Smart drugs. Cognitive enhancers. Memory boosters. Limitless pills. Is this the brain power of the future? Nootropics go by many different names, of which their native name is arguably the least recognizable.
People take nootropics for a variety of reasons that can change as life changes.
For example, a young person studying hard to get into graduate school might take nootropics for memory boosting during exams. An older person with a family history of Alzheimer's might have a different reason for wanting to boost memory with nootropics.
In this article, learn about the best nootropics for memory for a variety of different research-supported applications.
- Top Nootropics For Memory in 2023
- What Are Nootropics?
- Best Nootropics for Memory
- Final Thoughts
Top Nootropics For Memory in 2023
What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics is a classification for a number of different naturally occurring and synthetic (human-made) chemicals that can meet five key criteria.
These criteria were first outlined by the founder of the first synthetic nootropic, a scientist named Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea.
Dr. Giurgea created primacetam, a nootropic that proved vital to the success of the 179-day Russian mission to the Mir space station and many other space missions.
The five criteria Dr. Giurgea outlined include these:
- Enhance the memory and improve learning ability.
- Help boost brain function in difficult circumstances (such as when oxygen is low).
- Be protective of the brain when it faces physical or chemical threats.
- Increase activity in the cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain.
- Be essentially non-toxic and free from secondary side effects.
This set of criteria makes nootropics look about as close to ideal as any class of memory-enhancers can get. However, it is important to remember that no substance, whether found in nature or created in a laboratory, is ever completely free from the potential to do harm.
When taken in the right amount, for the right reasons and with your doctor or holistic practitioner's approval and guidance, nootropics have a lot to offer as a memory and cognitive enhancement aid.
Three-Minute Overview of Nootropics AKA "Smart Drugs"
The 2011 sci-fi movie "Limitless" starring Bradley Cooper brought so-called "smart drugs" or nootropics to the attention of a much wider audience.
But while this movie is relatively new, the existence of nootropics is not new at all.
In fact, many known nootropics are so fundamentally a part of life and culture (caffeine, glucose) that we don't even realize how powerful they can be.
This three-minute video gives you a basic overview of smart drugs, including some of the most popular nootropics and what the term "stacking" means in context with using nootropics.
Best Nootropics for Memory
The following 20 nootropics are considered the best of the best for enhancing memory in a variety of ways.
1. Panax Ginseng
Panax Ginseng, also known as Asian Ginseng, is just one of many naturally occurring forms of ginseng.
Panax ginseng is one of the most popular forms and it has been an important healing component in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years.
Unlike its American counterpart, Asian ginseng has a research-supported energizing and invigorating impact on brain activity.
Specifically, research states that P. Ginseng enhances vitality, improves physical performance, provides immune system support, acts as an adaptogen to fight stress and resists aging.
Ginseng in all its forms has an abundance of saponins, including gintonin and ginsenosides, which are still being studied today to better understand how they promote memory and vitality.
One research study showed that Gingko Biloba taken ("stacked") together with Panax Ginseng is a particularly potent combination for enhancing memory.
Recommended for: Alzheimer's disease, dementia, long-term memory
2. Gingko Biloba
Gingko Biloba is actually a species of tree. It is sometimes called the "living fossil" since all other plants in its species have long since died out.
As a natural nootropic and antioxidant, Gingko Biloba has been in use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years for a variety of therapeutic purposes.
Recommended for: Alzheimer's disease, long-term memory
3. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is called "herb of grace" in traditional eastern Ayurvedic medicine.
Not only is Bacopa Monnieri a natural adaptogen, which means it can help the brain cope with stress, but it can also preserve optimal brain structure and memory function as the aging process beings.
Recommended for: Memory formation and recall, ease stress-based anxiety
4. Huperzine A
Huperzine A takes its name from the natural moss it is extracted from, Huperzia serrata, which is a species of club moss that is native to Japan.
Huperzine A has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, most specifically to alleviate fever and inflammation (which is also important in treating Alzheimer's disease) and as a treatment for schizophrenia.
One interesting thing about Huperzine A is that it occurs in two forms: A+ and A-. The natural form, A-, is thought to be superior.
Recommended for: Vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease, cellular brain damage
SEMAX is a synthetic nootropic that is best known for its use to treat strokes and head/brain injuries that impair memory function.
SEMAX is a heptapeptide, a sequence of seven amino acids linked together with peptides that can positively impact the brain's neural structure, which is why this drug is often used to treat brain injury or trauma.
Recommended for: Recovery from stroke, head injury, memory formation
Selank is another nootropic drug that is primarily used in Russia for treating both anxiety and brain disorders.
There are multiple research studies with laboratory rats showing Selank's various positive impacts on brain function, memory and recovery from stress.
