Dr Sarah Brewer August 02, 2018

Memory puzzles, exercise and self-care are among the many techniques for taking care of the human brain. But what can you do from a nutritional perspective to keep your cognitive health ticking along nicely? From Ginkgo biloba to CBD, we investigate the top five supplements for brain health. 

1. Ginkgo biloba – memory

This wacky-sounding plant is known for its high content of antioxidants, which protect cells in the body from harmful damage by free radicals – molecular fragments that break down cells over time and contribute to age-related conditions such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Ginkgo biloba benefits memory, too. Research from the University of Reading found healthy volunteers who took ginkgo with ginseng – a perfect partner to Ginkgo biloba - experienced a 7.5% improvement in memory quality. And a review of 12 studies published in 2017 says that, when taken in a dose of 200mg a day for at least five months, Ginkgo biloba extract could benefit people with dementia, although more research is needed.1

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for a supplement that’s associated with improved memory, make Ginkgo biloba your go-to.

2. Omega 3 – mood

Most Brits are still not eating two portions of oily fish a week as recommended by Public Health England, which means missing out on the health benefits of a diet rich in omega 3, such as improved heart health, joint health and brain health. A study published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) journal says EPA and DHA – two of the most-important fatty acids in omega 3 – encourage the release of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, in the brain.2 And a further study found people who took a cod liver oil supplement every day were less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who didn't.

BOTTOM LINE: If fish doesn’t make a regular appearance in your diet and you’re feeling low, an omega 3 supplement is a good option.

3. Krill oil – over 60s

Krill oil is a different version of fish oil that also contains omega 3 fatty acids. Interestingly – and here’s where the science comes in – a study published by Clinical Interventions in Aging says a krill oil supplement for brain health works especially well for activating cognitive function in elderly people. Krill oil contains more omega 3 fatty acids in the form of phospholipids whereas other fish oils, such as sardine oil, store more of their fatty acids as triglycerides. According to the study, phospholipids could have more of an effect on cognitive enhancement than triglycerides, although both types have proven benefits.3

BOTTOM LINE: While some studies suggest krill oil could have more benefits than other fish oils, the research is not conclusive. The bottom line is you should incorporate omega 3 into your diet through means suited to your lifestyle – whether that’s through diet or supplements.

4. Phospholipids – maintenance

Often included in nutritional supplements for brain health, phospholipids are a class of lipids that act as building blocks for nerve cell membranes in the brain. There’s two different types of phospholipids - phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylcholine (PC) – with PC making up a larger percentage. Interestingly, fatty acids are anchored by phospholipids within brain cell membranes,4 so both ingredients complement each other when taken in supplement form.

BOTTOM LINE: Phospholipids form a part of the cell membranes in the brain – so they’re a crucial element of cognitive health. Look out for Phospholipids on a supplement ingredient list as they usually form part of a generic brain health supplement.

5. Moringa – ageing

Believe it or not, green leafy vegetables are the next best key to brain health. In the journal, Neurology, researchers from Rush University found that eating one serving a day of green leafy vegetables, across an average of 4.7 years, was enough to achieve similar cognitive abilities to those a decade younger.5 The brain benefits were put down to the nutrients vitamin K, lutein, folate and nitrate - found in veggies like sprouts, broccoli, spinach and asparagus. Supplements such as Moringa Brain Greens combine Moringa leaf extracts, one of the most nutrient-rich foods in the world, with other brain friendly nutrients such as folate and iodine that are important for normal cognitive function.

BOTTOM LINE: A daily dose of green veggies has been identified as one of the simplest and most effective methods for counteracting cognitive decline. One study shows this could significantly slow the decline in brain aging.

6. CBD oil – anxiety

CBD oil is one to watch for cognitive health, as new research continues to emerge highlighting the benefits of 2018’s biggest supplement seller. In a study involving people with social anxiety, taking CBD supplements before a public speaking engagement reduced anxiety, muddled thoughts, social discomfort and anticipatory anxiety significantly more than placebo.6 CBD may also help with the anxiety that can occur when stopping smoking.

BOTTOM LINE: While CBD oil is by no means a cure for any form of stress, anxiety or depression, it can assist with symptoms and provide support for improving mood and wellbeing.

For more information on the effects of diet on brain health, take a look at Healthspan Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson’s top recipes for a cognitive boost.

1 Wesnes, K; Wesnes, W; Tony, A; McGinty, A; Petrini, O (December 2000) The memory enhancing effects of a Gingko biloba/Panax ginseng combination in healthy middle-aged volunteers, Psychopharmacology.
2 Patrick, R; Ames, B (February, 2015) Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behaviour, The FASEB journal.
3 Konagai, C; Yanagimoto, K, Hayamizu, K, Han, L; Tsuji, T; Koga, Y (September, 2013) Effects of krill oil containing n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in phospholipid form on human brain function: a randomized controlled trial in healthy elderly volunteers, NCBI.
4 Chu, W (January, 2018) Nutrient-rich veg slows brain ageing down by over a decade, scientists claim, Nutra Ingredients
5 Kidd, P (2007) Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behaviour, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids, Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic
6 Bergamaschi, M; Queiroz, R; Chagas, M; de Oliveira, D; De Martinis, B; Kapczinski, F; Quevedo, J; Roesler, R; Schröder, N; Nardi, A; Martín-Santos, R; Hallak, J; Zuardi, A, Crippa, A (May, 2011) Cannabidiol reduces the anxiety induced by simulated public speaking in treatment-naïve social phobia patients, Neuropsychopharmacology


Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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