In this fast-paced society, most of the working population is under great pressure and stress. With prolonged exposure to stress, it is likely they will experience decreased brain performance, such as declined memory and decreased attention span, earlier in life (1). Therefore, many people start taking nutritional supplements hoping that they will delay the onset of decreased brain function, particularly memory loss. Some popular supplements are gingko, ginseng, turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids. Let’s discover more about them below!
Ginseng and gingko are popular herbal supplements in Asia, especially in China and Korea. Due to the claims that they help improve cognitive functions like learning and memory, both have gained popularity in North America in recent years (2). Although research suggests that gingko and ginseng supplements may help improve memory function in healthy individuals between the ages of 20-50, it is still too early to draw conclusions on their effects since results are still inconsistent (3).
On the other hand, turmeric is a spice commonly found in curry powders and Indian cuisines. In recent years, turmeric extract has been used to produce supplements since it contains curcumin; a component suggested to prevent age-related dementia and cognitive decline (4). For example, one study showed that when a healthy older population consumed turmeric supplements for 4 weeks, their working memory and attention were improved significantly compared to the group not taking supplements (4). However, the researchers suggested that the effect of turmeric on preventing memory loss is still inconsistent and more research is required to provide a recommendation for supplement use.
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oils, are the most popular choice amongst the above mentioned. A lot of research has been done to assess the effect of omega-3 supplements on cognitive function. This is because omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA are important for normal brain function (7). Multiple studies have found that, in individuals ages 50 or above, long-term (>2 years) consumption of an omega-3 supplement can improve memory, even in the presence of declined cognitive function. For example, a study found that when participants of ages 55 or above consumed omega-3 supplements every day for half year, they had significantly less errors in recalling specific details in memory tests than participants that did not take supplements (5).
Other studies also showed similar results, suggesting omega-3 supplements can help participants recall things more accurately, indicating improved memory and cognitive function (6,8). That said, there are studies suggesting that consuming omega-3 supplements in the long term will not improve or delay the onset of cognitive decline (9). However, most clinical trials tend to suggest that consuming omega-3 supplements can help improve memory. One important thing to note is that most of these studies were done on people with mild or intermediate dementia. Thus, more research is required to further investigate the beneficial effects of omega-3 supplements on memory loss in healthy individuals.
For now, it is wise to include more fish in your diet if you want to increase omega-3 fatty acid intake. In fact, according to the Canada’s Food Guide, adults should have at least two servings of fish per week for this purpose (10). Some great sources are salmon, oysters and cod (11). If you are vegetarian or vegan, don’t worry! There are decent amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed oil and edamame (11). As cliché as it sounds, having a balanced diet is always the key to good health!
By: Stephanie Yu
Edited by: Iris Lopez Ramirez
Final Edits by: Renée Chan, MS, MBA, RD, RDN, CDN
- Sandi, C., & Pinelo-Nava, M. T. (2007). Stress and memory: Behavioral effects and neurobiological mechanisms.Neural Plasticity, 2007, 1-20. doi:10.1155/2007/78970
- Derek Ong Lai Teik, Lee, X. S., Lim, C. J., Low, C. M., Muslima, M., & Aquili, L. (2016). Ginseng and ginkgo biloba effects on cognition as modulated by cardiovascular reactivity: A randomised trial: E0150447.PLoS One, 11(3) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150447
- Persson, J., Bringlöv, E., Nilsson, L., Nyberg, L., Institutionen för integrativ medicinsk biologi (IMB), Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, . . . Fysiologi. (2004). The memory-enhancing effects of ginseng and ginkgo biloba in healthy volunteers.Psychopharmacology, 172(4), 430-434. doi:10.1007/s00213-003-1675-8
- Cox, K. H., Pipingas, A., & Scholey, A. B. (2015). Investigation of the effects of solid lipid curcumin on cognition and mood in a healthy older population.Journal of Psychopharmacology, 29(5), 642-651. doi:10.1177/0269881114552744
- Yurko-Mauro, K., McCarthy, D., Rom, D., Nelson, E. B., Ryan, A. S., Blackwell, A., . . . MIDAS Investigators. (2010). Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, 6(6), 456-464. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2010.01.013
- Sinn, N., Milte, C. M., Street, S. J., Buckley, J. D., Coates, A. M., Petkov, J., & Howe, P. R. C. (2012). Effects of n-3 fatty acids, EPA v. DHA, on depressive symptoms, quality of life, memory and executive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: A 6-month randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 107(11), 1-12. doi:10.1017/S0007114511004788
- Simopoulos, A. P. (2008). The importance of the omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.Experimental Biology and Medicine, 233(6), 674-688. doi:10.3181/0711-MR-311
- Kulzow, N., Witte, A., Kerti, L., Grittner, U., Schuchardt, J., Hahn, A., & Floel, A. (2016). Impact of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on memory functions in healthy older adults. Journal of Alzheimers Disease, 51(3), 713-725. doi:10.3233/JAD-150886
- Quinn, J. F., Raman, R., Thomas, R. G., Yurko-Mauro, K., Nelson, E. B., Van Dyck, C., . . . Aisen, P. S. (2010). Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and cognitive decline in alzheimer disease: A randomized trial. Jama, 304(17), 1903-1911. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1510
- Government of Canada, Health Canada, Health Products and Food Branch. (2016, September 01). Retrieved May 14, 2017, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php
- Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. (2016, October 28). Retrieved May 14, 2017, from https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Fat/Food-Sources-of-Omega-3-Fats.aspx
About the Author:
Stephanie Yu is a student Studying Nutrition at The University of British Columbia