It’d be nice if there were such a thing as mental Viagra -- just swal low a pill and get a little brain boost when you need it. But the verdict’s still out on many pills, supplements, and vitamins that purport to make your memory stronger. Here’s our take on the ones that get most of the attention:
Pill Recommended by the YOU Docs? The Fine Print
Aspirin Yes Research shows a 40% decrease in arterial aging -- a major cause of memory loss -- for people who take 162 milligrams (mg) of aspirin a day. Science isn’t sure how it protects against memory loss, but it may be because aspirin helps reduce gunky beta-amyloid proteins from clogging up your brain, and it improves circulation.
Vitamin E Yes -- in your diet, ideally People who consume high amounts of vitamin E are 43% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. You can get the vitamin E you need by eating just 3 ounces (15 mg) of nuts or seeds a day, which is the method we prefer. Alternatively, you can take a supplement of 400 international units (IU) daily if you take it with vitamin C and are not taking a statin drug, such as Lipitor.
Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid Yes Without B vitamins, your neurotransmitters don’t work efficiently. To compound the problem, without B vitamins, your homocysteine levels rise, and that doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Although there’s no scientific evidence that shows B supplements benefit the thinking process, the products are generally safe, and anecdotal evidence is enticing. We recommend a daily supplement with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid, 800 mcg of B12, and 40 mg of B6.
Acetyl L-carnitine/alpha-lipoic acid Not yet There are lots of strong theoretical reasons why this should enhance brain health -- specifically, by improving mitochondrial activity and reducing decay, resulting in higher neurotransmitter function -- but there’s not enough evidence showing effectiveness in humans.
Rosemary, roses, and mint Yes Not to ingest, but to smell. Research suggests that inhaling any of these three aromas at the time of learning a new task can enhance recall when you’re exposed to the scent at a later time.
Ginkgo biloba If you want to Though there are no large studies to support its use, there’s some promise that this very commonly used supplement may be effective in helping to improve cognition. It can also thin the blood, which can be beneficial to folks with blood vessel disease but dangerous for those who are anticipating surgery or who have a clotting disorder. Because it’s considered a safe antioxidant supplement, we’re comfortable with you trying 120 mg daily to see if it has any positive effects.
Huperzine A Maybe This ancient Chinese herb was used for memory loss even before we learned that it increases levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits information between nerve cells. If you have mild cognitive impairment, we recommend 200 mcg twice daily and suggest that your doctor help adjust the dose if other pharmaceuticals with similar effects are being used.
Vinpocetine No There’s not enough evidence that this supplement -- from a periwinkle plant -- helps memory, and it can reduce your blood pressure too much, so we would rather wait for more clinical trials.
Phosphatidylserine If you want to About 70% of our cell membranes are made from phosphatidylserine, and as we age, the level drops, and the membranes become brittle. This supplement seems to strengthen cell membranes and the sheathing around the nerves, protecting the information-transferring cables from shorting out. Since risks are few, taking 200 mg daily is reasonable.
Coenzyme Q10 Yes, but for other reasons This supplement has a beneficial effect in protecting against Parkinson’s disease (a neural disease that can be caused by trauma, as in the case of boxers, or through viruses and genetics). A potent antioxidant, coenzyme Q10 may help prevent inflammatory damage to the brain, but this remains unproven. The ideal dose is 100 mg twice a day (some research says that 300 mg four times a day is even better). But be warned: This is one supplement where more than 90% of what’s sold doesn’t contain the real thing, so look for products that have been shown repeatedly to contain what’s on the label. Check this Web site: