Natural Ways to Improve Memory

Ginkgo tree or Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Christian Hutter / Getty Images

There are a number of everyday strategies that can improve your memory naturally—and protect against memory loss as you age. But while many products are marketed as all-natural memory aids, only a few natural remedies have been found to improve memory in scientific studies. To keep your mind sharp as you grow older, and possibly reduce your risk of aging-related conditions like Alzheimer's disease and dementia, stick to a health routine that pairs brain-boosting behaviors with natural approaches proven to improve memory.

Natural Ways to Improve Memory

So far, scientific support for the claim that any remedy can improve memory is limited. Here's a look at several natural substances:

1) Antioxidants

Following a diet high in antioxidants may help shield brain cells from aging-related damage. Since studies on the health effects of antioxidant supplements have yielded mixed results, many alternative medicine experts recommend upping your intake by including antioxidant-rich foods in your diet such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and dark chocolate.

2) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (a type of healthy fat with inflammation-fighting effects) may help slow cognitive decline in older adults, according to a research review. Widely available in supplement form, omega-3s are also found naturally in foods like fish, nuts, and flaxseed.

3) Herbs

Although there is a general lack of scientific support for the use of herbs in preserving brain health, some research suggests that pairing ginkgo biloba and ginseng may help enhance cognitive function and improve memory in middle-aged adults. However, A 2012 study found that long-term use of ginkgo biloba did not reduce the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

4) A Ketogenic Diet 

Research suggests that following a ketogenic diet may have positive cognitive benefits and help stave off cognitive decline. A keto diet is low in carbohydrates, high in fat, with a moderate amount of protein. One study found that a keto diet increased the clearance of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain's of mice. In people with Alzheimer's disease, the proteins form a plaque that interferes with communication in the brain. Following a keto diet may help reduce your risk of dementia and age-related cognitive decline.

5) Regular Exercise

Getting regular exercise (especially cardiovascular exercise) is one of the best ways to boost your memory. In fact, it has been found to change the inside of the brain. In a study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers scanned the brains of competitive distance runners and found that the runners had more connections between the frontal-parietal network and other areas of the brain that are associated with self-control and working memory. The researchers believe that this is due to the increased aerobic capacity and cognitive demands of running.

More Ways to Improve Memory

Along with following a healthy diet and exercising, these practices are considered essential in preserving brain health and improving your memory:

  • Maintaining social connections
  • Managing your stress (through mind-body techniques like yoga and deep breathing, for instance)
  • Keeping your mind stimulated with challenging activities (such as doing a crossword puzzle or learning to play a musical instrument)

There's also emerging evidence that practicing meditation may help improve your memory. However, more research needs to be conducted before any conclusions about meditation's memory-improving effects can be drawn.

Using Natural Remedies to Improve Memory

Since memory loss may be linked to a number of health conditions, it's important to consult your physician if you have any health concerns. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Keep in mind that herbal supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. If you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first.

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  1. Beydoun MA, Fanelli-Kuczmarski MT, Kitner-Triolo MH, et al. Dietary antioxidant intake and its association with cognitive function in an ethnically diverse sample of US adultsPsychosom Med. 2015;77(1):68–82. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000129

  2. Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009;5(3):140-52. doi:10.1038/ncpneuro1044

  3. Vellas B, Coley N, Ousset PJ, et al. Long-term use of standardised Ginkgo biloba extract for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease (GuidAge): a randomised placebo-controlled trialLancet Neurol. 2012;11(10):851–859. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(12)70206-5

  4. Ma D, Wang AC, Parikh I, et al. Ketogenic diet enhances neurovascular function with altered gut microbiome in young healthy mice. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):6670. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-25190-5

  5. Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of physical exercise on cognitive functioning and wellbeing: biological and psychological benefitsFront Psychol. 2018;9:509. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509

  6. Lardone A, Liparoti M, Sorrentino P, et al. Mindfulness meditation is related to long-lasting changes in hippocampal functional topology during resting state: a magnetoencephalography studyNeural Plast. 2018;2018:5340717. doi:10.1155/2018/5340717

Additional Reading
  • Birks J, Grimley Evans J. "Ginkgo Biloba for Cognitive Impairment and Dementia." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 18;(2):CD003120.

  • Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009;5(3):140-52. doi:10.1038/ncpneuro1044

  • Jama JW, Launer LJ, Witteman JC, den Breeijen JH, Breteler MM, Grobbee DE, Hofman A. "Dietary Antioxidants and Cognitive Function in a Population-Based Sample of Older Persons. The Rotterdam Study." Am J Epidemiol. 1996 1;144(3):275-80.

  • Kozhevnikov M, Louchakova O, Josipovic Z, Motes MA. "The Enhancement of Visuospatial Processing Efficiency Through Buddhist Deity Meditation." Psychol Sci. 2009 20(5):645-53.

  • Perkins AJ, Hendrie HC, Callahan CM, Gao S, Unverzagt FW, Xu Y, Hall KS, Hui SL. "Association of Antioxidants With Memory in a Multiethnic Elderly Sample Using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey." Am J Epidemiol. 1999 1;150(1):37-44.

  • Wesnes KA, Ward T, McGinty A, Petrini O. "The Memory Enhancing Effects of a Ginkgo Biloba/Panax Ginseng Combination in Healthy Middle-Aged Volunteers." Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 152(4):353-61.