Vitamins for Memory & Improving Concentration

Vitamins for Memory
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
23rd November 2020

Help your body fight the good fight with our scientifically proven range of nutrients and vitamins. Making healthier easier, every day.

In 30 Seconds…

Your body needs specific vitamins for memory, concentration, and brain health. A deficiency in these vitamins could result in short-term memory problems, trouble concentrating, brain fog, or memory loss. 

Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids have all been shown to play an essential part in protecting us from — or delaying — cognitive decline. 

These crucial vitamins for memory can be consumed via a healthy and balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, or via dietary supplements or memory supplements.   

Whether it’s your “wallet, phone, keys” routine, a password, PIN, or name, you rely on your memory and concentration to navigate every day. 

And as you get older, you continue to fill that space between your ears with new skills, memories, and experiences.

But with age comes a natural decline to cognitive health, and so you need to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs to nourish your brain. A healthy diet means healthy blood flow to your body’s control centre, which helps to protect and improve cognitive function.  

However, if you fail to fuel your body (and, therefore, your brain) correctly, you could experience cognitive decline. This could result in short-term memory problems, issues with concentration, brain fog, or memory loss. 

That’s why your diet should include these essential vitamins for memory: Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Let’s explore each in a little more detail.

Best Vitamins to Improve Memory and Brain Health

Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps keep many important bodily functions in check. For instance, it’s vital for a healthy nervous system and the production of healthy red blood cells.

B12, like vitamin B9 (otherwise known as folate or folic acid), cannot be produced in the body and so you must get it through your diet.

A deficiency in B12, however, can result in several symptoms and side effects, including extreme tiredness, a lack of energy, pins and needles, and mild cognitive impairment, such as issues with memory, understanding and judgement.

B12 deficiency is more common in older adults, with around 1 in 10 people aged 75 or over and 1 in 20 people aged 65 to 74 affected, according to the NHS. Strict vegetarians, vegans, or followers of fad diets can also experience a lack of important vitamins and nutrients, while certain medications can impact how your body absorbs B12.

If you manage to consume enough naturally through your diet, or if you supplement your diet with B vitamins, you’re less likely to suffer from the symptoms described above. And there’s even research which suggests that vitamin B12 — when taken together with Omega-3 fatty acids — can slow cognitive decline in those with early-onset Alzheimer’s. 

Yet, there’s currently no evidence to suggest that a higher intake of B12 will yield further positive results where memory is concerned. 

Instead, think of getting enough as a way of guarding against potential memory loss or concentration problems. Taking more than the recommended 1.5 micrograms a day (for adults aged 19 to 64) won’t suddenly have you building a Derren Brown-style Memory Palace, unfortunately. 

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in:

  • Meat (especially animal livers and kidneys);
  • Fish, such as salmon, sardines, and cod;
  • Dairy, such as milk and cheese;
  • Eggs;
  • And fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin E

Like B12, there’s some evidence that vitamin E can benefit the memory of older people, with a 2014 study finding that high amounts can help those suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

However, taking high doses of vitamin E can, in fact, be harmful — especially for those on blood thinners. Too much vitamin E can also increase the risk of prostate cancer

The good news is, vitamin E deficiency is rare in healthy people, so there’s often no need to take more than you require. A deficiency is usually linked to conditions where fat isn’t properly absorbed or digested, such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, or certain rare genetic disorders.

A healthy, balanced diet should, therefore, provide you with enough vitamin E (around 4mg a day for men, and 3mg a day for women), and anything your body doesn’t need is stored for future use. 

Vitamin E is found naturally in:

  • Fruits, such as avocados, blueberries, and blackberries;
  • Vegetables, such as bell peppers and spinach;
  • Wheatgerm (often found in cereals and cereal products);
  • Plant oils, such as soy, corn and olive oil;
  • And nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Out of the listed vitamins in this article, omega-3 fatty acids have perhaps shown the most promise, with studies suggesting that older people who get higher amounts in their diet demonstrate a better memory

What’s more, Omega-3s can help build cell membranes in the brain, and may also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which could protect brain cells.

However, this assertion hasn’t held up to scrutiny during larger, controlled clinical trials. One recent study, which looked at over 3,500 older adults, found that taking omega-3 fatty acids over the course of five years had no demonstrable effect on cognitive function.

But that doesn’t mean that you should overlook getting your fair share of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. It’s been shown to improve heart health, and what’s good for the heart is often good for the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in:

  • Fish oil found in fatty cold-water fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, or sardines;
  • Plant oils, such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, or soybean oil;
  • Nuts and seeds, including flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts;
  • And fortified foods, such as yoghurt, milk,  or juice.

Note: You can also take fish oil supplements if you’re not getting enough omega-3 in your diet and you don’t like seafood!

