The new herbal nootropic supplement you saw on TV turned out to be a dud too.
But was it really a bad product? Because like all the other supplements you’ve tried, nothing ever works for you.
Chances are the product was good. And the ads were not just hype.
What you may not realize is many nootropics will only work when supported by the vitamins your body and brain need every day.
The same nutrients that are fundamental to your health. And how your brain works to maintain focus and encode and retrieve memories.
In this post you’ll learn which vitamins are essential for memory and focus.
And if you’re not getting enough of each of these vitamins in your diet, what you can do to make up the difference.
Table of Contents
Best vitamins for memory and focus
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds essential for human life but not synthesized in your body. So, you need to get adequate amounts of each of these vitamins from your daily diet. Or take them as a supplement.
Most of these vitamins are derived from plants. But you often get them from higher up the food chain including meat, dairy, and eggs.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and potent antioxidant. It comes in two forms; preformed Vitamin A (retinol, retinyl ester) which is found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products and is used directly by your body.
And proformed Vitamin A (carotenoids, beta-carotene) which is found in fruit and vegetables. But must be converted in your body to retinol and retinoic acid before it can be used.
Vitamin A is involved in long-term potentiation which is required to form memory. And retinoic acid is involved in neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, cell differentiation, and synaptic signaling.[i] All required for focus and memory.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
You get thiamine from eating beef, brewer’s yeast, legumes (beans, lentils), milk, nuts, oats, oranges, pork, rice, seeds, wheat, whole-grain cereals, and yeast.
Thiamine in its diphosphate form (TDP) is a cofactor involved carbohydrate metabolism. Producing enzymes which are involved in the KREBS cycle and synthesis of ATP in mitochondria. You require thiamine for generating cellular energy and the downstream production of amino acids, nucleic acids, and fatty acids.
Thiamine deficiency has long been linked to memory deficits. Severe deficiency results in Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. One symptom of which is memory loss.[iii]
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
The best food sources of Riboflavin are meat, organ meat, cheese, eggs, green leafy vegetable, beans and some nuts and seeds.
The two flavoprotein coenzymes from riboflavin, FMN (flavin mononucleotide) and FAD (flavin adenine dinucleotide) are essential to most enzyme processes in every one of your cells.[iv]
FAD is required to produce pyridoxic acid from Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) which is the form of Vitamin B6 your body can use. And it’s required to convert Vitamin A (retinol) to retinoic acid that your body can use. Critical for focus and memory.
FAD is also needed for the conversion of tryptophan to Vitamin B3 (niacin). FMN and FAD are also cofactors in the metabolism of fatty acids in brain cell membranes, the absorption and utilization of iron, and the regulation of thyroid hormones.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin, nicotinic acid) naturally occurs in foods like eggs, fish, meat, milk, peanuts, mushrooms, green vegetables, and yeast.
Niacin is a precursor to the coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP).
Not enough NADH leads to ATP depletion, which can eventually lead to cell death.[v]
Niacin boosts the production of Nitric Oxide (NO) which relaxes blood vessels in your brain which increases cerebral blood flow.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Adequate levels of acetylcholine are needed for focus and memory.
Foods rich in pantothenic acid include animal organs (liver and kidney), fish, shellfish, milk products, eggs, avocados, legumes, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine, P-5-P)
Foods rich in Vitamin B6 include bananas, beef, chickpeas, pistachios, pork, potatoes, and turkey.
Even mild deficiency in Vitamin B6 results in down-regulation of most major neurotransmitters.
Leading to poor sleep, behavior, inability to focus or encode memory, cardiovascular function, and the loss of hypothalamus-pituitary control of hormone secretion.[ix] Resulting in increased anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
As a coenzyme, Biotin is required for the synthesis fatty acids for energy production in the brain. Lack of adequate Biotin can result in fatigue and inability to focus.
Biotin is needed to produce tyrosine which in turn provides dopamine in your brain. Lack of dopamine means poor memory and recall.
Biotin is found in foods such as organ meats, egg yolks, some dairy products, and some fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Vitamin B9 (Folate) is involved in gene expression, amino acid synthesis, myelin synthesis, and is required for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Green leafy vegetables, or ‘foliage’ are rich sources of folate. And how ‘folate’ got its name. You can also get folate from citrus fruit juice, legumes, fortified foods, and liver.
Many neurohackers, including doctors and other health professionals confuse folate with folic acid. They are NOT the same.
For a detailed explanation of why folate vs folic acid is such a big deal, see my full review of Vitamin B9 (folate). It covers how your body uses both compounds. And what happens if you have problems with the MTHFR gene.
Folate is critically important for the fully optimized brain. And research shows that folate levels even in the “normal (RDA) range” may be inadequate for methyl donation and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Supplementing with folate or a multivitamin with adequate levels of folate may help alleviate depression, improve focus and memory, and ward off dementia.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Foods rich in Vitamin B12 include fish, shellfish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. The two best sources by far of Vitamin B12 are clams and liver.[xii]
You cannot get adequate amounts of Vitamin B12 from plants. Vegetarians and vegans are especially in danger of B12 deficiency.
Plant foods contain analogs of B12 which are similar to, but not the same as, Vitamin B12. They bind to B12 receptors and block your intake of true B12.
Trying to get your Vitamin B12 from yeast products like Red Star Nutritional Yeast or Marmite is also problematic. These products do not naturally contain B12 but are fortified with it.
Food grade Vitamin B12 comes as methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin which are the forms of B12 naturally occurring in your body.
Avoid other forms including cyanocobalamin which produces a small amount of cyanide each time you consume it.
Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble nutrient and electron donor critically important for the healthy brain. The active form of Vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid.
Which means Vitamin C is involved in neuronal signaling transmission required for optimal focus and memory.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol or calciol) is the fat-soluble steroid hormone form of the “essential” Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is mostly made in your skin from sun exposure. Not from food like most of our other vitamins. When Ultraviolet-B (UVB) light from the sun strikes your skin, your body synthesizes Vitamin D3.
Vitamin E regulates the activity of multiple signal transduction enzymes which affect gene expression. Which in turn affects processes including neurogenesis and taming inflammation.
Lack of adequate Vitamin E has been shown to downregulate genes leading to myelin and synapse loss, disrupting vesicle transport needed for neurotransmitter signaling, and is detrimental to glial functions.
One recent large study demonstrated that Vitamin E supplementation delayed the progression of Alzheimer’s progression. Even in moderately severe Alzheimer’s patients.
Vitamin E contributes to optimal focus and memory throughout your life. But the only effective Vitamin E supplements are food-sourced containing all four tocopherols and four tocotrienols.[xv]
You get Vitamin K2 primarily from meat like chicken, pork, beef, egg yolks, milk, and cheese. K2 is higher in meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals. And you get Vitamin K1 from green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin K is essential for the synthesis of sphingolipids which contribute to the formation of the myelin sheath insulating axons in your brain. Sphingomyelin plays a significant role in cell signaling pathways.[xvii]
One recent study showed increased dietary intake of Vitamin K is associated with better focus and memory.[xviii]
After diving into the data and clinical evidence, it’s clear multiple vitamins are required for optimal focus and memory.
It is also clear that vitamin dosage is important. How much of each vitamin should you use for optimal focus and memory?
For the conscientious and dedicated biohacker, following the government “Recommended Daily Allowance” (RDA) may not be a good idea.
Because the latest RDA are what public health ‘authorities’ consider to be the minimum of each nutrient to sustain life.
Not necessarily to make you feel great and perform your best. Just to keep you alive.
If you are striving for optimal health and cognition, consider the clinical data combined with how you feel to determine how much of each vitamin you need every day.
Quality matters as well. The shelves are packed with an overwhelming choice of vitamin supplements. Most of them are cheap synthetics. And not what your body and brain consider ‘food’.
I encourage you to read my article called “How to Select the Best Multivitamin for Brain Function” on what to look for when it comes to quality.
Finally, you can buy each vitamin as a separate supplement. Expensive and inconvenient.
Better to choose a high-quality vitamin/mineral supplement at the correct dosage. It’ll save you time and money.
I recommend the Performance Lab NutriGenesis® Multi for men or women.
I’ve been using this multi daily for the last two years. And feel physically better and mentally sharper since I started using it.
But what you don’t get from food must be supplied by supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin every day.
You will feel better and your nootropic stack has a more likely chance of providing the benefits you were looking for.
[ii] Rindi G. “Thiamin”. In: Ziegler EE, Filer LJ, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 7th ed. Washington D.C.: ILSI Press; 1996:160-166.
[xi] Hutson S.M., Sweatt A.J., Lanoue K.F. “Branched-chain [corrected] amino acid metabolism: implications for establishing safe intakes.” Journal of Nutrition. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1557S-64S. (source)
[xiii] Grant M.M., Barber V.S., Griffiths H.R. “The presence of ascorbate induces expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells after peroxide insult, which is associated with increased survival.” Proteomics. 2005 Feb; 5(2):534-40. (source)
[xiv] Jiang P., Zhang L.H., Cai H.L., Li H.D., Liu Y.P., Tang M.M., Dang R.L., Zhu W.Y., Xue Y., He X. “Neurochemical effects of chronic administration of calcitriol in rats.” Nutrients. 2014 Dec 22;6(12):6048-59 (source)
[xviii] Soutif-Veillon A., Ferland G., Rolland Yl, Presse N., Boucher K., Feart C., Annweiler C. “Increased dietary vitamin K intake is associated with less severe subjective memory complaint among older adults.” Maturitas. 2016 Nov;93:131-136. (source)