Memory is more than remembering more facts and figures. Having a greater memory means having a wider range of ideas, concepts, and figures that can be combined in a new organization… creativity.
While memory and creativity are separate cognitive processes, there are overlaps that make the best nootropics for memory far more multifaceted than most would consider.
As with any other cognitive process, increasing memory formation and learning ability comes with time, patience, and finesse. Unlike what many people desire, it’s not as simple as taking a pill (or smart enhancer stack) and finding instant memory boosts.
Throughout this article we will discuss how to improve memory formation and learning through the use of nootropics that are well studied, some that are more experimental, and one that is outrageous but powerful.
Memory Enhancing Lifestyle
Before we get into the best nootropics for memory, take a moment to get clear on where the lowest hanging fruit might be in your life. Incremental changes from nootropics can be useful for overcoming hurdles, but the biggest leaps in our wellbeing (and in this case, memory) is going to come from healthy lifestyle choices.
The first and most important lifestyle factor to change is sleep. There is plenty of evidence that sleep deprivation negatively impacts our cognitive performance and memory in particular. A 2007 study in Neuropsychiatry Disorder Treatment found that sleep loss specifically reduces the memory consolidation phase. This is where our memories from a day of learning are formed. Without consolidation during sleep, worse memory.
The second major component is exercise. Much of the evidence shows that exercise of any kind stimulates brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Given that Dr. Mark Hyman calls BDNF “fertilizer for the brain”, it is no wonder it can be helpful for learning and memory formation.
As with any cognitive function, there are countless biohacks and tools to improve memory, but stick to sleep and exercise as the foundation before going further.
Best Nootropics for Memory: The Well Trodden Path
Just because modern science has brought us studies, research laboratories, and a database of information on the internet does not mean that nootropics for memory haven’t been used for thousands of years.
Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic herbs are commonly used to improve memory formation and learning… and modern science is proving our ancestors right.
The most extreme version of this is bacopa monnieri. This nootropic compound is a weed that grows near water across India, but it has amazing cognitive boosting properties. The Indian government has embarked upon a multi-decade series of studies showing that bacopa is one of the most effective compounds for improving memory over the long term.
A study from 2005 showed that bacopa supplementation for 4 – 6 weeks could provide significant memory results. The same study concluded that a dosage of 125 mg bacopa could improve “various parameters of memory” in aged adults.
The greatest argument in favor of bacopa is how much science has been done to prove the effects. According to Dr. Con Stough, bacopa is one of the most promising nootropics because of how much science has already been produced on the subject.
For someone interested in evidence backed memory enhancement nootropics, it may be of value to consider bacopa monnieri supplements.
Best Nootropics for Memory: What Type?
When we discuss improving our memory, it is important to get clear on a few things. For one, there is not a single type of memory. It is more nuanced than simply remembering more facts. There are generally three different types of memory that we can use nootropics to improve upon:
- Working memory
- Short term memory
- Long term memory
Our working memory tends to be relatively fixed though there is some evidence modafinil and other nootropics can influence this. Nootropics that influence memory can influence one or more of these three factors.
Cholinergics: King of Memory Formation and Learning
As great as bacopa monnieri may be for improving memory formation and learning, it is often not the same as focusing on a specific system: the cholinergic system.
The name implies a connection with the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is derived from dietary choline (such as in eggs and organ meats). Unfortunately, most of us do not consume many of the foods our ancestors did, which means we could use some help in that department.
Here are a series of nootropics that can be impactful for the cholinergic system and memory in general:
There are many types of choline precursor supplements, but arguably the best is alpha GPC. This form of choline has a high quantity of choline (meaning it is an efficient source), but it also has numerous advantages of its own. The science is pretty clear: alpha GPC improves memory formation and learning through providing choline utilized by the hippocampus.
Similar to alpha GPC, this is a precursor and a powerful one at that. It stimulates the brain in a different way than A-GPC and some consider it to be better. There is a lot of evidence that CDP choline not only helps to improve memory formation, but is a neuroprotective that aids against neuronal decay and memory loss.
Moving into synthetic compounds, centrophenoxine is a cholinergic enhancer that can help improve cognitive abilities and can even reverse memory decline. The scientific evidence for this enhancer is lacking compared to the first two, but centrophenoxine works uniquely within the choline system and has lots of anecdotal evidence on forums like Longecity and Reddit.
SImilar to centrophenoxine, the PRL-8-53 nootropic is synthetic and doesn’t have a high quantity of research, but has promising results. In one study, PRL-8-53 increased memory formation by 87.5 – 105%. The single study that is oft-cited suggests that working memory is unchanged with PRL-8-53, but those are large improvements nonetheless.
Back to safer waters, uridine monophosphate is a nucleotide supplement that can aid in neuronal growth in the brain and can improve memory function as a result. According to some studies, uridine in combination with DHA (from fish oil) can have a profound memory enhancing effect through synaptic function and neurite growth.
Racetam Family: Memory Enhancing Nootropics
No discussion of the best nootropics for memory would be complete without discussing the family of enhancers that started the “nootropic” craze itself: the racetam family.
Racetams were first developed in the 1960s as a derivative of GABA (a brain chemical in the brain associated with relaxation and calmness). Once the cat was out of the bag, slight tweaks and changes to the pharmaceutical combinations has provided a plethora of cognitive enhancing options.
The original “nootropic”, piracetam is a potent memory enhancer and learning tool tested extensively on humans and in animal models. According to almost all literature, piracetam is not only safe, but effective (especially with a choline supplement). One meta-analysis (a study looking at all the studies) concluded that piracetam improved memory formation after looking at 19 different studies.
Even more interesting was another study showing memory enhancement was seen at 14 days, but not at 7 days suggesting there is a time required for this nootropic to take full effect.
Aniracetam is a fast-acting, highly effective fat soluble nootropic that is as popular (if not more so) than piracetam because it has a stimulating component to it. The half-life of aniracetam is not very long, but it enters and interacts with the brain quickly. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest aniracetam is effective as a memory enhancer for many of the same reasons piracetam is.
As a memory enhancer and stimulant, phenylpiracetam is powerful. It does help with focus and concentration in addition to learning ability. On top of that, evidence shows phenylpiracetam can help with flow states and creativity. The biggest problem is that tolerance builds up quickly so using phenylpiracetam is a twice per week (or less) thing.
There are at least 5-10 other racetams, but these three are the most popular and utilized for good reason. Stick
to these for memory formation and learning and you should notice significant improvements over time.
The Psychedelic Memory Trick
Think back to a book that you’ve read, which was valuable with many insights, but hard to remember over time. For most people, this is all books that we have read. It is amazing how many books (especially the ones where we learn and grow) reside in our brain as knowledge or facts, but don’t adequately influence our being (i.e: how we live day to day).
This is where psychedelics can play a major role. We cannot condone or recommend using psychedelics, but there is evidence to sugge
st that these substances can help to integrate learnings in a more well-rounded way.
For many people, having the knowledge from a book become wisdom and embodiment is the ultimate goal. We don’t wish to “know” that our attachments cause us suffering; instead we would rather feel that so we can avoid having the attachments.
Psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin are especially powerful for this integration process, which cannot always be controlled, but is always of value.
If it is possible to find a medicine worker of some kind, it is valuable to see whether psychedelics might be a useful tool to improve your memory and add more meaning and fulfillment to your life.