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Top 21 Nootropics to Improve Memory

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Reviewed by Nattha Wannissorn, PhD (Molecular Genetics) | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Reviewed by Nattha Wannissorn, PhD (Molecular Genetics) | Last updated:

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Your memory may decline with age and high-stress lifestyle. In this post, we cover supplements and nootropics that help improve memory, with the mechanisms.

Nootropics That Improve Your Memory

1) Panax Ginseng + Gingko Biloba

Panax Ginseng is a traditional Chinese herb that improves long-term memory.

Ginkgo Biloba has positive effects on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as long-term memory.

One study found the ginkgo/ginseng combination to improve memory in healthy adults [1].

How Panax Ginseng May Improve Memory:

How Ginkgo May Improve Memory:

  • Increases acetylcholine, which helps with learning, attention, and memory [4, 5]
  • Increases antioxidant enzymes (SOD and catalase) in rat hippocampus [6]
  • Protects the mitochondrial membrane and prevents cytochrome c release, preventing the neurons from self-destruction [6]
  • Protects against amyloid-beta-induced toxicity, which is one of the most important factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease [6]

2) Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa helps:

  • Continuity of quality memory [7]
  • Memory and cognitive function based on listening and Stroop task [8]
  • Free memory recall [9]
  • Delayed word call [10]
  • Memory acquisition and retention in older men [11]
  • Decrease rate of newly acquired information forgetfulness [12]

How Bacopa May Improve Memory:

  • Increases acetylcholine (by acetylcholinesterase inhibition and/or choline acetyltransferase activation) and glutamate, which play a large role in learning and memory [13, 5]
  • Increases enzymes and transporters that increase serotonin (TPH2, SERT), which is involved in learning and memory enhancement [13]
  • Increases antioxidant enzymes (SOD, catalase, GPx, GSR) and glutathione, protecting the brain from oxidative stress [13]
  • Increases brain blood flow by increasing nitric oxide (NO) production and inhibiting calcium fluctuations. This is vital to memory and brain health [13]

3) Huperzine A

Huperzine A was well-tolerated and showed promising treatment for significant memory improvement in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia [14].

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease patients experience degeneration in a region of the brain (nucleus basalis). In an animal model, Huperzine A restored healthy brain electrical activity (EEG). In animals suffering from lesions in this brain region, Huperzine A reduced the decay in cognitive and memory functions caused by the lesions [15].

Huperzine A enhanced the memory and learning of junior middle school students complaining of memory problems [16].

Huperzine A holds multiple neuroprotective effects [17].

How Huperzine A May Improve Memory:

In mice with reduced blood flow to the brain (chronic cerebral hypoperfusion), Huperzine A treatment reduced cognitive impairment by [17]:

  • reducing myelin damage
  • decreasing inflammation and white matter lesions
  • reducing cell death
  • improving learning and memory [17]
  • reducing inflammation (TNF-alpha)
  • reducing the negative effects of low oxygen, significantly improving cognitive impairment

4) Semax

Semax is a drug used in Russia for the treatment of strokes and head injuries and to improve learning capacities and memory formation [19].

Semax Benefits:

  • Protects against low oxygen (in rats). It promotes neuron survival when the tissue is not receiving enough oxygen [20].
  • Increases selective attention and memory storage [20].
  • Influences the formation of new memories and learning processes [21].
  • Increases selective attention at the moment of receiving information, strengthening and promoting learning abilities [19].
  • Improves memory and attention in healthy men under extreme conditions [22].

How Semax Improves Memory:

  • Increases enkephalins (a natural opiate neurotransmitter), which helps with memory formation, consolidation, and reactivation [23, 24].
  • Enhances calcium ion accumulation inside the cells, which helps fight against brain degenerative processes [25].
  • Enhances the production of proteins (immunoglobulin) that protect the brain [25].

5) Selank

Selank is a nootropic and anxiety reducing peptide developed in Russia. It is a synthetic analog of a component of immunoglobulin G (tuftsin).

