"Memory pills" launched the brain-boosting nootropic revolution, as seniors sought to ward off various age-related memory issues. Nootropics for memory remain popular among the 55+ crowd -- but in 2018, the memory pill demographic is evolving.
Nootropics for memory are now emerging as dynamic performance-enhancers – helping with academics, socializing, working, competing and life in general. This guide discusses the best nootropics for memory and how to take them for maximum effect.
What is Memory?
Memory is a multifaceted learning process that allows us to store new information and access stored information.<1>
At its root, the term memory comes from the Latin memoria, meaning "mindful "and memor, "remembering." But this definition is deceptively simple. Like other cognitive functions, memory isn't just one thing.
You are probably familiar with short term memory (also called working memory) and long term memory. That's just the tip of the cognitive iceberg, but it's a good place to begin our exploration into the belly of the brain.
Short and Long Term Memory
If the brain is like a computer, then long-term memory is the hard drive, and short term memory is RAM (Random Access Memory). Short term memory processes information that is right before us in the moment. Long term memory stores processed information over time.
Short-term memory is like RAM memory.
As a type of volatile (short-term) memory, any information stored in RAM gets wiped out when the computer's power is turned off. RAM is actually considered the primary memory of the computer. Without RAM you could not create a document or work within a program.
Like RAM, short-term memory, or active memory, stores information for a short time so we can use it in the moment. When we are done with the information, it either gets stored in long-term memory or it disappears. Nootropics for multitasking can help with working memory.
Long-term memory is like a hard drive.
A computer's hard drive is considered more of a storage device rather than memory, and that's basically what long-term memory is.
Without a hard drive your files, bookmarks, and any other saved information would be deleted as soon as you turned off your computer. In the case of the brain you would not be able to remember anything that happened before you woke up in the morning.
Like a computer, the brain has far more long-term storage than short-term memory. Nootropics for memory can support both.
The brain organizes memories into categories for ease of access. Each piece of information gets stored as a memory in one or more of these categories.
Implicit memory is sometimes referred to as unconscious memory. This memory function taps into past experience to help us remember skills and general everyday actions without thinking about them. We use implicit memory to instantly recognize things like letters, colors, numbers, objects, and language.
A subset of implicit memory, procedural memory is often called muscle memory. Procedural memory is implicit memory that works specifically for motor skills like walking and eating so we don't have to think about how to do it.
Explicit memory takes a little bit more effort than implicit does. Also called declarative memory, explicit memory works for things we know but that require intentional thought to access. Remembering the days of the week is automatic (implicit) since first grade for most of us, but remembering that your dad's birthday is next Friday takes explicit memory.
Spatial memory is the interpretation and storage of information about our environment, and it's required in order for us to properly navigate our surroundings. In a lab setting, it is what helps the rat navigate a maze to find its food. And it's what we use to find our way around a city or drive a car. This type of memory has models in both short and long-term memory.
Semantic memory includes things that are common knowledge but are not connected to personal experience. You use semantic memory to remember that grass is green, how to drink through a straw, what a cat is, and that Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865.
In contrast to semantic memory, episodic memory tends to be highly personal recollections of a particular event or experience. This type of memory incorporates feelings, sensory input, time and place, and other details.
Some examples of episodic memories might involve things like the birth of your first child, your ski vacation last year, or where you were when 9/11 happened.
Although it is not clear why some episodes get stored while others are forgotten, emotions appear to play a significant role in determining what we remember and what we don't.
How Memory Works
While many different memory models have been proposed, the stage model is the most widely accepted to date. In this model, the brain enacts a specific sequence for creating and retrieving memories.<2>
The brain first receives external information and converts it into mental representations. In order for the brain to encode successfully, you need to pay attention.
If you forgot where you left your car keys or can’t remember the name of that person you met at the party you don’t necessarily have a bad memory – you failed to encode the information.
Motivation is a big factor in memory. The more important you deem something, the more likely you are to remember it. So nootropics for motivation can help improve memory too.
Where information goes depends on your level of encoding. Information can be stored in one of three locations.
- Sensory memory is where memory begins. It’s the first step toward building any memories. Sensory memory stores information for a few seconds at most. It is basically a filter that keeps important information and discards the rest. If information is deemed important enough, it goes on to working memory.
