12 Best Research-Backed Supplements for Brain Health

Do you want to enjoy improved focus and memory, better mental clarity, and increased cognitive performance? Nutritional supplements are an effective way to support and optimize brain health. 

With the number of brain health supplements on the market today, it can be hard to know which will work best for your needs. 

To make things easier for you, we’ve scoured through dozens of pages of research to bring you 12 research-backed supplements that have been shown in clinical studies to improve brain functioning

Whether you’re looking for more energy or sharper thinking skills – these powerful ingredients are sure to fuel your cognitive abilities. Read on to learn more about these amazing natural remedies!

What Does Brain Health Encompass?

There is the impression that brain health refers to simply the absence of disease. However, a state of brain health involves optimizing the brain’s overall functionality, fostering cognitive abilities, and maintaining emotional well-being. 

It requires a holistic approach that considers multiple factors, such as balanced neurotransmitter levels, neural plasticity, and maintaining adequate blood flow. By addressing these factors, individuals can achieve mental resilience, better focus, effective problem-solving, and reduced risk of cognitive decline. 

Brain health also encompasses managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and practicing good nutrition to create an environment conducive to optimal neural performance and psychological wellness.

What Do Our Brains Need For Top-Notch Cognition?

To achieve top-notch cognition, our brains require a combination of essential nutrients, brain health supplements and healthy lifestyle habits. Key nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium, which support neural function, synaptic connections, and overall brain health. 

A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is vital to supply these nutrients. In terms of lifestyle habits, regular physical exercise enhances blood flow and stimulates neurogenesis, while consistent, restorative sleep allows for memory consolidation and cognitive repair. 

Furthermore, engaging in mentally stimulating activities, practicing stress reduction techniques, and maintaining strong social connections can all contribute to optimal cognitive performance and long-term brain health well into old age.

What Can Make Cognitive Function Worse?

There are several factors that can negatively impact brain power or worsen cognitive function, with chronic stress and sleep deprivation being two significant contributors. Elevated cortisol levels from ongoing stress can impair memory, learning, and neural plasticity. 

On the other hand, insufficient sleep disrupts the brain’s ability to consolidate memories, repair neural connections, and clear waste products, leading to diminished mental clarity. Additionally, poor nutrition or a diet lacking essential nutrients for optimal brain function, or substance abuse can damage neurons and hinder cognitive abilities. 

Sedentary lifestyles, social isolation, and lack of mental stimulation also contribute to a decline in cognitive function, making it essential to address these factors for maintaining overall brain health.

What Are The Signs Of Poor Brain Health?

There are several ways that poor brain health may manifest itself, including:

  • Memory problems: Difficulty remembering details, forgetfulness, brain fog or trouble with short-term memory.
  • Reduced cognitive abilities: Struggling with problem-solving, decision-making, or critical thinking.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Inability to maintain focus, frequent distractions, or a shortened attention span.
  • Slower processing speed: Taking longer to understand, process, or respond to information.
  • Impaired communication: Struggling to find the right words, express thoughts, or understand others.
  • Mood changes: Unexplained irritability, anxiety, depression, or other emotional fluctuations.
  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, or inconsistent sleep patterns.
  • Lack of motivation: Reduced drive to accomplish tasks, pursue interests, or engage in productive activities.
  • Social withdrawal: Isolation from friends or family, and reduced interest in social interactions.

While some of these signs might be temporary and related to situational factors, consistent or worsening symptoms could indicate a decline in brain health that requires attention and intervention.

How Can Diet Affect Brain Health?

The type of diet you adhere to can significantly influence brain health through the provision of essential nutrients and its mechanism for the promotion of overall well-being. 

The ketogenic (keto) diet, high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates, may enhance cognitive function by inducing ketosis, which provides an alternative fuel source (ketones) for the brain. This may help overcome energy deficits that tend to occur during cognitive decline [1]. 

The Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil, has been associated with improved cognitive function and reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Similarly, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, focused on whole foods and low sodium intake, can support brain health by promoting healthy blood flow and reducing inflammation. 

Each of these diets is also positively associated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease [2] and can positively impact brain health by addressing specific mechanisms, but it is essential to consider individual needs and preferences when choosing a dietary approach.

What Are Nootropics And Can They Improve Brain Health?

Nootropics, sometimes called “smart drugs” or cognition enhancers, are substances that may help to improve several aspects of cognitive function and brain health, such as memory, creativity, focus, and motivation. 

They encompass a wide range of natural compounds, synthetic chemicals, and even prescription medications. Some nootropics, like caffeine and L-theanine, have well-documented effects on alertness and focus. Others, like Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, and Panax ginseng, are plant-based compounds with potential cognitive and adaptogenic actions.

Top Research-Backed Supplements That May Improve Brain Health

Bacopa monnieri

One of the best brain supplements that may enhance memory, learning, and visual processing speed in healthy adults [3].

Blueberries

Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, they protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, and may potentially improve memory and cognitive function [4].

Caffeine (including sources such as Guarana and Yerba Mate)

Stimulates alertness, focus, and concentration by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain [5].