Selank improved memory and brain function in rats with lowered learning abilities. Rats also optimized memory under conditions of high emotional stress [26].

In rats, injecting 300 μg/kg of Selank increased memory trace stability for one month [27].

Selank (300 μg/kg) restored cognitive function (memory, learning, and attention to sensory stimuli) in rats with chronic artificial inhibition of the brain (cerebral catecholaminergic system) [28].

How Selank Improves Memory:

  • Activates dopamine D5 receptor (DRD5), which plays a key role in the formation of memory and learning processes [21].
  • Increases BDNF in the hippocampus of rats [29].
  • Increases enkephalins, which plays a role in memory formation, consolidation, and reactivation [23, 24].

6) Butyrate

Sodium butyrate places the brain into a state that can benefit long-term memory [30].

Exercise and sodium butyrate transform an inadequate learning event into long-term memory [31].

Sodium butyrate increases long-term memory by increasing synaptic activity in the hippocampus long-term [32].

Sodium butyrate also increased memory function in patients with age-related brain diseases [33].

Moreover, sodium butyrate prevents memory impairment in experimental pneumococcal meningitis [34].

How Butyrate May Improve Memory:

  • Increases BDNF, NGF, and GDNF [34].
  • Stimulates the growth and development of nerve tissue [35].

7) Creatine

Creatine‘s main role is recycling energy (ATP), primarily in the brain and muscles.

Creatine is currently in Phase III clinical trials for the treatment of Huntington’s disease [36].

Creatine, with or without exercise (synergistic effect when combined), protects the brain. It helps to delay the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s [37].

In elderly patients, creatine supplementation improved cognition and memory in all but one tests, showing that creatine can aid cognitive function in the elderly [38].

Interestingly, creatine improved IQ, memory, and working memory in vegetarians [39, 40].

How Creatine Improves Memory:

  • Creatine is stored as phosphocreatine, which acts as a high-energy reserve. Phosphocreatine decreases rapidly during brain activity. Supplementing with creatine (2 grams per day for 1 month) increased average brain creatine by 9.7%. It acts as an energy source for the brain to focus on learning tasks, as well as an energy source for storing memories.
  • Protects against beta-amyloid toxicity in the hippocampus [36]
  • Protects neurons by maintaining mitochondrial energy production and protecting the mitochondria (by increasing mitochondrial membrane potential, reducing intra-mitochondrial levels of reactive oxygen species, and reducing calcium inside the mitochondria) [41].

8) Glucose

Glucose is the brain’s most important energy source. While glucose has many positive cognitive effects, memory improved the most [41].

Studies Show Glucose:

  • Improved cognitive functions in subjects with different neurodegenerative diseases [41, 42]
  • Enhanced learning and memory in healthy young animals and humans [41]
  • Improved verbal memory associated with conditions [41]
  • Glucose levels are lowered following cognitively demanding tasks, supplementing may restore positive effects [41]
  • Significantly improved memory and attention in college students

Impaired blood sugar regulation is linked to cognitive impairments, especially visual memory. This impairment is worse in older individuals [43].

How Glucose Improves Memory:

  • Improves memory consolidation and memory coding when task demand is high [44]
  • Increases insulin levels, which is linked to memory enhancement [44]
  • Increase acetylcholine, which is critical in memory and learning processes [43]
  • Glucose-sensitive neurons in the brain may serve as glucose sensors. Therefore, glucose may induce neural changes that improve memory [43]
  • Prevents cell death [41]

9) Curcumin

Benefits for the Brain

  • Protects against stress-induced impairment of brain development in rats [45].
  • In older people, long-term supplementation with curcumin significantly improved working memory [46].
  • Prevents learning and memory deficits in rats (treated with Sodium Metabisulfite) [47].

Helps with Alzheimer’s Disease

Curcumin is a promising preventive supplement for Alzheimer’s disease [48]:

  • It protects against neuronal self-destruction in rats, thus, improving learning and memory abilities [49].
  • It reduces amyloid-induced spatial memory impairment in rats [50].

