Who couldn’t use a little memory boost from time to time? We all lead stressful lives these days, which can affect us in many ways. Our bodies naturally release inflammatory cytokines when we are stressed (1).
These chemicals tell your immune system to essentially kick it up a notch—the fight or flight response. They put your immune system into overdrive, flooding your body with defense cells and hormones that react to stress as though it were an infection.
This stress can also affect you by causing feelings of anxiety and even depression that can further cause “forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt your daily activities.” (3)
These memory lapses, while frustrating, also compound your stress, and before you know it, you are caught in an endless loop of ongoing pressure and tension that can ultimately result in serious illnesses like heart disease and even cancer (4).
While you are never likely to rid yourself of all stress completely, there are things you can do to mitigate the repercussions. And a good place to start is your diet. Science shows that what you eat can either help or hinder your reaction to stress (5).
Studies also show certain foods can help target specific symptoms of stress such as forgetfulness and brain fog. So, to get you started, here are 15 of the best science-based natural herbs and foods that will help kick-start your memory and enhance your overall brain function.
Top 15 Brain Boosting Foods
This yellow-pigmented curry spice is popular in Indian cuisine. Turmeric actually belongs to the ginger family. It has a long and varied history of medicinal use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. This pungent spice has literally thousands of studies to back its hundreds of medicinal and pharmacological actions (6).
When it comes to brain health and memory, however, this spice is a superstar.
A 2010 study by the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of California shows how curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can even help in cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) by “up-regulation of molecules important for neural repair and plasticity.” (7) This is just one of the 21 studies listed on Green Med Info on brain inflammation alone.
When it comes to memory, curcumin is even shown to help with cases of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). One 2008 study states that “Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved (8).
Onions are rich in sulphur-containing compounds that slow the deterioration of memory typically associated with aging. Onions also contain plenty of quercetin, a flavonoid also known to reduce memory loss associated with aging. In fact, onions have more quercetin than tea and apples, both of which are prized sources of this flavonoid (9).
Fish, especially fatty fish such as black cod, salmon, and sardines, is full of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which countless studies link to optimal brain health and function. A 2013 study published in Human Psychopharmacology shows that Omega-3 supplementation can improve “cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults.” (10)
Other studies concur, showing that eating fish regularly can go a long way to improving overall brain health, including memory.
Rosemary is a popular spice in most kitchens. But this potent herb can also improve both concentration and memory according to studies. In fact, psychologists at Northumbria University, Newcastle, show that simply sniffing rosemary essential oil can enhance your memory by as much as 75 percent (11).
One of the active ingredients in rosemary, carnosic acid, protects your brain from free radicals that are linked to neurodegeneration, AD, strokes and even normal brain aging (12). As an added bonus, studies also show rosemary’s many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties can protect your eyesight from deteriorating (13).
Eggs, more specifically, egg yolks, contain large amounts of choline, a substance that helps with fetal brain development. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people who get plenty of choline in their diet, perform better on memory tests and are less likely to show brain changes associated with dementia (14).
What’s more, other studies show that choline also breaks down bethane, a chemical that produces happiness hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and norephinephrine (15). So, essentially eating eggs can not only improve your memory but they can also make you happier!
Nuts in general, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which, like in fish, can boost your brain health. One study shows that eating just a few walnuts a day can improve your cognitive health (16). Nuts also have high levels of antioxidants, vitamins. and minerals linked to improved mental alertness. Other studies show the high levels of vitamin E in some nuts can help slow the progression of AD (17).
7. Dark Chocolate
Now you have a science-based reason to go on a chocolate binge, according to researchers. The only caveat is that it has to be dark chocolate. In fact, dark chocolate is actually an anti-aging, anti-inflammatory “superfood” for your brain and body! Dark chocolate is a key source of antioxidants and caffeine, which can raise your concentration levels and sharpen your memory according to studies (18).
Avocados are actually one of the healthiest fruits you can eat, despite the bad rap they have gotten in the past. While they do contain fat, it is monosaturated fat, which is the good fat that regulates your blood sugar levels and improves cognitive function, especially memory and concentration. It also helps prevent the hardening of blood vessels to assure proper blood supply to your heart and brain.
Proper blood flow to your brain is essential if it is to get sufficient oxygen, glucose and other vital nutrients necessary for brain health. Avocados are also rich in vitamins B, C, and K as well as folate, which can help prevent blood clots in your brain (strokes), as well as improve cognitive function, especially memory and concentration (19).
9. Whole grains
Whole grains are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber and complex carbohydrates. Together, these components make whole grains an excellent choice for proper brain development and maintenance. A Harvard Medical School study concludes that eating a Mediterranean Diet, one that includes whole grains among other things, can help improve the health of your blood vessels, ultimately reducing your risk for a memory-damaging stroke (20).
Broccoli is one of the best brain foods you can eat according to studies. It is rich in vitamin K and choline to keep your memory sharp (21). It is also full of potent antioxidants like vitamin C—just 1 cup of broccoli gives you 150 percent of your recommended daily intake!
11. Green Tea
This superstar food not only helps with weight loss, decreasing anxiety, and even halting the growth of cancer cells, but it can significantly boost memory (22). One study, which was published in 2014 in Psychopharmacology, shows that consuming green tea can essentially intensify the “interplay between the frontal and parietal lobes of your brain, resulting in a heightened ability to recall information” (23).
According to studies, eating beets can not only reduce inflammation, but it can protect you from developing cancer through the vegetable’s numerous potent antioxidants. They are also known to help detoxify your body and the powerful natural nitrates in beets can even boost blood flow to your brain, which helps with mental performance. One study even shows that beets are so powerful you can improve your cognitive function within only 90 minutes after drinking 450 mL of beetroot juice (24)!
Blueberries have long been shown to be one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods known to man. The significant levels of vitamin C and K, and even fiber make this tiny berry a powerhouse of nutrition. Blueberries are also high in gallic acid, making them especially good for protecting your brain from degeneration and oxidative stress (25).
14. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is full of powerful polyphenols (antioxidants) that not only improve learning and memory but can also reverse any age-related and disease-related changes in your brain (26). This pungent oil can also help ward off ADDLs, the proteins that studies show are highly toxic to your brain and can induce Alzheimer’s disease (27).
15. Coconut Oil
Gold star in the health arena, coconut oil has hundreds of medicinal and healthful uses. When it comes to your brain, however, coconut oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory, essentially suppressing the cellular activity of any agents responsible for inflammation. It has also been shown to help with age-related memory loss among many other health benefits (28).