Recommended for: Boost memory function under stress conditions
7. Sodium Butyrate
Sodium Butyrate is a nootropic known for its ability to enhance the brain's receptivity to forming and retaining new long-term memories.
Not only can Sodium Butyrate help the brain actually form new neural tissue, but it can also improve memory after onset of various cerebral diseases linked to advancing age.
Recommended for: Meningitis recovery, cranial nerve damage
Creatine is known best for its impact on muscle building and strength. For this reason, creatine's powers as a memory-boosting nootropic have mostly stayed out of the limelight.
The reason Creatine can pull double duty for brain and body is because it can stimulate recycling of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) one of the most important energy sources in the body and brain.
Not only can creatine protect the brain from beta-amyloid toxicity (a significant precursor to Alzheimer's), but it can also improve brain function and memory in the elderly and at any age.
Recommended for: Huntingdon's disease, Alzheimer's disease, other neurodegenerative diseases, IQ
Glucose is one of the primary energy sources of the brain and body. Research shows that glucose is simply vital for memory function.
Recommended for: Verbal and visual memory function, neurodegenerative diseases
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. Turmeric is a vital nootropic for combatting inflammation and other brain stressors.
Recommended for: Recovery after traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's disease
11. Citocoline (CDP-Choline)
Citocoline is one of the building blocks, along with choline, of phosphatidylcholine, which is used to create cellular membranes and other biological membranes.
Citocoline helps protect and rebuild the brain after injury or trauma by promoting rebuilding of cell membranes.
Recommended for: Ischemic stroke, dementia, brain disease, cognitive control
Alpha-GPC is a nootropic that is vital for enhancing neurotransmitter activity in the brain.
Research shows Alpha-GPC can improve neurotransmission activity in laboratory rats suffering from age-related memory decline and induced amnesia. It is an important potential treatment for Alzheimer's
Recommended for: Alzheimer's disease, dementia, working memory, verbal memory
Also called lion's mane, this nootropic is perhaps best known for its immune response-boosting properties. However, Yamabushitake is also a known aid for memory and cognitive function, especially after neural damage.
Recommended for: Recovery after cerebral nerve damage, mild cognitive impairment
Tyrosine is a naturally-occurring nootropic readily accessible by eating soy, eggs, turkey, dairy, beef and seaweed. Tyrosine helps the body make the critical mood-regulating neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.
Recommended for: Concentration, memory formation and retention, mental calm and balance
Tryptophan is another naturally-occurring nootropic that is found in bananas, salmon, eggs, poultry, spinach, milk, seeds and nuts and other foods. Tryptophan is one of the building blocks for serotonin, aka the "feel good hormone."
Recommended for: ADHD, concentration, focus
While caffeine gets a bad rap in many circles for its quick-fix effect on energy levels, caffeine is one of the best-known nootropics today and it definitely can have memory and cognition benefits.
It is easy to forget that caffeine occurs naturally in tea, guarana, coffee beans, cacao beans and kola nuts.
Caffeine is often taken ("stacked") together with L-theanine to combat the "caffeine jitters."
Recommended for: Increasing alertness and attention/memory, decreasing reaction time
L-theanine is a naturally-occurring amino acid and nootropic that is most commonly found in tea, specifically green tea.
L-theanine's memory-boosting powers comes from its ability to boost the brain's access to a variety of helpful neurotransmitters.
Recommended for: Non-drowsy alertness, concentration, creativity, mental calmness
Some vitamins and minerals are also natural nootropics. B-complex vitamins are among the most potent and also the best-known in this category.
Recommended for: Brain health and balance, cerebral circulation, cognitive decline and impairment
Piracetam has shown promise in research studies for its ability to improve short and long-term memory retrieval due to dyslexia by improving the brain's uptake of glucose and improving neuroplasticity after trauma.
Recommended for: Dyslexia-related memory recall, verbal/non-verbal short-term memory after bypass surgery, recovery from drug-induced amnesia
Pramiracetam is a synthetic racetam nootropic used to treat memory impairment. Research has demonstrated pramiracetam's potential to improve memory after various types of brain injury and trauma.
Recommended for: Degenerative brain diseases, vascular dementia, recovery after cerebral oxygen deprivation
So now you know about 20 potent nootropics that can act positively on memory and cognitive function. If you feel overwhelmed by your options, just pick one nootropic that jumps out at you and take it step by step.
It is smart to begin with the lowest recommended dose of your chosen nootropic and just see how your body reacts. Then you can increase your dose as needed until you find just the right amount to achieve your memory goals.
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Shannon is a freelance writer and author of three books. Shannon is passionate about crafting knowledge-based, science-supported articles that provide readers with practical, actionable tools to make healthy life choices.