Ginkgo biloba

One of the best brain supplements for adults, it increases blood flow and provides antioxidant protection, potentially helping improve cognitive function and memory [6].

Ginseng

Exhibits neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, possibly enhancing mental performance, optimizing blood glucose, and reducing mental fatigue [7].

Huperzine A

Inhibits acetylcholinesterase, increasing acetylcholine levels, which may improve memory, learning, and maintenance of neuronal health in the elderly [8].

Oxiracetam

A synthetic racetam that may enhance memory, learning, and focus by modulating neurotransmitter release and receptor activity, especially in the elderly [9].

Theanine (most commonly L-Theanine)

An amino acid found in tea that promotes relaxation without drowsiness, and may improve focus when combined with caffeine.

Resveratrol

A polyphenol with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, potentially protecting against neurodegenerative diseases, and helping improve cognitive ability and blood flow [10].

Creatine

Viewed as an unorthodox brain supplement, provides energy to brain cells, potentially improving cognitive performance, especially during high-intensity mental tasks or following sleep-deprived states [11].

Omega-3 fatty acids

Supports structure, healthy brain function, and synaptic plasticity, and reduce inflammation, promoting overall cognitive health.

Magnesium

Involved in numerous biochemical processes, including neurotransmission and energy metabolism, including in the brain for cognitive function [12].

Other Nutrients

Supplementation with the following vitamins is also highly advised:

  • B Vitamins: especially B1, B3 (niacin), B12 and Folic acid
  • Minerals: Zinc, Copper, and Iodine

Conclusion

In summary, ensuring your brain health is one of the best investments you can make in your mental well-being. By understanding what does and does not support healthy brain function, you can ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to stay resilient. 

From having an understanding of how diet may affect cognition to exploring nootropics and other research-backed supplements for improved mental clarity, there are many things one can do to keep cognitive functioning at its peak. Knowing your body’s needs and being proactive about them is key when it comes to bettering brain health: your future self will thank you! 

References:

[1] Cunnane, S. C., Courchesne-Loyer, A., Vandenberghe, C., St-Pierre, V., Fortier, M., Hennebelle, M., Croteau, E., Bocti, C., Fulop, T., & Castellano, C. A. (2016). Can Ketones Help Rescue Brain Fuel Supply in Later Life? Implications for Cognitive Health during Aging and the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 9, 53. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnmol.2016.00053

[2] van den Brink, A. C., Brouwer-Brolsma, E. M., Berendsen, A. A. M., & van de Rest, O. (2019). The Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diets Are Associated with Less Cognitive Decline and a Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease-A Review. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(6), 1040–1065. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz054

[3] Stough, C., Lloyd, J., Clarke, J., Downey, L. A., Hutchison, C. W., Rodgers, T., & Nathan, P. J. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology, 156(4), 481–484. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002130100815

[4] Barfoot, K. L., Istas, G., Feliciano, R. P., Lamport, D. J., Riddell, P., Rodriguez-Mateos, A., & Williams, C. M. (2021). Effects of daily consumption of wild blueberry on cognition and urinary metabolites in school-aged children: a pilot study. European journal of nutrition, 60(8), 4263–4278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-021-02588-y

[5] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Washington (DC) National Academies Press (US); 2001. 1, Basic Concepts. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223799/

[6] Kennedy, D. O., Haskell, C. F., Mauri, P. L., & Scholey, A. B. (2007). Acute cognitive effects of standardised Ginkgo biloba extract complexed with phosphatidylserine. Human psychopharmacology, 22(4), 199–210. https://doi.org/10.1002/hup.837

[7] Reay, J. L., Kennedy, D. O., & Scholey, A. B. (2005). Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 19(4), 357–365. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881105053286

[8] Ved, H. S., Koenig, M. L., Dave, J. R., & Doctor, B. P. (1997). Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for dementia, reduces neuronal cell death caused by glutamate. Neuroreport, 8(4), 963–968. https://doi.org/10.1097/00001756-199703030-00029

[9] Dysken, M. W., Katz, R., Stallone, F., & Kuskowski, M. (1989). Oxiracetam in the treatment of multi-infarct dementia and primary degenerative dementia. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 1(3), 249–252. https://doi.org/10.1176/jnp.1.3.249

[10] Kennedy, D. O., Wightman, E. L., Reay, J. L., Lietz, G., Okello, E. J., Wilde, A., & Haskell, C. F. (2010). Effects of resveratrol on cerebral blood flow variables and cognitive performance in humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover investigation. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(6), 1590–1597. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28641

[11] Kennedy, D. O., Wightman, E. L., Reay, J. L., Lietz, G., Okello, E. J., Wilde, A., & Haskell, C. F. (2010). Effects of resveratrol on cerebral blood flow variables and cognitive performance in humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover investigation. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(6), 1590–1597. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28641

[12] Fox, C., Ramsoomair, D., & Carter, C. (2001). Magnesium: its proven and potential clinical significance. Southern medical journal, 94(12), 1195–1201.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.