• The fear of losing memory is real and scary.
  • All of us have experienced that awkward situation some time or the other. You walk into a room and forget why you are there.
  • You meet a close friend but can’t recall his name when introducing him to another friend.

Though much remains to be learnt about memory , research has shown that long term memory storage involves physical changes in the structure of neurons by creating neural networks.

Due to a gradual decline in cognitive capacity, patients with dementia are no longer able to continue their former regular occupational and social activities. They find it difficult to conduct activities that are essential to daily living, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and eating. 50% of us suffer from memory decline. Further majority of patients with dementia suffer from either a degenerative disease of the brain, mainly Alzheimer’s disease (AD), or from multiple infarcts of the brain (vascular dementia), or from a combination of the two ( 12 ).

Can Nutraceutical Principles Influence Brain & Memory Mechanics?

There is a very good scope for developing nutraceuticals and health foods by incorporating the herbals, naturals & bio chemicals listed below. These should complement the action of the routinely used drugs such as Cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil, rivastigmine & galantamine. That will work by boosting the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain involved in memory & judgement like dementia & Parkinson’s. Another drug Memantine works by regulating the activity of another neurotransmitter Glutamate. A  doctor might prescribe medications to treat other symptoms or conditions, such as depression, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, parkinsonism or agitation. Levodopa and carbidopa (Sinemet). Levodopa (also called L-dopa) is the most commonly prescribed medicine for Parkinson’s. It’s also the best at controlling the symptoms of the condition, particularly slow movements and stiff, rigid body parts. Levodopa works when your brain cells change it into dopamine

Good blood flow is essential for optimal functioning of the brain and retains a sharp memory. So, dietary principles which ensure good heart function are integral for an alert brain & a sharp memory. Recent research has highlighted the role of certain dietary principles that impact cognitive function, memory & alertness. Non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood form the core of so-called ‘Mind Diets’, which recommend a restriction on all types of red meat.

Natural Food Ingredients That Improve Brain Function & Boost Memory.

Omega 3 fatty acids boost brain function:

In-depth research has provided clinical evidence that deficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids, Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s) adversely affects cognitive function and memory.

When senior citizens consumed PUFA rich fish over a 7 years period there was a significant improvement in their dementia status & cognitive function(1).  Fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Herring, Sardines are rich in long-chain Omega-3 DHA.

However   ‘Saturated fat ‘ & ‘Trans -fat’ are to be avoided as they actually increase the risk of dementia.

Lutein From Marigold Flowers Improves Brain Health & Preserves Memory:

A major carotenoid found in the brain is Lutein a yellow carotenoid found in Marigold flowers, egg yolk, avocado, and green leafy vegetables crosses the blood-brain barrier and is selectively concentrated in the brain & has a definitive impact on brain health & memory (2),(3).

Just 2 cups of Spinach can make a difference. It is interesting to note that just 10mg of lutein & 2 mg of Zeaxanthin. That is as much as 56 g of Spinach (nearly 2 cups) given per day to healthy senior citizens markedly improved cognitive function in a randomized double-blind trial.

When Lutein combined with DHA the results were better.

  • Neuroprotective Polyphenols:

    Many studies with Polyphenols which are bioactive compounds with excellent anti-oxidative, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory action, found mainly in tea, wine, fruits some herbs revealed better cognitive performance and lesser risk of memory loss. Hence they are highly recommended for incorporation into nutraceuticals for memory growth function. The physiological action of polyphenol is mainly due to its content of anthocyanins.

  • Curcumin:

    This gives the distinctive yellow color to turmeric. Curcumin exhibits neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory & anti-oxidant action which not only prevents and reduces inflammation of brain tissue but also reduces oxidative stress. (4) When 400 mg Curcumin supplemented, it showed short term and long term positive effects on memory and mood in healthy senior citizen, as reported in a journal Neural Plasticity (5).

    However, food scientists & biochemists need to work more on improving the bioavailability of Curcumin which is one of the major restrictions on its physiological efficacy.

  • Resveratrol:

    This is a natural phenol & a phytoalexin present in the skin of grapes, mulberries, raspberries, peanuts. Apart from improving cognition Resveratrol has been known to limit secondary damage after ischemic stroke or acute brain trauma (6). However, more studies need to be done.

  • Catechins ( as in Green Tea):

    Catechins make up to 30% to 40% of the solid weight of brewed green tea. When Catechins are taken for the long term, they improved language and verbal memory & lower the risk of cognitive decline. (1)

Herbal solutions for Memory & Improving brain function:


Brahmi or Bacopa Monnieri :

The Indian government has invested significant resources and conducted hundreds of studies examining the mechanisms of action on the brain. And at a cellular level wherein following actions have been elucidated,  anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, metal chelation, amyloid, and cholinergic effects amongst many others. It has been shown that Bacopa extracts such as CDRI 08 can prevent age-related cognitive decline or even more insidious diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s & Epilepsy .(7) Bo Copa M.  acts via the following mechanisms—anti-oxidant neuroprotection (via redox and enzyme induction), acetylcholinesterase inhibition and/or choline acetyltransferase activation, β-amyloid reduction, increased cerebral blood flow, and neurotransmitter modulation (acetylcholine [ACh], 5-hydroxytryptamine [5-HT], dopamine [DA]).(8)

Shankhapushpi or C.Puricaulis :

Has a flower shaped like Shivas Conch shell? Many studies have been conducted to prove the utility of this wonderful herb in CNS depression, anxiolytic, tranquillizing, antidepressant, antistress, neurodegenerative, antiemetic, antioxidant, hypolipidemic, immunomodulatory, analgesic, antifungal, antibacterial, antidiabetic, antiulcer, anticatatonic, and cardiovascular activity. These are reported to contain several types of alkaloids, flavonoids, and coumarins as active chemicals that bring about its biological effects.

Jyotishmati or Celastrus Paniculatus:

The name itself denotes that it lights up memory.  It is frequently used as brain tonic due to its purported effect on memory and intellect. The phytochemicals present in Celastrus paniculatus include sesquiterpenes, alkaloids, cleastrine, celapanine, celapgine, and polyalcohol (malanguinin, malkanginnol, etc.). It also contains the triterpenoid pristine in, and sterols (β-amyrin and β-sitosterol).


Natural Biochemicals that spark your brain & boost memory :

1. L Arginine:

L- Arginine known as a wonder amino acid.  Nitric oxide (NO), synthesized from the amino acid, L-arginine by nitric oxide synthase (NOS) has received attention as a  neurotransmitter in the brain. It is a known fact that learning and memory impairment occurs due to defective NO activity in the brain in epilepsy, stress, diabetes. These have been successfully reversed by supplementing L  -Arginine, the wonder amino acid. We have understood that the age-induced impairment of memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s disease occurs due to the deposition of the toxic sticky protein, beta-amyloid which strangles the brain cells affecting their function. L-Arginine proven to prevent dementia in these patients.

2. L- Glutamic acid:

This is another wonder amino acid that performs multifarious roles in the body. Glutamic acid has the ability to pass across the blood-brain barrier and supports brain function. Glutamic acid combines with a receptor called NMDA receptor to improve the learning process. (11).However, under abnormal conditions, it may function as a neurotoxin especially in the elderly who are also the segment of the population most susceptible to impairments of mnemonic function.

3. Lecithin (Phosphatidylcholine, Phosphatidylserine & Phosphatidic acid ):

A positive influence of PS(100mg) +PA (80 mg) derived from Soya Lecithin on memory, mood, and cognition demonstrated among elderly test subjects. Plant-derived Phosphatidylserine preferred to the bovine source. ( 13). This is certainly not an exhaustive list and many more promising ingredients could be added. I feel that the opportunity for a formulator is to go deep into the pharmacology & biochemistry of principle drugs prescribed to treat dementia, Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s disease and develop nutraceutical formulations to fill up the gaps in the mode of actions of these drugs so as to complement their action and potentiate their effect.


  1. Phillips C. Lifestyle modulators of neuroplasticity: how physical activity, mental engagement, and diet promote cognitive health during aging. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:3589271.
  2. Johnson EJ, Vishwanathan R, Johnson MA et al. Relationship between serum and brain carotenoids, α-to cope α-tocopherol, and retinol concentrations and cognitive performance in the oldest old from the Georgia Centenarian Study. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:951786.
  3. Hammond BR Jr, Miller LS, Bello MO, Lindbergh CA, Mewborn C, Renzi-Hammond LM. Effects of lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation on the cognitive function of community-dwelling older adults: a randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017;9:254.
  4. Higdon J. Curcumin. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center website. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/curcumin. Updated March 2016.
  5. C. Lifestyle modulators of neuroplasticity: how physical activity, mental engagement, and diet promote cognitive health during aging. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:3589271.
  6.  Lopez, M; Dempsey, R. J.; Vemuganti, R (2015). “Resveratrol Neuroprotection in Stroke and Traumatic CNS injury”. Neurochemistry International. 89: 75–82. DOI:10.1016/j.neuint.2015.08.009PMC 4587342PMID 26277384
  7. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 717605.
  8. . Rejuvenation Res 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313–326. DOI: 10.1089/rej.2013.1431
  9.  Sethiya NK, Nahata A, Mishra SH, Dixit VK. An update on shankhpushpi, a cognition-boosting Ayurvedic medicine. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2009;7(11):1001–22. 
  10. Effect of Jyotishmati (Celastrus paniculatus) seeds in animal models of pain and inflammation J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2015 Apr-Jun; 6(2): 82–88. DOI:  10.4103/0975-9476.146540
  11. Behav Brain Res. 2003 Mar 18;140(1-2):1-47.
  12. Crook TH, West RL. Name recall performance across the adult life-span. Br J Psychol. 1990;81:335–349. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1990
  13. Adv Ther. 2014; 31: 1247–1262

About the author: Prakash M Rao is a clinical biochemist from Institute of Science Mumbai who also is an MBA in Marketing was an Associate Editor of the magazine “ Foods & Drinks” and CEO of NutraSphere, currently handles a variety of consultancy assignments in foods, pharmaceuticals & cosmetics as a CEO of a multi-faceted company Zantech.