How to Get Enough Vitamins for Memory (Diet & Lifestyle)

Whether you’re older, young, or somewhere in-between, the best way to safeguard your memory and stay sharp is to eat well and live well. Positive lifestyle changes, such as establishing a regular sleep pattern, can protect your brain, while physical exercise stimulates the brain in ways other hobbies can’t.

A strong support network and an active social life could also be key to delaying or preventing dementia, but the most significant step you can take is in the kitchen. The vitamins outlined above can be consumed naturally through a healthy and balanced diet — such as the much-lauded Mediterranean diet.

Diets with Vitamins for Brain Memory and Concentration

A review of the Mediterranean diet described it as the gold standard in preventative medicine, “due to the harmonic combination of many elements with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which overwhelm any single nutrient or food item.”

The diet, which originates from the coastal cuisines of Greece, Spain, Italy, France, and Northern Africa — and has contributed to a longer life expectancy in many of these countries — is chock full of valuable, memory-boosting vitamins. 

Its staples include:

  • Liberal amounts of olive oil in meal preparation;
  • Plenty of fish;
  • Minimal amounts of red meat;
  • And heaps of plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, and whole grains.

Similar diets include the MIND diet and the DASH diet. These both lean heavily on the tenets of the Mediterranean diet, encouraging the consumption of leafy greens and olive oil. 

Key Takeaways

Taking care of your brain, memory, and concentration starts with understanding how to fuel your body and stimulate your mind. High cholesterol, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can put you at risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia — but these are factors that are often within your control.

Consuming the right vitamins for memory as part of a healthy and balanced diet, while also making time to exercise and socialise, could go a long way towards protecting your brain and the memories it holds.

References

  1. NHS-Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/

  2. David Smith, Helga Refsum, Abderrahim Oulhaj, Celeste A de Jager, Fredrik Jerneren (2016). Beneficial Interactions Between B Vitamins and Omega‐3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Brain Atrophy and of Cognitive Decline in Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease: https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1096/fasebj.30.1_supplement.407.6
  3. NHS –B vitamins and folic acid: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/#:~:text=Adults%20(aged%2019%20to%2064)%20need%20about%201.5%20microgram%20a,not%20get%20enough%20of%20it.

  4. Maurice W DyskenMary SanoSanjay AsthanaJulia E VertreesMuralidhar PallakiMaria LlorenteSusan LoveGerard D SchellenbergJ Riley McCartenJulie MalphursSusana PrietoPeijun ChenDavid J LoreckGeorge TrappRajbir S BakshiJacobo E MintzerJudith L HeidebrinkAna Vidal-CardonaLillian M ArroyoAngel R CruzSally ZachariahNeil W KowallMohit P ChopraSuzanne CraftStephen Thielke, Carolyn L TurveyCatherine WoodmanKimberly A MonnellKimberly GordonJulie TomaskaYoav SegalPeter N PeduzziPeter D Guarino (2014). Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24381967/

  5. National Institutes of Health -Prostate Cancer Risk from Vitamin E Supplements: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/prostate-cancer-risk-vitamin-e-supplements

  6. National Institutes of Health -Vitamin E: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/#:~:text=Vitamin%20E%20deficiency%20can%20cause,is%20a%20weakened%20immune%20system.

  7. Nadine KülzowA Veronica WitteLucia KertiUlrike GrittnerJan Philipp SchuchardtAndreas HahnAgnes Flöel (2016). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Memory Functions in Healthy Older Adults: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26890759/

  8. Emily Y. Chew, MDTraci E. Clemons, PhDElvira Agrón, MA; Lenore J. Launer, PhDFrancine Grodstein, ScDPaul S. Bernstein, MD, PhD (2015). Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Lutein/Zeaxanthin, or Other Nutrient Supplementation on Cognitive Function: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2429713

  9. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research- Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614#:~:text=Omega%2D3%20fatty%20acids%20are,Decreasing%20triglycerides

  10. Age UK -Are heart and brain health linked?: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/mind-body/staying-sharp/looking-after-your-thinking-skills/heart-health-and-brain-health/#skipToContent

  11. Harvard Health Blog (2019). Aging and sleep: Making changes for brain health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/aging-and-sleep-making-changes-for-brain-health-2019031116147

  12. National Institute of Aging (2020). Cognitive Health and Older Adults: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults

  13. Andrew Sommerlad, Séverine Sabia, Archana Singh-Manoux, Glyn Lewis, Gill Livingston (2019). Association of social contact with dementia and cognition: 28-year follow-up of the Whitehall II cohort study: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002862

  14. Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez and Nerea Martín-Calvo (2016). Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits and vegetables: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5902736/

  15. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2019). Improve brain health with the MIND diet: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/improve-brain-health-with-the-mind-diet/art-20454746

  16. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2019). DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Further reading

From our health centre. Experts, information and hot topics. See all Daily Health articles