Top Supplements for Cognitive Function

Top Supplements for Cognitive Function

Much like any other part of the body, the brain can be fine-tuned and maintained with the right supplements. These can contribute chemicals and vitamins that may be absent during ageing, or because of a dietary deficiency.

A huge amount of research has been conducted in this area of brain supplements (also known as nootropics), investigating effects such as recall, long and short term memory, reaction time and, most importantly, easing or reversing natural deterioration. Some supplements have even been shown to help those diagnosed with diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, when taken alongside prescribed treatments. With the human brain being such a delicate organ, even slight imbalances in chemicals can cause major effects in individuals. As the brain ages, however, these crucial chemicals lower in concentration, in extreme cases causing diseases and memory loss.

Many of the supplements below are ideal for those approaching old age, who wish to safeguard their mind from natural deterioration. Some can offer respite to those who are suffering from degenerative diseases of the mind – this cross-section of people may receive the greatest benefits from cognitive function supplements.

Fish Oils

These supplements are famed for a range of benefits (including heart health and joint maintenance) but they also play a key part in cognitive health. Cod liver oil and omega 3 are the most well-known, both being rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the long-chain fatty acids that are required by the brain. In the past, cod liver oil was the only way to take in these fatty acids, but now omega 3 supplements contain these in a higher concentration. Cod liver oil has other vitamins such as A and D, which is why some opt for the supplement over pure omega 3.

EPA and DHA are important in children, whose brains are still growing and require a large amount of nutrients to develop healthily. In fact, studies have shown that DHA is essential for the development of newborns’ brain and eyes: an Australian study shows that taking fish oil while pregnant can have a beneficial effect on the child, observing greater hand-eye coordination from as early as two and a half years old. In the elderly, fish oil supplements can benefit those suffering with Alzheimer’s, with one study stating that it was associated with less atrophy in the brain.

In terms of cognitive health, fish oils play the biggest role in childhood and in old age, when the body needs omega 3 fatty acids to build and maintain a fit, functional brain. Taking the supplements during adulthood or with a healthier brain may not yield the biggest improvements, but will help to keep your mind healthy in the long run, along with the previously-mentioned benefits to other parts of the body.


Typically, creatine is seen as an exercise supplement, working in the muscles to assist with energy production during high-intensity training. However, research has been looking into the link between creatine and cognitive health, and the results are promising.  

In one 2014 study, creatine had a positive effect on memory in those suffering from degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The study also mentions the possibility of using creatine as a way to help fight such diseases during their early onset (although more conclusive research needs to be done in this area). Curiously, along with natural brain impairment, creatine can also assist with artificially-caused impairment, such as a lack of sleep. Elsewhere, it has been shown to increase the memory in those with a meat-free diet, making it an ideal supplement for vegetarians and vegans looking to keep their brain sharp.  

It’s still early days for creatine and its cognitive benefits, but there’s potential for it to be effective, alongside its current known uses. Look out for the results of future research looking beyond its place as a workout supplement.

Gingko Biloba

A supplement taken from a tree native to East Asia, Gingko Biloba is an ancient supplement that has recently gain popularity. It’s lauded for its ability to help circulation and ease inflammation, but it has many positive effects on the health of the brain, potentially assisting those who have been diagnosed with mental disorders.

Even for those with a healthy brain, Gingko Biloba has shown improvements in memory and attention span in adults in some studies (one study’s subjects showed improvement after only six weeks). In older patients the supplement is useful in a number of areas – one study showed that it helped those with “mid-to-moderate cognitive impairment,” alongside decreasing blood pressure. Gingko can even have a small influence over more serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.


An important chemical in the make-up of brain and nerves, phosphatidylserine is responsible for the conduction of electrical signals between cells. Much like with other important chemicals in the brain, the levels of phosphatidylserine lower as we get older, meaning that connections between neural pathways slow down or break altogether. Luckily, this is available as a supplement, to boost those levels in later life and keep the brain sharp and reactive.

There is evidence of phosphatidylserine supplements assisting those with age-associated memory complaints and impairment. Interestingly, there is a 2013 study that examined the link between cognitive performance, stress and whether phosphatidylserine could reduce stress responses in participants. It found that participants were more relaxed during and after the induced stress compared to the control group, showing a potential link between phosphatidylserine and staying calm in pressured situations.

Phosphatidylserine may also help with moods, with one piece of research looking at the effects after 12 weeks of being on the supplement. Participants with late-life depression had their cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”) reduced, and their circadian rhythm (the “internal clock” that dictates energy levels throughout the day) normalise. This is significant, as a discordant circadian rhythm is a symptom of depression.

Folic Acid

Also known as vitamin B9, folic acid is commonly associated with pregnancy and healthy fetus development. This is because it helps defend again certain birth defects, such as spinal bifida – it’s this quality, of assisting the development of nerves and neurotransmitters, that means it is able to assist with the maintenance of the brain itself. This becomes especially important in older age; an Irish college has found that one in eight adults over 50 is deficient in folate (the natural form of folic acid found in the body).

A three year study in adults aged from 50-70 found that taking folic acid supplements had a significant increase on participants’ memory, information processing speed and sensorimotor speed. Another study identifies low levels of folate as a risk factor for cognitive decline in those older than 70. This link between age and the importance of folate has been tested and reiterated many times, with deficiencies contributing to dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression in older adults and mood in general. Research is also being conducted into the absorption and use of folic acid supplements in treating younger sufferers of depression.

The importance of folate in the body is widely recognized, with research digging into just how beneficial it can be for people of all ages.


Many of us drink it, but did you know that the caffeine in your tea and coffee has a helpful effect on your mind? It’s more famous for its physical effects on the heart and muscles, but it can give the mind some pep too. Of course, the most common way we take in caffeine is through various drinks, but supplements are available if you’re looking to precisely control your intake (or if you simply dislike tea or coffee).

One study states that between 38 and 400mg daily can have a positive effect on both mood and cognitive function – the equivalent of 1 to 8 cups of tea or 0.3 to 4 cups of coffee – without feeling any major side effects from caffeine overload. Other studies are quick to point out increased information processing and attention. Even a cup of green tea has enough caffeine to provide a benefit, and itself has been tested and shown to lower the prevalence of cognitive impairment.


The brain is a delicate organ that is susceptible to degradation and wear, much like any other part of the body. With the use of some key supplements, however, that wear can be reduced and staved off, keeping your mind sharp, balanced and healthy. Even in those who are younger or who are still “sharp” in their old age, there are still some advantages to taking these supplements, though the real benefits will be felt the most by those whose mind is frailer.

When deciding which supplements to take, it’s important to learn just how they affect the brain and where their strengths lie when it comes to easing certain conditions. For example, people with the a short attention span may be able to see an improvement with Gingko Biloba, whilst someone who is showing signs of depression may be better suited to Phosphatidylserine or Folic Acid. Other benefits of these supplements should be considered as well, as the chance to solve two problems at once should be taken advantage of – be it low energy levels or poor circulation. Finally, give the supplements plenty of time to have an effect, as it won’t be immediately obvious upon taking them. After a few weeks or months, however, you may find yourself (or those taking the supplements) thinking more clearly and remembering details more acutely.