Notes to Future-Me

Supplements for Cognitive Performance


These supplements have good evidence supporting their usefulness to promote better performance on cognitive tests in the short term.

Supplements for long-term brain health are listed here.

Actionable Takeaways

The following are recommended for supplementation.

Type Recommended Supplement
Minerals Magnesium, Zinc
Antioxidants Curcumin (Turmeric), Lutein, Polyphenols
Other Creatine, Omega-3, Lion’s Mane

The list is short because very few supplements show direct effectiveness in healthy adults with no dietary deficiencies.

Honorable Mentions

Some supplements have either weaker evidence or limited effects.

Benefits by Supplement

Unless otherwise noted, all results apply to supplementation in healthy adults.

Supplement / Intervention Result / Reference
Choline Improved object recognition memory1.
Deficiency causes impairment1 2.
Creatine Improved short term memory and intelligence/reasoning3.
Curcumin (Turmeric) Improved attention, working memory, and mood4.
Ginko Biloba In mouse models: improved memory, neurogenesis, dose-dependent5.
Lion’s Mane Induces neurite outgrowth of neuron cells and promotes nerve growth factor4.
Improved cognitive function for both healthy and mildly impaired adults4.
Magnessium Associated with enhanced cognitive functions6.
Lutein Improved rate of learning, memory, and verbal fluency7.
Omega-3 Improved memory8 9.
Improved memory, attention, and executive functions6 10 11.
Improved reaction time, neural-efficiency, anti-depression12 13.
Polyphenols Improved memory, executive function, reasoning, etc14.
Zinc Increased serum BDNF levels15


  1. A Systematic Review of the Dietary Choline Impact on Cognition from a Psychobiological Approach: Insights from Animal Studies Animal studies.

    • No effect on spatial learning and memory–improvement was seen in subjects with pathological conditions.
    • Positive effect on object recognition memory was identified in eight studies.
      • Prenatal supplementation prevented object recognition memory impairment induced by gestational iron deficiency.
    • Beneficial effect in procedures that introduce delays and context processing.
    • Prenatal and periadolescent deficiencies cause various memory impairments.


  2. Choline Intake Correlates with Cognitive Performance among Elder Adults in the United States Deficiency correlates with low cognitive function. 

  3. Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials Meta-analysis.

    • Evidence that short term memory and intelligence/reasoning may be improved by creatine administration.
    • Other cognitive domains (long-term memory, spatial memory, memory scanning, attention, executive function, response inhibition, word fluency, reaction time and mental fatigue) showed conflicting results.

  4. The effects of twenty-one nutrients and phytonutrients on cognitive function: A narrative review Meta-analysis from 2021.  2 3

  5. Ginkgo biloba extract improves cognitive function and increases neurogenesis by reducing Aβ pathology in 5xFAD mice
    mouse study, but shows dose dependence for ginko 

  6. Improving Cognitive Function with Nutritional Supplements in Aging: A Comprehensive Narrative Review of Clinical Studies Investigating the Effects of Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, and Other Dietary Supplements
    Meta-analysis from 2023. Focused on aging, but includes results for studies on healthy adults.  2

  7. Lutein across the Lifespan: From Childhood Cognitive Performance to the Aging Eye and Brain Verbal fluency scores improved significantly in the lutein-only, DHA-only, and lutein + DHA groups. Memory scores and rate of learning improved significantly only in the lutein + DHA group, who also displayed a trend toward more efficient learning. 

  8. Effects of Nutrition on Cognitive Function in Adults with or without Cognitive Impairment: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials Meta-analysis from 2021. Interesting quotes:

    • “Well-nourished subjects showed a significant improvement in memory following multi-nutrient supplementation, the main component of which was omega-3 PUFA, but this improvement was not apparent in those with poorer nutritional status.”

  9. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Adult Memory: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis “Regardless of cognitive status at baseline, > 1 g/day DHA/EPA improved episodic memory (P<.04).” 

  10. Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review

    • Very recent publication, 2022.
    • Improved learning, memory ability, cognitive well-being, and blood flow in the brain.
    • EPA supplementation shows higher cognitive performance (vs DHA supplementation).
    • DHA displays more neuro-protective qualities.

  11. The effect of omega 3 supplementation on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor: A systematic review and meta-analysis

    • High levels of BDNF are associated with the improvement of cognitive and behavioral performance.
    • BDNF levels were significantly increased after supplementation with omega-3.
      • This increase was even greater with intervention duration >10 weeks and doses ≤1500 mg/day.

  12. Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults
    mixed (but positive) results 

  13. The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders 

  14. Effect of berry-based supplements and foods on cognitive function: a systematic review Meta-analysis of polyphenol studies. Many studies were of older adults, but were filtered for older adults with no cognitive problems. Interesting quotes:

    • “Polyphenol-rich extract from grape and blueberry (PEGB) led to the higher total number of accurate words at the immediate recall in comparison with the placebo” in adults with MMSE scores of 27 to 29 (out of 30).
    • “3-month supplementation of 37 men and women (age 60–75 years) with MMSE score ≥24 with freeze-dried blueberry resulted in fewer repetition faults according to CVLT, 2nd Ed. after the end of intervention than they did at the baseline.”
    • “3-month supplementation of 37 men and women (ages 60–75 years) with MMSE score ≥ 24 with freeze-dried blueberry resulted in a greater reduction in switch stimuli errors between follow-ups in task-switching test (TST) … in comparison with the control.”
    • “2 weeks of the daily intake of a blueberry concentrate in healthy older adults resulted in significant improvements in brain activity in … Brodman zones … implicated in sound recognition as well as word and picture semantic processing, language processing, decoding gaze direction, deductive reasoning plus intelligible speech and processing of verbal mental arithmetic, … in visual word recognition, auditory memory processing, and emotion recognition” etc.

  15. The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Circulating Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
    Zinc supplementation is associated with higher serum BDNF. High levels of BDNF are associated with the improvement of cognitive and behavioral performance.