How Curcumin Improves Memory:

Reduces levels of TNF-a and iNOS in the hippocampus (after subarachnoid hemorrhage in rats) [51].

In rats with traumatic brain injuries, curcumin helps improves cognitive function by [52, 45]:

10) Citicoline (CDP-Choline)

Citicoline is an important intermediate in the creation of phosphatidylcholine from choline.

It helps:

  • Improve memory and learning, including situations of impoverished environments (animals) [55, 56].
  • Improve cognitive control (a frontal lobe function) in humans [57].
  • Reduce memory impairments associated with brain diseases (chronic cerebrovascular disease, dementia, cerebral insufficiency, memory problems, dementia, and ischemic stroke) [58, 59, 60].

How Citicoline Improves Memory:

  • Enhances membrane phosphatide synthesis [56].
  • Decrease neuronal self-destruction [60].
  • Increases glutathione, while decreasing oxidized glutathione [60].

11) Alpha-GPC Improves Memory

Alpha-GPC is a natural cholinergic compound found in the brain. Alpha-GPC treats Alzheimer’s disease and multiple forms of dementia.

In mice, alpha-GPC improved a wide number of memory functions (working memory, verbal memory learning, and maze pathway learning) [61].

In amnesia-induced rats, alpha-GPC improved learning and memory [62].

How Alpha-GPC Improves Memory:

12) Nicotine

Although it is addictive, nicotine is one of the most well-documented drugs to improve memory.

Rather than smoking, there are safer ways to consume it, such as gum, snus, patches, or vaporizing.

Cognitive Benefits of Nicotine

  • Makes it easier to consolidate memories in perceptual learning [65]
  • Improves learning tasks (including contextual conditioning) [66]
  • May protect the brain [66]
  • Improves attention [67]
  • Improves dexterity/coordination [67]
  • Reduces cognitive impairment [67]
  • Improves short-term memory [68]

Nicotine patches successfully helped with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and ADD/ADHD [69]. Nicotine may be a promising treatment for Parkinson’s disease, Down’s syndrome, and age-related memory impairment [70, 71].

How Nicotine Improves Memory (Mechanisms)

  • Increases acetylcholine activity [72, 73]
  • Activates the alpha-4 beta-2 nicotinic receptor, implicated in learning [69]
  • Activates the alpha-7 nicotinic receptor, implicated in long-term memory [69]

13) Selegiline

Selegiline (L-deprenyl), in smaller doses, inhibits the enzyme MAO-B. In larger doses, it also inhibits MAO-A. The inhibitions prevent the breakdown of the monoamine neurotransmitters:

Studies show selegiline:

  • Helped memory impairments associated with Alzheimer’s [74]
  • Improved memory/intelligence in Parkinson’s patients vs placebo [75]
  • Improved memory impairments by the cholinergic system associated with dementia [76]
  • Improved long-term memory in aged mice (0.25 mg/kg 3 times a week) [77]
  • Protected against memory impairments from iron in mice [78]

How Selegiline Improves Memory:

  • Prevents prolongation of P300 latency [75, 79, 80]
  • Increases dopamine (through inhibiting MAO-B) [81, 82]
  • Acts as an antioxidant and protects against glutamate toxicity [83]
  • Inhibits acetylcholinesterase and thus increases acetylcholine [83, 84]

14) Modafinil

Among depressed patients, those who used modafinil had better episodic and working memory [85].

Adult ADD/ADHD patients given modafinil (200 mg/day) showed significant improvements in short-term memory, visual memory, and spatial planning. However, although they responded more accurately on tests, they had slower response [86].

Modafinil improves working memory in methamphetamine-impaired individuals [87].

How Modafinil Improves Memory:

  • Increases glutamate in the thalamus [88]
  • Prevents glutamate toxicity [88]
  • Increases dopamine, norepinephrine (inhibits dopamine/norepinephrine transporter) and serotonin [88]
  • Increases histamine neurons in multiple parts of the brain [88]

Racetams, Research Chemicals and Memory

15) Piracetam

Piracetam improved long-term/short-term memory retrieval in 60 dyslexic boys [89].

Piracetam displayed a significant improvement in verbal and nonverbal short-term memory and attention in patients undergoing bypass surgery [90].

Chronic treatment (250 mg/kg) significantly improved working memory and increased memory retention (+ citicoline) in mice with drug-induced amnesia [91, 92].

How Piracetam Improves Memory:

  • Increase the function of muscarinic choline receptors [93].
  • Increases NMDA receptors [94].
  • Improves cell membrane fluidity [94].
  • Enhances the brain’s ability to use glucose.

16) Oxiracetam

In Alzheimer’s or multi-infarct dementia patients, 800 mg oxiracetam twice daily improved memory, with no signs of tolerance. However, some cognitive tests were statistically worse than baseline after late-stage follow-up [95].

In humans, oxiracetam shows greater improvement in memory factors compared to piracetam [96]. In rats and mice, oxiracetam improved memory as well as piracetam. In addition, it also improved learning ability [97].

In rats, oxiracetam decreased brain injury, and increase the ability of learning, memory, and space cognition rats with traumatic brain injury [98].

How Oxiracetam Improves Memory:

  • Prevents the decrease of acetylcholine in the brain, critical in improving and restoring memory [99].

17) Coluracetam (BCI-540/Mkc-231)

In rats with brain damage from chemicals, coluracetam reduced the memory impairments with no significant side effects [100].

Coluracetam also displayed long-lasting (72 hours after the last dose) cognitive function improvement after repeated administration [101].

Few studies have been done on coluracetam, but user discussions on their experiences can be found: [102, 103, 104].

How Coluracetam Improves Memory:

  • Increases choline uptake [100].
  • Reverses hippocampal acetylcholine depletion [105].

18) Pramiracetam

Pramiracetam is marketed as a treatment for memory and attention deficits in aging people with brain degenerating diseases and vascular dementia.

In males with brain injuries, pramiracetam (400 mg) improved memory with no tolerance over an 18 month period. The effect was sustained even 1 month after discontinuing treatment [106].

In rats, pramiracetam (7.5 mg/kg and 15 mg/kg) improved long-term memory but did not significantly improve working memory [107].

Pramiracetam was able to partially reduce the memory impairment caused by scopolamine in both young and old (18-42 and 55-65 years) patients [108].

Pramiracetam has a statistically significant effect on improving the memory of patients with lack of oxygen in the brain [109].

How Pramiracetam Improves Memory:

  • Increases nicotinic acetylcholine receptor activity [110].
  • Increases choline uptake in rat hippocampus [110].

19) Phenylpiracetam/Phenotropil

Phenylpiracetam is a Russian drug created in 1983 to combat the prolonged stress of working in space. It is a prescription drug under the name Phenotropil in Russia.

In stroke patients, phenotropil restored daily activities and brain function [111].

In patients with brain damage (encephalopathy), phenotropil improved brain functions, memory, and counting abilities [112].

In animals that lack blood flow to the brain, phenotropil retained their memory functions and vitality [113].

The mechanisms of phenylpiracetam/phenotropil are not clinically clear but should be similar to other drugs in the racetam family.

20) Fasoracetam (NS-105)

Fasoracetam is a racetam drug that is in clinical trials for vascular dementia and ADHD.

NS-105 reversed memory disruption caused by baclofen, a potent GABA B agonist [114].

Clinical studies are lacking but users and researchers have discussions on their experiences with the medication: [115, 116, 117, 118, 119].

The mechanisms of fasoracetam are not clinically clear but should be similar to other drugs in the racetam family.

21) PRL-8-53

PRL-8-53 is a nootropic research chemical. Joe thought PRL-8-53 made his cognitive function worse.

In a double-blind study, PRL-8-53 enhanced learning and memory retention in humans [120].

Clinical studies are lacking but users and researchers have discussions on their experiences with the medication: [121, 122, 123, 124, 125].

The Mechanisms of PRL-8-53 are not clinically clear.

Other Ways of Protecting Memory and Avoiding Cognitive Diseases


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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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