If you’re feeling like your memory is shot these days – maybe you’re blanking on names, misplacing your phone more than usual, struggling to recall the details of that meeting this morning — you’re not alone.
In fact, one out of nine Americans aged 45 and above (or 11.2%) admitted they were experiencing worsening or more frequent memory loss or confusion in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control. Those numbers climbed among adults over 45 who were either living alone (13.8%) or dealing with any chronic disease (15.2%).
Despite the commonality, experiencing memory issues is not a “normal” part of aging. And while subjective cognitive decline can sometimes be a sign of early-stage dementia conditions, the majority of the time that’s not the case at all.
Instead, I find that flagging memory can often be traced back to chronic stress, constant distractions, and a lack of time to practice the little habits that nourish the brain and strengthen its capabilities. That’s good news, because it means the power is in your hands to boost your brainpower and regain the healthy memory that once seemed so effortless.
Here are some of my favorite, science-backed ways to enhance your memory naturally, in just a few minutes a day. Do them all to gain the most benefit, or pick a few favorites and add more to your daily routine as time allows.
Take Memory-Enhancing Herbs
Taking the right herbal supplements each day is one of the easiest ways to support and enhance your memory, naturally. Here are four herbs I highly recommend, and just some of the science behind them.
This Amazon native has long been used for its ability to support the immune system and calm inflammation, and now recent research links it with some pretty impressive brain benefits, too. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports earlier this year, found that natural compounds called polyphenols in the plant were able to cross the blood-brain barrier in mice.
Once there, the cat’s claw polyphenols helped “detangle” and clear out brain plaques (called beta-amyloid plaques) and tau protein tangles that have been linked with memory loss as we age. They also significantly reduced inflammation in the brain. And perhaps most notably, the researchers saw a 50-60% improvement in short-term memory after just 3 months.
Recommended serving: 350 mg, 1-2 times daily
Like cat’s claw, lion’s mane — a mushroom used in East Asian herbal medicine for many centuries — has been shown to help prevent neural damage caused by beta-amyloid plaques in animal studies. One study out of Japan found that 23 days of consuming lion’s mane helped prevent beta-amyloid-related impairments of both short-term memory and recognition memory in mice.
Beyond improving memory, lion’s mane delivers some global benefits for brain health. For instance, it contains two special compounds called hericenones and erinacines that have been linked with stimulating Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which plays a key role in the formation of the nervous system. NGF helps create new brain cells, strengthen old ones, and promote brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt as needed.
Recommended serving: 500 mg, 1-2 times daily
Considered a “tonic” for the nervous system, bacopa is a staple in Ayurveda (India’s ancient medical system) for calming nerves and promoting healthy sleep. Turns out, it’s also helpful for improving short-term recall.
In one study of medical students, participants took either bacopa or a placebo twice daily for six weeks, and then were given a number of cognitive tests. The researchers found that bacopa takers scored significantly higher on measures of working memory, logical memory, attention efficiency, and freedom from distractibility compared to those taking a placebo.
Recommended serving: 300 mg, 1-2 times daily
Another traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body “adapt to” or cope with stress. Early research suggests it also helps improve memory and cognitive function.
Researchers in India found a link between ashwagandha and enhanced immediate and general memory in people with mild cognitive impairment. It was also shown to help improve executive function — which is responsible for skills such as organizing, planning, and prioritizing that are necessary for achieving goals — as well as attention and information processing speed.
Recommended serving: 125 mg, 1-2 times daily
Switch to Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The science-backed reasons to consume extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for better health are compelling, to include its ability to help reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and more. Now, we can add improved memory and cognitive function to the list of EVOO benefits.
Research just published in the journal Aging Cell found a correlation between EVOO consumption and a decrease in production of those abnormal tau proteins associated with tangles that lead to memory loss and declining cognitive function. In the study, mice whose diets were supplemented with EVOO for six months showed improvement in working memory (which plays a key role in how we process, use, and remember information on a daily basis) as well as spatial and learning memory. If you don’t already, make EVOO your oil of choice for salad dressings, baking, roasting, and more.