- Working memory lasts a bit longer, and it's designed to use of the information that makes it past sensory memory. Also called active memory or short-term memory, this is information we are paying attention to in the moment. Working memory can hold up to seven pieces of information for up to approximately 30 seconds before either discarding it or moving it to long-term memory.
- Long-term memory stores the most important information. With nearly unlimited storage capacity – up to 100 billion pieces of information – it can store memories for as long as a lifetime. Most of the time we are unaware of the information stored in long-term memory. These memories rest in the unconscious mind until we need to access the information. Some of the memories stored here can be recalled quickly, while other information may require more effort to access.
Information can only be accessed after it has been stored in long-term memory. What we often refer to as memory is actually information retrieval. Retrieval is the reconstruction of stored information by the same neurons that encoded it.
However, information may become altered during retrieval, resulting in inaccurate or spotty memories. Nootropics for memory can improve memory function for faster, more accurate memory retrieval.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a hippocampal process that strengthens post-synaptic nerve response through repeated stimulation, turning learning into long-term memory.
Since learning and memory are fundamentally linked, nootropics for studying could also improve your memory.
The ability to store information and then correctly retrieve and express memories allows us to use that information to make decisions, solve problems, develop strategies, and interact with others.
Free recall is the ability to recall a group of items in a random order. In immediate free recall, the memory is quickly retrieved. In delayed free recall retrieval is punctuated by pauses.
- Several studies indicate that slower presentation of individual objects intended for participants to recall resulted in better performance than a faster-paced sequence of presentation.<3>
Memory and the Brain
Memory is basically a set of coded neural connections. The same neurons that were involved in receiving and processing the original information fire in order to retrieve that memory.
But unlike an organized filing system or library bookshelf, memories are not consolidated into intrinsic wholes. The brain uses various brain mechanisms and areas to encode and store information. In a neurological sense, memory is like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered across different places in our brains, rather than a neatly organized filing system.
Neurochemistry of Memory
Removing the psychological factors of memory, memory essentially comes down to brain chemicals and receptors.
Good vs. Poor Memory
Good memory function involves a heavy release of neurotransmitters from one neuron, in addition to a heavy concentration of neuroreceptors on the receiving neuron. Whereas poor memory can involve either:
- Low neurotransmitters - weak brain chemical count emits a weak signal.
- Dull neuroreceptors - low receptor activity inhibits cell-to-cell communication.
- Both - poor neurotransmitter and neuroreceptor counts for all-around poor connectivity.
Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter involved in memory. However, other brain chemicals including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine may directly and indirectly impact memory consolidation and recall as well.<4>
Pinpointing the exact cause of poor memory can be complicated. Is your brain not producing enough brain chemicals? Or is your brain not sufficiently receiving those chemicals? Which chemicals need help? And targeting an exact solution to memory issues is equally complicated.
Since acetylcholine is a key brain chemical for memory formation and retrieval, nootropics that help with this neurotransmitter are believed to benefit memory performance.
Nestled inside the inner folds of the limbic system's temporal lobe, the hippocampus is one of the brain's major memory centers. Memory and emotion are closely related, so it's no surprise the emotionally-charged limbic plays a critical role in processing and storing memory.
Memory loss associated with conditions like Alzheimer's or brain trauma occurs when neurons in the hippocampus deteriorate or become damaged. If bilateral damage occurs, the ability to form and retain new memories may become permanently impaired.<5>
From the time we are born we embark on an exploratory journey of learning. From learning to count to ten to learning calculus, memory is critical to learning, using, and recalling information.
Early in life, a good memory can help us earn better grades, make friends, get into college, graduate at the top of the class, and get a good job.
Nootropics for college students support a healthy memory in the context of better learning.
Memory is vital to career success. You use memory to remember a client's name, meet deadlines, and everything in between. You use hundreds of pieces of information just to get to work, whether you drive or take public transit.
Healthy memory function can help you land a job, earn a promotion, get a raise, attract new clients and keep old ones. To move ahead in your career and your life, you need to stay competitive. Nootropics for job interviews can help you perform your best before and after you get the job.
Competitive Athletics and Games
Competitive athletes need sharp memory that works quickly and accurately under pressure. For example, a quarterback in American football, after taking the snap, must remember his own strategy and the routes of all his receivers, process all that information and make a decision in about three seconds in order to be successful. The same goes for all sports that integrate strategy.
