EBSCO Health

Print PageSend to a Friend
Health Library Home>Natural & Alternative Treatments>Conditions>Article

Enhancing Memory and Mental Function

Related Terms

Brain function and memory can worsen with age. This can cause problems with focus, fatigue, and poor mood.

Brain training and healthy habits can help maintain mental function. Natural therapies have also been used to improve memory and attention.

Natural Therapies

Likely Effective

These therapies are likely to improve memory:

  • Brahmi is an herb that can be taken as a supplement. ( Note : It may cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.)A2, A4
  • Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid.A17
  • Isoflavones are compounds found in plants and soy products.A5

May Be Effective

These therapies may improve memory:

  • Antioxidants are thought to help the body slow damage to cells. They are available in food products and can be taken as a supplement.A7
  • Iron is an essential nutrient that is vital for blood flow. ( Note : People with heart problems should talk to their doctors before taking iron. It may worsen symptoms.)A23
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil and help prevent and manage heart disease.A15, A19
  • Phosphatidylserine is a fat is an important part of human cells. ( Note : It should not be taken by people who take blood thinners.)A1, A3

Unlikely to Be Effective

These therapies are unlikely to have benefit:

  • Ginkgo biloba is a species of tree whose leaves have been used to ease problems with brain function.A18
  • Resveratrol is a compound found in food products.A8
  • Vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid alone or in combination are unlikely to have benefit.A21, A22
  • Zinc is an essential nutrient found in meat, dairy, and nuts.A16

Not Enough Data to Assess

  • Chicken essence A13, A14
  • Progesterone A6, A9
  • Vitamin and mineral supplementation A10, A11, A20
  • Vitamin D A12

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse, such as:

  • Brahmi may cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
  • Iron should not be taken by people with heart problems. It may worsen symptoms.
  • Phosphatidylserine should not be taken by people who take blood thinners. It may interact with the medicine.


Herbs and Supplements

A1. Vakhapova V, Cohen T, et al. Phosphatidylserine containing omega-3 fatty acids may improve memory abilities in non-demented elderly with memory complaints: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2010;29(5):467-474.

A2. Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):753-759.

A3. Vakhapova V, Richter Y, et al. Safety of phosphatidylserine containing omega-3 fatty acids in non-demented elderly: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial followed by an open-label extension. BMC Neurol. 2011;11:79.

A4. Kongkeaw C, Dilokthornsakul P, et al. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Etnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):528-535.

A5. Cheng PF, Chen JJ, et al. Do soy isoflavones improve cognitive function in postmenopausal women? A meta-analysis. Menopause. 2015;22(2):198-206.

A6. Ma J, Huang S, et al. Progesterone for acute traumatic brain injury. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;12:CD008409.

A7. Summers WK, Martin RL, et al. Complex antioxidants in a randomized single-blinded study of memory in seniors. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2018;30(4):395-405.

A8. Farzaei MH, Rahimi R, et al. Effect of resveratrol on cognitive and memory performance and mood: A meta-analysis of 225 patients. Pharmacol Res. 2018;128:338-344.

A9. Pan ZY, Zhao YH, et al. Effect of progesterone administration on the prognosis of patients with severe traumatic brain injury: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2019;13:265-273.

A10. Rutjes AW, Denton DA, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplementation for maintaining cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in mid and late life. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Dec 17;12:CD011906.

A11. McCleery J, Abraham RP, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplementation for preventing dementia or delaying cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Nov 1;11:CD011905.

A12. Goodwill AM, Szoeke C. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of The Effect of Low Vitamin D on Cognition. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Oct;65(10):2161-2168.

A13. Teoh SL, Sudfangsai S, et al. Chicken Essence for Cognitive Function Improvement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 20;8(1). pii: E57.

A14. Charernboon T, Jaisin K, et al. Chicken Essence and Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Med Assoc Thai. 2016 Jul;99 Suppl 4:S93-101.

A15. Cooper RE, Tye C, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation and cognition: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychopharmacol. 2015 Jul;29(7):753-763.

A16. Warthon-Medina M, Moran VH, et al. Zinc intake, status and indices of cognitive function in adults and children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;69(6):649-661.

A17. Yurko-Mauro K, Alexander DD, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid and adult memory: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2015 Mar 18;10(3):e0120391.

A18. Laws KR, Sweetnam H, et al. Is Ginkgo biloba a cognitive enhancer in healthy individuals? A meta-analysis. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2012 Nov;27(6):527-533.

A19. Sydenham E, Dangour AD, et al. Omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;(6):CD005379.

A20. Grima NA, Pase MP, et al. The effects of multivitamins on cognitive performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;29(3):561-569.

A21. Ford AH, Almeida OP. Effect of homocysteine lowering treatment on cognitive function: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;29(1):133-49.

A22. Wald DS, Kasturiratne A, et al. Effect of folic acid, with or without other B vitamins, on cognitive decline: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Med. 2010 Jun;123(6):522-527.e2.

A23. Falkingham M, Abdelhamid A, et al. The effects of oral iron supplementation on cognition in older children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr J. 2010 Jan 25;9:4.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC