Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

General Health

Keep Your Brain Healthy With These Key Supplements and Herbs

Enhance your brain health and set yourself up for a strong memory well into the future with a few key supplements and herbs.

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

While the human brain weighs just three pounds, it contains around 100 billion neurons interconnected by trillions of synapses. Needless to say, the brain is a complex and important organ. And when we age, our brains age too. That’s why it’s so critically important to keep your brain health in mind at every age.

However, brain aging affects everyone differently. Some studies report that 70-year-olds perform just as well as 20-year-olds on cognitive tests. Memory loss isn’t inevitable, as the brain continually grows new cells and re-forms its synaptic connections throughout your life. With the right supplements and herbs, you may be able to better maintain optimal brain health as you grow older.

Take charge of your brain health by reading up on these supplements, herbs, and medications. 

The best supplements and herbs for a strong, healthy brain

Like any other organ, your brain needs certain nutrients to thrive and function smoothly. But there are particular vitamins, minerals and even herbs that can give your brain a bit of a boost. 

If you’re hoping to keep your mind strong for many more years, the following are some key dietary supplements and herbs to include in your brain-healthy diet.

Magnesium L-threonate

This variety of the mineral magnesium can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, it improves learning and memory by enhancing neuronal plasticity and synaptic density. Neuronal plasticity refers to the ability to form new synapses and get rid of old synapses, while synaptic density refers to the number of synapses in the brain. 

Vitamin B12 

This particular B vitamin can keep your brain not only strong, but also steady in size. It may prevent brain shrinkage, which in turn can counteract memory loss. Vitamin B12 further contributes to healthy brain chemistry by producing neurotransmitters that are responsible for many brain functions, including cognition. 

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 – when taken in its active form – has been reported to help clear amyloid plaques, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency with dementia and cognitive impairment, so it’s important to ensure you’re getting just the right amount to ward off these brain health concerns.

Choline

Choline is a nutrient that accelerates the production and release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s important for memory. It may offer support for brain functions like memory too; one study found that those who were more likely to perform well on memory and cognitive ability tests consumed higher choline levels in their diet. 

Sage 

This flavorful herb may improve alertness, memory, word recall and attention when used as a supplement in both younger and older adults alike. This may be because sage promotes the availability of acetylcholine in the brain, which is involved in the aforementioned cognitive functions. 

Bacopa monnieri 

Here’s an herb that could improve cognitive function in multiple ways. Bacopa monnieri can work wonders, offering potential benefits that include improving your learning rate, ability to process visual information, attention and memory. All of these perks can keep your brain working smoothly now and into the future.

Rhodiola rosea

This plant has been reported to boost brain function – specifically in the areas of memory and alertness – while also helping to improve mood and reduce mental fatigue when used as a supplement.

Medications that can make memory loss more likely

In addition to supplementing your brain’s nutrition and health with cognition-improving vitamins, minerals and herbs, it’s also important to keep your overall health in mind. 

Certain medications used to treat common health conditions can have a negative effect on your brain health – and they may make memory loss more of a pressing concern. If you’re taking any drugs that might interfere with your memory, it’s an important detail to know.  

The following are several drugs that may lead to memory loss.

Benzodiazepines

This family of anti-anxiety drugs can inhibit consolidation of long-term memory, making it more challenging for your brain to store and retrieve memories over time.

Nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics (“Z” drugs)

This category of medications includes sleeping aids used to treat insomnia and other sleep problems. They may act on several of the same brain pathways as benzodiazepines, impairing cognitive function in similar ways. “Z” drugs may also lead to amnesia.

Statins 

Frequently used to lower high cholesterol levels, statins can also lower cholesterol levels in the brain. Your brain relies on lipids; they’re necessary for forming connections between neurons responsible for memory and learning. So, cognitive function may decline with use of statins. 

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) 

These medications are not only prescribed for depression, but also anxiety disorders and eating disorders, amongst other health conditions. They inhibit the activity of the chemical messengers serotonin and norepinephrine. Unfortunately, these neurotransmitters normally play a role in consolidating memory, so inhibiting them can adversely affect your memory over time. 

Narcotic painkillers 

Narcotic painkillers are prescribed to alleviate moderate to severe chronic pain. However, both short- and long-term memory can be impacted by use of these drugs. This is because these medications inhibit pain signals within the central nervous system and reduce your reaction to pain. These processes involve chemical messengers that are also involved in cognition, meaning the painkillers can potentially have a negative effect within the brain. 

It’s always recommended to consult your health care professional before taking a supplement – or any of the prescription medications mentioned here. That way, you and your doctor can discuss possible side effects of any drug and see if there are alternatives that do not possibly interfere with cognitive function. 

In addition to incorporating the nutrients mentioned here into your diet, it’s also important to fuel your brain with other healthy foods. You can keep your brain strong and running smoothly by learning more: