Fight the effects that aging has had on your brain & body

Brain supplements made easy: what to take, and why?


Talk about a brain workout:

You're scanning the "mental health" sections of your local vitamin or health products store, assaulted by a barrage of cryptically labeled bottles:

ALC! DMAE! Bacopin with Vinpocetine! Glutamine Power!

Names that don't exactly exude explanation, and if anything, make you feel a little bit uneasy. Yes, these things are in the mental health and brain enhancement category, but what exactly will they do for me? Or to me?

Will I turn into a goat if I take the wrong thing?

While we can assure that you won't turn into a small farm animal by trying brain supplements (actually, you'll likely be doing your brain a favor by adding them to your diet), this whole area of brain supplements is still one of the most confusingly complex and least understood areas of brain health knowledge for most people.

Let's face it: most people just want to know what works, what they should take, rather than having to acquire an academic medical geek-level knowledge of brain chemistry just to keep their brains healthy. Right?

We're going to try to make it simple, to distill this topic down to the most widely researched and tested natural, non-pharmaceutical supplements that you might want to add to your daily regimen to help improve your overall brain health and cognitive abilities. Particularly in the areas of memory, processing speed, and mental clarity (e.g. not feeling dull, slow, confused).

Before we go further however, you may already know that at BrainReady we strongly believe that there is no one single "cure all" or wonder food/drink/supplement that will cure all of your mental and physical ills, no one herb or vitamin or product that you should take at the expense of an overall healthy, balanced, natural-based diet and lifestyle which  includes physical AND mental exercises most days of the week.

There's no such thing as "total-health-in-a-pill", or getting healthy from a manufactured product sitting on a store shelf. And that's an important point with beating, because unfortunately, the health products industry (and pharmaceutical industry, perhaps even more, but we won't go into that now...) is full of dubious marketing claims designed to get your money first and make you healthy second, so it's easy to get caught up in thinking, "if I just pop this pill and that pill, I don't need to worry about eating those plant foods and berries and wild salmon and green tea" and so on. So remember, supplements are just that: dietary SUPPLEMENTS. You want to add them to an already healthy diet and lifestyle to get further benefits and fill in those nutritional areas that you can't easily get from your everyday diet.

Fortunately, there are some wonderful supplement providers out there, and yes, particularly in the brain health & enhancement area, there can be very real benefit from supplementing with brain-enhancing herbs/vitamins/amino acids such as the ones below.

So, here are the specific supplements that we feel are particularly exciting, and have been researched & commonly utilized fully enough to be included in our list as generally safe and likely to have positive effects. Note that each of these supplements can be acquired separately or in various combination formulas; our preference is for combination formulas, as there can be synergistic benefits from each of the elements working in combination in order to produce more tangible results:

DMAE, or dimethylaminoethanol, is normally present in small amounts in the brain and is known for its remarkable brain-enhancement effects; it has been shown to elevate mood, improve memory and learning, increase intelligence, extend life span of laboratory animals and increase physical energy. Many people report less fatigue during the day and sounder sleep at night as well as needing less sleep when taking DMAE.

2) Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC)
Researchers believe that ALC improves brain function by enhancing the activity of the memory neurotransmitters, acetylcholine and dopamine. There have been many studies which show that ALC improves learning and memory in normal, healthy mice and rats and there are indications are that it would probably do the same for humans.

3) Phosphatidylserine (PS)
Dietary supplementation with PS has been proven to slow, halt, and, in many cases, even reverse age-related cognitive decline. PS has been scientifically established to be among the most effective substances to consistently result in dramatic cognitive improvements and enhancements of other higher brain functions.

4) Vinpocetine
Vinpocetine is a powerful memory enhancer derived from the periwinkle plant. It facilitates brain metabolism by improving cerebral blood flow, increasing brain cell ATP production (for energy) and increases utilization of glucose and oxygen.

5) L-glutamine
L-glutamine is an amino acid that serves as an important source of energy for the brain. Supplementation with l-glutamine has been found to help improve mood, mental performance and both long- and short-term memory.

6) Bacopin
Bacopin is also known as Indian water hyssop. It has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for over 1000 years. Bacopin is thought to increase mental acuity and helps people maintain their intellect and memory into old age. Some recent scientific studies have confirmed the value of Bacopin in improving concentration and memory.

7) Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba is the oldest species of tree known, dating back 300 million years. In Europe physicians write over 1.2 million prescriptions per month for ginkgo to help improve cerebral circulation, mental alertness, and overall brain functioning. Numerous human studies on ginkgo have been published, which show that ginkgo leaf works by increasing blood flow throughout the body and brain. It has been shown to be helpful with many of the complaints of the elderly such as short-term memory loss, slow thinking and reasoning, and dizziness.

8) Fish oil/DHA/EPA
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the preferred brain fats. Essentially the only place you can obtain these fatty acids is by eating fish and other seafood. The saying, “Fish is brain food” is correct: if you don’t eat fish and consume other less desirable fats such as the trans-fats found in margarine or heated rancid fats such as are typically found when food is deep fried, your brain incorporates these fatty acids into its infrastructure(!)

So, which to take?

The easiest approach would be to take a combination supplement (such as the excellent Ray & Terry's "Memory Support" described below), so that you cover as many areas of benefit as possible; another approach would be to try taking just one of these supplements for at least six weeks and simply determine whether you feel any benefit, and then discontinuing or trying the next one in the list (a process of trial and elimination) to find out which one really benefits you the most. However, because several of these specific supplements affect the brain in different ways chemically, you probably won't find that only one of these turns out to be a magic bullet: that's why we prefer combinations of synergistic elements. But you may have specific health contraindications or reasons for not including one or more of these elements, so try the approach that's right for you.

Safety: the above supplements have been shown to be well-tolerated by most people, and many have been used for hundreds (or thousands!) of years around the world. However, particularly in the case of Ginkgo which can act as a blood thinner, if you are taking any medications (particularly blood thinners) that might interfere with or cause any contraindications with any of the above supplements, it's always best to check with your health care professional before taking supplements of any kind, just to be safe.

Where to get them: there are plenty of options out there, from your local health foods store to several online stores. At BrainReady, we're fans of buying online because the prices are usually far lower than retail establishments can afford to pass on to customers (due to the overhead of retail space, clerks, etc.), plus we've found that the products at many physical health stores are more likely to sit out on warm retail shelves for long periods of time compared to large, reputable online vendors which keep newer/fresher supplements in a cool, dark, dry controlled setting until shipment.

One combination product that we're particularly fond of (and contains nearly all of the above supplements in a combination formula) is , made by ; we discovered Ray & Terry's somewhat accidentally by being fans of Dr. Ray Kurzweil, the brilliant famous inventor/writer/futurist/thinker and now specialist in all-things-health-and-longevity: Ray's seminal books such as, "Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever", "The Age of Spiritual Machines", and "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" have been read and re-read numerous times by the BrainReady team.

So when we heard that Ray teamed-up with "Fantastic Voyage" co-author and longevity specialist Dr. Terry Grossman, M.D. to create a line of high-quality natural health supplements, we were immediately interested, and tried their product (among other Ray & Terry supplements) ourselves. Our finding: just as we predicted, it's great stuff :)
(Full disclosure: we have no affiliation with Ray & Terry's nor do we receive any monetary benefit from the sale of their products including Memory Support. They have kindly chosen to add a link to BrainReady from their web site to thank us for being fans of their product...thanks guys!).

Another reputable online source for these supplements that we have tried, and like, are the Neutraceutical Sciences Institute line of combination brain health (and other) formulas from VitaCost, which are extremely high quality and the prices for the NSI line are much lower than one could find at a retail/local health store for that quality level (another reason why we agreed to add their banner advertisements to our site).

So, consider adding these brain-enhancing supplements to your regimen and let us know what you think: do you feel the effects, and how soon after starting? Which ones did you try, and which did you find to be most effective?

Email us at and let us know so you can share your knowledge experiences with everyone in order to foster greater understanding. Let's help each other out with our findings, and take some of the mystery about these cryptic supplements out of the equation!

Lastly, don't forget about the other brain-friendly foods and plants that we've covered in our other BrainReady blog and Podcast features, such as dark chocolate, Matcha green tea, berries, and the others; you'll get the biggest benefits to your brain and overall health by eating a diet rich in healthy foods, getting lots of exercise (physical and mental), a healthy social life, AND supplementing such a lifestyle with the kind of brain supplements mentioned above.

It's all about the whole.

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