There are literally thousands of supplements marketed as “brain supplements.” Research has shown that taking the right supplements can help brain health and function now, and protect against mental decline later. These brain supplements are a great aid to overall mental health as they help improve memory, mood, clarity and focus and protect against mental decline, depression, anxiety and dementia.
10 supplements to improve mental health.
There are hundreds of individual nutrients to choose from – vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and phytonutrients – and thousands of ingredient combinations. Choosing the right supplement depends on the results you are looking for.
Are you looking to improve your memory or increase your concentration? Do you want to reverse or prevent mental decline as you age? Are you stressed, depressed, or anxious?
Here is a list of brain and therefore mental health supplements that have been shown to be safe, effective, and cover a wide variety of needs.
1. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
There is a good reason why the DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, is the first supplement this list of supplements for mental health. It may just be the most important nutrient for an optimally functioning brain.
This essential omega-3 fatty acid is a fundamental building block of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for memory, language, creativity, emotion and attention. It also plays an important role in the communication of brain cells.
Memory loss, depression, mood swings, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and attention deficit disorder, among other psychiatric disorders, have been found to have improved with DHA supplementation.
2. Citicoline for mental health.
The citicoline is a natural compound found in every cell of your body. It is one of the best brain stimulants, but it is not as widely known as others on this list.
Citicoline increases blood flow to the brain, helps build healthy brain cell membranes, increases brain plasticity, and increases brain energy by firing up mitochondria. Citicoline reduces the harmful effects of free radicals and inflammation, two main causes of brain aging. Citicoline supplements can significantly improve memory, concentration, focus, and attention.
Curcumin is the most powerful active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric. It is responsible for the bright gold color of turmeric and most of its health benefits. So far, curcumin has been found to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-cancer. Plus, curcumin protects your brain in an impressive number of ways.
Its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help reduce brain inflammation and break down the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin, the “chemical happiness of the brain.” In fact, curcumin is just as effective for depression as the popular antidepressant Prozac.
Curcumin has been found to aid recovery from the damage caused by compulsion and memory loss associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and is currently being studied as a treatment for Parkinson.
One caveat about curcumin is that it is often very poorly absorbed – up to 85% of curcumin supplements normally pass through the intestines without being absorbed. However, adding piperine, a compound found in black pepper, markedly increases the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%.
4. Acetyl-L-carnitine (CLA).
Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC or ALCAR), is an amino acid that acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the brain from free radicals. It is good for mental health as it improves mental clarity, concentration, mood, processing speed and memory and has a strong anti-aging effect on the brain.
One study found that it stabilizes the tau proteins that produce brain tangles that are believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
CLA is a fast-acting antidepressant that usually brings some relief within a week.
When buying a supplement, don’t confuse acetyl-L-carnitine with the less expensive L-carnitine. CLA is the most bioavailable form that easily crosses the blood brain barrier, something that L-carnitine cannot do.
5. Phosphatidylserine (PS).
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that is an integral part of every cell membrane in the body, but is found in particularly high concentrations in the brain. PS acts as a guardian of your brain. It regulates what nutrients enter the brain and how waste accumulates outside of it. It is good for stimulating memory, cognition, concentration and learning, which is why phosphatidylserine is an excellent supplement for mental health.
Also, it helps with ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Large studies have found that phosphatidylserine can be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Normalizes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to reduce the effects of stress.
Phosphatidylserine is protective against mental decline, can improve mood, and helps with depression, especially among older people.
6. Vinpocetine for mental health.
Vinpocetine is a relatively new brain supplement that spans the line between brain supplement and smart drug. It is a synthetic version of vincamine, a natural compound found in maidenhair grass.
In Europe and Japan, vinpocetine is available only by prescription, but in the US, it is an over-the-counter supplement. Doctors in Europe believe that it is more effective than Ginkgo biloba, which has a reputation as one of the best supplements for the brain. Vinpocetine improves memory, reaction time, and overall mental well-being. It enters the brain rapidly to increase blood flow, decrease brain inflammation, protect against free radical damage, and balance neurotransmitter levels.
7. Alpha GPC.
L-alpha-glyceryl phosphorylcholine, commonly called alpha GPC, is a synthetic version of choline. Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for learning and remembering.
Acetylcholine deficiency is linked to Alzheimer’s disease as levels in patients often drop by 90%.
Alpha GPC is sold as a memory supplement worldwide and as a prescription drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in Europe. Alpha GPC is a good choice for mental health, to improve memory, thinking ability, and attention, or to treat stroke, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Bacopa monnieri.
Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal brain tonic that has been used for thousands of years to improve memory, learning and concentration.
Bacopa is a well recognized adaptogen, a substance that reduces the negative effects of stress. It works in part by balancing the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Bacopa is an excellent option if you have problems with memory, learning and concentration caused by stress.
9. Huperzine A.
Chinese moss (huperzia serrata) is a traditional Chinese herbal remedy used to improve memory, increase blood flow, and reduce inflammation.
Scientists have found that the main active component in this Chinese moss is huperzine A. This alkaloid works by blocking the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.
Huperzine A is sold as a dietary supplement primarily for mental health, to improve memory, concentration, and the ability to learn in youth and adults.
10. Ginkgo Biloba.
Most of the benefits of Ginkgo biloba have stood the test of time, both in traditional Chinese medicine and as a prescription drug in Europe. Ginkgo increases circulation to the brain, balances brain chemistry, and protects the brain from damage of free radicals.
Ginkgo has been shown to be beneficial for mental health in treating stress, anxiety, and depression. It is a useful supplement when taken together with medications for ADHD and schizophrenia.
And finally, for people diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, ginkgo shows great promise for improving the quality of memory and day-to-day life.
Don’t forget the basics.
Before you start taking brain supplements, make sure you have your basic nutritional needs covered. It is generally believed that vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past, but that is not true.
Up to 40% of people in the US alone are deficient in vitamin B12, 90% of vitamin D, and 75% of the mineral magnesium. Deficiencies in any of these vitamins can have a profound impact on your brain.
For the sake of your brain, this is good advice. While it’s not very exciting sometimes taking a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is what your brain really needs. However, you should know that no supplement in the world can compensate for a diet with junk food, lack of sleep or chronic stress.
There are many reasons to take a brain supplement: to improve mood, memory, and concentration, as well as to protect the brain against aging, or to prevent or stop cognitive decline. Always look for the highest quality ones and ask your doctor for advice to see dosage and frequency of consumption.