In the context of games, memory applies in a similar way. If you're playing chess, for example, memorizing your opponents past performance may give you a competitive edge in your current game. In video games and E sports, memorizing terrain, mazes, and opponents' strengths and weaknesses can grant a similar edge. Nootropics for gamers are increasingly popular in 2018, partly because of their memory benefits.
All of these cognitive applications reinforce the notion that sharp, active memory is an important tool in competition.
The Golden Years
Most people experience age-related memory decline they get older. But there is a big difference between normal forgetfulness and cognitive impairment, especially when it comes to quality of life.
Age-Associated Memory Impairment (AAMI)
The term age-associated memory impairment refers to what are considered "normal" brain glitches that develop as we age and are not related to a medical condition. While it may be annoying, normal AAMI is not likely to significantly impair your ability to function normally.
Experiencing a senior moment might look like:
- forgetting where you put items you use daily like your wallet, glasses, or keys
- occasionally forgetting or confusing names
- difficulty paying attention
- forgetting appointments
- forgetting why you walked into a room
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the middle ground between normal age-related cognitive decline and dementia. It is often a warning sign of a serious cognitive condition like Alzheimer's, other types of dementia, or disorders that cause dementia.
MCI is more noticeable to you and others than AAMI, but it's not debilitating like dementia. With MCI, memory problems may surpass normal markers for your age group, but you would still be able to carry out functions of daily life without assistance.
While MCI can develop into a more serious medical condition, it's not a given. Some people plateau at a certain level of MCI. Others even regain full cognitive function.
Reversible memory loss can be caused by many things.
Memory loss is not inevitable. Like most cognitive functions, your habits, lifestyle choices, and daily activities impact memory.
Some factors are:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 protects neurons and is vital for healthy cognitive function. B12 deficiency can cause memory problems and in extreme cases even cause permanent damage to brain function. As we age, our bodies have a harder time absorbing B12. Nootropics that supply B12 can help. Even better, combine a nootropic stack that includes B12 (along with other nootropic vitamins and minerals) with a quality, highly absorbable multivitamin to support healthy memory.
- Mood problems. Depression can cause symptoms that mimic memory loss - like difficulty focusing, remembering things, or getting motivated. The risk of depression goes up along with age, especially after traumatic life events like a serious medical condition, loss of a loved one, or retirement. Nootropics for stress can help your brain stay calm when life gets chaotic.
- Alcohol and smoking. Excessive alcohol intake kills brain cells and impairs cognitive function, including memory, over time. Alcohol abuse may even increase the risk of dementia. Because of alcohol's brain toxicity, experts recommend limiting your alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day.
- Dehydration. Severe dehydration can cause temporary cognitive impairment, including memory loss, confusion, and other symptoms of dementia. Alcohol, laxatives, hot climates, diabetes, and diarrhea can increase your risk for dehydration. Drink at least six to eight cups of water every day to stay hydrated.
Boost memory naturally with these tips.
- Exercise does wonders for brain health. It increases blood flow to the brain, encourages development of new neurons, and builds new neuronal connections. Moderate cardio for 45 minutes three times a week can help protect brain health.
- A nutrient-rich diet supports memory and other cognitive functions, whereas a poor diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol is detrimental to brain health. That gives you one more reason to eat your vegetables.
- Vitamin supplements may reduce brain shrinkage. Make sure you get enough vitamins C, E, B6, B12, and folate (B9) every day by taking a good multivitamin.
- Learning something new improves attention. Learning a new skill, whether it's cooking or playing the piano, can hone your ability to focus now and in the future.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Memory
Some nootropics may improve long-term memory. Others may help working memory. As the first Universal Nootropic, Mind Lab Pro® helps optimize all aspects of memory and learning by supplying the following brain-boosters:
The "Herb of Grace" holds a sacred place in the Ayurvedic health system.
Traditionally used for diverse cognitive goals, Bacopa monnieri may be most famous for its memory benefits. Competitively driven students and professionals have caught on to Bacopa's safe, well-researched results for memory and learning, with some communities flat-out referring to the herb as the "Student's Nootropic."
As an adaptogen, Bacopa seems to possess significant stress reduction effects, which students and professionals may find appealing. However, as a memory aid, Bacopa's cognitive benefits provide more long-term advantages in terms of mental performance and brain health.
How does Bacopa monnieri improve memory? Admittedly, Bacopa's diverse range of bio-activities makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly which bio-effect results in better memory. However, researchers have identified a list of possible mechanisms that may explain Bacopa's influence on memory enhancement:
- Increased Acetylcholine - Bacopa may reduce acetylcholinesterase activity, helping protect acetylcholine levels against enzymatic breakdown.
- Healthy Brain Structure - Bacopa has been suggested to help protect healthy brain structure, potentially improving memory affected by age-related decline.
- Improved Antioxidant Activity - Bacopa seems to alleviate oxidative free radical damage in the brain, protecting against neurodegeneration.
One study found that Bacopa may be effective for learning rate and memory consolidation suggesting, "B. monniera may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory."<6>
Bacopa has also been suggested in research to assist with both immediate recall and delayed recall memory:
Bacopa supplies dozens of different active compounds, but its memory benefits seem to come from its bioactive bacosides.
Many brain supplements with bacopa -- even if they are otherwise quality botanical extracts -- will supply only a couple of different bacosides.
Each serving of Mind Lab Pro® supplies nine bacosides, comprehensively covering Bacopa's wide array of cognitive benefits.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Citicoline provides raw choline, directly contributing to neurotransmitter acetylcholine synthesis.
CDP Choline, or Citicoline, operates as a two-in-one nootropic compound, binding together two key cognitive enhancing nutrients:
- Choline - a precursor molecule to neurotransmitter acetylcholine and brain cell membrane phospholipids.
- Cytidine - a precursor to nucleotide uridine, a powerful standalone nootropic that may significantly enhance synaptic plasticity and brain energy.
And it's this latter compound that makes Citicoline arguably the best cholinergic nootropic compound on the market. Even outperforming the popular choline donor alpha-GPC for improved memory and overall brain health.
As a memory enhancer, Citicoline draws its power from both choline and cytidine. Choline assists with acetylcholine-related memory concerns, potentially improving memory status affected by age. And cytidine enhances neural connectivity, brain energy, and memory recall.
- A group of studies suggests that Citicoline appears to improve memory in older people with memory deficits, especially free recall. A beneficial side effect was reduced systolic blood pressure, inferring Citicoline may help memory by "acting on mechanisms of brain neurotropism and cerebrovascular regulation."<7>
Other choline donors may assist with acetylcholine activity, but Cognizin® Citicoline takes it one significant step further, benefiting both the cholinergic memory structures and overall brain health.
Standard cognition enhancers supply soy-derived phosphatidylserine. Mind Lab Pro® opts for the sunflower-derived Sharp-PS® extract.
Without brain cell membranes, there would be no brain cells. All of the inner organelles and compounds that make up a neuron would simply float into a gushy brain soup of other unrestrained organelles - which is why we need phospholipids like Phosphatidylserine (PS) to help keep everything in order. PS is likely the most studied nootropic for memory.
Due to a gradual loss in natural PS numbers, brain cell membrane integrity declines as we age. And if it seems like your brain gets "leaky" as you age, with thoughts and memories suddenly free-falling into outer space, well...that's almost exactly what's happening. A decrease in PS may lead to a decrease in brain power, resulting in weak memory and learning capacity.
Supplementing with PS may help improve memory retention and other cognitive functions impaired by age.
By keeping brain cell membranes fluid and flexible, PS optimizes cell-to-cell communication to keep your thinking fresh and sharp. As a result, PS unleashes whole-brain benefits from memory to mood, learning to concentration. And this nootropic has plenty of research, from clinical studies to far-reaching reviews, to back it up:
Animal studies show significant restoration of acetylcholine synthesis and conditioned response in aging rats.<8>
- A double-blind, randomized, controlled human study of 78 elderly people with mild cognitive impairment showed that memory increased significantly among the group given PS, with no change in the placebo group. Researchers concluded, "Six months of PS supplementation could improve the memory functions of the elderly with memory complaints."<9>
Most phosphatidylserine research centers on age-related cognitive decline. And phosphatidylserine may significantly improve cognitive conditions related to aging. However, PS is more than an elderly supplement, even demonstrating improvements in children's mental health.
Another tidbit on phosphatidylserine research: Most of it focuses on soy-derived PS. And while soy-derived PS does have its benefits, many users rightfully have reservations about consuming soy, especially since most soy is genetically engineered. This has caused manufacturers to use cleaner, sunflower-derived phosphatidylserine extracts, such as Mind Lab Pro®'s Sharp-PS® phosphatidylserine.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is closely linked to memory problems and low brain energy.
Low B12 is a major culprit behind age-related cognitive decline. But even young people can have low B12 levels, especially those eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. The body doesn't make B12, so we have to get it from food sources or supplements.
Most of the B12 we get from food comes from animal-based sources. As we age, our stomach acid loses some ability to absorb B12 into the body. And the body doesn't store B12 for very long, so we need to ingest it regularly.
Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy brain function by increasing brain blood circulation and balancing homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels can contribute to cognitive decline, including severe memory loss.
- A large, long-term study monitored the effects of low B12 levels 1648 individuals, ranging from young to old, over a period of ten years. At the end of the study, results showed, "Low vitamin B-12 status was associated with more rapid cognitive decline." The study's results prompted a suggestion for future studies on B12's effect on dementia.<10>
Plus, B12 protects the brain by producing myelin, the sheath that supports and optimizes neural communication between neurons throughout the entire brain. And since memory is essentially information, better neural communication means better memory.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) is a more bio-available form of l-tyrosine, allowing more supplement absorption than other forms of tyrosine.
L-tyrosine is produced in the body, but chronic issues like stress, sleep deprivation, and thyroid problems can deplete tyrosine levels.
NALT helps protect cognitive function by providing a buffer between neurotransmitters that support memory and stress hormones that can wear them out over time.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine may be particularly good for boosting working memory under pressure.
NALT provides the tyrosine needed to protect catecholamine brain chemicals needed for memory and focus.<11>
- Studies show that tyrosine improves performance under stressful conditions. One study indicates that l-tyrosine may help memory for complicated performance requirements. Results suggest that "supplemental tyrosine may be appropriate for maintaining performance when mild to severe decrements are anticipated."<12>
Other studies have produced the same results, providing ample evidence for NALT's effectiveness as a supplement for renewing cognitive resources needed to promote working memory. <13>
- Okano H, Hirano T, Balaban E. Learning and Memory. PNAS. 7 Nov 2000. 97 (23) 12403-12404. doi:10.1073/pnas.210381897
- McLeod S. Stages of Memory - Encoding Storage and Retrieval. Simply Psychology. 2007. Retrieved on 26 Jun 2018.
- Hockley WE. Cognitive Psychology of Memory. Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference. 2008.
- Hasselmo ME. The Role of Acetylcholine in Learning and Memory. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2006 Dec; 16(6): 710–715. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2006.09.002
- Scoville W.B. & Milner B. Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psych. 1957. 20 (1): 11–21.
- Stough C, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Aug;156(4):481-4.
- Alvarez XA, et al. Citicoline improves memory performance in elderly subjects. Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology. 01 Apr 1997. 19(3):201-210]
- Pepeu G, Spignoli G. Nootropic drugs and brain cholinergic mechanisms. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1989. 13, Suppl:S77-88.
- Kato-Kataoka A, et al. Soybean-Derived Phosphatidylserine Improves Memory Function of the Elderly Japanese Subjects with Memory Complaints. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010 Nov; 47(3): 246–255. Published online 2010 Sep 29. doi:10.3164/jcbn.10-62
- Clarke R, et al. Low vitamin B-12 status and risk of cognitive decline in older adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 86, Issue 5, 1 Nov 2007, Pages 1384–1391, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/86.5.1384
- Jongkees BJ, Hommel B, Colzato LS. People are different: tyrosine's modulating effect on cognitive control in healthy humans may depend on individual differences related to dopamine function. Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 1101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01101
- Thomas JR, Lockwood PA, Singh A, Deuster PA. Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. Nov 1999. 64(3):495-500.
- Colzato LS, Jongkees BJ, Sellaro R, Hommel B. Working memory reloaded: tyrosine repletes updating in the N-back task. Front Behav Neurosci. 16 Dec 2013. 7:200. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00200.