why they often don’t.

Next, you’ll see a fascinating BBC documentary about so-called “smart drugs” and how they can lead to some serious problems, in addition to not helping with cognitive abilities.


The short video clip below examines the facts about nootropics, the so-called smart drugs that have the ability to enhance all sorts of mental abilities. You’ll see how they work, why they often don’t work, and what the common dangers are for those who take them.

The BBC documentary called “Smart Drug Nightmare” is a riveting look at one man’s journey with cognitive-enhancing drugs. As the title implies, it didn’t turn out well, but the back story is what it’s all about here. There’s currently a massive debate going on in the UK about memory drugs and cognitive enhancers, but the topic is heating up in the U.S. as well. That’s why this short video is all the more informative. Yes, it’s just one person’s story, but the point it makes is important and can go a long way toward bringing more research money to the field of cognitive enhancement drugs.


Memory Improvement & Brain Training: Unlock the Power of Your Mind and Boost Memory in 30 Days

This book offers a plan for boosting our memory, day by day, a little bit at a time. For people who like a regimented method for self-improvement, this book is just what the doctor ordered. The tests, quizzes, techniques and drills are all within reach of anyone with an interest in memory enhancement. Will you improve in 30 days? If you follow the author’s tried and true methods, it’s almost impossible to miss the mark on this worthwhile effort.

Memory Exercises: Create a Habit for Memory Enhancement

Here is a clever, simple way to incorporate memory “workouts” into your everyday life. Some people get addicted to this pursuit, so you have been warned! In any case, this delightful book is a welcome addition to any memory enthusiast’s shelf.

What many people don’t realize is that you can actually “exercise” your memory just as you can exercise your muscles. It can actually become a fun practice after you learn the methods and get used to challenging your brain on a regular basis.

Sadly, memorization has gotten a bad rap due to the traditional education system of the early 1900s, where “rote” learning was a standard teaching practice. (I had a teacher in 3rd grade that used rote memory drills, but I can’t remember her name). Seriously, this book will dispel any negative notions you might have about using your memory to help you in daily life. The exercises are fun, powerful, and surprisingly useful. Never make a grocery list again. Learn to stop relying on your phone for notes and calendar reminders. Take the effort out of natural, human memory techniques and you’ll be glad you read this book.

The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play

If you buy one book about how to improve your memory, this should be the one. It’s justifiably a classic in the field, has sold millions of copies in the decades it has been around, and is written in a conversational style that anyone can enjoy.

Authors Lorayne and Lucas walk us through every one of the most effective memory-training exercises known to modern humanity, and explain how to use each of them. If you’re over 50, you might recognize Jerry Lucas as a former pro basketball player. Still active in his 80s, Lucas often speaks on the topic of memory power and has become associated more with that pursuit than with his highly successful sports career (Authoritative sources list him as one of the 50 best players of all time).

This little paperback can be had for a few dollars on Amazon, and is without a doubt one of the best bargains, measured in usefulness, on the entire site.

The Memory Diet

Are there really certain foods we can eat that will help our long and short-term memories? The author makes the case for this intriguing proposition and spells out the specific dietary guidelines we can follow in order to maximize our memory power.

The good news is that the foods are already components of a well-balanced diet, so you won’t have to do any “slumming” to get the nutrients you need for a healthy memory. Plus, most of the nutrients and foods listed in the book are known memory-enhancers, rather than pharmaceutical drugs. For anyone who would like to assist their memory power the “old fashioned way,” with healthy eating, will love this book. Already a best-seller in its niche, The Memory Diet is one title you shouldn’t forget.

Just Remember This!

Most of the touted “memory-enhancing” drugs on the market today have limited effectiveness, cost a lot, and will probably be a disappointment to most consumers. The other side of the coin is this: the human memory seems to respond very well to “exercise” and a few natural substances found in common foods. People who want to lengthen the life of their memory power should speak with a physician about any problems they may be having.

We can’t, and don’t intend to, give medical advice here. This article is intended for general informational purposes only, so make sure you visit a health care professional if you have any questions or concerns about your memory.

The human memory is said to have no “upper limit” except for each individual, based on inherited characteristics and training. Some expert memory performers have been able to recall incredible amounts of information, which is evidence that at least some people are able to develop something akin to a photographic memory.

Some experts in the field of memory training claim that virtually anyone with average mental abilities can learn to increase their short and long term memory capabilities by at least 400 percent. As recently as the 1800s, Middle Easter “ashokhs” could recent their village’s oral history for hours on end. When history was primarily oral, before the printing press, it was common for family elders to memorize hours of recitations about their family, village and nation.

So-called “oral histories” were just that in the 1800s and earlier: mentally memorized lists of facts that could be recited at will. It makes you wonder whether the human brain still contains those abilities, but they have just been lost through non-use. For better or worse, the human memory isn’t what it used to be, and a little mental exercise is probably a good thing.

One thing that is often missed in discussions about memory enhancement is that age tends to limit the power of the human mind in many ways that cannot be reversed. We should all expect to lose a bit of the edge from our otherwise sharp, young minds as we age. That’s only natural.

A few medical professionals have expressed concern that memory enhancing drugs might cover up other, more serious problems like oncoming dementia and possibly even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

If there’s a “bottom line” to the issue of memory supplements, it is to be cautious, always consult a doctor before taking anything to improve your memory, get at least a moderate amount of exercise, and follow a sensible diet.

Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts on this important topic. Also, you can visit our Facebook page and leave feedback there as well.

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