Do memory supplements work?

May 25, 2020 | Research

Most of us are interested in preserving our memory and cognitive function and are curious what can be done to help our brains stay healthy. It’s natural for us to wonder... is there a pill I can take to help my memory? The answer to that question, unfortunately, is unclear.  

There are many dietary supplements on the market in the U.S. that claim they help brain function and memory. Common supplements you might see advertised are Omega 3 fatty acids, gingko biloba, Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, and others. They might come in the form of pills, powders, or something else. Unfortunately, their claims are generally unproven and unregulated, causing most experts to advise against taking these supplements without guidance from a healthcare professional.  

In 2019, the Global Council on Brain Health released a report called The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements: GCBH Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements. This report summarizes available research on these kinds of supplements, provides information about how brain health experts view these products, and provides general recommendations to consumers about their use. According to the report, brain health is impacted by nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can lead to poor cognitive function. However, when there is no actual deficiency, there is no clear benefit to getting more of those vitamins and minerals. In addition, most people benefit more from a healthy diet rather than taking a supplement. The supplement industry is also mostly unregulated so the quality can vary widely.  

The general recommendations regarding supplements for memory and brain health, then, are as follows. More detail on these recommendations can be found in the report.  

  • Eat healthy foods to support a healthy brain rather than relying on supplements.  
  • Talk with your health care provider about checking your nutrient levels in order to determine if a supplement would be helpful.  
  • Consult a health care provider about the risks, benefits, and potential medication interactions when you are considering taking a supplement.  
  • Check ingredients and information on supplement labels.  
  • Verify the supplement’s effectiveness, purity, and quality by doing some research on the product. Look for a product that has been tested by an independent third party. 
  • Caffeine supplements are generally not recommended.  


Further Reading: 

Global Council on Brain Health - The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements: GCBH Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements

Harvard Health Publishing - Don't buy into brain health supplements

Aging Health - Common dietary supplements for cognitive health