Put More Produce on Your Plate
I know I can sound like a broken record on this point, but my diet advice is always the same: Eat more vegetables than anything else. The benefits are practically endless, and — you guessed it — better memory is on the list of pluses.
In a recent 20-year study in the journal Neurology, for instance, men who ate the most vegetables and fruit (at least six daily servings) were significantly less likely to develop memory and thinking problems compared to those who ate the least. In case you’re measuring, one serving of vegetables is 1 cup of raw vegetables or 2 cups of leafy greens, and one serving of fruit is 1 cup of fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice.
Meditate a Little Bit Every Day
Just 13 minutes of meditation each day can have numerous cognitive benefits, to include improved memory, according to recent findings in the journal Behavioral Brain Research. In the study, participants listened to a recording of Journey Meditation, a guided meditation that incorporates guided breathing exercises and full-body scans, as well as quiet time for breathing at an individual pace.
The result? After eight weeks, participants experienced improved working and recognition memory and attention, as well as a decrease in mood swings, anxiety, and fatigue. Though more research is necessary to understand the exact mechanisms, the study authors theorized that meditation is affecting brain regions that regulate cognitive processes, mood, and stress, such as the basal ganglia, entorhinal cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex.
Exercise for Just 15 Minutes
You’re welcome to exercise for a longer period, of course — and odds are once you start, you’ll likely go past the 15-minute mark. But in one study, 15 minutes of moderate exercise (in this case, pedaling on a stationary bike) was enough to improve working memory and other forms of cognitive function. And the effects held true regardless of the participant’s age. Other ideas for moderate movement if you don’t have a stationary bike: brisk walking, leaf raking, lawn mowing, swimming, or dancing.
Go to Bed Earlier
Sleep is essential for proper memory function. While you slumber, your brain is consolidating memories and strengthening the neural connections that help form those memories. Skimp on sleep, and your ability to learn new information and recall it later goes down the drain.
If you’re not allowing time for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, you need to make it a priority. Take a look at your bedtime and early morning routines, and make the time for extra sleep by going to bed a little earlier and/or setting your alarm for a little later.
Adding these little habits to your everyday routine might take a little bit of effort and adjustment, but it will all be worth it when your brain thanks you with better recall, focus, and processing power.
1. Alan D. Snow, et al. “The Amazon rainforest plant Uncaria tomentosa (cat’s claw) and its specific proanthocyanidin constituents are potent inhibitors and reducers of both brain plaques and tangles.” Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 6;9(1):561. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-38645-0.
2. Tsa-Teng T, et al. “Erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus mycelium ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease-related pathologies in APPswe/PS1dE9 transgenic mice.” J Biomed Sci. 2016 Jun 27;23(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s12929-016-0266-z.
3. Mori K, et al. Effects of Hericium erinaceus on amyloid β(25-35) peptide-induced learning and memory deficits in mice. Biomed Res. 2011 Feb;32(1):67-72.
4. Lai PL, et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54.
5. Navneet Kumar, et al. Efficacy of Standardized Extract of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) on Cognitive Functions of Medical Students: A Six-Week, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 4103423. Published online 2016 Oct 10. doi: 10.1155/2016/4103423
6. Choudhary D, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. J Diet Suppl. 2017 Nov 2;14(6):599-612. doi: 10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970.
7. Elisabetta Lauretti, et al. Extra virgin olive oil improves synaptic activity, short‐term plasticity, memory, and neuropathology in a tauopathy model. First published: 24 November 2019. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.13076
8. Changzheng Yuan, et al. Long-term intake of vegetables and fruits and subjective cognitive function in US men. Neurology, January 01, 2019; 92 (1).
9. Candice L. Hogan, et al. Exercise Holds Immediate Benefits for Affect and Cognition in Younger and Older Adults. Psychol Aging. 2013 Jun; 28(2): 587–594. doi: 10.1037/a0032634
10. Julia C. Basso, et al. Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behavioral Brain Research, Volume 356, 1 January 2019, Pages 208-220. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023