Natural Ways to Improve Cognitive Function

Our society assumes cognitive function “naturally” declines as we age. Although aging causes lower production of some chemicals affecting brain chemistry, many things affect cognitive health and a decline is not guaranteed. Aging is not a disease and loss of cognitive function is not a natural consequence.[i] The strongest factors known to help maintain strong cognitive function are a healthy (whole food, organic) diet, regular exercise, and participation in activities that stimulate and challenge thinking. The following supplements are known to assist brain chemistry and function (Note that some supplements can interfere with the function of prescription medications and that there is a potential for allergic reaction to any ingested product, so please ask a trained professional before combining supplements with prescription medications and discontinue use if any negative effects are experienced):

B Vitamins: Known to affect the formation and maintenance of nerve cells, B Vitamins are essential for maintaining cognitive function. Supplementing on a daily basis is advised because B Vitamins are water soluble and are not stored in the body long-term. Vitamin B12 is especially important for brain health. When taken in supplement form, B12 is best absorbed sublingually in the Methylcobalamin form. (The Cobalamin form is cheaper and more frequently used, so use care when reading labels.)

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Naturally found in fish, algae and some nuts and seeds, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been scientifically proven to improve the function of neurotransmitters in the brain.[ii] Omega-3s have been successfully used with Alzheimer patients and are often used to help children with ADD/ADHD.[iii],[iv] The purest Omega-3 supplements are sourced from wild-caught fish in cold waters or from algaes. Omega-3s are best absorbed when combined with Vitamin A. For those who have concerns about radiation poisoning from fish or who live a vegan lifestyle, Omega-3s can be obtained from seeds (flax and chia are good examples), but the body does not immediately absorb the Omega-3s and must convert them before they can be utilized.

Phosphatidyl Serine (PS): Phosphatidyl Serine naturally occurs in every cell in the body and is a potent modulator of neurotransmitters in the brain. It is one of my favorite supplements for improving cognitive function. Studies proved supplementation with PS may reduce, slow or even reverse cognitive impairment due to age-related decline.[v][vi] PS was shown to improve recall, learning, concentration, and even reflex response time.[vii] PS is also commonly used to help children with ADD/ADHD and is a well-known supplement used by college students to improve retention during finals week.

Huperzine A: Huperzine A is a chemical found in the herb Chinese Club Moss, which has been used for centuries in Chinese Medicine. Recent studies proved Huperzine A not only improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients,[viii] but that it effectively improved school performance in adolescents.[ix] Please note that Huperzine A is known to interact with several prescription medications used to change brain chemistry.

If brain chemistry interests you, please read my post: Stop the Winter Blues & Seasonal Affective Disorder:

My passion is helping people improve their health and lifestyle by identifying and correcting systemic imbalances. I have helped thousands of people eliminate their health challenges using a holistic approach. If you are ready to find a new level of wellness, please contact me to schedule a consultation. I will help you identify the cause of health challenges and will then work with you to create a plan to reverse them.

As always, these statements were not evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health issue.


i: Finch C. Longevity, Semescence, and the Genome . Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1990.
ii: Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009 Mar;5(3):140-52. Review.
iii: Ibid
iv: Burgess J, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71(suppl):327S-330S.
v: Cenacchi, B, Bertoldin T, Farina C, Fiori M.G., Crepaldi G. Cognitive decline in the elderly: a double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter study on efficacy of phosphatidylserine administration. Aging (Clin. Exp. Res.), 1993, 5: 123-33.
vi: Alberts B. Et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. New York, NY. Garland Publishing; 1989.
vii: Rosadini, G, Sannita ,W.G., Nobili, F, and Cenacchi, T. Phosphatidylserine: quantitative EEG effects in healthy volunteers. Neuropsychobiol, 1991. 24: 42-8.
viii: Wang, Bai-Song; Wang, Hao; Wei, Zhao-hui; Song, Yan-yan; Zhang, Lu; Chen, Hong-Zhuan (2009). “Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta-analysis”. Journal of Neural Transmission 116 (4): 457. doi:10.1007/s00702-009-0189-x. PMID 19221692.
ix: Sun, QQ; Xu, SS; Pan, JL; Guo, HM; Cao, WQ (1999). “Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.”. Zhongguo yao li xue bao = Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20 (7): 601–3. PMID 10678121.

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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5 Responses to Natural Ways to Improve Cognitive Function

  1. […] “Natural Ways to Improve Cognitive Function,” Good Works Wellness web site, September 14, 2011; Sauer, A., “Can’t Smell Peanut Butter? Alzheimer’s May Be The Culprit,”, […]

  2. hazel walker says:

    I love the information that you post. Now, off the the store to find all of these as I am ADD and over 50 so I better start the work today!

  3. Jeff Deasy says:

    Thanks for some great info! We can all use a little cognitive lift!

  4. jitt3rbugg says:

    I appreciate this article but I must disagree that the purest form of Omega-3 supplement is fish oil. I would argue that the purest form of Omega-3 supplement is algal/echium oil (from seaweed/algae). This is, of course, where the fish get their omega-3, so it stands to reason that its the purest form. Also, there is no death of fish, and no cultivation of animals which causes excessive waste and pollution.

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